Thursday, January 26, 2012

Roman Numerals: Looking back from MMXII

Number LII entrance, still visible, on Colosseum, Rome. 
Super Bowl LXVI is coming up.  That’s number 46.  I had to look it up because I forgot my Roman numerals. The ancient Roman number system isn’t used much anymore.  Hasn’t been since around the 14th century when the Roman empire crumbled.  You see the symbols here and there, in book titles and chapters, the titles of popes and queens, and some special events, like the Olympics and the Super Bowl.  That's about it for lingua Latina in this day and age.  


But the numbers take me back to my high school days at Harley School in Rochester, New York, when I took four years of the Latin language in two years.  Most students gave up at two years, but I went on, alone, with the famed Mrs. Bullock, in my Senior year. 


We read Virgil's Aenead together in the school library, the beautiful epic poem about the founding of Rome, and we read a little Cicero and Horace because she loved them. We read some in Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, too, full of incredible images that have always stayed with me.  It was just the two of us.  She called me her “little scholar.” This made me feel that I had to try to keep up.  She fed me lots of Roman and Greek history, stayed patiently with me while I read in Latin and translated, and encouraged every word along the way.  She gave me her copy of Galey’s “Classic Myths,” which I loved, and cherish to this day. Those fantastic classic myths beloved by Joseph Campbell and other scholars.  Mrs. Bullock was delighted when I picked out an Ovid love poem on my own and read it to her.  I liked Ovid because he wrote about love and not battles, appealing to an 18-year-old girl at the time.  

She’d laugh at my having to look up Roman numerals today.  But I’ve got it down now, again, and have her to thank for it.  In fact, I have her to thank for the best classical education one could get in the late 1950s.  It saw me through college and graduate school; shaped my love of learning and history; taught me to think, question, keep discovering.  It inspired my lifelong interest in the humanities, travel, and learning about different cultures that took me far beyond my classical foundation.  Thanks, Mrs. Bullock, and Harley School!

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