Hidden Treasures: Pitt’s Medieval Latin Reading Group

Issue Date: 
January 27, 2014

Gathered around the walnut seminar table in the Cathedral of Learning’s Polish Nationality Room is an unusual Pitt treasure, the Medieval Latin Reading Group.

The group—led by Ryan McDermott, an English professor, and Bruce Venarde, a history professor—comprises Western Pennsylvania medievalists, including members from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, and other area institutions. Membership ranges from professors emeriti to undergraduates to independent scholars who meet every two weeks to work through assigned paragraphs of sometimes-overlooked texts.

Each participant reads aloud in Latin and offers selected translation, with help from others when needed, as well as insights into what the text is saying. In addition to the readings, the group also brings in an outside speaker each year and plans to stage a play reading in the future.

But don’t let words like Medieval and Latin fool you. This group has fun, too. At a meeting last spring, while working through St. Augustine’s dialogue with his teenage son in De magistro, or On the Teacher, members passed around a paper Burger King crown to distinguish the reader of the moment.

Non scholae, sed vitae discimus, said Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a 1st-century Roman philosopher and writer. “We learn not for school, but for life.”

—By Amy Whipple