Salve! χαῖρε! The faculty members of the Department of Classics & Early Christian Literature at Ave Maria University use this space to share about the life of the department. We also enjoy passing along links and quotations of general Classical interest.
We have found many wonderful places to read while in Rome. Our hope each day is to read something in Latin that pertains to a monument or a place that we can visit. Sometimes we can even read these passages in the presence of the monument itself.
Today we enjoyed two such experiences. In the morning we took the train to Ostia, the ancient port of Rome, about 20 miles down the Tiber. We sat in the back room of a small cafe and enjoyed a light but lengthy lunch while reading a passage from Virgil’s Aeneid and a hymn by St. Ambrose, as well as an account of the final, moving conversation between St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, just before she died.
Augustine tells us that he and his mother were at a window, looking out on a garden that was within their house. This final conversation may have taken place just across the street from the cafe where we were sitting. (A restaurant nearby advertises that it has an interior garden, “giardino interno.”)
After lunch we visited the church of Sancta Aurea, where Monica’s body lay for many centuries, until it was transferred to the Church of St. Augustine in Rome.
After making our way back to Rome, we climbed the Aventine Hill and toured the churches of Sant’Anselmo, Sant’Alessio, and the simple but beautiful church of Santa Sabina, where St. Dominic lived and where St. Thomas Aquinas began to write his Summa Theologia.
After spending time reading some of the interesting Latin inscriptions in this ancient church, we found a nearby park where we began to read a passage from St. Thomas Aquinas concerning friendship. Following a walk downhill to the Tiber, we crossed into Trastevere where we enjoyed dinner at a pizzeria.
(For the collection of photos from Day 8 and from all previous days, please go here.)
This morning saw our group at various places in the city: some sought the ancient edifice of the Pantheon where the Novus Ordo of Paul VI was said; others sought Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini where a solemn high Mass was offered according to the extraordinary form.
Both groups converged at the Circus Maximus in the afternoon where we began a pleasant stroll towards the Porta Capena and the Via Appia. Before passing through the ancient walls of the city, we visited the Baths of Caracalla, which, even ruined, are magnificent in their extent and height. We had hoped to pay a visit to the Church of Nereus and Achilleus, having just read Pope Damasus’ hexameters in honor of them, but as we also experienced yesterday at Fossanova, this is a popular time for weddings!
So we walked past the church of these ancient soldiers and martyrs, and strolled out along the Via Appia. We stopped briefly at the church named for St. Peter’s words, “Domine, quo vadis?”, where we read from a text by Pseudo-Linus that explains this event. Then we made for the Catacombs of Domitilla, where a very kind German guide – who spoke Spanish fluently! – opened the place to us after hours and gave us a wonderful tour of the basilica of Pope Damasus and the catacombs upon which it had been built.
After dinner nearby, we read from St. Jerome’s commentary on Ezekiel in which he recalls the time when, as a boy, he would visit the catacombs that, almost totally dark, felt like the underworld itself. It is brilliant that St. Jerome quotes both the Bible and Vergil’s Aeneid to explain what he felt: Horror ubique animo, simul ipsa silentia terrent.
(For the collection of photos from Day 7 and from all previous days, please go here.)
This post comes courtesy of Mr. Charles Atkinson, who graduated this spring from Ave Maria University, and who will accompany our first ever LATN 415: Pagan and Christian Rome, whose participants will set out for Rome in a few hours. We extend many thanks for Charles for having written this excellent explanation of the rationale of the course for us.
Emblazoned in the center of Ave Maria University’s seal you will find the words Ex Corde Ecclesiae, “from the heart of the Church,” the name of Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution which defines and guides the mission of a Catholic university. In it the Catholic university is given three tasks to carry out: inquiry into the truth; teaching, or sharing the fruits of that inquiry; and the instruction of students.
The Latin word which gives us “inquiry,” or “research” as it is sometimes translated, is investigare, meaning to track something out. It is related to vestigia, meaning traces or footprints. One might say that AMU’s mission consists of discovering the footsteps of those truth-seekers who have gone before us and then firmly planting our feet in their path to follow where they lead.
Come June 3rd Ave Maria University’s Classics & Early Christian Literature department will be landing in Rome, Italy to do just that. Specifically, Drs. Dinan and Yarbrough will be leading 12 students in a 10 day exploration of the Eternal City “through,” as is noted on their website (classics.avemaria.edu/roma), “its language and monuments from its pagan beginnings to its Catholic present.”
But prior to the catacombs or Capitoline Hill the group will have already spent four weeks together in the classroom, studying Latin texts from Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, doctors of the Church who each influenced and were influenced by Rome. Dr. Dinan explains, “We very much want to get out in situ, see monuments, go to museums. But we think that those experiences will be enriched by the classroom component.”
