Country Day students studying 9th Century manuscript

Country Day students studying 9th Century manuscript

Credit: The Charlotte Observer

Charlotte Country Day junior Anne Gardner, 17, is one of six advanced Latin students to work on the ancient-manuscript project. CAROLINE McMILLAN

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by The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on December 12, 2011 at 7:19 PM

At Charlotte Country Day School, the dead language of Latin is coming alive.

A small group of high-achieving junior and senior Latin students are spending their free time huddled around a computer screen with images of a ninth-century manuscript that before only scholars had dealt with.

The text is the oldest known Latin manuscript of Romano-Jewish historian Josephus's "De Bello Judaico," which chronicles the Jewish wars.

More than a thousand years old, the manuscript is so revered it never leaves the rare books library in Switzerland where it is housed.

Before the digital age, access to these rare manuscripts was reserved for top scholars.

But thanks to technological advances, Charlotte Country Day students are able to take part in potentially groundbreaking research.

CCDS is one of only two high schools in the country involved in this college and graduate-level research.

The other high school is in Connecticut.

Coordinating via Facebook, six honors and Advanced Placement Latin students gather a couple times a week to compare the high-resolution digital image of the ninth-century manuscript to the printout of a 16th century edition in front of them.

They note any differences in word choice, tone and grammar between the older and newer editions.

The ninth-century text is believed to have been hand-copied "by a monk in a monastery with a candle," said CCDS classical languages teacher Meghan Zepsa, who initiated the project. The project is under the direction of Dr. Neel Smith, a humanities professor at College of the Holy Cross, where Zepsa studied as an undergraduate.

The high school students must learn medieval abbreviations and study notes included between the lines of the text that could be valuable clues as to what Josephus intended.

"It encourages the students to have a more discerning eye for the nuance of words," said Zepsa.

"It's a great way to train your eyes and mind," said junior Robert Vann, 16.

The students' findings will be published in an academic database generations of future scholars will use and analyze.

The project is voluntary, not for a grade, so the students make time before and after school, over lunch or during free periods.

"It's an incredible feeling to make a mark in the classics world," said junior Elizabeth Hunter, 17.

"It's a testimony to their work ethic," said Zepsa. "It has the potential to be very influential."

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