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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.
  • June 14, 2014 11:02 pm

    Day 5: Saturday, June 14, 2014

    Saturday was dedicated to what I call, following Reginald Foster, the Loca Thomistica. For us, this meant an excursion by mini-bus outside of Rome to Monte Cassino, Roccasecca, and Fossanova. At Monte Cassino, we read from the opening paragraphs of St. Benedict’s Rule while taking in the amazing views from high above the surrounding valleys. Once you’ve driven up the very steep mountain to the abbey, it becomes that much harder to believe that during World War II Allied soliders attempted a frontal assault up such a mountain against crack German paratroopers. During lunch we sheltered in a gazebo in the village of Roccasecca while trying to decide whether the dark clouds would blow over or linger with rain and lightning for the afternoon. In the gazebo with views of the valley below and up above of the mountain where St. Thomas Aquinas was born, we read from William de Tocco’s life of St. Thomas Aquinas about a lightning bolt that struck a tower in which both he and a sister were sleeping. The lightning killed the sister and even the horses in the stable at the bottom of the tower, but St. Thomas and his nurse survived. In the end, we decided not to hazard the lightning test of our sanctity and ascended only as far as the first church in the world dedicated to St. Thomas after his canonization. We prayed there for his help in our Latin studies; though St. Thomas is not known for his Latinity, his profound knowledge of the language is obvious not only from his prose tomes but also from the beautiful Latin poetry that he wrote for the Feast of Corpus Christi, almost all of which we read in the course of the trip. The last stop of the day was at Fossanova where St. Thomas Aquinas died. M. B. Crowe in an issue of the Tablet in 1968 paints the scene well:

    In all the vicissitudes of its subsequent history Fossanova has been faithful to the memory of St. Thomas. The room in which he died, mourned by the monks, by the Franciscan Bishop of Terracina, by his Dominican confreres from Anagni and Gaeta and by his relatives, was enlarged into a chapel by one of the commendatory abbots of Fossanova’s decline, the seventeenth century Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini. The altar-piece of the school of Bernini and the humanistic verses Occidit hic Thomas lux ut foret amplior orbi  / Et candelabrum sic Nova Fossa foret are probably less to our taste than, say, Dante’s apotheosis of Aquinas in the Paradiso (X, 82-99) and Fra Angelico’s portrait. But as touching a reminder as any is the stillness of Fossanova, church, cloister, chapter-room and refectory, when the shuffle of tourist footsteps has died away.

    As we stood in this chapel and read the Latin couplets (Crowe has quoted only one), I must confess that, pace Crowe, I rather enjoyed them, even if they are somewhat more clever than solemn. (The second couplet runs thus: Editus ardenti locus est, non fossa, lucerna / Hanc igitur Fossam quis neget esse Novam? Still, I do not think that the author of a poem with the rhetorical force of Pange, lingua, gloriosi would have found them altogether wanting. Did Crowe ever consider the lines: “Verbum caro panem verum / verbo carnem efficit…” Yes, St. Thomas could enjoy a clever line, too!

  • April 3, 2012 9:53 am

    Etiam in bello

    The obituary of Leigh Fermor, war-hero and travel-writer, which appeared in The Telegraph (UK) last year (June 10, 2011), contains the following account of an incident on the island of Crete in April 1944:

    Dressed as German police corporals, the pair [Fermor and Bill Stanley Moss] stopped the car belonging to General Karl Kreipe, the island’s commander, while he was returning one evening to his villa near Knossos. The chauffeur disposed of, Leigh Fermor donned the general’s hat and, with Moss driving the car, they bluffed their way through the centre of Heraklion and a further 22 checkpoints. Kreipe, meanwhile, was hidden under the back seat and sat on by three hefty andartes, or Cretan partisans.

    For three weeks the group evaded German search parties, finally marching the general over the top of Mount Ida, the mythical birthplace of Zeus. It was here that occurred one of the most celebrated incidents in the Leigh Fermor legend.

    Gazing up at the snowy peak, Kreipe recited the first line of Horace’s ode Ad Thaliarchum – “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte" (See how Soracte stands white with snow on high). Leigh Fermor immediately continued the poem to its end. The two men realised that they had "drunk at the same fountains" before the war, as Leigh Fermor put it, and things between them were very different from then on.   

    (With credit to The Weekly Standard for recalling this story from The Telegraph.)