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Tag Archives: Latin

‘Palatina Medea’ or ‘Medea Palatina’? A preference for adjective-noun word order in Latin

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We’ve been told that adjectives in Latin ‘tend to’ or ‘prefer to’ follow the nouns they describe.

But on the contrary, the statistical evidence shows that Caesar and Cicero actually preferred putting adjectives before nouns.

We didn’t learn that ‘noun then adjective’ rule from reading unadapted Latin. We didn’t discover it from real usage. We learned it from our textbooks and from word of mouth. ‘They’ said that it was true and ‘they’ must right!

So when Cicero dramatically calls Clodia a ‘Medea of the Palatine’, we think he should naturally put his adjective after the noun, but he doesn’t:

507px-George_Romney_-_Lady_Hamilton_as_Medea

George Romney’s painting of ‘Lady Hamilton as Medea’. Source: [link]

Sic enim, iudices, reperietis … hanc Palatinam Medeam migrationemque hanc adulescenti causam sive malorum omnium sive potius sermonum fuisse.

For indeed, judges, you will find out… that this Palatine Medea and this migration of hers [to Caelius’s neighbourhood] has been the cause of either all the ills or, rather, all the rumours for the young man. 

However, examples like this don’t change our minds about adjective-noun order. Since they told us that adjectives ‘usually follow’ the noun, that must mean that Cicero was violating the ‘natural word order’ for dramatic effect.

It doesn’t matter how many anecdotal counter-examples we read when actually encountering the Latin; ‘this was the rule’ when we learned Latin, therefore whatever we see later confirms it. Whenever an author puts a noun first, it’s because of the rule; and whenever an author puts an adjective first, it’s because he does it for effect; ‘the exception proves the rule’ (!!).

So let’s get into the actual statistics.

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The accent of words ending in -que

TL;DR: Latin words ending in -que should be accented on the syllable before -que only if that syllable is (or has become) heavy; otherwise, the word should retain its original accent. If this sounds new to you, that’s probably because you’ve been following Allen & Greenough and other nineteenth century scholarship.

SPQR Roman inscription augustus imperator

The rules of accent in Classical Latin are usually very simple. Almost all words follow the formula of the ‘Penultimate Law’, which states that the accent in multiple syllable words falls on the second-last (the penultimate) syllable if this is of heavy quantity, and otherwise on the third-last (the antepenultimate).[1]

But the enclitic –que (and the other enclitics, –ve, –ne, –ce) complicates these rules.

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Latin tutoring: Practice literary and context questions for Aeneid VI

The golden bough, ticket to the underworld in Aeneid VI. I painted this in my Year 12 - check it out at my deviantArt gallery

The golden bough, ticket to the underworld in Aeneid VI.
I painted this in my Year 12 – check it out at my deviantArt gallery

I’ve been captivated once again by the wonderful style and substance of Vergil’s Aeneid.

But this year I’ve been particularly nerding out because my three Year 12 Latin tutoring students are all studying book VI, the journey to the Underworld, which was the book I studied when I was in Year 12.

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Twelve tenses: When English outdoes Ancient Greek in precision

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I have sometimes heard people say, “Ancient Greek is the most precise language in the world.” This usually comes from people who have not studied Greek for themselves and haven’t really seen its quirks first-hand.

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I don’t know how best to respond. True, there are distinctions which Greek makes that English doesn’t make, but in turn there are distinctions English makes which Greek doesn’t make. (For example, “I said” and “they said” would both be expressed εἶπον [eipon] in Ancient Greek, since the first person singular and third person plural look identical in certain tenses.) As long as the idea of overall precision is left undefined, it’s not really possible to measure whether or to what extent one language is “more precise” than another.

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A Latin counting song and thoughts on Primary Latin

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I’m sorry that I missed an update in April, but there has been at least one reason for that. I’ve been involved in a pilot program to introduce Latin to a public primary school, and so far it has been a blast.

Here’s a song I sung to the children yesterday on my guitar.

