CMP Review 2024-06-20

CMP Review 2024-06-20

June 20, 2024

In 1395, Raymond of Capua completed his biography of Catherine of Siena. It was a celebrated work and remains our primary source of information about the life of the saint. However, when Raymond’s book was first circulated, not all was well. Those who knew Catherine best felt that her confessor had left out important episodes from the saint’s life.

Several appeals reached Tommaso Caffarini, who undertook to write a “supplement” to Raymond’s biography. He wrote his book in Latin and completed it in 1418. It remains a lesser-known work. While Raymond’s biography is available in English, as far as I know Tommaso’s supplement has not been translated.

A few years ago I began my own study of Latin. A major motivation was so that I could better teach the language to my youngest son. But that was not my only reason. I also wanted to read Tommaso’s book. I wanted to open this locked door to history. And Latin would be my key.

I have labored over hundreds of exercises and memorized thousands of words and forms. My mind has been bewildered and stretched as I have struggled to make sense of mysterious arrangements of words. Sentences where form rather than sequence conveys meaning.

And so a few weeks ago, I decided I was ready. I began the task just like any of the other exercises I have done. I wrote down Tommaso’s words, one sentence at a time. And then I began to parse, to analyze, to decode, and to unlock. Just like any other exercise. Except this time there is no answer key. This time it’s for real.

Ne pro aliqua parte … silentio deperiret,” came in the plea to Tommaso. Let not any part of her story perish by silence. I study Latin so that silence, and not story, will perish.