Ad Fontes is Latin for ‘back to the sources’. It seems appropriate that we label this cultural phenomenon in Latin, because that’s what it was all about. It was a rediscovery of Latin by Francis Petrarch, the poet who wandered deep into the library. His rediscovery of Latin reopened the possibilities of language. Petrarch was essentially the guy I work with who knows excel really well. All he did was spend some time on youtube and wikihow, but now he can accomplish the work it takes me 45 minutes to do in 5 minutes. The is knowledge readily available to anyone with the motivation to find it, but once you do find it you have the edge over everyone attempting the same thing. Petrarch saw the inefficiency in the use of language around him, or the sad use of excel around him, decided to go back to the how-to manual and changed everything. For Petrarch, the manual was written by an ancient Roman philosopher and orator named Cicero. This re-discovery of language gave Petrarch the edge. It essentially have him rhetorical magic.
The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, is a play lead by the character Prospero, a duke overthrown by his brother while he too was wandering deep into the library. Though he was betrayed and exiled to a mysterious island, he took his library with him. His books sourced him with magic that made him ruler of the island and lord to some strange creatures.
Prospero becomes an example of the elevated abilities of someone who has ‘returned to the sources’. His abilities are dramatically heightened as he holds supernatural control over the inhabitants of the island and the tempest itself. One of the island natives, Caliban, identifies the source of Prospero’s power. In act 3, scene 2, line 92, he plots to overthrow Prospero and highlights the importance of Prospero’s library.
First to possess his books, for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command.
Caliban knows the extent of Prospero’s powers because Prospero taught Caliban how to speak. A duke to turn tutor is a massive change in social status. Social status in Prospero’s case is unusual as he was cast out of society and forced to make acquaintance with island natives. Though this does change the importance Prospero would place on his reputation, it is worth noting how far a descent it would be (Shin 375). The choice to become Caliban’s teacher shows how importance he afforded language and the weight he gave to education. Heightened thinking becomes an issue for Caliban when Prospero, after a dramatic betrayal, forces him to revert to the life of a slave. His powers are increased but his freedom to exercise them is decreased. In act 1, scene 2, line 364 he curses Prospero in frustration.
You taught me language, and my profit on’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language.
The source of the characters progress, be it Caliban or Prospero, comes back to power of language and the study of the liberal arts. I can identify with Caliban’s experience of returning to the sources. The longer I am in collage more I strain at the confines of academic life and the greater desire I have to enter the ‘real world’ and effect change. My education helps me see my potential and gives me the tools to realize it. Prospero’s experience with Ad Fontes is less relatable, but infinitely more exciting. Maybe if I spent more time in the Library…
Shin, Hiewon. "Single Parenting, Homeschooling: Prospero, Caliban, Miranda." Studies In Literature, 1500-1900 48.2 (2008): 373-93. Rice University. Web.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest.