It had been over a year since I had last seen the Tiber river. To me, the Tiber felt like the only immutable aspect of the ancient city. Its water flows through Rome today just as it did in ancient times. In the Aeneid, Virgil describes its deep blue, watery depths while his contemporary, Horace, describes a yellowish, raging Tiber, cutting the Roman landscape.
Passing by the ancient river on my way to get coffee or meet for class, I imagine that I am seeing through the eyes of Horace or Virgil, and that the essence of the late Roman republic bleeds through my experience in their lasting written words. I think about how many aspects of the ancient Romans themselves bleed into the urban, social and cultural present of the Western world.
Through rain or shine, our group of thirty classical linguists, historians, artists and archaeologists treads through contemporary Rome, uncovering the history of the ancient city. One of the most amazing parts of our experiences with the past has been the people in the present that help it come alive. Not only from the wealth of knowledge from a group of passionate professors, but also from an inspired, quirky group of beautiful individuals have I fallen one step further in love with the city of Rome and its rich, rich past.
Just today, we woke up for a 7 a.m. breakfast, took a bus into the heart of the city and walked for four hours in pouring rain to learn about the evolution of Roman temples from the Etruscans to the late Roman emperors. Soaked, exhausted and overloaded with information, my colleagues and I wandered into a restaurant in the Campo di Fiori. Sipping our sweet, chocolatey cappuccinos, we reminisced over the beauty of ancient theaters, forums and temples that we had just seen, still in awe at the remains of the Theatre of Pompey just down the block. Over our conversations and cappuccinos, we became reenergized and ready to see and do and learn as much as we possible could—despite our drenched and tired states. I was and continue to be overwhelmed with a deep sense of pride for our shared fascination and curiosity with the ancient city and its people.
My own life experiences have already been heavily influenced by the people I have met as a result of my classical studies. In middle school, I met my three best friends in Latin class, with whom I still remain close to this day. Today, I find myself surrounded by a comparable group of awesome individuals. We get to struggle, nerd out and translate together, building relationships through a shared love of marginalized majors and obsession with dead people.
I look out onto the Tiber and I realize that it is rather mutable. It’s not the same Tiber that Horace and Virgil saw. Ancient bridges have fallen, earthquakes have trembled, and people have fought, spilling blood and history into its raging blue and yellow depths. And yet, here we are, studying the culture and history and landscape of those peoples, bringing the ancient past into our present.
I love how spatiotemporally distant people and places can influence our understanding of the people and places in our own lives. For me, breaking down the barriers of the past to uncover the lives of ancient peoples also uncovers the humanity and truth of contemporary peoples—we are all so alike in so many different ways. I have already learned that close bonds and shared memories, not blood, makes family; I have learned that language barriers can be overcome with enthusiasm, love and lots of smiles; and I have become confident that embarking on this demanding, challenging and uprooting journey was not only the right one, but will change my life and my thinking for the best.