What is there to read in Latin?

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JLatin1
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What is there to read in Latin?

Post by JLatin1 » Thu Apr 28, 2005 9:43 pm

I'm still trying to decide whether or not to drop Latin. I would like to know what there is worth reading in Latin.

Cheers,
-Jonathan.
Last edited by JLatin1 on Fri Apr 29, 2005 12:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Turpissimus » Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:02 pm

What kind of question is that!

I imagine that, as a student forced unwillingly to do a foreign language option, you have been forced to read through Caesar or Cicero. These two authors do not suit all tastes.

If you would add Petronius (the Satyricon), Martial (the Epigrams), and Juvenal (the Satires) to your reading list you might find that the variety adds to your motivation to read Latin.

I personally believe that most people on this board would be driven by a love of languages in general or the Latin language itself, rather than a burning desire to read Catullus in the original (whose work you should take a look at if you want to cuss out your classmates in Latin).

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Post by JLatin1 » Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:18 pm

Turpissimus wrote:What kind of question is that!

I imagine that, as a student forced unwillingly to do a foreign language option, you have been forced to read through Caesar or Cicero. These two authors do not suit all tastes.

If you would add Petronius (the Satyricon), Martial (the Epigrams), and Juvenal (the Satires) to your reading list you might find that the variety adds to your motivation to read Latin.

I personally believe that most people on this board would be driven by a love of languages in general or the Latin language itself, rather than a burning desire to read Catullus in the original (whose work you should take a look at if you want to cuss out your classmates in Latin).
Well I'm not that advanced in Latin yet, so I can't read much yet. I am trying to decide if I should continue Latin. If I take Latin for another three years, than I will have to read Cicero and and Catallus in AP Latin.
Last edited by JLatin1 on Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by amans » Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:27 pm

Hi Jonathan,

Some people have this grammatical bent: consider me among them :D

But if you don't just read for the pleasure of the language itself, you might like to consider what you like when reading other literatures.

- Do you prefer certain genres: epic, drama, poetry, prose, speeches?

- Do you favour certain styles: the grand pathos, the burlesque, the dry, the raucous?

- Do you like to read about certain topics: philosophy, architecture, cooking, agriculture, education, law?

- Do you have an interest in specific historical eras: ancient Latin, classical Latin, medieval Latin, neo-Latin?

There's tons to read out there: have a look around the major sites offering Latin online text and find inspiration.

But let me suggest that you read inscriptions from Pompeii: they are relatively easy to read, they are short, they offer immediate insight into what ordinary Romans were thinking and saying -- and they are often irresistible good fun! :D

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Post by JLatin1 » Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:39 pm

amans wrote:Hi Jonathan,

Some people have this grammatical bent: consider me among them :D

But if you don't just read for the pleasure of the language itself, you might like to consider what you like when reading other literatures.

- Do you prefer certain genres: epic, drama, poetry, prose, speeches?

- Do you favour certain styles: the grand pathos, the burlesque, the dry, the raucous?

- Do you like to read about certain topics: philosophy, architecture, cooking, agriculture, education, law?

- Do you have an interest in specific historical eras: ancient Latin, classical Latin, medieval Latin, neo-Latin?

There's tons to read out there: have a look around the major sites offering Latin online text and find inspiration.

But let me suggest that you read inscriptions from Pompeii: they are relatively easy to read, they are short, they offer immediate insight into what ordinary Romans were thinking and saying -- and they are often irresistible good fun! :D
In terms of English literature I generally read prose, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and historical fiction but laso all other genres as long as it interests me. I also like reading non-fiction history, sometimes science and also language, but once again I'll read any book that interests me.

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Post by amans » Fri Apr 29, 2005 12:05 am

Well, if you like history and historical fiction you might want to try out some of the Roman historians: there's Livy, of course, and Tacitus or Sallustius. The historians recount the history of Rome - and know how to tell a good story.

If you prefer shorter stories you might want to have a look at Ovidius, e.g. In his Metamorphoses you'll many great stories taken from mythology and having a great impact on later literature.

Or you could try out some of the things that have been written in Latin in modern times. I don't know too many titles and Harry Potter may not be your thing, but there surely must be more to be found in that vein :)

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Post by JLatin1 » Fri Apr 29, 2005 12:58 am

amans wrote:Well, if you like history and historical fiction you might want to try out some of the Roman historians: there's Livy, of course, and Tacitus or Sallustius. The historians recount the history of Rome - and know how to tell a good story.