What does this enrichment look like? On Day 3 the class travels to Ostia, Rome’s ancient port town. There, surrounded by “the impressive ruins of Ostia,” Dr. Yarbrough comments, they will read “from Augustine’s Confessions, [where] some of its most dramatic scenes took place,” namely St. Augustine’s final conversation with his mother and the ecstatic vision of heaven they share. Or when descending into the catacombs on Day 5 the group will revisit St. Jerome’s letters in which he recalls entering the same catacombs as a child.
The rest of the days are packed with similar pursuits of vestigia, covering the vast span of Rome’s history from the ancient Republic through medieval, renaissance, and modern Rome, all the way up to Pope Benedict’s 2005 inscription on the Vatican’s Porta di Santa Rosa gateway. Connecting them all is the Latin language, which, as Dr. Dinan notes, “isn’t localized at a particular place and time,” but rather “provides a unifying thread throughout the centuries.”
This thread, which the Latin provides, gives the group a unique opportunity to carry out the mission articulated in Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Implicit in its exhortation to Catholic universities is the conviction that the past has something valuable to communicate with the present which, in turn, can inform the future.
Hannah Milani, an AMU junior from Hibbing, MN, recognizes this. She looks forward to taking the course since, having both a Catholic and Italian background, she feels that Rome’s history “directly affects me and has indirectly shaped who I’ve become.”
Indeed, for these investigators from AMU the purpose of the trip is not merely making a tour of various vestigia, but to explore where they lead. As Dr. Dinan insisted, “We go there as Catholics; not simply for historical perspective. We go there because the history still matters to us.”
"…the student of Latin, as of any considerable dead language, must constantly be trying to choose the right word to give the meaning of a Latin expression in English or an English expression in Latin. And if the writing of English generally is in decline, as many would say it is, we may be tempted to say that people no longer try to choose the right word as they once did. They often got it wrong, but they tried. Do they now?
Something like the foregoing sketch might be developed to accompany an analysis of English poetry as written over the last fifty years or so. If this is seen as having become not only less formally organised but less exact in its expression, then the loss of Latin has surely had a hand in the matter somewhere. Again, I do not simply mean that an acquaintance with Propertius or Catullus in the original is beneficial to any sort of poet, though I think I do think so, but just as simply that translation into and out of Latin verse calls for exactness, and that that quality is demanded in the writing of poetry as nowhere else. Exactness, by the way, is to be understood as applying to more than denotation: a word or phrase must be suitable to its context, so that a dialectal or slang term, for instance, is on the whole unlikely to fit well into a passage of high seriousness — except for special effect, as teachers used to add."
Kingsley Amis (1922-1995), “Disappearance of Latin,” in The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pp. 51-56 (at 51-52). Many thanks to Michael Gilleland for sharing this!
I don’t agree with everything that Amis writes in the stretch that Gilleland quotes on his site, but in what I’ve reblogged here, there is ample encouragement for the student of Latin verse composition.
This past semester, in Ave Maria’s first ever course on Latin verse composition, I saw my students take up this challenge of finding the right Latin word for a given English expression, constrained not just by the requirements of meaning, but also by the exigencies of the meter. Verse composition forces the student to investigate Latin words to a much greater extent than what typically happens in a readings course when a glance at the dictionary often suffices to move on. We explore the hidden corners of the language, and its less frequently encountered vocabulary becomes intimately known.
"Veterum Sapientia is a week-long Latin program which seeks, in a small way, to respond to the call of Blessed John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia to revitalize the Catholic Church’s Latin heritage in the modern world. It offers intensive instruction in the language to intermediate and advanced students of Latin with opportunities for practice in listening comprehension and speaking."
Those traveling to Rome with Ave Maria University this summer will be able to meet one of the instructors of this Latin program, Msgr Daniel Gallagher, at his office within the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. We very much look forward to the meeting!
"Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are “individualized, unfocused and scattered.” On campus, he said, “I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness.” Rare are “faculty with atypical views,” he charged. “Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values.” He counseled schools to adopt “a common core of studies” in the history, literature and philosophy “of our culture.” By “our” he means Western."
Fortunately, there are a number of universities still engaged in the project of educating their students in the ideas, texts, and virtues of Western civilization. Not only do we have a robust core curriculum at Ave Maria University, but most of our students fulfill the language study requirement by taking Latin. A very considerable number – especially in light of the fact that we are a Catholic, not a protestant university – do Greek as well. There are even an elite few who do ancient Hebrew with Dr. Gregory Vall of the Theology Department. This means that, besides the intellectual discipline imparted by the successful study of such languages, our students encounter some of the great minds of Western civilization in their own, original words.
