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Latin’s Effective History

We have been blessed to welcome a number of historical contributors to the Latin Alive series.  These contributors come from several universities across the United States, each one sharing something from his own expertise and love of ancient history.  These vignettes appear in the unit reading chapters along side a piece of Latin literature.  Below is a small sample taken from the introduction to Latin Alive Book 4, generously provided by Dr. Nodes of Baylor University.  Latin Alive Book 4 features a wide variety of readings from the time of Cicero to Newton’s Principia.  Dr. Nodes writes about the incredible influence Latin Literature had on generations far beyond the fall of Rome.

The post-classical or ‘medieval’ Latin language in use from A.D. 400 to 1400 is still Latin, and it conforms in broad terms to the same principles of use as the Latin of Cicero and Vergil.  What’s different is the freer use of the language in terms of the grammar, vocabulary, and regional variations, and the subject matter expressed.  It was common for writers of every part of that long period to speak disparagingly of the classical authors at one time, and yet use their works and even praise them at another time.  The monk and scholar, Alcuin of York, for example, is said to have kept an elder monk company as they kept vigil one night.  At dawn, when the bells sounded morning prayers, the old monk continued to sleep, and immediately he was set upon by demons, who beat him terribly.  The boy Alcuin later prayed, “Lord Jesus, enable me to keep the vigils, and if I will love Vergil more than the Psalms, let me be beaten too!”

But Alcuin was nothing less than a monument of classical learning.  He is said to have died still reciting Vergil!  How can this be?  Scholars have tried to show that the two behaviors are not incompatible, if one remembers that the medievals held classical learning as a means to the goal of spiritual wisdom, and not the goal itself. They wisely could not fail to recognize the greatness of their classical Latin predecessors as an aid to gaining clarity and depth of thought and expression, and a good measure of wisdom.

– from “Latin’s Effective History” by Daniel Nodes (Latin Alive, Book 4)

To learn more about Dr. Nodes and all those who contributed such articles to the Latin Alive series, please see the page titled “contributing historians.”

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