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Polis Greek and Latin at Ave Maria University

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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.

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  • October 20, 2013 11:00 am

    Roma 2014: Study Latin in Rome with Ave Maria

    Once again Dr. Andrew Dinan and Dr. Joseph Yarbrough will lead a group of students from Ave Maria University to study Latin in Rome during the summer term in June 2014. This unique summer program has two tracks: students who have passed LATN 102 will begin the summer with LATN 203 online, completing the elements of the language; students who have already passed LATN 203 or a higher course will begin the summer with LATN 304 online, studying texts from those Fathers of the Church who are so intimately linked to Rome. Once in Rome, both groups will explore monuments of classical and Christian antiquity with the help of carefully chosen texts pertinent to each site. Following the trip, students will sit for an oral exam online and complete a term paper based upon a text encountered during their time in Rome.

    See the button in the sidebar or click on the link here for further details and an application.

    Dr. Dinan and Dr. Yarbrough will host an informational night about the courses and the trip to Rome on Wednesday, October 30 at 7PM in Henkels 1012.

  • July 12, 2013 4:04 pm
    "Vehementius igitur admirandam censeo totius urbis inspectionem, ubi tanta seges turrium, tot aedificia palatiorum, quot nulli hominum contigit enumerare." – Master Gregory of Oxford, Narracio de mirabilibus urbis Romae
Photo credit goes to our own Ben Houde. View high resolution

    "Vehementius igitur admirandam censeo totius urbis inspectionem, ubi tanta seges turrium, tot aedificia palatiorum, quot nulli hominum contigit enumerare." – Master Gregory of Oxford, Narracio de mirabilibus urbis Romae

    Photo credit goes to our own Ben Houde.

  • June 14, 2013 6:56 pm

    Rome Summer 2013 Photo Slideshow

    (Flash is required to view this slideshow embedded from Flickr. If you despise Flash as much as we do, you can view the original here. Enjoy!)

  • June 14, 2013 6:42 pm
  • June 11, 2013 7:37 pm

    Day 9 in Rome

    We left Santa Maria alle Fornaci by train for Ostiense where we took the metro for the Colosseum. This is the fastest way to reach San Clemente, a church of unbelievable historical richness that is located only a couple blocks from the Flavian Amphitheater. Here Fr. Matthew Grady was so good as to celebrate Mass yet again for our group – our alumni have been so very good to us on this trip! – and then to take us on a tour of the various strata that make up San Clemente.

    Perhaps “time machine” would be a more apt description for the church of San Clemente! After Mass, once we had descended the stairs into the archeological site, we were transported within a matter of minutes to the street level of the first century anno Domini. We sat in the antechamber of a Mithraeic temple; later we dipped our hands into a spring of water flowing past an early first century house.

    After the visit to San Clemente, we passed through the Roman Forum on the way to Santa Croce, where we met members of the faculty, ate lunch, toured their facility, received a roof-top tour of the city, and visited the church adjoining their university.

    In the afternoon we visited the Basilica of St. Augustine, where his mother, St. Monica, is buried. The evening found us at the residence of the those students that were sent from North America, before the building of the NAC, to complete their graduate studies in various disciplines. Fr. Matthew Grady was, once again, our very generous host, cooking us several courses in the grand Italian style.

    Everyone was delighted with the view from the roof-top, the conversation, and the delicious food. Another amazing day filled with the amazing generosity of our friends and the sights of Rome!

    (For the collection of photos from Day 9 and from all previous days, please go here.)

  • June 10, 2013 7:11 pm

    Day 8 in Rome

    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.)

  • June 9, 2013 7:10 pm

    Day 7 in Rome

    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.)

  • June 9, 2013 3:25 am

    Day 6

    AMU students today ventured a few hours south from the city of Rome to visit three impressive places associated in some way with St Thomas Aquinas. We were accompanied on this outing by AMU alumna Corinne Mannella (‘08), who took time from her preparations for final exams to assist us. Corinne, who is completing a degree in Communications at Santa Croce, had arranged to film our outing as part of a project she is pursuing involving students studying abroad in Rome. So we were also accompanied by a two-man camera crew.

    Our first stop was the monastery of Monte Cassino, the famous Benedictine monastery, where Aquinas was educated prior to being sent to Naples. Here one enjoys sweeping views of the valley below. Even more important, however, is the tomb of St Benedict and his sister, St Scholastica, located behind the main altar.