If you prefer shorter stories you might want to have a look at Ovidius, e.g. In his Metamorphoses you'll many great stories taken from mythology and having a great impact on later literature.

Or you could try out some of the things that have been written in Latin in modern times. I don't know too many titles and Harry Potter may not be your thing, but there surely must be more to be found in that vein :)
Well, I am definitely interested in Josephus, but I do believe that he wrote in Greek and Aramaic.

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Post by cweb255 » Fri Apr 29, 2005 6:49 am

Josephus wrote in Greek. I don't believe we have any of his purpoted "Hebrew" or "Aramaic" works.

Also if you love science there's Plinius Major. But I'm going to put it to you bluntly: if you can't decide yet whether or not you want to learn Latin, you probably won't.

Latin is not a chore, those who take it as such won't like it, but unless you have the passion for it, you'll never acquire the capability to truly understand it. From the way you sound, you'd probably be better of learning French or Japanese or German or something, a language that is still spoken and has a corpus of modern fiction.
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Post by JLatin1 » Fri Apr 29, 2005 12:12 pm

cweb255 wrote:Josephus wrote in Greek. I don't believe we have any of his purported "Hebrew" or "Aramaic" works.

Also if you love science there's Plinius Major. But I'm going to put it to you bluntly: if you can't decide yet whether or not you want to learn Latin, you probably won't.

Latin is not a chore, those who take it as such won't like it, but unless you have the passion for it, you'll never acquire the capability to truly understand it. From the way you sound, you'd probably be better of learning French or Japanese or German or something, a language that is still spoken and has a corpus of modern fiction.
That's why I'm not sure that I should continue to study Latin. When I started Latin I didn't realize that it was such a difficult language, otherwise I would have switched to Spanish at the beginning of the school year. Also, there are people in my class who are bad at language, yet decided to take Latin for some reason. I think that my teacher should have made the difficulty of Latin clearer at the beginning of last semester.

About one or two months into the semester I realized that I had no idea why I was studying Latin. I think that if I want a language challenge I should study a difficult living language, perhaps Mandarin or Japanese. But my first priority should be learning Spanish because it's so important here in the US. Then I'll learn French, and then maybe learn German.

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Post by adz000 » Fri Apr 29, 2005 4:22 pm

Spanish because it's so important here in the US.
I swallowed that lie in high school too and I took both for four years, which is why I feel so strongly about this. The truth is that Latin is far more intrinsically important if you have any interest in the history of western civilization, whether literature or civilization. Of course I am not upset to have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish -- there is quite a lot I have enjoyed reading: Gabriel García Márquez, Don Luis de Góngora, Jorge Luis Borges -- but four years out of high school and I am painfully aware of how little it actually mattered to my life, despite everyone's insistence to the opposite! The only Spanish that I use on a regular basis is to order my burrito "con todo." Even if I hadn't loved Latin, if I could go back and make the decision that you're about to make, I would gladly choose French or German or Italian or even Swedish or Dutch over Spanish in an instant. These are all very easy decisions because I know where my interests lie and where I'd like to travel.

You will NEVER have another chance to learn Latin as thoroughly as you will in high school, because it's a dead language that requires lengthier practice. If Spanish does actually become important to you one day, you will have hundreds of opportunities to learn it and practice it. If you decide one day that you have an interest in reading literature written during the first 1500 years after Christ (which is about how long that Latin survived as the main channel of intellectual communication) or would like to understand the context of English works written up to the beginning of the 20th century (which all depend on, or respond to classical literature), you will have foreclosed on all these possibilities by not taking Latin now.

It's true, you may not have an interest in the history of western thought and literature, but whatever you choose don't believe the Spanish lie.

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Post by JLatin1 » Fri Apr 29, 2005 9:56 pm

adz000 wrote:
Spanish because it's so important here in the US.
I swallowed that lie in high school too and I took both for four years, which is why I feel so strongly about this. The truth is that Latin is far more intrinsically important if you have any interest in the history of western civilization, whether literature or civilization. Of course I am not upset to have a rudimentary grasp of Spanish -- there is quite a lot I have enjoyed reading: Gabriel García Márquez, Don Luis de Góngora, Jorge Luis Borges -- but four years out of high school and I am painfully aware of how little it actually mattered to my life, despite everyone's insistence to the opposite! The only Spanish that I use on a regular basis is to order my burrito "con todo." Even if I hadn't loved Latin, if I could go back and make the decision that you're about to make, I would gladly choose French or German or Italian or even Swedish or Dutch over Spanish in an instant. These are all very easy decisions because I know where my interests lie and where I'd like to travel.

