Saturday, September 21, 2013

Audi Alteram Partem

     A few years back, my oldest son brought home an armload of Latin books from the library. He was going to teach himself Latin. I glanced through the books—heavy sledding. 
      "You know," I told him, "the biggest Latin publisher in the United States, Bolchazy-Carducci, is in Wauconda. I bet they have some kind of self-taught course we could use."
     And so they did. Three hundred dollars later, we had the Artes Latinae CD-rom disc, plus a workbook and study guide. And so we began Our Latin Summer, sitting side by side at my computer, drilling pronunciation, taking quizzes. Okay, it wasn't throwing the old pepper around in the front yard, but it would have to do. We pressed forward religiously, an hour a day, for weeks, months, longer than any sane people with no particular need to learn an ancient language would. 
     Eventually we lost steam. In Latin, they trill their Rs like Puerto Ricans. I'd never have attempted the language had I known—that's what eventually drove me away from speaking Russian, in part. My mouth just doesn't want to do it -- the best I could attempt was a kind of D dragged backwards across my pallet. It was work, though after we stopped, I missed it.
      I had liked learning the timeless idioms. Vestis virum reddit -- "clothes make the man." Manus manum lavat  -- "one hand washes the other," which ended up being the title of the first chapter in my Chicago book. Everything sounds better in Latin.
     Such as the sentence above, AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM, emblazoned in big letters across the back of the judicial chambers on the 18th floor of the Michael Bilandic Building on LaSalle Street.
     It doesn't mean anything particularly poetic. 
     "'Hear the other side,'" explained Patrick Cronin, manager of security for the court. It reminds the judges to hear the other side. It's also on the wall in the courtroom down in Springfield." He had opened the downtown courtroom so I could take some pictures -- my column in the Sun-Times Sunday is about sitting in on some of the oral arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court, which is convening in Chicago for its entire term for the first time, well, ever, while their building is being remodeled in Springfield
     I don't want to wax poetic about our justice system. It is heavily skewed by money, by race. But still, the theory, the concept is there. Our courts fall short, time and time again. We still have those insane mandatory minimum sentences largely in place. But at least the goal is there to fall short of.  There is something beautiful about seeing that slogan, in big metal letters, directly across from the bench where the seven high justices sit. At least the sign at the back of the courtroom doesn't say PECUNIAE OBEDIUNT OMNIA -- "All things obey money." Not yet anyway. 

The British Museum



  1. I notice there are no comments on this one, so I'm taking the liberty of adding one: Carpe noctem (it's 11:19 p.m. right now).

  2. I had two years of Latin in high school. The most valuable knowledge I gained is the ability to understand the meaning of words in different Latin-based languages by regognizing a common root. But, please don't ask me to speak Latin.


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