Thursday, April 30, 2015

Toga! Toga!

The Mount's serious Latin club, circa 1942. For a toga party,
it doesn't look like anyone is having much fun.
IN THIS LAST WEEK of the 2014-2015 academic year, Mount students are too busy studying and worrying about finals next week to throw toga parties (we think so, anyway).

The photo above is a group shot taken in the early 1940s (?) in Brady Hall, but this isn't your mom and dad's Animal House toga party. Instead of dorm sheets, these Mounties are wearing formal senatorial togas, probably trimmed in purple, and four are in gowns that wealthy Roman matrons would wear.

The solemn faces may be due to the fact that this is Taedifer, the Mount's Classical Language Club. If you have trouble imagining a social club for girls studying Latin and Greek, think again. Two full years of Latin were required of every Mount student doing lower-division work (freshmen and sophomores), and if you were studying what was called Classics, you'd be reading Greek, too. In fact, Latin was offered as a major through the 1960s. After that, interest dwindled.

Here's an excerpt from Inter-Nos in 1934 when the group was formed that gives us an idea of what their meetings were like (emphasis ours):
Its interest will center about the cultural elements, such as the discussion of Roman life, history, and customs, familiarity with which should be a part of the mental store of all students of Latin. Papers will be read and discussed at each meeting, and nothing will be left undone to create an atmosphere of ancient Rome as a background for the study of its language.
If this is what they did for fun, we wonder what they did when they were being really serious.

The information on the back of the picture says it is a "dramatic group," so they were probably putting on a play. It might well have been performed in Latin, because all of the faculty and most of the students would know at least a smattering.

We know from other evidence in the University Archives that Latin was pretty much ubiquitous at the Mount. Students wrote essays for publication in Latin and held an annual Latin festival for local high school students, conducted entirely in Latin, including the Pledge of Allegiance.
Sacramentum dicoilli vexillocivitatum foederatarum americaeet illi reipublicaequam significat,uni nationi,sub Deo,indivisibili,libertatem et justitiam praestanti omnibus.
In 1963, the Mount's first-ever basketball team made it to the statewide tournament, finishing fourth, largely on the ability to confuse opponents by calling signals in Latin.

As their sign indicates, the club was founded in 1934 and was in existence at least until the 1950s. Taedifer is Latin for torch-bearer, and the club's motto, "Latina Vivat," means Latin lives, long live Latin, or something like that.

Toga! Toga! Latina Vivat -- at least in the MSMU Libraries. The Coe and McCarthy libraries still have scores of books in the stacks printed completely in the classical tongue, remnants of the days when everybody studied it.

For lawyers, doctors, and members of choirs, Latin definitely vivat. And who knows? A little Latin might come in handy on the basketball court or soccer field.