You will NEVER have another chance to learn Latin as thoroughly as you will in high school, because it's a dead language that requires lengthier practice. If Spanish does actually become important to you one day, you will have hundreds of opportunities to learn it and practice it. If you decide one day that you have an interest in reading literature written during the first 1500 years after Christ (which is about how long that Latin survived as the main channel of intellectual communication) or would like to understand the context of English works written up to the beginning of the 20th century (which all depend on, or respond to classical literature), you will have foreclosed on all these possibilities by not taking Latin now.

It's true, you may not have an interest in the history of western thought and literature, but whatever you choose don't believe the Spanish lie.
The number of Spanish speakers in the US is rapidly increasing. Several million Spanish-speaking immigrants enter this country illegally every year. Despite these facts, I suspect for the most part that you're right, Spanish isn't as useful as it seems. That is unless you live in the Southwest where there are many many Hispanics. However, there are Spanish television stations, and Spanish literature is available at the local library. Spanish is the lingua franca of Central and South America, and has a vibrant literary culture. I do not think the picture is as bleak as you have painted it.

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Post by blue » Fri Apr 29, 2005 11:22 pm

^ just remember...the spanish-speaking immigrants who intend to make anything of themselves in the US learn english. the ones who don't, with whom you could only communicate in spanish, probably won't have much to offer you.

also, most high school language courses in spoken, living languages involve little grammar. it's pretty much a glorified phrasebook memorization. many, many people i've spoken to don't have the slightest understanding of spanish after years of high school courses.

there are also quite a few things standing between a couple years of high school spanish classes and fluent conversation with native spanish speakers: accents, conversation speed, a large variety of dialects, etc.

besides...latin is way more impressive than spanish when you send your high school transcripts to colleges. it also gives you a much greater understanding of english, not just the vocabulary, the grammar too.

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Post by cweb255 » Sat Apr 30, 2005 6:56 pm

JLatin1 wrote:That's why I'm not sure that I should continue to study Latin. When I started Latin I didn't realize that it was such a difficult language, otherwise I would have switched to Spanish at the beginning of the school year. Also, there are people in my class who are bad at language, yet decided to take Latin for some reason. I think that my teacher should have made the difficulty of Latin clearer at the beginning of last semester.
About one or two months into the semester I realized that I had no idea why I was studying Latin. I think that if I want a language challenge I should study a difficult living language, perhaps Mandarin or Japanese. But my first priority should be learning Spanish because it's so important here in the US. Then I'll learn French, and then maybe learn German.[/quote]
Latin is by far easier than Spanish is, and much simpler. You only think Spanish is easy is because the high school equivalent to four years of Spanish is two years of Latin. Speaking from experience, you would need four years of high school Spanish plus another two years in college Spanish to equal out to all four years of high school Latin. It's not that it's harder, it's merely more accelerated. And overall, the grammar is simpler and more regular than Spanish is.
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Post by JLatin1 » Sat Apr 30, 2005 7:13 pm

cweb255 wrote:Latin is by far easier than Spanish is, and much simpler. You only think Spanish is easy is because the high school equivalent to four years of Spanish is two years of Latin. Speaking from experience, you would need four years of high school Spanish plus another two years in college Spanish to equal out to all four years of high school Latin.
I don't know if this is true, and it may be that this is the case at some schools and not others. I do know that those who are serious about learning Spanish and take four or five years of high school Spanish graduate with a pretty good knowledge of Spanish. At least, that's how it is at my high school.
cweb255 wrote:It's not that it's harder, it's merely more accelerated. And overall, the grammar is simpler and more regular than Spanish is.
Maybe Latin is a little bit more accelerated; even so Latin is most definitely a much harder language than Spanish. As I'm sure you know, Latin has three genders and 5 noun cases, of which there are 5 declensions. Spanish only has two genders and singular and plural nouns. I know for a fact that while Spanish verb conjugation is complex, it is very regular. Latin maybe a regular language, but it is certainly not an easy language.

