Spreading the word that Latin lives, a monk comes to New York

Thu May 23, 2013 12:07pm EDT
 
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By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Quomodo dicis latine life-jacket?" quipped one of the Latin-speaking passengers on a tour boat circumnavigating Manhattan on a rainy Sunday morning in May, just after the captain's safety announcement. "How do you say life-jacket in Latin?"

Luckily, one of the greatest living experts in spoken Latin was on hand with the answer, instantly recalling the word used by the Roman poet Horace in his "Satires" about 2,000 years ago.

"Horace says, 'When you grow up, nabis sine cortice' - you will swim without a float, or a life-jacket," said Father Reginald Foster, a Carmelite monk and priest.

Foster spent most of his working life translating the Pope's words into Latin at the Vatican and teaching spoken Latin to Catholic scholars, Latin teachers, graduate students and anybody else who was interested.

Now retired from the Vatican and living in a monastery in his hometown of Milwaukee, Foster is something of a celebrity in the rarefied world of Latin scholarship. His visit to New York last weekend, at the invitation of a foundation created to continue his teaching work, drew former students (including this reporter) from as far as Maine and Virginia.

On the agenda: seminars on teaching Latin as well as Latin-themed excursions such as a tour of the New York Botanical Gardens with Latin commentary and a visit to the site of George Washington's crossing of the Delaware to read "Life of George Washington in Latin Prose," by Francis Glass, published in 1835.

On the boat trip, the text was a description of the island of Manhattan published in Latin in 1633 by the Dutch explorer Johannes de Laet. The writer remarked on the weather (much like what he was used to), the richness of the soil (good for producing wine and cannabis) and the savagery of the original inhabitants (no religion or politics).

The Paideia Institute (paideia-institute.org/), which organized the visit, is dedicated to promoting the study of Latin at a time when fewer American children are learning any foreign languages.   Continued...

 
Father Reginald Foster smiles while on a boat tour of Manhattan in New York May 19, 2013. Now retired from the Vatican and living in a monastery in his hometown of Milwaukee, Foster is something of a celebrity in the rarefied world of Latin scholarship. His visit to New York last weekend, at the invitation of a foundation created to continue his teaching work, drew former students from as far as Maine and Virginia. On the boat trip around Manhattan, Latin-speaking passengers read from a description of the island of Manhattan published in Latin in 1633 by the Dutch explorer Johannes de Laet. Picture taken May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer