The answer is not just that it looks good on a college application. Although that is a benefit, the principal reasons are much more important.
I have heard people expressing nervousness concerning upper levels of Challenge and Latin. I love all facets of Latin, but reading authentic Latin literature written by the Romans, is the pinnacle. Once students reach Latin III, most grammar and the majority of vocabulary has been learned. Students can utilize all the knowledge from their previous years of Latin without having to learn new grammar. A student does not truly become rhetorical with Latin, ut mihi videtur (as it seems to me), until he/she translates Latin written by Romans (not by modern day editors). Latin III is where the rubber meets the road.
Authentic Latin exposes a student to the ideas of the Romans. Of course, not all those ideas are correct, but they are ideas that are foundational to the ideas of western civilization. The readings from Caesar depict first-handedly the discipline and the foresight of the Romans. The readings from Cicero expound on the Stoic ideals that the Romans held so dear.
Caesar was the single most pivotal figure in Roman history. He paved the way for the Roman Empire by becoming a Roman dictator and setting the stage for an emperor. His writings show us so much about the culture of the ancients at the time. In the beginning of his Commentaries about the Gallic Wars, Caesar tells us about the geography of Gaul and its partial division by rivers and mountains. He also tells us about the fact that the Belgians were considered the bravest of the Gauls (Gaul was much bigger than France and what we think of nowadays). Merchants would not come to their land and therefore they did not have luxury (this always brings students to discuss people who live in remote areas like parts of Alaska). Although Caesar does not talk about this in his commentaries, he was instrumental in formulating the calendar we have today. He organized the solar calendar and also made the months as having approximately the same amount of days (did you know that the year 46 B.C. was the longest year on record?) in each month.
Cicero is one of my favorite Romans. In Henle First Year, Robert Henle talks about the Christian ideals Cicero held dear (although Cicero was not blessed to know Jesus because he lived from 106—43 B.C.). It is nice that students will come full circle by reading Cicero. Cicero was a Stoic who believed in devotion to duty and to the state. The First and Third Catilinarian orations, which are read in Challenge III now, expound on Catiline and his conspiracy to overthrow the government. Cicero was consul at the time and Catiline had tried to kill him. Cicero walks into the Senate House and there Catiline is right in the midst of all the senators! You can imagine Cicero’s surprise and subsequent anger at Catiline’s gall. His oratory has been studied throughout time as one of the most persuasive pieces of rhetoric. Cicero also was a staunch advocate of reading great literature (the Pro Archia is a great example of this). He also wrote about the ideals of laws, ethics, and friendship. His writings are some of the best examples of Stoic philosophy that are extant today.
You must read authentic Latin because persuasive techniques lose their force in translation. Some may say that it would be just as beneficial to read the Latin in an English translation. However, persuasive techniques and poetic devices lose their force in translation. Have you ever read the Bible in a different language? You examine the words more closely because you have to do so. It is the same with Latin authors. Reading the work in Latin makes students see what the Romans really had to say and the techniques they utilized for good oratory. This is especially important in a classical Christian education because one of our goals is to make students great speakers in the rhetorical stage. What better way to do this than to learn from the best!
Challenge III is a great year to study the persuasive techniques of Cicero and the clear cut expository language of Caesar. Students and parents will be so blessed by this study!
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