    A few minutes north of Monte Cassino we stopped in the mountain town of Roccasecca, where we ate sandwiches and local cheese in a public park, gazing up at the ruins of the hilltop castle of the Aquino family. Following lunch, our driver took us further uphill toward this castle, until the road came to an end. From there we ascended on foot. In addition to another spectacular view, we also encountered a church, which, according to the Italian inscription, was the first in the world to be dedicated in honor of St Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1325).

    Our final stop was Fossanova, the site of the Cistercian abbey where Aquinas died in 1274, en route to the Second Council of Lyons. Following some refreshments at the cafe, we sat in chairs in the shadow of the Abbey and read various Latin texts by and about Aquinas. Before departing we listened to a gracious Polish Franciscan tell us about the church building and some of the events involving the death of Aquinas.

    (For the collection of photos from Day 6 and from all previous days, please go here.)

  • June 7, 2013 6:41 pm

    Day Five in Rome

    After Mass in the intimate and gloriously decorated Clementine Chapel and the tour of the Vatican’s Necropolis – which allowed us to appreciate how close the altar of the Clementine Chapel is to St. Peter’s burial place – we used the afternoon for some rest and recovery.

     Some blogged, others shopped, still others slept. Mr. Charles Atkinson and I went back up the Janiculum – I never tire of the view! – to read some Latin together, in particular, a passage from Book I of Ovid’s Fasti, in which the god, Ianus, gives a brief history, in elegiac couplets, of the Janiculum hill and its name.

     At 5:45PM we all met at the entrance to the Pontifical North American College, where AMU alumnus and now seminarian, Dave Tomasyzcki, very kindly gave us a tour and took us to Vespers. I was delighted with the organist, who closed the night with Bach, the deep bass of the pedals rumbling through the sacred place.

     After dinner with Mr. Tomasyzcki, we entered the Vatican Museums which were wonderfully uncrowded at that time of night. We could have spent hours upon hours with the artwork and Latin texts we encountered, but we did what we could tonight, staying until they ushered us out at 11PM.

    (For the collection of photos from Day 5 and from all previous days, please go here.)

  • June 6, 2013 7:21 pm

    Day Four in Rome

    This morning we left the hotel quite early, intent on an important meeting at the Universita Pontificia Salesiana, which is on the far northeast end of Rome. We had been invited there by the head of the Facolta di lettere cristiane e classiche (sounds rather like the name of our own department, no?), Fr. Roberto Spataro, who is now also the secretary of the Pontifical Academy of the Latin language, constituted by Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, “Latina Lingua”.

    Fr. Spataro had graciously arranged for us to meet his colleagues and for our students to experience what graduate Classical studies at the Salesianum are like. I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that we were dazzled by the brilliance of their Latin. Each professor who spoke to us (entirely in Latin, mind you, as all classes were taught in Rome not too long ago) expanded on a different aspect of the set topic: friendship. We heard first from Professor Orazio Bologna who spoke about friendship among the ancient pagans. Next we heard from Professor Miran Sajovic who shared some observations about the Church Fathers on friendship. We then had a break for cappuccinos in the cafeteria, much appreciated by all! When we returned to the classroom, we heard from the Latin poet, Professor Mauro Pisini, who discoursed at length upon friendship in Seneca’s epistles ad Lucilium. Finally, Professor Luigi Miraglia spoke with us; he teaches both at the Salesianum as well as at his own Accademia Vivarium Novum. We have heard him described as the greatest speaker of Latin in the world; we no longer take another’s word for it, for we have heard him with our own ears!

    Before leaving, Fr. Spataro gave us a tour of the library and introduced us to the rector of the university who, though his academic discipline is psychology, made a brilliant effort to speak to us in Latin. We are profoundly grateful to all whom we met today, who shared freely of their time and who helped us to see again the profound importance of our classical studies. In short: Latin and Greek are the keys to the Christian tradition and, by extension, to the whole of the true humanistic tradition. We neglect them at the peril of our civilization; by studying them and promoting their study, we help to preserve our Western culture in general and our Catholic culture in particular.

