Tips for reading classical texts

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purasbabosadas

Senior Member
English-USA
With a good knowledge of the romance languages and knowing a moderate amount of Latin vocab/grammar I can very easily understand the "Vulgate" and even the "Gallic Wars" by Caeser.However,most other texts are very difficult.This is mostly because of word scrambling.Does anyone know any tips to get used to the chaotic word order of Classical Latin?I don't mean altered classical texts,which by the way are very easy,but instead the original unaltered texts of authors in the Roman Empire.
 
  • Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Salvete sodales! And a hearty welcome to the Forum for purasbabo&c.

    First, Latin word-order is not 'chaotic'(!): Romans would have found our Anglophone stuff equally perplexing.

    But, seriously: I'd recommend diving in at the deep end with poetry (where word-order is subject not only to the flexibility available through Latin syntax, but alsο to the rules governing meter), and in particular Catullus and Martial, both of whom wrote numerous short, often very witty or pungent, poems, some as short as two lines only. If you can get hold of a Loeb text, with facing-page translation, that would help.

    In my schoolmastering experience, I have had 12-13 yr-old kids reading—with, of course, my commentary and assistance—some of Martial's quatrains within four or five weeks of beginning Latin.

    faveat fortunα.

    Σ
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Locate the verb, ascertain whether it is singular or plural, and that should lead you to the subject. The meaning of the verb and its congruence will tell you what case to expect for its object. Locate the object. One verb equals one clause. The rest should be easier.
     

    purasbabosadas

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    Salvete sodales! And a hearty welcome to the Forum for purasbabo&c.

    First, Latin word-order is not 'chaotic'(!): Romans would have found our Anglophone stuff equally perplexing.

    But, seriously: I'd recommend diving in at the deep end with poetry (where word-order is subject not only to the flexibility available through Latin syntax, but alsο to the rules governing meter), and in particular Catullus and Martial, both of whom wrote numerous short, often very witty or pungent, poems, some as short as two lines only. If you can get hold of a Loeb text, with facing-page translation, that would help.

    In my schoolmastering experience, I have had 12-13 yr-old kids reading—with, of course, my commentary and assistance—some of Martial's quatrains within four or five weeks of beginning Latin.

    faveat fortunα.

    Σ
    Just how often would you say word scrambling appears in classical Latin as opposed to regular order?I've just started exploring classical Latin in depth.
     

    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    It is difficult to say. Some authors are just more difficult, and this goes for any language. For modern languages Rimbaud is much more difficult than Hugo for instance. For Latin authors Horace is more difficult than Ovid. However a short work such as an ode is less intimidating than the pages of an author such as Lucretius. An interest in the subject matter helps. Caesar is a relatively easy author which is why it was always taught at school, however if one has no interest in military history it might be a better idea to try something else.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    salvete, sodales!

    No quarrel here with djmc's remarks (#5). In particular, his remarks about Lucretius are spot on, for the poet's language is (deliberately) archaic, his Epicurean philosophy at times impenetrable, unless a student has already appropriate prior knowledge.

    I sort of agree that 'Caesar is a relatively easy author': his Latin is syntactically crisp, his vocabulary restricted, his rhetoric impeccable. And in his extant works, the language not designed for the educated of Rome, but for reading aloud in the pubs and clubs of 'middle Italy'.

    But two minor protests here:

    1. Latin 'word-scrambling' does not exist, except in the most elaborate poetry. Virgil or Ovid would have found Milton's...

    Him the Almighty pow'r
    Hurl'd headlong from the ethereal sky,
    With hideous ruin and combustion
    Down to bottomless perdition
    There to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire
    Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms
    ...equally puzzling as their verse may sometimes seem to us.

    2. Word-order and idiom are more closely related than we Anglophones often recognise. Look for example at the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins or Emily Dickinson.

    Σ
     
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    purasbabosadas

    Senior Member
    English-USA
    Ok,thanks for the help.

    One more thing:Are the Latin texts in the Loeb books in their original word order?
     

    Lambina

    Member
    Swedish - Åland
    I know Finnish and Finnish word-order can be almost anything. Unfortunately, it doesn't help me at all with Latin... But if you want to make Latin feel easier (and if you have time and energy), try something more difficult and then get back to Latin.
     

    Scholiast

    Senior Member
    And once more (e ciao aefrizzo!)

    I agree, Phaedrus is very approachable for learners/students. I find it hard to believe, however, that this was 'a century ago'. Methuselah must be getting worried.:)

    Σ
     

    Snodv

    Senior Member
    English - Mid-Southern US
    I hope this isn't too little too late, but I may have something to add. Outside of poetry, which due to metrical considerations might be in almost any order at all, there was a usual order to a Latin sentence: basically SOV, that is, Subject Object Verb. The highly inflected nature of the grammar, though, means there was considerable leeway. If this order was violated, it most often meant that the element placed first was being emphasized.
     
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