Although I safely (but barely) made it to Sicily and have officially turned 20 years old, it’s still hard to believe that my time in Rome, as well as my time as being a teenager, is over. The last few days have been emotionally charged with tear-soaked cups of wine, incredible orations, and a beautiful change of scenery. Five weeks in a new location is just enough time to feel homesick but then conquer it, allowing one to slowly become accustomed to the new way of things. By the last week, I definitely felt myself feeling more comfortable in Rome, almost believing that it would never end. But alas, reality continues! But first, I must recount the tales of the debates in the Colosseum and the Ciceronion oration!
At the end of the program, we finally got to do the most touristy thing there is to do in Rome – go to the Colosseum! It was everything I ever thought it was going to be: packed full of tourists and under appreciated. The Colosseum has been made into a quasi sigil of Rome, an iconic imagine often used to represent the whole city as an idyllic tourist destination. Most people really don’t know why it’s called the Colosseum, how it was built, or what actually went on within its massive walls. It’s called the Colosseum not because of its immense size but because it was built next to a colossal statue of Nero! The infamous emperor Nero, after the great fire of 64, confiscated a large amount of land that had been cleared by the fire so that he could build his own personal palace complex. What a stand up guy.
Understandably, the people were none too happy with this arrangement and the Colosseum was built after the palace was destroyed as a building dedicated to the people. All the events were sponsored by wealthy people so that they could be free for the public, making it an ideal spot for socializing and escaping the drudgery of reality. The funds for actually building the Colosseum, however, did not come from the government or wealthy citizens. It came from money acquired by conquering peoples and plundering land, particularly the Jews. Not many people realize that this engineering feat was built from blood money. Nor do people realize how many people actually died during the public executions and gladiator fights that were commonly held in the Colosseum. It was a sobering feeling to be in a place that was steeped in so much blood.
After a brief tour and history lesson, we separated into reading groups and read some texts about the gladiator fights. And then we had our debate! I originally thought that the debates would be held just between our two classes but they ended up being in front of the whole group. It was nerve-wracking but definitely a good preparation for the next day when we had to perform the Cicero passage. My personal delivery went pretty smoothly! I managed to memorize almost all my lines, although the simplicity and brevity of the passage made it a whole lot easier to commit to memory. Everyone did a really amazing job, though. My round of debates was pretty funny because the rebuttals were perfectly opposite in nature, one outdoing the violence and disregard for slaves while the other went into full ‘love conquers all’ mode. It was the third round of debates that really took the cake when Jacobus (Jack) delivered a jaw-dropping speech entirely from memory. It’s the type of thing that can never be recreated because it was just so amazing. He was renamed Brutus during cena latina that night. This site visit was definitely one of the most fun because all the debates were just so hilarious and amazing.
We had a shorter class, where we went through our Cicero passages and read some texts, followed by a survey of the course. The survey was long and actually kind of hard because there was just so much that I wanted to say! It was really hard to evaluate all the teachers and site visits when everything is so unique and has its own special memory and experience. We also had our last session of sub arboribus, which was particularly fun because we just chatted in Latin. I thought it was going to be difficult to do for an entire hour but it went by surprisingly fast! We talked about our days and what type of house we dreamed of living in. We also tried gossiping in Latin, which is difficult but made it extremely fun. We dubbed it ‘dicens stercum’ or ‘talking shit’. We also had our last cena latina, which was basically a continuation of the sub arboribus.
Thursday was a rather intense day. Emotions already seemed to be running high because of the heat, the exhaustion, and the impending departure from Rome. We switched up the schedule so we had class in the morning and then had to meet at the Roman Forum at 4:30 that afternoon. There was an optional visit earlier in the afternoon at 3, so I decided to go to that. We hadn’t really spent much time in the Forum so it was fun to wander around and read Horace’s poem about walking the Forum, despite the fact that it was so ridiculously hot outside. This poem is particularly funny because Horace is telling a story about how he sees a guy that knows him but he doesn’t recognize him. I feel like we have all had this experience where someone joyfully runs up to us but we have literally no idea what their name is or how we know them. This Horace poem is exactly this experience so it’s pretty funny reading it! We were supposed to do the Cicero oration at 4:30 when everybody arrived but as is typical of Paideia and Romans in general, we didn’t start until well after 5. But it was still awesome, we were just hanging out in the Forum as the Ancient Romans did!
Declaiming Cicero in the Roman Forum is an experience I’ll never forget. We were steps away from where Cicero himself delivered his third Catilinarian speech! We gathered into a circle, in the order of each passage, and one by one, we would step into the center and declaim our individual part. It was so cool. Everyone worked really hard on their passage and it was so awesome so see everyone’s personality leak into their individual oration. It felt like the culmination of the entire experience and I felt like a badass classicist when I delivered my passage. It’s not often that you get to hear the entire third Catilinarian speech in one sitting. Afterwards, we walked to a theatre where the two high school groups in the LLiR high school program performed in their talent show. It feels like a very long time since I’ve been around high schoolers and I had forgotten how weird they are. I truly hope that I wasn’t that strange as a high schooler but I probably was. After almost every performance, we would look at each other in utter confusion, wondering what we had just witnessed. But they did a pretty good job nonetheless.
