Why to study Latin and Hebrew?

Besides “Casas muertas”, I´m right now reading “Julio César”. It´s a bio of the man directed by Fco. Luis Cardona Castro, Phd. The book reminds me a curious anecdote.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

During 2002´s struggle in Venezuela, I received a phone call from my boss around 07:00 p.m. I can clearly recall his words: “¡Hola latinero!, ¿que significa alea jacta est?” I automatically answered him “la suerte está echada”. As my boss is always pretty sharp, I didn´t have the time to explain him that those were the words Julius Caesar said just after crossing the Rubicon river with his legions. I was eager to tell him that those words were definitive, that there was no way around them. Before I could tell him anything, he said “¡gracias!” and hung up. Under Roman Law, it was forbidden to a roman general to cross that river with an army. By this very act, Caesar was becoming a traitor and declared a civil war against the Roman Republic. He also “burnt his bridges” with his pro-consul Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Civil war was inevitable and Pompey was finally defeated one year after the crossing at the Battle of Pharsalus, on August 9, 48 b.c.e.

The Rubicon River

The Rubicon River

The Rubicon River nowadays

The Rubicon River nowadays

As my boss speaks Italian and Spanish perfectly, I came to realize that Italian and Latin are not that similar. When I studied Latin a loooong time ago, the differences between Latin and modern Italian were very stressed. But I didn’t believe them until that very day.

I studied Latin when I was actively thinking in becoming a catholic priest, under the influence of my dear abuela Yolanda Anato. My father – who speaks Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and some German – asked me: Why in heaven would you study a dead language?

To read Caesar in his own language, I said. Back then, my secret goal was to read the gospels directly in the Vulgata (an early 5th century bible translation in Latin).

I did read the Vulgata bible. I got a copy out of Seminario “menor” San Celestino in Barcelona, Venezuela, where my abuela had strong influences back then. I actively participated in the preparation of the first visit of Pope John Paul II to Venezuela. Three years after that visit, I started learning Hebrew to read the real thing in its original language.

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