Greek life: An Ancient Alternative

Written by Kate Cavanaugh

I remember the day I chose to take Ancient Greek as my language credit. I sat in my high school homeroom and squinted at the screen, debating between the familiarity of Spanish and the allure of ancient Greek. Will I regret this? I wondered as I checked the box “Ancient Greek.” I’ll be honest—while I was a bit apprehensive, I really had no idea what I was getting into. 

There’s more than one type of Greek life at Hillsdale. In Greek class, we didn’t just become friends. We weren’t even sorority sisters or fraternity brothers. We became σύμμαχοι. Allies. Battle Buddies. We marched into quizzes armed with the mutual knowledge that none of us (except Charlie) actually knew what was going on. We were lovingly roasted by our professor. We were humbled. We were cold-called. 

We were, at times, almost defeated.

But the culture of our Greek class made the barrage of vocabulary, sentence translation, and quizzes bearable. We were aptly described as “unrelentingly optimistic” by senior Maggie Ryland.

Every army needs a leader. We had Dr. Ward. She offered us “all the honor and glory,” if we could tell her what an epexegetical infinite was. She rallied us with rants about the superiority of Greek to Latin (I won’t tell the Latin students if you don’t). When the Greek language threatened to break us down with its endless principal parts, she encouraged us. As we gazed in awe and fear at massive verb charts, she did not deny the impossibility of memorizing every detail. She reminded us to “just feel the Greek,” and we began to, at times, know Greek by instinct, not by sterile charts. Her cheerful encouragement and cynical humor complemented our fear and excitement about Ancient Greek. 

We weren’t the perfect class. Sometimes, if we did not complete all of the sentences in time, we’d have to translate on the spot or admit that we “did not get that far.” Dr. Ward wouldn’t let us off the hook. She often told us, smiling, that one of her most effective teaching strategies was “public humiliation.” As a student stumbled through a translation in class, she told him, “I was gonna let you wander in the desert for a bit, but I’m gonna stop you.” She teased us, but she also refused to let us be self-deprecating.  

“Do you regret taking Greek?” A friend once asked me. To be honest, I had to think about it. I considered the hours of studying for weekly quizzes, scribbling out noun endings in the margins of my notes during whatever class I had before Greek. I remembered the endless verb, noun, and adjective charts I had written out for the exams. Despite all the charts, challenges, and stress that Greek had inflicted, I realized I did not regret checking the little box next to ancient Greek as a senior in high school. 

Taking Greek taught me to learn because I couldn’t fake it. As a former Spanish student, I knew nothing going in. 

At times I felt like I was getting nowhere. My translations were often complete nonsense. Sometimes I despaired. But by second semester, I got the hang of it. I began to “feel the Greek.” My bi-weekly visits to office hours were paying off: I could translate Greek coherently, and even, dare I say, well. I learned that it is okay to struggle, but it is even more important to be unrelenting. I also had the joy of being surrounded by peers who were experiencing exactly what I was and embracing it with enthusiasm and humor. We ended our third and final semester as a class by making a video about all the inside jokes, Greek student stereotypes, and classic Dr. Ward quotes from the past semesters. 

Our Greek class had everything: a YouTube video with 57 views and 7 likes; an extensive repertoire of inside jokes; and a GroupMe founded by our esteemed professor. But most of all, we had an unrelenting optimism. 

For further reading:

Stay Mighty Awesome 

Spotlight on Dr. Weaire: Dead Elephants and the Art of Latin Grammar 

Kate Cavanaugh, ’23, is an English major who flirts with graphic design in her spare time. Besides writing for the blog, she can be found mastering the creation of faux london fogs at saga. She can also be glimpsed power-walking to her one o’clock, as the making of faux london fogs can be time consuming.

Published in April 2021

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