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Post by amans » Sat Apr 30, 2005 10:27 pm

It seems as if you're decided since you're arguing your Spanish case so eagerly :)

Different views have been put forward regarding the utility and relevance of Spanish vis à vis Latin, but when it comes to the question of difficulty, I'd like to add:

Why do you seem to think that the fact that Latin may be harder is an argument against learning the language? If Latin is in fact harder than Spanish to learn, you might actually learn more from it... Just consider it: you will perhaps forget both languages after high school or college, but what remains is how you learnt to learn.

And if you fight some intellectual "battles" with Latin and all its cases and modes et cetera, I think you'll be better prepared for future studies than by following the line of least resistance.

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Post by JLatin1 » Sat Apr 30, 2005 11:21 pm

amans wrote:It seems as if you're decided since you're arguing your Spanish case so eagerly :)

Different views have been put forward regarding the utility and relevance of Spanish vis à vis Latin, but when it comes to the question of difficulty, I'd like to add:

Why do you seem to think that the fact that Latin may be harder is an argument against learning the language? If Latin is in fact harder than Spanish to learn, you might actually learn more from it... Just consider it: you will perhaps forget both languages after high school or college, but what remains is how you learnt to learn.

And if you fight some intellectual "battles" with Latin and all its cases and modes et cetera, I think you'll be better prepared for future studies than by following the line of least resistance.
The thing is if I learn a language than I want to retain what I have learned by continuing to use that language. I realize that this is not impossible in Latin, as there are many Latin works available online and from commercial sources.

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Post by Democritus » Sun May 01, 2005 2:32 am

The answer to your original question will be different for different people. All languages are potentially useful to someone. But the question is, will Latin be useful to the man named JLatin1?
JLatin1 wrote:The thing is if I learn a language than I want to retain what I have learned by continuing to use that language. I realize that this is not impossible in Latin, as there are many Latin works available online and from commercial sources.
Aha, this tells us something specific about what you want.

I agree with the posters who believe that Spanish is a lot less useful than it seems. If you really want to skip Latin and go for a modern language, I would suggest learning Mandarin. Mandarin for sure will become important. In particular, I would take a stab at learning the characters. If you master them, you will have a rare (among Westerners) and potentially very useful skill.

I also suggest that, instead of picking a language, pick a foreign country. What country would you like to live in for more than one year? Which country would you like to devote part of your career to? Pick that country, and pick its language. Then go live in that country for a substantial amount of time. You can't master a language without doing this, in any case.

If you can't think of any country in particular, or you never plan on living abroad, then the choice of language may not be all that important.

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Post by 1%homeless » Sun May 01, 2005 3:54 am

the ones who don't, with whom you could only communicate in spanish, probably won't have much to offer you.
LOL :lol: :lol:

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Post by JLatin1 » Sun May 01, 2005 4:19 am

Democritus wrote:The answer to your original question will be different for different people. All languages are potentially useful to
Aha, this tells us something specific about what you want.

I agree with the posters who believe that Spanish is a lot less useful than it seems. If you really want to skip Latin and go for a modern language, I would suggest learning Mandarin. Mandarin for sure will become important. In particular, I would take a stab at learning the characters. If you master them, you will have a rare (among Westerners) and potentially very useful skill.
I fully recognize Mandarin's growing importance on the global scale. Spoken by 900 millon Chinese, Mandarin has the most speakers of any language and China is a currently the third-largest economy. If China's economy continues to grow at it's present rate, China could be very well be an economic superpower in the near future. Indeed, it would certainly be interesting to learn Mandarin despite the fact that even more so than Latin, it has no real applicability in my life (at present).

Unfortunately my school does not offer Mandarin and I feel that it's too difficult a language for me to pursue without formal instruction. There are a number of Chinese students at my school who are bilingual in Mandarin and English, but I'd need to be semi-fluent in Chinese before they could help me.
Democritus wrote: I also suggest that, instead of picking a language, pick a foreign country. What country would you like to live in for more than one year? Which country would you like to devote part of your career to? Pick that country, and pick its language. Then go live in that country for a substantial amount of time. You can't master a language without doing this, in any case.

