Juan Latino was an Ethiopian-born professor who taught at the University of Granada in the sixteenth century. He is widely regarded as a trailblazer, having been the first African to attend a European university and rise to the prestigious position of professor of Grammar and Latin Language at the University of Granada.
Born in 1518, Juan Latino’s early life was marked by the complexities of his mixed heritage. He was the son of a black slave woman and his master, the Duke of Sessa, Luis Fernández de Córdoba. Interestingly, he grew up in the company of his childhood friend and protector, Gonzalo II Fernández de Córdoba, the son of the Duke. This unique bond would play a significant role in shaping Juan Latino’s destiny.
In 1530, the Duke’s family, along with their slaves, including young Juan Latino, moved to Granada. Here, young Juan and Gonzalo pursued their education at the cathedral school, where Latino’s exceptional talents quickly came to the fore. He excelled in classical languages and music, laying the foundation for his future academic success.
In his pursuit of knowledge, Juan Latino’s journey led him to the University of Granada, one of Spain’s prestigious educational institutions, where he displayed remarkable aptitude for learning, particularly in languages and literature. His deep interest in classical languages, such as Latin, led him to master these languages with great proficiency.
In 1545, at the age of 28, he received his Bachelor’s degree in the presence of distinguished figures, including the Archbishop. This marked a historic milestone, as he became the first African to attain a degree from a European university.
Following his graduation, Juan Latino faced the challenges of making a living, and he turned to teaching. He began providing house lessons, sharing his knowledge of various grammatical subjects with eager students. One of the households he frequented for these grammatical teachings belonged to the Duke’s administrator, Licenciado Carleval. Over time, a romantic relationship blossomed between Juan Latino and Carleval’s daughter, who was also his student. They married between 1547 and 1548, and their union resulted in the birth of four children.
Juan Latino’s passion for teaching and his exceptional command of classical languages eventually earned him a teaching position at the University of Granada, where he served as the Professor of Latin Grammar for an impressive two decades. This appointment was unprecedented in the history of black Africans in Europe and spoke to his exceptional academic prowess.
In 1573, Juan Latino published his first book of poems in Latin, further solidifying his legacy as a scholar of great repute. Over the course of his career, he authored three volumes of poems, further solidifying his legacy as a pioneering intellectual. His writings showcased his deep understanding of classical languages and his ability to express himself with grace and eloquence.
After a long and distinguished career, Juan Latino retired from his academic position in 1586 and lived with his family until his death. The exact date of his passing remains uncertain, but it is believed to have occurred between 1594 and 1597. He was laid to rest in the church of Santa Ana de Granada,