01 - Teaching Latin in Independent Greece: A Metric of Europeanness?

Title: Teaching Latin in Independent Greece: A Metric of Europeanness?


Modern Greece was established on the understanding among non-Greek philhellenes and Greek intellectuals such as Adamantios Koraïs (1748-1833) that the new state would be the direct heir to Ancient Greek civilization, as the only nation to speak a descendant of the Ancient Greek language. Ancient Greek enjoyed a long pedagogical tradition in the region as the primary classical language. Nevertheless, Latin also appears on the earliest school curriculum of independent Greece (1833; Antoniou 1987, 79-80), despite virtually no homegrown tradition of studying the language existing before the early decades of the nineteenth century (Matthaiou 2011, 131). This paper argues that within nineteenth-century Greece, Latin remained more a tool for demonstrating Greek Europeanness rather than an acknowledged cultural force. Nineteenth-century Greece's imperfect latinity is an important metric of Modern Greek integration into a Western European educational norm, and hence of Modern Greek self-fashioning as a European nation, rather than a former Ottoman territory and lieu de mémoire (Nora 1989) for Western philologists.

The thoughts of those who taught Latin during the first decades of Greek independence provide a wealth of information concerning the supposed pedagogical and societal purpose of treating the language as a compulsory subject in a young nation where it was frequently considered ‘ancillary' (Papaioannou 2022, 341) to Ancient Greek. This paper employs as a case study the writings of Stefanos Koumanoudis, (1818-1899), Professor of Latin at the University of Athens (founded in 1837) for much of the mid-nineteenth century. Latin literature is frequently treated here as a pale copy of the heights reached by Ancient Greek figures: indeed, in one lecture from 1869, Koumanoudis refers to the Aeneid as nothing more than a ‘reflection' of Homer (quoted at Matthaiou 1999, 148). At the same time, Koumanoudis appears to accept that if Modern Greece wishes to be accepted into a pan-European cultural canon, it is important for (upper-class, male) Greeks to be educated in Latin, like their peers in Britain, France, and Germany (see, for example, Koumanoudis 1849).

Koumanoudis kept a journal, written in an eclectic mixture of (Modern) Greek, German, and Latin, throughout his student years and his professional life (Koumanoudis 1990). A reluctant Latinist, he nevertheless views it as his patriotic duty to teach the subject, and rails against his compatriots for failing to take Latin seriously (Koumanoudis 2010, 137). Through entertaining accounts of the personal animosities and friendships among the small community of Greek Latinists of the day, he provides a vital account of the early years of university-level classical studies in Greece. His careful documentation of, on the one hand, the young state's moves to install Latin as a public classical language (such as in inscriptions on municipal buildings), and, on the other, his students' apathy towards the study of Latin literature, portrays Modern Greece's lack of historical latinity as an impediment to its aspirations to enter a European cultural mainstream formed around Western classical understandings. Koumanoudis's work thus demonstrates that Modern Greece's peripheral relationship to Western Europe was cemented partly in the Latin classroom.


· Antoniou, David (Αντωνίου, Δαυίδ). 1987. Τα προγράμματα της μέσης εκπαίδευσης, 1833-1929. Athens: Geniki Grammateia Neas Genias.

· Koumanoudis, Stefanos A. (Κουμανούδης, Στέφανος Α.). 1849. «Περί φιλολογίας εν γένει και ιδίως της Λατινικής». Φιλολογικός Συνέκδημος 7-8, 230-247.

o 1990. Ημερολόγιον 1845-1867. Ed. Angelos P. Matthaiou (Άγγελος Π. Ματθαίου). Athens: Ikaros.

o 2010. Στεφάνου Α. Κουμανούδη ανέκδοτα κείμενα 1837-1845. Ed. Sophia Matthaiou and Pantelis Karellos (Σοφία Ματθαίου και Παντελής Καρέλλος). Athens: Institouto Neoellinikon Erevnon.

· Matthaiou, Sophia (Ματθαίου, Σοφία). 1999. Στέφανος Α. Κουμανούδης (1818-1899). Σχεδίασμα βιογραφίας. Athens: I en Athinais Arhaiologiki Etaireia.

o 2011. ‘Establishing the Discipline of Classical Philology in Nineteenth-century Greece.' The Historical Review/Le Revue Historique 8, 117-148.

· Nora, Pierre. 1989. ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.' Representations 26, 7-24.

· Papaioannou, Sophia. 2022. ‘Mataioponēmata: the politics of failure in translating the Aeneid in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Greece.' Classical Receptions Journal 14.3, 336-357.


Christopher Jotischky, Brown University