As Kagan says, the protection of liberty requires citizens educated in the classical ideas which enabled liberty to flourish in this country. May God continue to help us in forming such citizens for the future!
Dr. and Mrs. Dinan were so good as to host a distinguished class of graduating Classics majors, talented freshmen, and erudite upperclassmen for the Department of Classics & Early Christian Literature’s annual Classics social. The guests were entertained (we hope!) by recitations of compositions from Ave Maria’s first ever Latin Verse Composition course. Since coming to the Florida campus, this is our largest class yet of Classics majors. It has been a pleasure working with each and every one of them. We’re sad to see them go, but are confident that they will make the university proud as alumni.
"‘In order to be educated,’ said Mr. Pekkanen, 78, who is proficient in not only Latin but also ancient Greek and Sanskrit, ‘it was once said that a real humanist must write poetry in Latin and Greek.’"
Which is one reason, among many, why Classics students at Ave Maria University are studying Latin verse composition this semester. The meter we are working on this week and last is the Alcaic, Horace’s favorite lyric meter. The students’ poem translation projects have also been moving forward. I asked them to select an English poem of their choice and to prepare a translation of it over the course of the semester, starting with the compilation of a miniature thesaurus for its words & expressions, proceeding to a draft in Latin prose, and next week to a draft in meter; most of them have chosen to use dactylic hexameter. Their topics range from Wordsworth to the west wind to baseball. I even heard tell that a couple weeks ago one student composed a Sapphic stanza for his fiancée on the occasion of their engagement. This is a practical application indeed!
In a recent article in the City Journal, E. D. Hirsch, Jr. discusses the evidence for the claim that “there’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income.” He goes on to sketch a plan of action for improving outcomes for children of all economic backgrounds in the light of this evidence.
I read Hirsch’s article with great interest, but was impressed by his lack of discussion of training in foreign or even “dead” languages as a tool for vocabulary acquisition. I think that I can speak for my colleagues in Classics when I say that drawing connections between Latin and Greek words and their English cognates is a constant in the language classrooms at Ave Maria. (“cognate” is a great example of an English word susceptible to this sort of analysis!) Indeed, while I know that many students will leave off after only the one year of Latin mandated by the core curriculum, I hope that even these students will have acquired some facility in analyzing English words, discovering their meaning through a recognition of their Latin roots.
At any rate, Hirsch’s article is another reminder (to my mind) of the value of the study of Greek and Latin, especially for children. But if the undergraduate years bring your first encounter with Latin and Greek, don’t despair; these numbers would seem to indicate that prospective Classics graduate students are reaping dividends on the vocabulary section of the GRE, and I know that many of us Classicists saw Latin and Greek for the first time as college freshmen!
Gabriel Loweree, Classics major, and currently enrolled in Latin Verse Composition, is featured in the El Paso Times. Everything said of Gabe’s character in the article is spot on: he is a gentleman and a scholar!
An article to catch a Classicist’s eye in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
Turning to the history books for clues, she learned that scholars widely believed the elaborately teased, towering and braided styles of the day were wigs. She didn’t buy that. Through trial and error she found that she could achieve the hairstyle by sewing the braids and bits together, using a needle. She dug deeper into art and fashion history books, looking for references to stitching. In 2005, she had a breakthrough. Studying translations of Roman literature, Ms. Stephens says, she realized the Latin term “acus” was probably being misunderstood in the context of hairdressing. Acus has several meanings including a “single-prong hairpin” or “needle and thread,” she says. Translators generally went with “hairpin.” The single-prong pins couldn’t have held the intricate styles in place. But a needle and thread could. It backed up her hair hypothesis.
The word order caught my eye in this latest of Latin tweets from the Vatican. “ā Dĕō quīsquĕ” gives us a common Ciceronian combination of a cretic + trochee. The double spondee of “īnscūlpātur” is less exciting, as clausulae go, but nonetheless classical. I think that the Latin secretaries are going to have some fun with this business of tweeting!
Reggie cites Seneca for the phrase “remigare contra aquam”. This comes from the Epistulae Morales, Letter 122, at the very end of which we find this pithy sentence that expresses a central idea in Stoic ethical thought: we ought to live secundum naturam.
Ideo, Lucili, tenenda nobis via est quam natura praescripsit, nec ab illa declinandum: illam sequentibus omnia facilia, expedita sunt; contra illam nitentibus non alia vita est quam contra aquam remigantibus.
From Gummere’s translation: “If we follow Nature, all is easy and unobstructed; but if we combat Nature, our life differs not a whit from that of men who row against the current.”
Of course, in the Holy Father’s message, the point is that we should be rowing against the current, which is not, in this case, Nature as ordered by God, but the fallen world and its opposition to the Christian life.