If you can't think of any country in particular, or you never plan on living abroad, then the choice of language may not be all that important.
Well, I know that I will live in Israel for a while in the future. Who knows, perhaps an aliyah (immigration), is in my future. I am already semi-fluent in Hebrew and am working on reaching an advanced level of Hebrew. I would like learn fluently at least one major mainland European language. Since I will probably learn Spanish in the future, I would like to add to that either French or German.

I think Latin may be a beautiful language, but so is French and there are many French literary classics in as well as a strong corpus of vibrant modern literature. I can, however, see the benefits of Latin. There is definitely value in reading the classics in their original language, as well as experiencing the written language of the Roman and Empire and of pre-Renaissance Europe.

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Post by yadfothgildloc » Sun May 01, 2005 7:46 am

JLatin1 wrote: Well, I know that I will live in Israel for a while in the future. Who knows, perhaps an aliyah (immigration), is in my future. I am already semi-fluent in Hebrew and am working on reaching an advanced level of Hebrew. I would like learn fluently at least one major mainland European language.
One yehudi to another, go for what you want to do. I enjoy Latin alot, Greek moreso. Hebrew and Aramaic are lotsa fun also. If you want to do anything in Jewish fields, Russian, Yiddish (and Ladino!) are musts. If you want a useful language, go for Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese, Arabic or French. But consider Latin.

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Post by Fr. Patricius » Wed May 04, 2005 4:27 pm

JLatin1 wrote:Spoken by 900 millon Chinese, Mandarin has the most speakers of any language and China is a currently the third-largest economy.
I've seen different sets of numbers, depending on whom you ask and how they counted. If you're talking about native speakers, then Chinese probably exceeds English. If you talking about total speakers (2nd- and 3rd-languages), English easily surpasses Chinese and has the advantage of being a truly global language. Chinese is pretty much restricted both geographically and culturally. But also keep in mind that not all Mandarin is created equal. While I get by quite well here in Taiwan, I have difficulty communicating with any Mandarin-speaker west of, say, Chongqing, China.

Also keep in mind that, even though spoken Chinese is relatively easy to learn, learning to read and write isn't. You will spend probably 80% of your time in the early years just memorizing -- and forgetting, ad nauseum -- characters. And you'll need 2000 of them just to read the newspaper. It will take several years of study before you can begin digging into Chinese literature, and even then, Mandarin has changed greatly in recent centuries; you will still be unprepared for anything other than modern literature, especially if, as you probably will, you learn the simplified characters.

Not to discourage you from studying. Yes, Chinese will continue to grow in importance and influence -- though probably not as quickly as you suspect -- and if you're interested in business opportunities or travel, go for it. But learning to read and write the language is a laborious process.
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Post by Fr. Patricius » Wed May 04, 2005 5:22 pm

JLatin1 wrote:About one or two months into the semester I realized that I had no idea why I was studying Latin. ... my first priority should be learning Spanish ....Then I'll learn French, and then maybe learn German.
Just ran across this, for what it's worth. Claims that on the verbal portion of the SAT Latin students outperform all others, including French, German and Spanish, with Spanish students consistently placing last.

http://www.bolchazy.com/al/latadv.htm
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Post by adz000 » Wed May 04, 2005 7:08 pm

You seem susceptible to arguments based on the quality of a language's literature (mentioning French classics and a vibrant modern community), so I'm still puzzled that you're impervious to the lure of real classical literature.

When do you have to make a final decision? Hopefully you'll have a lot of time, since it is a serious decision to make. In which case, I'd recommend you read the following things, which will make the case for the value of Latin much better than I ever could. You seem like someone who has access to a good library, but if you have any trouble obtaining these I might be able to help get you photocopies.
  • The first essay "Center of Resistance" in Donald Carne-Ross' book Instaurations (Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1979).
    Françoise Waquet's Latin: or The Empire of a Sign, trans. from French by John Howe (New York: Verso, 2001).
    Kenneth Haynes' English Literature and Ancient Languages (Oxford: OUP, 2003).
If you're interested in Biblical studies and their intersection with European scholarship, you should read up on the Reuchlin affair (Johann Reuchlin), which was one of the most exciting moments in the history of Hebrew studies, and it was all fought in Latin.

Whatever decision you make, I hope that you'll understand and forgive my partisanship. If you don't take Latin I think you will be locked out of the front door to European literature.

Adam

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