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Latin for the Brave

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Latin for the Brave

Postby alauda » Sat Mar 27, 2004 8:28 am

Salute!

For some several weeks, I have immersed myself in the study of Latin verse, namely Catullus. I have through this study practiced a certain learning approach that I would like to share, for it has been successful and will to some, speak.

I assume you are smart enough and passionate enough to study Latin (or Greek, or any language) on your own; therefore, the methods used to teach to those who have to be forced to drink from the Well of Power do not necessarily apply to you, the brave.

That said...

1. Only read superb writing. The light of life shines but briefly on our lives. There is no time to waste away in the gloom of bad, boring writing. There is plenty of fine writing that is still simple enough for a beginner.

2. You need exactly as much understanding of grammar as is necessary to understand definitions in good dictionaries: meaning, you must understand every grammatical term you will encounter well enough to be able to easily give examples. More than that is a matter of indulging your appetite, and so you should regard it. It is better, far better, to have an overview of the grand scheme of a language than it is to fritter away precious life on exercises designed for others much less interested or gifted than you.

3. When you look up a word in a dictionary, make sure you really get it before moving on. That may seem like the slow way, but this is the rocket ride to fluency. "Getting it" means you do not merely recognize a word, but you can use the word. In the beginning, you will have to learn to use a Latin or Greek word by inserting the word into sentences in your native language. The way to make learning hard and tedious is to be lazy on this one point. Don't be lazy. Until the day comes when you can use any word you encounter in every sense, that word will be only partially understood, so be honest with yourself. You are the one who has to live with your own understanding.

There are other points I could raise, particularly with regard to choice reference materials, the use of computers as study aids, and the use of poetry to read and speak, but the above are the senior data. You must follow your heart first so that life is full, but be smart about it. Why not? You are smart.

Salute Amici Mei,

Alauda
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Postby Episcopus » Sat Mar 27, 2004 9:37 pm

Sugit Catullus. Matris etiam litteras eis istius malim!
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Postby alauda » Sun Mar 28, 2004 2:07 am

Alauda Episcopo S.P.D.
Episcopus wrote:Sugit Catullus. Matris etiam litteras eis istius malim!
Uae. Sub verbum vestrum tenuis flamma demanat.

Contemptus remissus indecoris est.

Verbum sapientibus sat.

Vale, Episcopo,

Alauda

-*-
Lucem perpetuam habet sophia docens bene.
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Postby MickeyV » Sun Mar 28, 2004 12:24 pm

Rule 2 is quite incorrect, I'm afraid. It may suffice for reading poetry, but the extended narrative of, say, Sallustius, requires that the reader not only know and understand the grammatical terminology so as to find his way in the dictionary, it also requires, and I would say it in particular requires, insight in the workings of Oratio Obliqua and, somewhat related thereto, the consecutio temporum. Even reading Caesar's commentaries on his wars, splendid Latin and impeccable grammatical constructions, although these books are reputed for their "readibility", will be an arduous affair for him who has contented himself with rising to such an extent only so as to be able to avail himself of a dictionary.

Rule number 3 appears quite correct. Thoroughness in learning is to be recommended. Nonetheless I would not so much stress that the learner, the moment he is confronted with a word he doesn't know, exert himself in order to "get" the word. Especially the beginning learner, since he will not know many Latin words at all, may be greatly impeded when following such a course as you have recommended. Thoroughness therefore, expedient as it is, is to be applied only to the extent as is necessary to understand the word in its given context: one can then translate the sentence. The various meanings of single words will be learned as one encounters the same word in varying contexts.
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Postby MickeyV » Sun Mar 28, 2004 12:27 pm

With the above I'm not implying, by the way, that poetry would be easier to read than prose. In my experience quite the contrary is true, which may be perhaps accounted for by my innate disinclination towards poetry. :)
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Postby alauda » Sun Mar 28, 2004 9:53 pm

Ave, MickeyV,

Thanks for you cogent and relevant response.

