Bringing Latin Back to Life in Rome

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 11:15

This past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to spend five weeks in Rome, studying Latin with the Paideia Institute. I spent my time visiting ancient sites, wandering through museums, and speaking (yes, speaking) Latin with my peers. This incredible summer was made possible because the UChicago Classics Department awarded me the Nancy P. Helmbold Travel Award, which supports a Classics student studying or doing research in Greece or Italy. UChicago has so many grants and awards for students to pursue amazing experiences in their summers—departmental awards, Metcalf internships, and UCIJAM or STEM grants (and more!)—all of which easy to apply for and open to all students. Through these funds, UChicago students are unbound in their ability to do things like internships or research abroad.  

In the past few years, several University of Chicago students have participated in this Latin program in Rome, which promotes classical learning through hands-on experiences. Some of my favorite activities in the program included reciting the third Catilinarian oration from memory in the ancient Forum, having a debate in Latin in the middle of the Colosseum, and reading Medieval Latin in the monastery where the text was written. We would go on three-to-four site visits per week, and I was thrilled to see all of the places and monuments that I had studied in my Core art class, Roman Art History.

I was excited for school to start up again following this program, not only so I could take more Latin classes, but also so that I could connect with the other UChicago students who have done the same program. I may also want to introduce an afterschool Latin program in Hyde Park elementary schools.

Obviously, studying for five weeks really improved my Latin, but this program meant so much more to me than that. As someone studying the humanities, I feel there are so many options for the future, but it can feel overwhelming to have to pick a path to follow beyond graduation. This program, however, allowed me to connect with dozens of classicists and see that there all the viable career options for people studying the humanities. Throughout the five weeks, we had several guest lecturers come talk to us about what they were doing with their studies: we met someone working on producing the largest Latin dictionary in the world, someone working on analyzing the agency of women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and, my personal favorite, a visit from UChicago history professor Ada Palmer, who gave an intriguing lecture about the transmission of ancient Latin to the medieval and modern times.

This course also showed me that Latin is so much more than the few texts we have from Ancient Rome—most Latin actually comes from the medieval and renaissance periods, and Latin works are still being written today. A lot of extant Latin, especially Latin written by female authors, has never been read by today’s classicists. As a student of Latin, it can seem like you are constrained to studying a tiny selection of famous works from the time of the Roman Empire, but in reality it is so easy to carve your own path and go somewhere with your study of the language that no one has gone before. Learning about all of this under-read and under-studied Latin has made me excited to come up with an idea for my BA thesis, which I will begin working on this year. This program as a whole has invigorated my love for classics and the Latin language, and has encouraged me to learn ancient Greek and think about pursuing a masters or PhD in classics after graduation. I am so glad that the UChicago Department of Classics helped me get there!