Greek: The Invention of the Devil

Heinrich Heine, (translated by George Eliot in German Wit):

“The next day the world was again all in order, and we had school as before, and things were got by heart as before — the Roman emperors, chronology, the nouns in im, the verba irregularia, Greek, Hebrew, geography, mental arithmetic! — heavens! my head is still dizzy with it — all must be learned by heart! And a great deal of this came very conveniently for me in after life. For if I had not known the Roman kings by heart, it would subsequently have been quite indifferent to me whether Niebuhr had proved or had not proved that they never really existed. . . . But oh! the trouble I had at school with the endless dates. And with arithmetic it was still worse. What I understood best was subtraction, for that has a very practical rule: ‘Four can’t be taken from three, therefore I must borrow one.’ But I advise every one in such a case to borrow a few extra pence, for no one can tell what may happen. . . .

As for Latin, you have no idea, madam, what a complicated affair it is. The Romans would never have found time to conquer the world if they had first had to learn Latin. Luckily for them, they already knew in their cradles what nouns have their accusative in im. I, on the contrary, had to learn them by heart in the sweat of my brow; nevertheless, it is fortunate for me that I know them . . . and the fact that I have them at my finger-ends if I should ever happen to want them suddenly, affords me much inward repose and consolation in many troubled hours of life. . . . Of Greek I will not say a word, I should get too much irritated. The monks in the Middle Ages were not so far wrong when they maintained that Greek was an invention of the devil. God knows the suffering I endured over it.”

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