Why I’m here

I went back to my high school in June to visit some old teachers, and when I told my calculus teacher I’d be spending almost 10 weeks in DC, his face lit up. “Really? That’s my favorite city!” he said. “What are you doing there?”

“I’m editing translations of medieval Latin texts,” I told him. He laughed and shook his head. “Oh, Jessi,” he said. “What a way to spend a summer.”

His affectionate bewilderment was typical of the reactions I got to my summer job. To be honest, sometimes that’s my reaction, too. Neither a Classics concentrator nor a Christian, I’ve pored over dozens of Latin poems on the beauty of the Cross and the virtues of various medieval churches.  I don’t know French, but I find myself using a Latin-French dictionary almost every day, consulting Google or my polyglot coworkers to clear up the confusion. And there are times–after coming across a particularly biting anti-Semitic poem, for example, or hearing English speakers called barbarians by some snooty Italian author–when I wonder what a Jewish fan of Victorian English literature is doing here.

But then, I’ll come across a charming line in a love poem:

“Differentem omnibus

amo differenter.” –Carmina Burana 56.4.1

(Loosely translated: “I love one different from the rest, and I love her differently.”)

Or I’ll have a brush with the wisdom of the Old English volumes in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, and thrill at discovering the dawn of the language in which I speak and write:

“ond  þe in ferðe laet

þine lareowas leofe in mode,

þa þec geornast to gode trymmen.”   –Old English Shorter Poems, “Precepts”,  lines 12-14

(“…and in your heart let your teachers be dear in mind, those who most eagerly exhort you to the good.” Translation by Robert E. Bjork)

And, as it turns out, occasionally even snooty Italian authors write about universal human struggles with friendship, love, and loss:

“Omnia conspicio simul—aethera, flumina, terram–

cum te non video, sunt mihi cuncta parum. “–Venantius Fortunatus,   11.2.3-4

(Loosely translated: “I see everything at once–the air, the rivers, the earth–but when I do not see you, everything is too little for me.”)

I come across lines like this, and I realize again that medieval authors are, in fact, authors–not just Christians or Italians or anti-Semites, but authors, real people doing their best to create something that matters, something beautiful that future generations might want to keep around. That’s when I remember why I’m here.

About me: I’m a rising sophomore from Leawood, KS, planning to concentrate in English.



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