Latin and Greek Texts: What Are We Reading in Schools and Universities?


Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20School and university curricula love Homer. This is a fact.You don’t need to be a student of Classics to know who Homer was and what he wrote. Even Hollywood is familiar with his Iliad and Odyssey. What I’m interested in finding out, however, is who else and what else we are reading during our Latin and Ancient Greek lessons, and furthermore, if every country studies the same texts.
To this end, I picked a sample of six countries, each boasting a relatively high number of students taking these subjects at various levels of proficiency. These are the USA, the UK, Germany, Croatia, Italy and Austria. For each I visited their Ministry of Education websites, secondary school examination board websites and many university Classics departmental pages. I emailed and waited. college-303428_640-300x224At last, I was able to compile a list of the top most read authors for each of these countries. Though fully aware that the information I gathered is only part of the puzzle, I also chose to make one list of the top three authors of Latin, and top three of Greek across all countries considered.

Here is what I found: in first and second place for Greek, was, of course, the beloved Homer – his epic poems narrating the events of the Trojan War and the return of Odysseus to Ithaca being favourites among readers; in third place we have the Histories by Herodotus – considered by many the founding work of history. For Latin the first place is awarded to Vergil’s Aeneid recounting the adventures of Aeneas following the war of Troy; second place goes to Catullus’ Poems about his hated and beloved Lesbia; in third place we have Ovid and his Metamorphoses. You may not be surprised by these findings, but you might be surprised to learn that, according to my research, the most studied Greek author in the USA is, in fact, not Homer, but Aristophanes and his comedies Frogs and Clouds. However, just as I thought that the Americans were having all the fun, I discovered that the number one Latin text read in colleges is the far more serious Confessions by Augustine. The UK and Germany, on the other hand, stick to tradition with Homer, Vergil and Ovid. Croatia and Austria enjoy Apollonius’ Argonautica for Greek, which tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. My most unusual find is the Italian first choice of Greek text. The study reveals that, above all, Demosthenes is the Italian number one with On the Crown and the First Philippic. As regards Latin, Italy’s choice is Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, a chronicle of ancient Rome.

If you wish to take a closer look at these results, download the file below and tell me what you think by leaving a comment!

Click the link to Download the full report: Reading_List_Classics14

Article by Emily Franzini (@ Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities, University of Leipzig)

Can you help me quantify the total number of students studying Latin and Ancient Greek in the world?

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20So, I recently set out on a mission – thinking it would be relatively easy – to quantify the total number of people currently studying Latin and Ancient Greek at secondary and higher level education. I started with Europe, though fancying a bit of a data challenge, I soon expanded my research to the whole world.

Well, it has been no easy task. That’s why it is not finished yet, and I still need all the help I can get. I thought it would be a simple question of looking up the national education statistics in each country, and voilà, I’d discover how many still study what was not so long ago considered, at least in the case of Latin, the universal academic language. How naïve! Apparently, national statistics centres have very little interest in knowing which subjects their young ones are studying. So, I began with emails: emails to the various ministries of education, emails to the Classics associations, emails to university professors, university departments and Classics forums.

For now, I will focus on secondary school enrolments for two reasons. First, secondary school enrolments seem to account for the largest numbers of students. Second, higher education enrolments are often much more decentralised and more difficult to identify.

Italy gave me the greatest satisfaction – it is after all, the cradle of the Roman world and both Latin and Greek are still compulsory in all Licei Classici. In 2011 the Italian Ministry of Education counted a whopping 2,000,000 students of Latin and 680,000 of Ancient Greek. Considering that the total number of secondary level enrolments amounted to 5,000,000 that year, this is indeed a good result!

Then, there was the bitter British letdown. These subjects may not be compulsory in schools, but I never expected the number of Latin and Greek students to be as low as 15,000 and 2,000 respectively. Croatia and Austria were a pleasant surprise: 7.8% of Austrian students study Latin and 0.7% of Croatian students study Greek. The latter may seem like a small percentage, but when compared with the total number of secondary level students, it places Croatia in second place after Italy. And of course, the Germans. The Germans are doing well with 800,000 students of Latin, in third place in the ranking of languages studied at school, after English and French. They are not doing so well for Greek, however, with only 7,000 students taking it in schools.

With the help of many Classicists and non-Classicists out there who pointed me in the right direction, I have also identified the numbers for four other areas in the world: the Flanders (in Belgium), Switzerland, France and New Zealand. Here are some considerations.

Switzerland filled me with joy, coming in second with 16.8% of its students studying Latin, after Italy (40%). The Flanders too strives to breed young Latinists, with 9% of its students studying the language, 0.3% more than Germany. There are 501,100 students of Latin in France, which I thought incredibly impressive considering Latin is by no means compulsory in schools. I had no idea what to expect for New Zealand, but this is what I found: there are 1,501 students of Latin and none of Greek.

Switzerland and the Flanders tie in second place with 1.2% of students studying Greek in each country – Italy remains first with 13.6%. France is in fifth place after Croatia with 34,000 students of Greek.

I’m still desperately trying to find accurate results for Spain, Greece and Egypt, so any further help would be greatly appreciated. When researching South Africa, I discovered that local Classics professors estimate no more than 100 Latin and 50 Greek students, but, for this, I have yet to find exact documentation. However, it was fascinating to find out that there are Latin and Greek students also in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Congo and Malawi.

This post is really a call for collaboration: if you know the stats of your own country or know where to find them, could you leave a comment below or get in touch with me by email?

Click the link to Download the full report: Latin&GreekWorldDH_stats14

Article by Emily Franzini (@ the Humboldt Chair for Digital Humanities, University of Leipzig)