Relative Difficulty of Classical Authors

Here you can discuss all things Latin. Use this board to ask questions about grammar, discuss learning strategies, get help with a difficult passage of Latin, and more.
Post Reply
reltuk
Textkit Neophyte
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2005 8:04 am

Relative Difficulty of Classical Authors

Post by reltuk » Thu Oct 20, 2005 2:10 am

Salvete!

As my knowledge of Latin and Roman culture grows, so does my interest. After obtaining the syallbi for the first three Latin courses offered at my university---unfortunately, or perhaps for the better, my degree plan and proximity to graduating does not allow me to take any of them---I see that the first work Latin students spend any appreciable time with is Caesar's "De Bello Gallico." Selected readings from this multi-volume work are the topics of study in the student's third semester of Latin, after going through Wheelock's in their first two semesters.

I know that Caesar is a common first author for students of Latin, and I'm wondering why. Is he easier than most other classical Latin authors? Is it just convention? Where do Cicero and Virgil weigh in? Considerably harder, I gather. How about Ovid? Easier than Cicero and Virgil, right? Where's Livy in the mix?

Where do some of the medieval works fall? St. Augustine's Confessions or the Vulgate, for example.

I ask simply to quell my interests. It will be a long time indeed until I'm ready to read any of them, but I'm trying to get a feel for how a Latin students reading list would progress. Obviously it depends on personal tastes, but a general outline or personal accounts of how you've ended up going are much appreciated.

Thanks a lot!
Valete!

--reltuk

Kynetus Valesius
Textkit Fan
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat Oct 08, 2005 1:34 pm
Location: Washington DC

Post by Kynetus Valesius » Thu Oct 20, 2005 3:43 am

Reltuk optime

I am by no means and expert but I have looked at several beginning courses and would say that what you say is true: Caesar is typically introduced directly after basic grammar has been completed. One course for example is Henle's "Latin" in four volumes intended for catholic school kids and dating, I believe, from the forties of the last century. First year is all grammar and model sentences; Second year is all about Caesar; third, Cicero; and on the fourth year, selections from Virgil are introduced. There is a progression in difficulty and all-in-all the intention is to impart an impression of the so-called Age of Augustus. Other methods take a similar, but not identical, approach.

Not all authors, obviously, are equally difficult. In general poetry is deemed tougher than prose - although some prose authors are notoriously tough; Tacitus comes to mind. But, please note, I have not read the complete works, only selections such as appear in introductory works, of any of these authors.

You should know that Caesar's work on the conquest of Gaul is not really a multi-volume work as we know it. A "book" in classical terms is equivalent, more or less, to a chapter for us. This is because a "liber" was equivalent to one scroll which is not nearly as much the 200+ pages we are accustomed to reading in a typical book. There are many editions of Caesar's "Gallic War" available in a single volume.

After you've completed basic grammar, cruise around the net. There are a number of "libraries" out there. Abbe Lhomond's "De Viris Illustribus"
(Sp.?, early 18th century and intended for students) is a nice easy prose summary of, if I remember correctly, Tacitus' history commonly called "Ab Urbe Condita ("From the Founding of the City"). It is my guess that many of the stories about the Horatii, for instance, found in beginning texts owe their provence to this simplifed prose paraphrase of a much more difficult work.

Yes, then, authors vary in their difficulty. But in the case of Caesar, I've had occasion to think, he is not just easy because of his direct style, for it is that, but on account of his subject matter; after all, it's all about war and discriptions of military engagements. You read one account and then the next one is almost the same, at least in terms of the vocabulary and syntax. But don't, please, ask for examples - I'm no expert. Quite frankly, however "easy" Caesar may be, he sometimes bores me because military history just isn't my thing - just too challenging for my SEVERE ADD.

Not all authors from the Middle Ages or even late antinquity are equal in difficulty. I dare say you'll find the Vulgate (Jerome) far easier to take in than Augistine though they are near contemporaries.

Authors in our native tongue, English (I presume), vary immensly in their difficulty. This stems both from their individual styles and from the subject matters that they address. After all, although certainly you "know" English, it's obvious that some authors, depending on style and subject matter, are far more difficult than others. The same is true of Latin, and, for that matter, of any other language.

Okay, then, Caesar is easy; and Virgil is tougher. But how much tougher? I'd like see some of our experts and amateurs here give their lists for the "3 easiest authors" and "3 toughest authors" - from various periods.

These random and insubstantial thoughts concerning the matter at hand having come to a conclusion, I wish you, each and every one, a good night.

Kynetus
phpbb

Carola
Textkit Enthusiast
Posts: 609
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2002 12:34 am
Location: Adelaide, Australia

Post by Carola » Thu Oct 20, 2005 4:39 am

So far at university we have studied J Caesar, Virgil, Tacitus, Sallust, Horace and Seneca and bits of various other authors. I would have to say Caesar is easier because he writes in a very plain way - it's a report of what happened, not an exercise in rhetoric or poetry. Virgil's poetry is good, but as with all Latin poetry you have to remember that word order is not of primary importance - so you must pay particular attention to the cases and what adjective goes with what noun.
I would have to say that I thought Cicero the most difficult of the prose writers, he has so many subordinate clauses that sentences drag on for line after line. Horace's poetry is quite difficult as he often uses unfamiliar words and ways of expressing himself. But it is very beautiful. We didn't do much Catullus, but what we did was great fun!
Why don't you start with some of the "Ritchie's Fabulae Faciles" at the Project Gutenberg site? This will get you used to reading stories as opposed to those dreadful Latin exercises ("The farmer is carrying the spear of the sailor" and so on :wink: )
phpbb

Inero
Textkit Neophyte
Posts: 20
Joined: Sat Oct 15, 2005 1:41 pm
Location: Manitoba, Canada

Post by Inero » Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:22 am

Well done Kynetus and Carola on your review of easy and hard texts! I too am no expert scholar (the blind leading the blind!) - though that's where I aim to be - but I find Caesar hard to take except in small doses. They taught Caesar in British schools during the colonial days because it inspired young Brits to go out and emulate him in "sunny southern climes", to quote Kipling. So I suppose the tradition of starting with the general continues. He is remarkably free of figurative language and that is helpful to the beginner.

