Saturday, April 16, 2005

Visiting Oxford and a tangent 'on Latin'

As if Spain and Ireland are not enough, I just journeyed on a day-trip to Oxford for my first visit to this lovely city. It is called "The City of Dreaming Spires," easily misunderstood as "The City of Dream-Inspirers".

I was more in search of inspiration than spires, so I was hoping my misunderstanding would prove somehow accurate. And it did. In a sense, the whole city of Oxford is the University. It is a University of around 40 quasi-independent "Colleges" spread through the city, each of the colleges being founded by a wealthy king, nobleman or otherwise wealthy individual throughout the University's seven hundred year history. I was lucky enough to get a small guided tour by an alumnus of Gloucester College, with its intact 13th century houses opposite massive Georgian manners and a library funded by newspaper (and Fox news) tycoon Rupert Murdoch. We also toured Christ Church, at which some of the Harry Potter movies have been filmed.

On the one hand, the sheer size of everything is just awe-inspiring. Then, once you become accustomed to the hugeness of everything, you begin to see the immaculate detail put into every painting, carving, and stained-glass window. Much of what is written on the walls, the plaques and so on, is in Latin, reminding you of the very European roots of the University. There is certainly something to be said for learning Latin - the way it turns you toward the past, gives you a concrete tie, unbroken by translation or artifice, to the ancients of Rome. You see through Latin the birth and development of your own language, if it is English (Spanish, Italian, or French). Seeing this is like seeing pictures and hearing the stories of your own life, you realize that you are more than your own memories of the world and yourself. You existed before you even remember. And what you were then impacts you now, whether you realize it or not. So it is wise to hear those stories of your own life, and to reach beyond it if you can.

So this is where the inspiration for me comes in I suppose, in seeing more vividly the connection between these old stone walls, the portraits hung on them, the Latin, and me. Without this connection I am just me, in however limited a manner I wish to define myself. With the connection, I see the causes of the world around me, and the causes of my own place in the world. Of course, these will have been there whether I saw them or not. That is somewhat cryptic perhaps, but important I think. So think about it. Think about who you are, and how that relates to the world around you, in the present moment, in the past, and in the future.

Best wishes with your ponderings.... justin

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