    After lunch our destination was Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, where we also found the mausoleum of Constantia, the daughter of the Constantine the Great. These are both beautifully decorated churches and of ancient foundation. At St. Agnes’ we found displayed one of the very few intact Latin inscriptions which has come down to us from Pope Damasus (d. 384 A.D.). In this inscription he tells the pilgrim, in 10 elegant hexameter lines, who St. Agnes was and why she was – and as a patron in heaven, is – so special. After working through the inscription, we retired to a shady spot where we read more about St. Agnes from the Latin and Catholic poet, Prudentius (d. ca. 405).

    Dinner we ate, once again, near the Colosseum. There’s something about the sight of that building looming massive down the street as one leaves a restaurant that never grows old!

    (A collection of this course’s photos can be found here.)

  • June 5, 2013 7:01 pm

    Day Three in Rome

    Today was a day of highs and lows – all good! – but the contrasts were striking. We began the day on what you might call a low point: Mass with AMU alumnus and now priest for the Diocese of Venice, Fr. Matthew Grady, for it was at an underground chapel deep within the Pontifical North American College. (Ironically, the College itself is rather prominently situated high up the slope of the Janiculum.) Before Mass Fr. Grady graciously heard confessions, two of our students assisted by serving and reading, and afterwards, Fr. Grady blessed us individually with the blessing of a newly ordained priest within his first year.

    After Mass we wandered down to the Castel Sant’Angelo where we read Latin quotations from the Psalms prominently featured on the bridge across the Tiber. At that point we broke for lunch, which was followed by a short stroll through narrow, medieval Roman streets, past the Piazza Navona, to the Pantheon, crowded with tourists, but still awe-inspiring in its ancient architectural magnificence. Our next stop was at the national church of France in Rome, San Luigi dei Franchesi, where a number of paintings by Caravaggio adorn some of the side chapels.

    Before long we hurried on back across the Tiber and raced up the Via della Conciliazione for our appointment with Msgr. Daniel Gallagher, one of the Latin secretaries for His Holiness, Pope Francis. What transpired next exceeded all of our wildest expectations. In a lengthy, patient, and extremely gracious tour, Msgr. Gallagher took us within Vatican City, past the Swiss Guards, up the hill to the Apostolic Palace, and then along beautifully decorated (by the school of Raphael) corridors which are closed to the public. He shared with us Latin inscriptions at various points within the palace, a couple by Antonio Cardinal Bacci himself. A highlight of the tour was when he suddenly asked us to step through a little doorway that led onto a balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, the Basilica (or the part below the dome!), and the whole of Rome itself away to the southeast. The view was stunning and we were all at a loss for words; one student cried for she was so moved. We then settled in the library of the Secretariat of State where Msgr. Gallagher generously answered all of our questions at length, passed around copies of papal bulls, some signed, old, and never delivered; others fresh that morning from the hand of Francis himself, signed upon the vellum with the most minuscule of signatures. Finally, he gifted us with Rosaries blessed by the Holy Father that morning at the papal audience. We cannot thank Msgr. Gallagher enough for his generosity to us this afternoon.

    As we left the Apostolic Palace, we thought the best thing to do, in response to Msgr. Gallagher’s exhortations to the study of Latin, was to take a seat in St. Peter’s Square, take some Latin in hand – Benedict XVI’s motu proprio “Latina Lingua” – and to get down to the business of growing in our knowledge of this amazing language. To conclude the day, we walked a few blocks east to Cantina Tirolese, a restaurant that had been a favorite of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. I think it is fair to say that it is now a favorite of ours, too!

    (A collection of this course’s photos can be found here.)

  • June 4, 2013 6:46 pm

    Day Two in Rome

    After breakfast (and some enterprising students had gone to Mass at St. Peter’s), we read from Master Gregory’s Mirabilia Urbis Romae at the hotel while we waited for Roxanne and Charles to arrive. We had lunch at L’Incontro, where we seem to be very welcome guests and where we’ve been quite happy with the food and atmosphere.

    After lunch we got on the metro riding all the way out to the end of the B line. There, after much looking at the map, stopping to ask for directions, and stumbling upon a Marian grotto and shrine, we found our way to the Abbey of Tre Fontane. The main church there marks the spot where St. Paul was executed; his severed head is supposed to have bounced three times before coming to a rest; in each place it touched the ground a fountain sprang up. But there were several other buildings there besides, with beautiful trees about the grounds, and wonderful pieces of Latin to read from various inscriptions.

