Vet takes up Latin as ‘dead’ language comes alive

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Julie Weekes has been a lawyer and works part-time as a vet, but she's back at The University of Western Australia studying for a third career change - this time one that revolves around her first love, ancient languages.

Julie lives with her husband and two primary-school-aged children in Como and works in a veterinary practice in Canningvale. She said she didn't enjoy being a lawyer, does like being a vet, but that what really excites her is being able to read the world's best stories in the language in which they were written - Latin and Ancient Greek. And she hopes to begin a PhD in the near future and perhaps teach or undertake research in the subject she is so passionate about.

Julie is just one of many students at UWA who are flocking to study the Classics, in particular Latin, which has seen a 200 per cent increase in numbers over recent years.

Julie was straight out of school and about to study Law at UWA when she first discovered her zeal for the Classics. It was at the time when prospective Law students were required to complete one year in another discipline and she took Ancient History as one of her subjects. Julie didn't take up the so-called ‘dead' languages until after completing her Law degree and said her then rudimentary knowledge of both Latin and Greek was of enormous benefit to her when she studied for her vet science degree.

She said she wished she'd studied them before undertaking Law as many of the terms in both disciplines are derived from the Classic languages. "It was a huge advantage. I can't emphasise it enough," she said. "Latin and Ancient Greek are also really useful for people studying many European languages and they help with English grammar too. You always know whether to use ‘who' or ‘whom'!"

Now 43, Julie could no longer deny her longing to return to UWA and take up Latin and Ancient Greek again. She repeated first year as it was a decade since she studied them the first time round and is now looking forward to doing Honours. What excites her most is being able to read the works of Cicero, Homer and other writers of the ancient world in their original form, and being able to grasp the richness and thought processes behind the sentences - something that is not possible when reading a translation.

"The works are still relevant today. They show the consistency of human nature over thousands of years and provide a real link to the ancient world.  Besides being great stories, they're also the foundation of Western thought, of philosophy, democracy," she said.

Professor Krishna Sen, Dean of UWA's Faculty of Arts, attributed the popularity of the Classics in part to the appearance of myths and legends in the popular movies and games being consumed by teenagers. 

Chair in Classics and Ancient History, Dr Neil O'Sullivan, said that the Discipline had made significant changes to its teaching in recent years, and he was very pleased to see that students had enrolled in record numbers. But as Julie said, "They're not called ‘Classics' for nothing." 

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