Latin teacher

Joshua Anthony, a Latin teacher, shares his passion for the language with his students. (Great Hearts Archway Anthem/Submitted)

Joshua Anthony, a Great Hearts Archway Anthem Latin teacher, worked on translating a 12th century prayer book associated with St. Hildegard von Bingen at the University of Notre Dame over the summer.

He said he has found profound wisdom and experienced incredible encounters with humanity from his studies.

“My experience with (Latin) has really been across the centuries, across thousands and thousands of miles,” Anthony said. “It’s an encounter with the humanity of this person, and that is so invaluable.”

As a Latin major at the University of Notre Dame, Anthony said he spent time working on the book while he was in school. However, he graduated in 2020, “the COVID year,” and was unable to finish. So, when his former professor reached out to him and asked him to return to spend some more time working on it, he jumped at the chance. Anthony spent three weeks there working on the project over the summer and said it was “fabulous.”

According to Anthony, the work was a lot more complex than just translating text from Latin to English.

“This book is from the 12th century. It was written by hand in this really beautiful medieval handwriting and has got lots of abbreviations,” he explained. “So, the first step is just transcribing and getting the medieval writing into digital text in Latin, with all the abbreviations unpacked and expanded. Then, the second part is to translate it into English.”

He described some of the “abbreviations” as a couple random letters with squiggles around them, and said it took a pretty deep understanding of Latin and the general text to be able to piece together what those meant.

The book was written by St. Hildegard von Bingen, who Anthony said was a German nun who lived in the 12th century and was a prolific writer. She wrote about theology, which was rare and usually frowned upon for women at that time, as well as natural medicine, drama and music. Anthony said this text in particular was a prayer book, with an illustration of a biblical event on the left-hand side and a description of the scene in a way that makes it personal.

“I was really taken by the lively faith that she expressed. Her faith was warm and personal,” he said about the pages he worked on. “I don’t come away from spending all day with this book feeling depressed, I come away from it really feeling revived and with this revitalizing warmth. It’s a really beautiful text to read.”

He added that he felt he could personally connect with this German nun who lived hundreds of years ago, something he thinks is fairly unique to the Latin language. That connection is part of what made him decide to learn 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 out taking French classes in middle school, and said he found it so interesting that it spurred him to tackle learning Latin on his own.

“I got a much deeper understanding of English, just because so much of English comes from French,” Anthony explained. “So I thought if I wanted to get a deeper understanding of French, then I needed to go back one level further. I did get a much deeper understanding, but then also just from the section of Roman authors that were in my elementary textbook, I was put into contact with their wisdom. I thought, ‘Whoa, this is remarkable, this is what I want to do.’”

And he stuck with it. Now, Anthony has been teaching Latin at Great Hearts Archway Anthem for two years. He said he hopes to pass along his passion for the language to his students, and show them that even though it might not be a language one comes across everyday, there is still so much that can be done with Latin.

As someone who didn’t have the opportunity to take Latin when he was in school, Anthony said it’s great to be able to offer this program to the kids in Anthem. He acknowledged it is definitely useful to learn a language like Spanish to be able to converse with the people around us, but said we really already have a lot in common with them just from being alive at the same time. According to Anthony, Latin opens the door to so much more.

“With Latin, more so than any other language just because it has been so continuously used for thousands of years, you get this profound stretch of history that’s opened up,” he said. “You can learn a lot in terms of information, understanding and perspective, but for me, the fact that you can encounter someone’s humanity like this, across the centuries, is so heartfelt, personal and interesting.”