Dispatch from Italy

This summer I was given the incredible opportunity to journey to Italy in order to further develop the Latin program at GUS. This generous enterprise was provided by alumni parents, Richard and Donna Tadler P’05’09, who make a gift each year to support this special faculty fund in their family’s good name. I am honored to have been selected as the Tadler Grant Award recipient for the 2018-2019 academic year.

My trip took place over the course of two weeks, starting with a few days in Florence, then moving on to Campania, and finishing with a week in Rome, the urbs aeterna (eternal city). The itinerary allowed for ample documentation of major archaeological sites as well as innumerable cultural artifacts and artworks, all of which I look forward to sharing with students, helping to make the ancient world come alive in the classroom and to contextualize the Latin we learn each day in class. 

The trip started in Florence, which was a minor settlement during the Roman empire but grew into an international seat of power and influence during the Renaissance. In addition to housing some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring artworks from the Renaissance, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery contains an extensive collection of ancient sculptures, including a famous marble statue of a boar which was originally found in Rome. A copy of the ancient statue was cast in bronze during the 17th century and today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Also noteworthy is the enormous and beautiful Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which was constructed in the 15th century and features the largest brick dome in the world. After packed days at museums, a trip to the top of the dome, and some truly delicious Tuscan meals, it was time for a train ride to Campania.

Campania is home to the famous remains of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as Mt. Vesuvius, and the incomparable Naples Archaeological museum (where many of the most famous ancient artworks and archaeological artifacts from the region are on display). Pompei and Herculaneum were tragically buried in ash and stone by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD and laid untouched, as if frozen in time, until excavations began in the late 1700s. Today these sites provide modern visitors an unbelievable opportunity to step back in time and imagine what life was like as an inhabitant of an ancient city. The Naples Archaeological museum gives us a window into the immense skill with which ancient artisans constructed not only larger pieces like mosaics, bronze statues, and marble sculptures, but also more humble objects of daily life, like oil lamps, glassware, and household fixtures of every variety. The incredible volume and quality of the archaeological offerings—as well as the world-famous pizza—made it hard to say goodbye to Campania, but for students of Latin there is truly no place like Rome, so I boarded a train headed for the caput mundi.

A week in Rome passes as quickly as a day in any other city—there is so much to see and do that after seven packed days of visits to museums and archaeological sites you feel like you are just getting started. I managed to make the most of my time there, with visits to every major site (including the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, and the Forum Romanum) as well as dozens of sites with somewhat smaller reputations but still gigantic dimensions (including the baths of Diocletian, which took up the space of what is now an entire neighborhood in the modern city of Rome). Especially interesting was a special trip underground into the Domus Aurea, once upon a time a palace for the mad emperor Nero and now an active archaeological dig site. Despite the busy schedule, I still had plenty of time to leisurely wander along the Tiber river and sample the local cuisine. As the trip came to a close, I tearfully finished my last cone of gelato and boarded the plane to Boston, with a suitcase full of souvenirs for the Latin classroom, a hard-drive full of thousands of digital photographs, and what felt like a lifetime of good memories. Vale, Roma pulcherrima! (Goodbye, beautiful Rome!) Maximas gratias, familia Tadleriana! (Special thanks to the Tadler family for making this grant available to the GUS faculty.)