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The pope’s resignation and Latin’s (brief) moment of glory

It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar’s death. Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language: More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post ...

ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

It may be the biggest news to break in Latin since Julius Caesar’s death.

Pope Benedict XVI provided vindication for Latin teachers everywhere on Monday by breaking the news of his upcoming resignation via a speech in the oft-dismissed ancient language:

More satisfying still for those who maintain Latin is not dead, the Huffington Post Italy reports that the news was first broken by a reporter for Italy’s ANSA news agency, who apparently beat out journalists from France, Mexico, and Japan thanks to her superior language skills. Giovanna Chirri initially could not reach a Vatican spokesman to confirm the news, AFP reports:

In a heated debate with her editor, the journalist insisted her Latin knowledge was sound and they could alert the news.

Chirri later tweeted, "The #Pope’s Latin is very easy to understand," while French reporter Charles De Pechpeyrou told the Huffington Post:

The difficult part was "understanding the Latin," he said. "At a certain point, for example, I caught the word ‘incapability’ in the pope’s speech. I turned around and spoke with my Mexican colleague. We noticed that Pope Benedict had a sad look on his face, not his usual look. Something wasn’t right. Then, when cardinal Sodano mentioned the ‘sadness,’ we finally understood."

The choice of Latin for a major announcement was likely no accident: Benedict has long indicated that he considers a Latin revival important for the future of the Church. In November of last year, he established a Pontifical Academy of Latinity with the goal of promoting  the language, saying in a letter at the time that even among priests and seminarians, the study of Latin has become "more and more superficial." He further demonstrated his determination to take Latin into the modern world in January when he began tweeting in the language. Still, Benedictus PP. XVI has just 17,816 followers so far — the fewest of any of the pope’s nine Twitter accounts. 

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon. @APQW

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