April 25, 2004

In due time

Stephen Laniel was inspired by Bill Poser to write that

A little post about Latin plurals really makes me want to learn Latin. I’ve wanted to for a while, along with Ancient Greek. All in due time, I guess.

I certainly don't want to encourage delay, but I can offer an inspirational story about learning Greek later in life.

Around 1970, in his mid-60s, I.F. Stone retired from journalism, taught himself Greek, and began systematically reading the extant classical literature in search of "one last scoop." The result was his book The Trial of Socrates, published in 1988, shortly before Stone's own death.

I once met Stone, at lunch at the house of the publisher Ralph M. Ingersoll, who was the father of a school friend. This was (I think) in 1963, when I was 15. Ingersoll, who was contemplating retirement himself, asked Stone about his plans. Stone said that he had always wanted to read classical Greek literature in the original language, and that after retiring, he planned to learn Greek and indulge himself.

I remember feeling surprise that he wanted to do this, and skepticism that he would follow through on the idea. So I was surprised and impressed when his book came out a quarter of a century later, and I took special pleasure in reading it. I'm about the same age now that Stone was in 1963, so I can appreciate his achievement in a different way.

Here's an obituary by Ralph Nader, and a review from the right , both of which underline the appropriate irony of Stone's fascination with Socrates.

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 25, 2004 11:22 AM