During Winter Break, Medieval Studies MA students Scotland Long and Anna Lukyanova spent December 27 to January 3 in Paris in the Paideia Institute For Humanistic Study’s “Living Latin” program in Paris. Their group, led by Dr. Michael McGowan of Fordham’s Classics department, co-founder of the Paideia Institute, Dr. Eric Hewett, and Claire Burgess, editor of Paideia’s art blog Loci in Locis , spent time immersing themselves in Medieval Latin both tangibly and intangibly, practicing the active use of Latin as a living language in the physical spaces in which the language was employed as the lingua franca of its time.
The program sought to nurture the participants’ understanding of the Latin language creatively by having the students re-word Latin sentences and phrases using synonyms and different structures of grammar, making them producers of the language rather than mere observers of past productions and compositions. Classes were held daily in the afternoons in rooms graciously lent to the program by the monks of the Congregation de St. Esprit, one of the last functioning monasteries in Paris’ Latin Quarter, after excursions to sites inextricably linked to the use and survival of the Latin language in the Middle Ages and prior. The Latin Quarter is so named for the medieval students of the nearby Sorbonne, who continued to use Latin for their classes well after most other universities of Europe began employing vernacular languages officially. Dividing the group into three divisions according to understanding and comfort with the language, the program ensured those of every level of understanding walked away with a greater comprehension of Latin vocabulary.
The Sainte-Chapelle, Saint Denis Basilica, Chartres Cathedral, and Notre Dame de Paris were but a few of the iconic sites visited by this year’s troupe, consisting of students seeking Latin enlightenment, teachers seeking new methods of bringing the language to life in the classroom, and those of other professions who wished to indulge their own interest in the language of theology, philosophy, and the chronicles of Roman and Christian histories. Letters exchanged by the infamous lovers Abelard and Heloise were read in the language in which they were written over their graves in the Père Lachaise, where the pair are ironically, if appropriately, buried side-by-side. An excerpt from the life of Saint Germain was read in the Parisian abbey church bearing his name. The group also visited an old Roman amphitheatre on the bank of the Seine and found it, like Latin itself, still seeing its fair share of use, filled as it was with soccer players and bocci ball enthusiasts. The Latin-speaking troupe did not go unnoticed in the city, however, as the occasional Parisian would make his or her way quietly up to the group to listen in for a few minutes before walking away, sometimes with noticeable confusion on their faces. A few others would casually make their way over to share what they knew of the site before walking away, disappearing like a surprisingly informative spectre.
Scot, having heard of the Paideia Institute’s “Living Latin” program in Paris during an event also hosted by Paideia in the New York Botanical Gardens during his undergraduate years, found time between these excursions to investigate the famous bookstores of Paris, the Collège de France, and the Sorbonne, taking in the proud intellectual traditions of the city. Anna spent a few extra days after the program concluded in Paris visiting, amongst other places, the marvels of the Louvre and strolling about Paris, taking in the timeless beauty of the City of Lights. The program began and ended with two large group dinners and celebrated the coming of the New Year with one also; all three of which included the recitation of popular Latin drinking songs. Who says one cannot mix work with play?
By Kevin Vogelaar