In Medias Res Turns One
Thoughts on Our First Anniversary
The Paideia Institute has never been shy about its debt to Reginald Foster, the one-of-a-kind Vatican Latinist who has doggedly taught Latin for the past forty-five years as “a one-man Audubon Society for the Latin language.” When Foster had extra time to teach during the summer after the university term was finished, he ended up creating Aestiva Romae Latinitas, his “summer school” which became, in the words of Mike Fontaine, “Top Gun for Latin.” When the Gregorian University fired him for letting students attend classes without registering and paying for them, he rented his own space and kept teaching. When he broke his femur and went through health problems so serious that the Vatican and the Carmelite Order decided to move him from Rome to a nursing home in Milwaukee, he found a room in the basement of the nursing home where he could keep teaching anyone who would show up. One of the frequent attendees in Milwaukee is a local housepainter who comes after work in his paint-spotted blue jeans. Some people, for whatever reason, just catch the spark, and keep on burning.
I’ve never had Foster’s indefatigability — I most definitely do get tired — but his has always been the approach to the Classics I admire most. He simply spends more time than anyone else reading Latin, and inviting people to read with him. And his rationale for reading Latin authors has been of the most basic, humanistic variety: they were people, just like us. They lived. And they happened to write a language that is enjoyable to read. That, in his mind, is dignity and worth enough.
Of course, his method didn’t agree with everybody. Most of his students took classes with him and moved on. But there is a core group of his former students — many of whom constitute the kernel of the Paideia Institute — who have never really left his side. I’m one of those students. And this is in large part because I have felt that our experiences of the world were similar. He was an enthusiast for something unusual, which meant by definition that he encountered in other people mostly indifference. Teaching, writing, whatever it may be, this has been my experience of the Classics: rooting in the dumpster at the back of the library, pulling out the books others were throwing away. Reginaldus felt that he should not let the lukewarmness of the world convert him — he decided instead to hold on to his passion. This is the Carmelite way: throughout Holy Hill in Wisconsin, Reginaldus’s home friary, can be found written on shields the beginning of the Carmelite motto, “Zelo zelatus sum.” “I have zealed with zeal” (usually translated as something like “I have been consumed with zeal”). The Carmelites believe in passion, the way the Benedictines believe in prayer and work. For Reginaldus this has meant a lifelong practice, as a kind of spiritual exercise, of feeding his passion: teaching and reading Latin with anyone who was willing to join him.
I’ve been able to watch over the past year — my first year as something like a Paideia staffer, if only a part-time one — as the Paideia Institute has attempted to apply this kind of zeal to a whole host of Classics-related projects, from museum trips for schools to Aequora, the elementary-school Classics-based literacy program now at 40 (40!) sites across the country, to online Classics “telepaideia” courses, to publishing books, to in situ programs in Europe. Each of these showcases the Classics to different types of people, who burn with various zeals different from Reginaldus’s. That’s what it means to be an institute as opposed to just an individual.
In Medias Res is one portion of this effort, for those of us whose zeal is for the written word. This week marks our first anniversary: we launched on January 19th, 2018. Since that time we have worked, not so doggedly as Reginaldus, but consistently, publishing 100 pieces in our first 52 weeks (you can find a complete archive of the site at the very bottom right of the home page, or just follow this link). And there’s been much to be proud of. We’ve become a kind of home for writers we’re honored to feature: Mike Fontaine, who always throws his readers in medias res and “hasteth unto the happes;” Dani Bostick, whose double zeal for a good laugh and a lofty integrity is like one of the satirists of old; Elizabeth Manwell, who is willing to put a cheese grater to a deer antler to get her Ovid recipes right; Tom Hendrickson, who can write just as learnedly about C.S. Lewis as Ovid’s exile poetry; and others, who are just starting to appear on our pages. We published more than twenty pieces *in Latin* in 2018: two Latin reviews of Milena Minkova’s Florilegium Recentioris Latinitatis, Alexis Hellmer’s Latin verses on Star Wars, and some two dozen song translations, including epic efforts by Jon Meyer and Jason Pedicone. We closed our first year with a series of ten pieces on reading the works of Ovid, a salutary reminder, amidst all the troubles which have been present in every era, to keep returning to the Classics themselves.
And we’re even more excited about 2019. A new crop of Paideia Rome Fellows are just about to inject new vigor into our Loci in Locis series; important articles about promising developments in the world of Classics are on their way, including one about some good news in Princeton; we even have some promising pieces gathered around the fact that 2019 is the Year of the Pig (trust me on this one). We have a whole slew of articles in process at present: really more than one editor can keep up with. But we’re still looking for new writers to join us. If you’ve got something that you’re zealing with zeal about, pitch us at email@example.com and let us know.