In my earlier stage of learning Latin, a friend who is a professor of Byzantine history told me he improved his Latin when an undergrad by translating the Vulgate into English. I followed his advice and found it remarkably easy to read, partly because many of the stories are already familiar and partly because the vocabulary and sentence patterns are straightforward - after all, since the NT was designed to be read by ordinary folk, the authors steered away from a polished literary style. Many of the Latin constructions repeat themesleves throughout the various books. I managed Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and some of the Epistles, before giving in to the urge to read something else.

As to the hardest, someone whose opinion I respect, writing on another discussion list, said he can manage Catullus, Virgil, Cicero etc., but when it comes to Tacitus "it's back to diapers"!
Inero

tZeD
Textkit Neophyte
Posts: 10
Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 11:17 pm
Location: Toronto

Post by tZeD » Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:41 am

I'm going to throw out the name of Cornelius Nepos. I learned Latin mostly on my own, and my (attempts at) reading were mostly whoever's (whosever? is this even a word?) books I found at book sales. At first I struggled with Cicero and some others, but Nepos was the first I found that I could understand and so now I've got a soft spot for him. As I understand it, he's not taught that much because he's historically very inaccurate, but his prose is very easy to understand and not that uninteresting if you like reading history.

Kynetus Valesius
Textkit Fan
Posts: 217
Joined: Sat Oct 08, 2005 1:34 pm
Location: Washington DC

Post by Kynetus Valesius » Fri Oct 21, 2005 8:01 pm

Vos omnes Kynetus Valesius salutat medullitus
Kenneth Walsh salutes you all from the core of his being

Tibi, optime Tzede, velim dicere
to you, most excellent Tzed, I would like to say

quod, ut plane iam suspicaris, verbum "whosever"non anglicum est..
that, as you clearly already suspect, the word "whosever" is not English.

Tibi aut verbo "whoever" aut verbo "whosoever" utendum fuit.
You had to either use the word "whoever" or the word "whosoever".

Quod ad substantiam epistulae attinet,
Regarding the substance of your letter

primum ominium velim tibi gratias dicere pro commemeratione
First of all, I would like to thank you for your commemeration

Cornelii Nepos cuius opera tam memoriter celebrata sunt a Catullo nostro.
of Cornelius Nepos whose works have been so memorably celebrated by our Catullus.

Superis faventibus haec ominia opera legam aliquo die ...
If the higher beings wish it, one day I will read all those works ...

cum ut senex mihi erit satis otii.
when as senior citizen I shall have enough leisure.

Dum hoc die adveniat tantum fluscullos sellectos huc et illuc decerpam.
Until that day arrives I will only gather select flowers here and there.

Sed, mi vetule, tu quoque memoravisti quomodo didiceris linguam latinam
But, old buddy, you also related how you learned the latin language

quibuscumque liberis legendis
by reading whatever books

quos forte invenisti venales apud imporia domestica
that you found by chance for sale at yardsales.

Dicam bonam qualemcumque viam sequaris, si modo Romam ducat.
I would deem good whatever road you may be following, so long as it leads to Great Rome.

Whenever do these little interlinear exercises I would be keen to know if any latinists have comments, especially if those comments are negative. Feel free to criticize syntax, poor grammar, or word choices. Thanks for your time.

Vale(te)
Kynetus Scriba
phpbb

tZeD
Textkit Neophyte
Posts: 10
Joined: Sun Sep 25, 2005 11:17 pm
Location: Toronto

Post by tZeD » Tue Oct 25, 2005 6:30 am

Kynetus,

Acutally, this is one of the few places where my real name wouldn't look too shabby. I guess that in Latin it would be Euthymius. And that has a nicer vocative than tZeD.

Yeah, the word did look fishy, and you're right that I didn't even need a possesive at all there. Thanks.

About your Latin, my only question is about your use of "quod" in "dicere quod..." to mean "that". I thought that that use was (very) post-classical. Is that correct?

Carola
Textkit Enthusiast
Posts: 609
Joined: Tue Oct 15, 2002 12:34 am
Location: Adelaide, Australia

Post by Carola » Tue Oct 25, 2005 10:33 pm

As to the hardest, someone whose opinion I respect, writing on another discussion list, said he can manage Catullus, Virgil, Cicero etc., but when it comes to Tacitus "it's back to diapers"!
Inero
Yes, I really should have said something about Tacitus! His style was considered - unique? - even in his day. However, once I started reading him it became a lot easier, and also his stories are fascinating. We spent a lot of time on Nero's history. As we are now doing Seneca, this has become even more interesting (for new Latinists - Seneca was Nero's tutor and advisor during his early years). You really need an edition of Tacitus with lots of notes and vocabulary.
Yes, we did some work on Nepos too - it is easy to read. Of course, historians are much more interesting to read than orators - who sound too much like politicians (they usually were) or barristers (ditto).
phpbb

Post Reply