I could, when I wrote the original post have clarified just how much grammar is needed to actually understand a dictionary -- a lot. I looked into a lot of Q and A on threads here and saw, over and over and over again so many who think they are having a difficulty with Latin when in fact they are having trouble with grammar.

But is possible to learn grammar well without the tedium of bad grammar books; after all, if the methods used by some who I will leave un-named are so great, why are there so many Internet sites and so many newsgroup threads devoted to explaining it all?

Too often grammars seem to be written by strange people with writing styles quite disconnected from anything beautiful or interesting, and that is not because students are too stupid to appreciate better writing. OTOH, there are a number of sites on the Internet which explain various aspects of grammar in simple terms with lots of examples. Just last night I was doing a search on "ablative" when I just could not see how a certain word in a certain poem was an ablative. It occurred to me that I really must not have gotten a full concept, and I had not. My understanding was weak, but as I continued, I discovered that, in my own writing -- of which the foregoing interjection is an example, I use ablative phrases all the time, so though I lacked the full concept of the term, I did have an intuition. I needed to get my intuition connected to the term.

As you indicated, the defining of words is an ongoing process. (Forgive me for paraphrasing you). Too often people kid themselves about that though. You ever notice how strident some people get when challenged on the use of a word? Ignorance is not equal to stupid! Geesh!

Regarding Cauis Julius, or rather the team of ghost writers he hired, I agree that the writing is clean; moreover, the subject matter is extremely interesting. It makes for good material to study. I am reading the Gallia right now in fact, with much fascination. The compactness of the Latin one would do well to emulate.

Poetry, however, requires considerable involvement on the part of the reader. It is not a spectator activity but participatory. Yet as time goes on, I come to understand more and more that Latin itself is that way.

Fortuna bona,

Alauda
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Postby MickeyV » Sun Mar 28, 2004 11:03 pm

Salve, alauda. :)

Quite right on all aspects. Save perhaps for one: I don't believe Caesar's chief works (de bello gallico and de bello civili) were written by anyone but he himself. Quite likely that he didn't write them in the physical sense (I think I've read somewhere that Caesar dictated the words, and had scribents write them down), but he surely conceived the works. As for the Hispanic war e. a.: those he waged, but didn't write, indeed. Perhaps you meant to assert just and only that?

Vale.
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Postby alauda » Mon Mar 29, 2004 5:19 am

Ave, MickeyV,

It so happens I am am hot on the trail of several leads regarding the life of the aforementioned.

I withdraw my assertion on the basis that the reference I used, I cannot find at the moment, yet suffice it to say I am profoundly suspicious of, everything claimed of the man. His extreme brutality and rapine of the Gauls in spite of their efforts at peace are matters of historical record, but not his version. See Cassius Dio's books 38 and 39 for that, right off the top of my head.

Too, too many glorified destroyers and too, too few good people who live lives of quiet courage I have seen in the pages of history, but in the real world there are many heroes.

Salve,

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Postby MickeyV » Mon Mar 29, 2004 9:25 am

Ave, alauda,

I would concur that Caesar, probably, wasn't the friendliest of persons according to our standards, and that his account of his own wars, manifestly, is only correct up to a point. Nonetheless I cannot subscribe to the view that Caesar was a destroyer, a madman, a brute, or whatever other qualification may be seen fit, despite the atrocities which may be ascribed to him. It may be a commonplace, but: one must consider a man in his times. Caesar was a relatively pious man, refined, lauded even by Cicero for his oratorial skills, his military skills beyond reproach (the value of the latter may in general, I agree, be questioned, yet the degree in which he utterly conquered Western Europe, ultimately much to its own benefit, and in which he subdued rebellious "provinces", bespeaks a certain brilliance). In contrast with several of his "predecessors", he, when he had, materially, obtained the position of dictator, was, as far as I know, less intent on "getting even" with those who had hindered him in the past. Certainly cruel in war (weren't they all?), he wasn't quite as vindictive in times of (comparative) quiet.