    We left the abbey and hurried up the B line to St. Paul Outside the Walls, where we caught the very end of Vespers. The size and beauty of the patriarchal basilicas has to be appreciated in person, and I’m glad that now all of our students have been inside St. Paul’s. This basilica is somewhat less often seen because it requires a longer trip on the metro, putting it off the ordinary tourist’s path.

    We went to dinner near the Colosseum with Eric Hewett of the Paideia Institute at Taberna dei Quaranta, a great restaurant. This was followed by gelatto at a local shop, also recommended by Eric. We then hurried home through the rain. It was fairly coming down by the time we were again crossing St. Peter’s Square; we found shelter under the colonnaded walk way where we saw this inscription: IN UMBRACULUM / DIEI AB AESTU / IN SECURITATEM / A TURBINE ET A PLUVIA (“for a shade from the heat of the day, for protection from the storm and the rain”).

    It was indeed, especially a pluvia tonight!

    (A collection of this course’s photos can be found here.)

  • June 3, 2013 5:29 pm

    Day One in Rome

    We arrived in Rome and had a great time during our first day here. The shuttle that Miss Corinne Mannella, an AMU grad and currently a student at Santa Croce, had contracted for us was perfect; I couldn’t imagine a better vehicle for our needs. We got into our rooms at the hotel, started to unpack, and then Corinne called. She was downstairs waiting for us with a delivery of fresh pastries; she had come by just to make sure that we got in to our lodging all right!

     After everyone had gathered after a shower and change of clothes, we walked a block over for lunch. After this strengthening meal, we made our way up to the top of the Janiculum. We were treated with just the views that I had been hoping for! The whole walk along the top of the Janiculum is wonderful for the numerous panoramas afforded. We eventually settled in a shady spot (the weather was never too hot throughout the day) near a curious carousel in front of which many plastic green chairs had been set up. They were perfect for cushioning us through a reading of the opening of Paul’s Letter to the Romans; Dr. Dinan led this.

     We then walked down into Trastevere, enjoying a roadside fountain along the way, in the Roman manner (various workmen pulled up to imbibe from it with us). We spent time at Santa Maria in Trastevere, a glorious church, with the hands of so many pontiffs upon it. Afterwards, we wandered over to San Crisogono, which is something like Santa Maria’s very poor cousin, but which I had not gotten into when I was here last – though I remember it well, for Scipio Cardinal Borghese has inscribed his name all over it, inside and out. Then we pushed across the Viale and on to Santa Cecilia, where an English speaking art class was happening. This is another church very rich with famous images.

     Again and again I felt that my camera wouldn’t do justice to many of the things that I wanted to photograph today. Before leaving, we read in the courtyard area of St. Cecila the lines from Eclogue 1 in which Tityrus expresses his amazement at the size and grandeur of Rome; Dr. Yarbrough led this.

     We then walked over to San Benedetto in Piscinula, where Miss Mannella had arranged with a very kind priest to give us a tour. His oration to us in Italian (simultaneously translated for us by Miss Mannella) was striking for its conservative soundness as well as the great story he had to tell about this particular church edifice and its relation to St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism. In this church we were treated to a series of steps back in time, from the 11th century interior, untouched by Baroque renovation, to an 8th century chapel where we beheld an indescribably touching image of the Madonna and Child, to a small 5th century hallway, which, as the priest explained, is the remnant of a room where St. Benedict studied, slept, and discerned his vocation. This church is not well known – even a local shopkeeper expressed doubt about its existence – but it was one of the highlights of this rich opening day.

    In the same church we stayed to hear Mass (in Italian); we were also there for the beginning of Eucharistic adoration. Dinner was eaten at Hostiaria dar Buttero, in Trastevere. Miss Mannella saw us part of the way back to our hotel (through the twists and turns of the region trans Tiberim) and then we hiked the rest of the way back to the lodging by ourselves.

     I suspect that everyone in the group will sleep well tonight!

    For some of the day’s photos go here.

  • June 1, 2013 1:53 pm

    JUNE 2013: AMU Investigators Land in Rome

    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 (, “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.”

  • February 7, 2013 11:07 am

    "On Pins and Needles"

    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.