Obies Using Languages: Mengtian Bai ’18

Mengtian Bai is an Art History Major sophomore. Coming from an east asian country, China, she had some hard conversation with her friends back home about her choice to study Latin and sometimes even her choice of majoring in Art. Today, she gives us her insight and experience in Oberlin, about language, and about her life. 

Every time when I come back to my hometown, I always need to explain to my friends what exactly I’ve learned in Oberlin.

“You mean Latin? The language spoken by people from South America?”

“Eh, actually it’s not. It’s the language used by ancient Roman residents, and nowadays the pope in Vatican might also use Latin.”

Then the conversation paused, an uncomfortable silence.

“Why do you dig into that, an impractical…language?”

“Definitely not impractical! Do you know how many manuscripts were written in Latin? I used to see some in our library and they are really, really cool stuff. Also, in art world, Latin is inalienable.  Neoclassical painters were obligatory to learn Latin for the sake of art! And….”

My friends interrupted me.

“But art also does sound far away from ‘normal’ life track.”

This topic must be skipped.

I always regard myself as anachronistic. Some people choose to predict the future; some people choose to focus on the current; some people immerse themselves in the past. I am in the last kind. I hold a belief that time will finally prove whether one thing should be inscribed into history or just be washed away, and the longevity of one thing reveals its value by itself. Philosophy bequeathed by Greek scholars, artworks left by painters, and literature passed by the countless lords of words, are all legacy from humanity through history. How can we ignore them while trying to make progress toward the future?

Latin is one of the most effective keys to start the time machine travelling back. What’s more, it’s the precision, the efficiency and the subtlety of Latin that make Latin as fascinating as a puzzle. During translation, to have every case, every declension, every conjugation right, is the only way to get there, and this requires a little bit quantitative reasoning ability, the perfect combination of science and humanity and art.  Just hop into the time machine with Latin in hand, and you will not regret.


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