First we learned the numbers one to ten, and then played a game. I say “unus”, and someone else says “duo” and so on in the sequence, but if two people say the next number at the same time, we have to start again at “unus”. It was fun and a good way to get them to participate in saying the numbers aloud.

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Latin and Greek for your pets

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Your dog can learn Latin and Ancient Greek! And everyone in the family can pick up a bit of Latin or Ancient Greek along with you and your four-legged pal.

The internet may be chocked full of cat and dog videos, but did you know there aren’t any videos of dogs responding to (grammatically correct) Latin or Ancient Greek commands? You, sir or madam, can fix that. Teach your pet Latin or Ancient Greek and film the results – I want to see your adorable furry companions nailing the ancient languages like a boss.

To get you started on teaching your animals the languages of Plato and Cicero, I’ve put together a list of suggested commands – imperatives that you can teach your dog (or cat, or rat, or any animal that can be trained to respond to verbal commands). I’ve also made a couple videos of me saying these commands in Latin and Ancient Greek, using Classical reconstructed pronunciation for both languages. Sadly, I don’t have a pet myself, but I do have Rufus here.

For the forms of the imperative, suggested commands, and some extra words that I couldn’t illustrate with my puppet dog Rufus (he can’t roll over… it really tangles him), check out the words below.

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Grammar or reading: which type of Latin or Greek textbook is better?

If ever you read Amazon reviews of Latin and Ancient Greek textbooks, you’ll find some very lively discussions on the relative merits of grammar- and readings-based textbooks. (If ‘lively’ is the right word to use!)

In this video, I outline the main differences between these two kinds of textbooks, and weigh in on the pros and cons of each.

In my experience, both types of textbook have complementary advantages – grammar textbooks let you advance faster, but readings textbooks give you more time to reinforce reading proficiency. What kinds of textbooks did you learn from? Which did you prefer, and why?

Keep calm, taxonomic Latin lives on

Calliste fastuosa; Calliste tatao

Calliste fastuosa
Calliste tatao

As of this week, taxonomic descriptions need not be written in Latin. But wait a moment – contrary to what some news reports have implied, the names of plants and animals actually still do need to be written in Latin (or, Latin with an expanded Greek vocabulary, with some loan words from English cleverly snuck in). The only things that change are the official descriptions of new species. These ‘descriptions’ are a few paragraphs that detail things like how many toes a sloth has, or whether a plant is ‘herbaceous’ or not. All known species are currently described in Latin officially (with translations generally available in major languages), and none of these current Latin descriptions will change as a result of the new standards – the change in rules only applies to new, unknown species.

But does that mean the field of taxonomy is ‘Ditching Latin’, as the headlines say?

Minime! Not in the least!

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How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 2)

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aeneid picture2

Welcome back to the task of reading a real 11th century Latin manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. In Part 1, we launched straight into the task of deciphering this delightful Carolingian Minuscule manuscript, learning some of the most frequent scribal abbreviations. But there are still many more devices to go. Firstly, though, I realise I hadn’t properly explained what was in our manuscript before, so I drew up a neat chart for what sections of the Aeneid it covers, along with links to plain text versions of everything you can find in the manuscript. And secondly I’ve provided a short chart which summarizes all the devices we learned in Part 1, in case you wanted to quickly check them up. In the third segment, we resume learning scribal abbreviations until we’ve exhausted all of the ones which occur in this manuscript.

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How to read an ancient manuscript: 11th century Vergil’s Aeneid (Part 1)

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How would you like to read a genuine medieval manuscript?

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In this two-part series we will do just that. I’ve selected a very handsomely written 11th century Carolingian manuscript of Vergil’s Aeneid. The writing is quite clear and it has a decent number of scribal abbreviations, but it is quite manageable for those trying to read Latin on parchment for the first time. At some point I might make similar posts for Ancient Greek and Middle English, so even if you don’t know Latin, I hope I can introduce you to the joys of reading medieval manuscripts.

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