Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, By Nicholas Ostler

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The Independent Culture

A biography of a language which is arguably longer and more eventful than any other, Ad Infinitum takes the reader from its origins, before the Roman republic began in the Latium region of southern Italy (whence Lazio football club derives its name), to the present day.

Nicholas Ostler traces Latin's replacement of Greek as the dominant language of the continent, as well as its role in preserving and disseminating Greek culture, through the balmy days of the Roman Empire when it was spoken by 60 million people across Europe and North Africa; its growth as the official language of the Roman Catholic church; the birth of its daughters, Italian, French, Spanish and Romanian; its healthy middle age as the international language of scholars, poets, divines and humanists through the Renaissance and beyond; its continued prestige as the language of the educated gentleman long after it had ceased to be a vehicle for original thought; right up to its lingeringly influential afterlife, now that English has replaced it as the lingua franca.

Erudite, informative and enjoyable, this is a lesson in how closely language and power are linked.