Furthermore, it has been said that Caesar's interests congrued to a great extent with that of the Roman state. The republican model didn't appear to work very well for the Romans. The senate was an elite group, comprising mostly people more intent on promoting their own interests than those of the state, whose policy was, in fact, rather pernicious to the state. When in power, Caesar implemented a series of reformations, which were, as far as I know, beneficial to the Romans and their provinces, while he, at the same time, tried to appease conservative forces. In the latter, of course, he, as we know, didn't quite succeed entirely.

Anyway, I might divagate on his artistic merits. To my tastes, Caesar's Latin is most satisfactory. :D

I would, by the way, if you per chance do stumble upon the source of the view that Caesar didn't even conceive B. G. and B. C., be interested to know about it.

Salve.
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Postby alauda » Mon Mar 29, 2004 11:26 am

Ave, MickeyV,

Oh, he was brilliant, all right.

It was his intent that is bothersome. Before him Roman expansion with some dramatic exceptions occured in the main peacably. The Roman ideal was just to keep the roads and the seaways open and eventually make of the new lands willing allies or powerful provinces. That business of going in and slaughtering everyone, people who were before that actually begging to be Roman, was a crime that stained the soul of Rome forever. Nope. Sorry. No Caesar fan am I.

Everyone loves to point out how bad things were in the Republic before him, but my questions there are, "Whose version of history is that? Who won that war? Whose version of history survived?"

As far as the writings, I got it from another that some analysis suggest the hand of another or others, probably a pro Julius hired, sort of an "as told to." I never said he was not involved! It also fits with the speed that Caesar did things -- meaning he put people to work, teams of them if he had to to get stuff done.

Anyhow, when I did a quick search on the net, I found not a word about that, so like I said, I withdraw that comment as hearsay.

Salve,

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Not so peaceable...

Postby Artemidoros » Mon Mar 29, 2004 2:28 pm

About Roman expansion before Caesar, one can hardly name it peaceable. See the slaughtering of many Hispanic and Greek populations during the whole 2nd century BC. However, Romans cannot be counted amongst the cruelest people of the Antiquity. Assyrians range far above them.

About the question of authenticity, the last book of De Bello Gallico (8th) was written by Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar's lieutenants. He probably wrote Bellum Alexandrinum as well. The authenticity of Bellum Hispaniense is also a matter of discussion; unlike Caesar's or Hirtius' works, the text is written in uneducated Latin. It was probably written by a soldier in Caesar's army. Critics nowadays tend to ascribe only De bello Gallico and Bellum Civile to Caesar's hand.

However, Caesar wrote many things, most of them lost. Did somebody know that he wrote a collection of jokes and sayings? (later banned by Augustus because it was too frivolous!). And for the Textkit die-hards... Caesar even wrote a grammatical work on declensions and conjugations (during his crossing of the Alps, and dedicated to Cicero). It is a pity that we cannot scan it and share it on this site! :wink:
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Postby alauda » Mon Mar 29, 2004 10:13 pm

Gratia Artemidoros! (What is the dative of your cognomen?)

Excellent information! Where might I find those references? Gods, I've been looking everywhere for those!

As far as "peacable," well it's a relative term. The number of atrocitities in the first 700 years, per year, makes the Romans more peacable than those of my own nation. One could say that it was harder to kill a lot of people back then than it was say in the US Civil war, and that point must be conceded, but the intent remains. (I'm no fan of U.S. Grant either.)

As a minor example on a slightly different vein, in Rome, by law, a father could kill his children, yet the incidents per capita based on some rather good records show that the number of incidents was a HUNDRED times less than right here in the good old USA.

I am an admirer of Republican virtue. At the their best, the Romans were fine, fine people. Their ideals mean much to me.

Salve,

Alauda
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