I spend three afternoons a week with a few other students learning to bring the dead back to life. Reading ancient Greek is a slow process. I scrutinize every line to render the right syntax and word order, comb through my Little Liddell dictionary to find the perfect translation. Mr. Gabrielson, who teaches our independent study class (and who miraculously knows Greek noun declensions and verb principal parts better than I even know English) helps us with an unfamiliar vocab word here, an irregular conjugation there. Slowly, the complicated enigma of letters and breathing marks and elisions transforms into a story, a message, an emotion — undoubtedly human, undoubtedly living.
It definitely sometimes seems that classical culture took its last breath long, long ago. When I tell people I take ancient Greek, their expressions are first blank and then gradually shift to deep concern. I imagine they want to put a hand on my shoulder and look me in the eyes, breaking the news to me gently: “I don’t know how to tell you this, Evaline, but people don’t really use ancient Greek anymore.”