The editorial success of an Italian professor shows that the founding language of European culture is in good health and could rise again as an identity theme for a continent that is experiencing a period of mistrust and immobility.
One of the most colorful scenes of the film The overtaking (Dino Risi, 1962) regards the passage in which some German priests stop the convertible Alfa Romeo in which Vittorio Gassman and Jean-Luis Trintignant travel. The car broke down, they punctured, they need a jack, but they don’t know how to explain it to their interlocutors. And this is how one of the priests decides to do it in Latin: “Elevator nobis necesse est”. Trintignant, who is French, explains the problem to Gassman, who is Italian, but cannot satisfy the urgent need of religious. And he replies clearly: “Non habemus gato, desolatus”. The scene clearly illustrates the bond of Latin in western culture. Its strength as a proof of communication. And even its identity value in the tradition of the continent,English predominates over other languages and is the most common in school curricula. The problem is that it also identifies a sabotage, the Brexit sabotage. And that could be upset, up to the extreme action of converting Latin into the hegemonic language of the European Union . Even tolerating such macaronic expressions as Gassman’s “desolatus”.
The idea, the provocation, was born from an Italian professor, Nicola Gardini, and from the celebrity – feverish – who obtained in his country an essay, a book, conceived, in reality, without the slightest commercial ambitions. It has achieved such success as if society were demanding a retrospective exercise of self-esteem towards a language that is too alive to be considered dead. The Spanish LOMCE (2013), for example, has enabled it again as a fundamental and compulsory subject of maturity, but Latin also represents an extraordinary communication vehiclein the fields of law, medicine, philosophy, religious liturgy, the army, engineering, architecture and everyday language. Let’s say motu proprio, quid pro quo, de facto, ergo, ex profeso or in extremis, perhaps not too conscious of the fact that we are evoking a milestone and foundation of European culture, whose breath is still able to communicate on the asphalt a German priest and an Italian Latin lover. It is the context in which the publication of ” Long live the Latin, stories and beauty of a useless language ” was providential .
The Garzanti Editore initiative presents eight editions, and the title does not need to be translated into Spanish , precisely because of the common root of the language. And because Spain was one of the most fertile territories of Romanization and also among the most gifted in the export of talent to the empire. Not so much for the figures of Hadrian or Trajan on the list of emperors, but for the size of the philosophers and writers who contributed to enriching Latin .
Nicola Gardini highlights the figure of Seneca. And he congratulates the joy that the Stoic master has given us. Both in the transparent form of his literature and in the conceptual nuances. To live the present – although the carpe diem is from Horace – to avoid the superstition of hope, to enjoy what one has rather to get frustrated because of what one does not have. “Seneca’s Latin,” writes Gardini, “is the direct reflection of his lucidity and his propensity for synthesis, he must be directed to the core of the issues, without complications, without raising his voice. A spontaneous Latin. The Latin of those who meditate and those who transform ideas into rules of life“. It is the perfect antagonism to Cicero’s pompous rhetoric, although Gardini does not reproach her. On the contrary, it gives it a much higher value than the linguistic artifice. He claims that Cicero says adequate things with an appropriate form. And that his oratory is a science of emotions, but also the instrument thanks to which a whole system of values is broken up. “Talking well is a philosophy. Writing well is a way of doing good. And Cicero proved it, exposing his own eloquence in the service of a society threatened by tyranny. He was the sworn enemy of any despotism and was a heroic Senate spokesman. His weapon was a word: libertas “(freedom, in case translation is needed).
Returning to Latin, in Gardini’s opinion, would be neither an anachronistic regression nor extravagance, but a resource for Europe to recognize itself in its identity and in the language that structured it in its civilizing idiosyncrasy. Writing and speaking in Latin would make us good people , like Cicero. And obscene, like Catullus. And moving, like Virgil. And deep, like Lucretius, although this monument of the Latin language would never have been born without the evangelization of Cato (234-149 BC) and Plautus (250-184 BC). They were the ones to fix the columns of the language, to prepare the first breath of a prodigy who survived much more than his time and space.
This is demonstrated by the pontifical ceremonies and the “slaps” that we give to the Latin dictionary (de motu propio, roughly, el quiz de la cuestión ..), as well as the adhesion to the language that made Petrarch, Milton distinguished over the centuries , Ariosto, Tommaso Moro, but also Rilke, Montale, Beckett, Joyce or Jorge Luis Borges. “Not without some vainglory, I had begun the methodical study of Latin in those days ,” wrote the Argentine essay. Gardini evokes the phrase at the beginning of his essay. Or it should be said in the incipit, given that any book is full of Latin expressions or abbreviations (circa, sic, op. Cit.), Like the bread crumbs that the Italian professor has dropped in front of us to continue the journey to the “Cultural fullness” and the Ciceronian resistance. “You have to study Latin “, concludes Gardini,” not only for the pleasure of doing it, but also to educate the spirit, to offer words all the transforming force that lives in them “. And to understand each other with a German priest thrown on the road with the broken car. And say to him: “Desolatus”.