Arcadius Avellanus, born Mogyoróssy Arkád (6 February 1851 – 16 June 1935: “Scisne Latine, Barbare?”

Mogyoróssy Arkád was born in Esztergom near Budapest back in the days before exurbia blurred the line between city and country. His first language, he claimed, was Latin.

The claim is fantastic enough to seduce credulity, and some of the circumstances behind his early life suggest it might be true.

Independent details on his early life are, sadly, scarce, and gentlemen do not inquire too closely into the details of other men’s personal lives, and given what that part of the world has gone through in the years since Avellanus’ birth, confirming anything could be a challenge.

Consider the range of populations under the Hapsburg’s imperial eage. Hungarian German Slovak Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Rumanians, all jealous of their several prerogatives, what to bring them together, particularly in matters of law and politics? Latin, of course, was language of the Church, the lingua franca of the renaissance. It lasted as the official language of the Hapsburg Empire until 1782.

Sixty nine years (the space between 1782 and his birth) was less earth changing a span in those days than now – one can imagine a traditional family keeping up the old ways, preparing its sons for whatever service the Empire might require.

That didn’t pan out, but, as will sometimes happen, Avellanus fell in love with the language.
Even at that late date, when Latin was a standard of western curriculum, his was an oddball kind of passion. And as German had overtaken Latin as the Empire’s official language, where was a Latinist to go? Rumor was the church, to which he may or may not have been ordained, and may or may not have been unfrocked.

In due course, he established a school to push the discipline, adverts featuring a toga clad Roman asking a rube, “Do you know Latin, Barbarian?” To which the yob replies, “Yes, to spell, parse and translate, if you write.”

Wrong answer. If you wanted to learn from Avellanus, spoken was the way to go. He wanted to revive the language as a living entity, and thought it had a better shot than, say, Esperanto (Desperanto in AA’s word). Of modern languages – he knew Hebrew and Greek (that religious training again), German (which he disliked), the Romance languages (debased Latin and as such unworthy of any serious attention), and, he claimed, some unspecified Oriental languages.

He came to America in 1878 for unclear reasons and lived in obscurity for eight years at which time he self published printed The Reprobation of Yisroel, a strange screed that boiled down to the Jews troubles all stemming from their unwillingness to become Christian.

From 1895 to 1902 he published Praeco Latinus (Latin Herald), a monthly magazine dedicated to Latina s a spoken language. He published Palaestra, a manual for Latin teaches that went through several editions.

It was in 1896 that he went whole hog and adopted the moniker Arcadius Avellanus. His qualifications were enough to get him positions teaching Rugy Academy in Philadelphis, St Bonaventure and St Mary’s in Pennsylvania.

His main legacy, however, was translation. He wished to seduce children into the language. Cicero was not going to be the taste of the average teenager, much less child. For once, he went practical, which such titles as Insula Thesaurum. Fabulae Divales.

His partner in this quixotic enterprise was Mr Ezra Parmalee Prentice (July 29, 1863 – 1955) of Williamstown Ma, son-in-law of John D. Rockefeller. The Mount Hope Classics, Mount Hope being the 1400 acre experimental farm Prentice ran with his wife Adela.

Are the books any good? Well, he take Defoe more as a starting point rather than an ending, taking the story into directions Defoe never dreamed of (or if he had, dismissed). Charles H. Forbes of Philips Andover skewered his sometimes less than classic syntax and literalism. (His defenders ceded the point, but put it down to his short attention span and low capacity for boredom (or revision)).

From here came the raft of such classics as Winnie Ille Pu, Asterix Gallus, and more recently Harrius Potterus.

In his latter years, he organized New York City’s Societas Gentium Latina Intabulata, a round table of himself and a few other similar obsessives. The New Yorker had some snarky fun with them in 1930:

“When they get together, they keep minutes in Latin, read papers in Latin, eat dinner practically in Latin, and when they have nothing else to do they write each other letters in Latin, beginning “Vir Clarissime” and ending “Tibi obsequentissimus”. This sort of thing keeps a member in good spirits for weeks.”

Well, it was the age of the Algonquin Table, and how pleasant were they?

Last laugh, however, could go to Avellanus.  We seem to be enjoying  a movement for spoken Latin, led by genuine scholars such as Luigi Miraglia, Reginald Foster, and happily, public schools.

Good times for the young hoping to learn Latin.

Bonus Link – Treasure Island recited. 

There are plenty more out there if you’ve a mind to look

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