To be and know oneself

When the Vatican revamped its Latin journal, the Catholic Herald published a story about it in Latin.

Mirabile dictu! Latinitas redit

Civitas Vaticana editionem primam actorum diurnorum Latinorum recreatorum, Latinitatem, aperuit. Editio nova praefationem a Francisco Papa adscribit, qui 180,000 sectatores eius tabularii Latini, Strepitus, habet.

Latinitas quater quotannis vulgatur et litteras de historia, libris, lingua et scientiis continet. Acta diurna in parte, Diarium Latinum, quoque continet. Ad ecclesiae linguam publicam promendam in MCMLIII fundata est. Editio nova litteras in lingua Italica Anglicaque primum habebit.

Editionem novam nuntians, Cardinalis Gianfrancus Ravasius Italicum Communem, Antonium Gramscium, interpretatus est, dicens, “Linguam Latinam aut Graecam non studes ut eas dicas. Id facis ut cum populorum duorum, qui societatis novae fundamenta erant, humanitate convenias; id est, eas studes ut tu sis et te cognoscas.”

They invited people to offer translations in the comments. Most of them are fairly literal. This is an attempt in the journalistic mode.

Latin makes a stunning comeback!

The Vatican has unveiled the first edition of a journal for Latinists – Latinitas. The new edition includes a preface by Pope Francis, who has 180,000 followers of his Latin Twitter feed.

Latinitas is published four times a year and contains articles on history, literature and science. It also contains a day by day news section "Diarium Latinum" (Latin Diary). Latinitas was founded in 1953  to promote the universal language of the Church. For the first time the new edition will have articles in Italian and English.

Announcing the new edition, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi cited the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. "You do not study Latin or Greek to speak them. You do it to meet the humanity of those peoples, that is, you study them to be and know yourself."


sectatores eius tabularii Latini, Strepitūs. Strepitus ("noise, din") is the Latin word for Twitter. It is fourth declension and the sentence only makes sense if it is in the genitive. Literally the phrase means "followers of his Latin archive of Twitter".

Acta diurna in parte…quoque continet. Acta is plural. It is possible that the draftsman thinks it can take a singular verb. This would give a much smoother rendering "The journal (acta diurna) also contains a "Latin Diary" in one section." According to Kennedy (§199) where two nouns making up a composite subject form a single notion, then they can take a singular verb, e.g. Senatus populusque Romanus. Nevertheless, from a cursory glance over Perseus it seems that the Acta Diurna (an official publication in Ancient Rome) always take a plural verb.

Italicum communem. Catholic condemnations of communism (often by means of a condemnation of the teachings of communists) use the coinages communismus and communista. For the former this goes back at least as far as the encyclical of Pius IX Qui pluribus of 1st November 1846 (DS 2786). For the latter, Leo XIII warns the audience of his encyclical [English] Quod Apostolici muneris (18th December 1878, ASS 11 (1878) [pdf] p.372) against the doctrine of those "qui diversis ac pene barbaris nominibus Socialistae, Communistae vel Nihilistae appellantur"  – "who are known by diverse and almost barbarous names, as Socialists etc." Pius XI points out that the "communistarum effata" – literally "axioms of the communists" – impoverish the human person in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris of 19th March 1937 (DS 3773). In both those instances note the use of italics to show that the word itself is not Classical. The Holy Office  issued a decree on 1st July 1949, DS 3865, in answer to a question whether it is permitted to join a communist party – "partibus communistarum nomen dare" (answer in the negative). On that occasion the questioner apparently chose the term communista without the "scare italics". For what it is worth, in the OCR scan of AAS 41 (1949), p.334 [pdf] no italics appear at that point. Finally, John XXIII in his encyclical Mater et magistra of 15th May 1961, talks of "communistarum, qui dicuntur" (as per the OCR AAS 53 (1961) p.408 [pdf], cf. DS 3939). Without going into the thorny grammar of that sentence, it is clear that there the word communista is held at a certain stylistic arm's length "those who are called "communists"" – just as Leo XIII referrred to it as a pene barbarum nomen. In fact one could avoid translating "qui dicuntur" altogether and just use quotation marks. Latin, like Greek, prefers to allow the grammar to govern the sense. For one thing the ancients did not have any full blown system of punctuation. In any case communis cannot mean "communist". It is an adjective and per Lewis & Short (s.v. I B) it is used substantively for nothing more specific than "that which is common".

interpretatus est. A number of the commenters at the Catholic Herald render this "he quoted". This is clearly wrong. It would be protulit, possibly making verba the object and putting Gramsci in the genitive. Interpretor means "I translate". There is a sense of the speaker providing some kind of explanation or exegesis of his source. Cito, unlike English "cited" has a more strictly legal, and legal-like meaning.

The passage cited by Cardinal Ravasi is derived from Gramsci's notebooks as given by Stanley Aronowitz in "Gramsci's Theory of Education: Schooling and Beyond"*

Pupils did not learn Latin and Greek in order to speak them, to become waiters, interpreters or commercial letter-writers. They learnt in order to know at first hand the civilization of Greece and of Rome—a civilization that was a necessary precondition of our modern civilization; in other words, they learnt them in order to be themselves and know themselves consciously.

It appears that Cardinal Ravasi was speaking in Italian. What he said is quoted in Zenit's report of the press conference (the English version of that bulletin includes no reference to Gramsci):

Non si impara il latino e il greco per parlarli, per fare i camerieri, gli interpreti, i corrispondenti commerciali: si impara per conoscere direttamente la civiltà dei due popoli, quindi il passato, ma presupposto necessario della civiltà moderna, cioè per essere se stessi e conoscere se stessi, consapevolmente.

The Italian website provides the complete works of Gramsci, or perhaps only his obiter dicta. (He seems to have been a great filler of notebooks). This passage, I think is the source of Cardinal Ravasi's citation, from (so far as I can judge) notebook 12, § 2:

Non si imparava il latino e il greco per parlarli, per fare i camerieri, gli interpreti, i corrispondenti commerciali. Si imparava per conoscere direttamente la civiltà dei due popoli, presupposto necessario della civiltà moderna, cioè per essere se stessi e conoscere se stessi consapevolmente. 

* Carmel Borg, Joseph A. Buttigieg, Peter Mayo (edd.) Gramsci and Education (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), ch.5, pp.109-120, at p.114.