Avete atque valete

[The following letter is as much a time capsule as a blog post. I have included this letter at the end of my Advanced Latin Literature final exam (which my students are currently taking as I write this). I am posting it here to archive and treasure it. Teaching these Latin students for the past two years has been incredibly enriching, both personally and professionally. It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to studying Latin with Diana, Gaia, Pomona, Flora, Minerva, Maia, Morpheus, Neptunus, Apollo, Vulcanus, Janus, Mars, Pluto, Proserpina, Aurora, and Hespera.]

To the gods and goddesses of Latin-land:

Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for the work that each of you has done over these past two years. Studying Latin with you has been a joyful pursuit. Your thoughtful and inquisitive nature, your patience and dedication, your willingness to explore words and ideas and history and connectedness has been inspiring. Gratias vobis ago.

The power of words. We spent a lot of time last year studying forms and charts and rules and through all of it, I hope, we took time to consider just how powerful words are. Words are our most inexhaustible form of magic…

Connectedness. Language helps us form connections with each other; studying world languages helps us form connections across cultures and geographies; studying Latin helps us develop connections across geography and chronology. We travel through space and time with Latin.

But one of my favorite reasons for studying Latin is that it seats us right at the intersection of language and thought. When we can articulate that the verb is a 3rd person, singular, pluperfect, passive, subjunctive form because of the role that it plays in the apodosis of a past contrary to fact conditional statement, we see very clearly the ties between our ideas and the way we express them. Or when we can articulate why it is surprising that an author chose to break a grammatical rule (what does it mean that he chose to use an indicative verb in an indirect question?), we are putting our expectations, our thoughts, our language – and how each of those things is related – under the microscope.

So then it might be a surprise for me to leave you all with this: when it really counts, words just don’t cut it. I spend a good deal of my time examining words, picking them apart, appreciating them, but rarely do words express what we want when we need them the most. Embrace words. Respect their power. But recognize their limitations. Some things are reserved for art, a smile, silence.

I hope that you will continue to live at the intersection of language and thought, that you will continue to be aware of the many ways our shared history lives on with us today, and that you will never say “who” when you mean to use the object form, “whom.” And I hope you will understand what I mean to convey when I end with a simple and enthusiastic: Thanks!

Avete atque valete,

BC

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