Saturday, August 3, 2013

Via Austria

Student question #6: What are some of their {Austrian} cultural habits?
Answer: Austrians see their past deeply connected with their future.

During my freshman year of college, I began learning German with Herr (Dr.) Ronald Warner. Having spent five years already as a Latin scholar, as we were named by our Latin teacher in high school, I was ready to tackle German grammar systems and to cope with the challenge of acquiring a new set of vocabulary. When it came to culture and history, I soaked it all up, too. Currently, the more that I read and witness in regards to European and Austrian history and culture, the more I realize that understanding ancient Roman history and culture makes it all that much more connected in my mind.

While in Austria this summer, I saw Latin words and Roman images everywhere I went: buildings, monuments, works of art, etc. Why do Austrians bother to utilize so many Latin statements in their cities and towns? Why do they choose to employ so many Roman-themed images and stories? Why is it all still so meaningful to them?

I. Being surrounded by Roman/Greek heroes improves your looks.

Mural from the Spanischer Saal at Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria, 2013
While renovating Castle Ambras in the 16th century, Archduke Ferdinand II integrated a 43 meter long ballroom. When it came time for the artistic design of the hall, he chose to include along with the 27 portraits of Tyrolean princes all twelve labors of Hercules. If you came to an event here, you would be mightily impressed and you might even begin to associate the archduke with heroic deeds he never personally accomplished. Regardless, the message is: Hercules had godlike powers, and so do I. Maybe I should rethink my poster choices for my classroom walls this fall...

II. Latin lasts forever!
Latin text from one section of the Plague Column on the Graben in Vienna, 2013
If you would like to say something to the world and want it to be read forever, compose your sentiment in Latin! In Vienna just steps away from St. Stephan's cathedral stands the Pestsäule (plague column). In 1679, the emperor, while running as fast as he could out of the city, promised to God to erect this monument, if he would rescue the city and himself from a plague that was ravaging its residents. A bit over 300 years later, one can still palpably feel the emperor's anxiety about what had happened in his hometown with his words, "I devote most subserviently this monument, just a small eternal token, is all."

III. Latin is where all the cool kids hide their secret messages.
Base of a column in Graz, 2013

Underneath the Goldenes Dachl in Innsbruck, 2013
Take a close look at those two pictures. What do you see? Notice how some of the letters are larger than the others? Why those letters, do you think? Let's list them out:
  • V M I I V D I I I I I V I I L V
  • V D I C I V V L M V
Now they look familiar! Roman numerals, which are actually letters. These are examples of cryptograms. The creator of these inscriptions used the words of the text to imbed an important number. That's what I call multi-purposing!

Bonus question for the nerds in the audience: what dates are represented with each cryptogram shown here?

So many centuries later, we still think about the Romans, imagine ourselves in their myths, and use their language, because in spite of all of its awkwardness and challenges, it works. It communicates. It makes itself understood. It unchangeably defies change. To know myself, I have to know where I have been.
This one's for you, Mr. Tannas. Maximas gratias tibi ago


1 comment:

  1. Being travel to other ares on road is great experience Kris Angel