We were reward with some gelato after the talent show, probably both for sitting through the show itself and performing our own oration at the Forum. It was spectacular gelato with some very peculiar flavor options. I got a combination of Four Chocolates, Garden Sage and Lavender, and White Chocolate with Basil! It sounds like a weird combo but it was actually spectacular. A group of about 20 of us decided that we should go out for aperitivo to do an early celebration of my birthday as well as finishing Cicero. It was kind of a nightmare because a group of 20 people is actually pretty big. The place we went to was also rather fancy and didn’t explain their aperitivo rules so it ended up being a slight disaster but at least I got a mixed drink.
Friday was ridiculously emotional. It was my last day and I had to do my final exam as well as say goodbye to everyone. We also had to recite a Horace poem from memory, which was learned during the bus ride to the location right after I took my exam. The exam was just sight reading with grammar questions so it wasn’t horrible but I was still nervous for it. It went well though! Or at least I think it did. Our location for the day was spending about an hour in the medieval looking town of License and then walking to the Villa of Horace. This town was absolutely adorable and we got to explore its 3 streets for about an hour. I’m not kidding, this town was really small and had only a few large streets with many small alley ways leading off of them. It was also on a hill and you could take one of the streets all the way to the top! The museum was unfortunately closed but there was also a footpath that snaked around the back of the mountain that had these beautiful views. I definitely hope that I can retire to a medieval town like this once I’m old and grey.
After buying our picnic lunch and hanging out in the town’s only piazza, we began the trek to Horace’s Villa. It was actually rather laborious and sort of long but it’s tradition to walk on the last day to the villa! Apparently this tradition was started by Reggie Foster and so our teachers wanted to maintain it. They said that he also always got off a couple stops early on their return trip because he couldn’t bear to say goodbye. Our site visit here was definitely tinted blue with our knowledge of impending departure. Being with a group of only 36 people for 5 weeks can make you become quite close with each other! Even now it’s strange not to see everyone. We read some Horace in Horace’s Villa before lunch, which was pretty awesome. They don’t know if it’s Horace’s villa for sure but they have pretty strong evidence suggesting that it’s his. After reading we had a picnic lunch at the Fons nearby. It’s a magical waterfall/fountain and it was absolutely gorgeous. The water was frigid and we stuck our jugs of wine right into the stream so it could be chilled! It was definitely one of the most beautiful picnics I’ve ever been to.
After our lunch of breads, meats, cheese, and many different types of fruits (including figs!), we let the wine flow freely and recited some Horace poetry. It was a beautiful experience and everyone, although slightly tipsy at this point, did a great job. Even the teachers got up to recite some poetry and then we all recited some poetry together, pouring wine and flowers into the little stream as a tribute to Horace. That was when the tears started flowing as Jason, the leader, gave an emotional speech and started crying after he saw my friend crying. It was simultaneously funny and heart breaking. Then people realized that it was my last day and the round of hugs had to start all over again. It was a perfect last day, a perfect summary of everything that had happened during the program, and it wasn’t goodbyes we said but rather ‘see you later’. I look forward to seeing all these wonderful Classicists again in the future!
I spent the evening packing and went to bed early because I had to get up before the crack of dawn. Even getting up at 5am didn’t give me enough time to barely manage to zip my bag shut and get to the metro. I ended up missing the train I had meant to take to the airport so was set back about 30 minutes, which was incredibly stressful. The lines at the airport were loooonnnggg. Who needs to go to places so badly that early in the morning? I eventually had to skip the line because my flight was boarding! But I made it so everything worked out and now I have a stressful airport experience under my belt.
The flight to Palermo was short and we arrived about 9:30am. We had to wait for everyone to arrive from various airports around the world so we didn’t actually leave until about 12 when we took a few large cars to a site called Segesta. It’s an archaeological site that has a massive Greek temple and theatre with many layers of buildings built on top of one another. It was a very beautiful site! It was a little shocking to do some hard trekking in an ancient site right after getting out from the airport but it was still pretty fun. We got a chance to meet the other participants in the program and everyone seems really amazing! We have someone from Sweden, Germany, and Australia, and a few from England! It’s an entirely different feel from Paideia and it’s very refreshing to be away from the big city and with a smaller group of people. I was filled with excitement, especially when we saw our lodging area and experienced the massive feast that was dinner. We’re staying on an olive farm called Fontanasalsa, which also happens to be a bed and breakfast type of thing for Italian families. It has four swimming pools and massive forests of olive trees. It’s a gorgeous location and our dining room is a very old courtyard, surrounded by a 200-year-old grape-vine. It’s spectacular.
I’ll leave my birthday celebration and the details of our first class for another post. So far, this has been an amazing experience and I don’t think I will ever recover from the amazing food that we’ve had here. Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes!! It still feels weird to be 20 but I honestly don’t feel any older.