Joshua Anthony, a Great Hearts Archway Anthem Latin teacher, spent the summer translating a 12th-century prayer book associated with Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
He said he found deep wisdom through his studies and had incredible encounters with humanity.
“My experience of (Latin) really stretches out over the centuries, thousands upon thousands of miles,” Anthony said. “It’s an encounter with the humanity of that person, and that’s so priceless.”
A Latin major at the University of Notre Dame, Anthony said he spent time working on the book during his high school days. However, he graduated in 2020, the “COVID year”, and was unable to finish it. When his former professor approached him and asked him to come back and spend some more time working on it, he jumped at the chance. Anthony worked on the project there for three weeks over the summer and said it was “fabulous”.
According to Anthony, the work was much more complex than just translating texts from Latin to English.
“This book dates from the 12th century. It’s handwritten in this really beautiful medieval handwriting and has a lot of abbreviations,” he explained. “So the first step is to simply transcribe the medieval script and convert it into digital text in Latin, unpacking and expanding all the abbreviations. Then the second part is to translate it into English.”
He described some of the “abbreviations” as a few random letters with squiggles around them, and said it took a fairly deep understanding of Latin and common text to piece together what they meant.
The book was written by Saint Hildegard von Bingen who, according to Anthony, was a German nun who lived in the 12th century and was a prolific writer. She wrote about theology, which was rare at the time and mostly frowned upon by women, about naturopathy, theater and music. Anthony said this text is specifically a prayer book with an illustration of a biblical event on the left and a description of the scene in a way that makes it personal.
“I was really touched by the living faith she expressed. Their faith was warm and personal,” he said of the sites he worked on. “I don’t come away depressed from reading this book all day, I feel really revitalized and with that revitalizing warmth. It is a really nice text to read.”
He added that he felt he could personally connect with this German nun who lived hundreds of years ago, which he says is quite unique in the Latin language. That connection is part of what drove him to study in the first place.
Anthony started teaching himself Latin when he was a sophomore in high school because his school didn’t offer the language as a course. He actually started taking French lessons in middle school and found it so interesting that it inspired him to learn Latin on his own.
“I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of English simply because so much English is derived from French,” explained Anthony. “So I figured if I want to get a deeper understanding of French, I need to go back one level. I got a much deeper understanding, but then it was also through the section of Roman authors that was in my elementary school book that I was exposed to their wisdom. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s remarkable, that’s what I want to do.’”
And he stuck with it. Anthony has now been teaching Latin at Great Hearts Archway Anthem for two years. He said he hopes to pass on his passion for the language to his students and show them that even if it’s not a language you encounter every day, there’s so much you can do with Latin.
As someone who didn’t get a chance to learn Latin at school, Anthony said it’s great to be able to bring this program to the kids in Anthem. He acknowledged that learning a language like Spanish is definitely useful to be able to converse with the people around us, but said that just because we’re alive at the same time, we really already have a lot in common with them. According to Anthony, Latin opens the door to so much more.
“With Latin, more so than any other language, just because it’s been used so continuously for thousands of years, you get this deep section of history that’s tapped into,” he said. “There’s a lot to be learned in terms of information, understanding and perspective, but the fact that you can encounter someone’s humanity through the centuries is so heartfelt, personal and interesting to me.”