Why Latin and the Classics still matter

Melbourne Grammar is a school where students are encouraged to ask questions and consider the ideas behind what they learn. In our Classical Studies and Latin classrooms, we draw on centuries-old human knowledge to find new ways to view these ideas.

Seeing ourselves through an ancient lens

For Satu O’Neill, Melbourne Grammar Classical Studies teacher and Lead Examiner in VCE Classical Studies, the subject she teaches offers a new way to understand the nature of today’s society.

“The study of Classical Studies at unit 3/4 VCE level focuses on the material and written works left by the ancient Greeks, particularly their epic poetry and drama, which are studied in English translation,” Satu explains. “These texts highlight the foundational issues of the Western world: justice, power, tyranny and democracy. Looking at how our ideas about these issues first formed is really fundamental to understanding our thinking today.”

Head of Latin Ali McWhirter adds that study of the ancient language of Latin can shed new light on the way our society functions. “Learning Latin helps you to think more objectively about your own culture and to see that it exists in a wider context,” he says. “We come to see that if we want to fully understand Western literature, for example, we should try to understand the language, and grammar, that underpins it.”

How classical thinking helps 21st century students

“Studying subjects like Classical Studies and Latin sets you up to study anything,” says Satu. “People tell me: ‘Classical Studies helped me the most when I went on to study law, or even medicine.’ Then there are those I meet who tell me they wish they’d studied subjects like these at school, but never took the opportunity.”

Ali adds that the challenge inherent in studying Latin is a cure for one of the pitfalls of being an accomplished student: perfectionism.

“The difficulty of Latin can be confronting for students who’ve always sailed through other subjects,” he explains. “It’s my goal to help them see that what is required is patience, attention to detail, and redefining our idea of what success in the classroom might look like.”

Last year, students in each of our Classical Studies and Latin classes topped the state, both receiving a Premier’s award in recognition of their achievement – read more here.

Of course, whether they take on these intellectually stimulating subjects or not, every Melbourne Grammar student gains at least a few words of Latin when they look to our School motto: Ora et Labora, Pray and Work.

Read about the history of teaching Latin and Classical Studies at Melbourne Grammar here.