how to tackle baffling short sentences?

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hlawson38
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how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:14 pm

Problem: I stumble over short sentences that I cannot make out until after I have consulted a translation. Below is the most recent one.
Adeo nihil patitur hominum vita, omni ex parte beatum esse.
(Erasmus, Moriae Encomium, part 14.)

What should I have done after I realized I was baffled, and before resorting to a translation?

anphph
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by anphph » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:24 pm

What is it that baffles you? Or, more constructively, what was it that baffled you in this particular one?

hlawson38
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:39 pm

anphph wrote:What is it that baffles you? Or, more constructively, what was it that baffled you in this particular one?
Would you would tell me how you constructed the meaning of the sentence, in as detailed a way as you can? The way I constructed the meaning, after I knew what it might be from reading a translation, was to go through the sentence again, and look for phrases that had to match the translator's meaning. This is no way to read Latin.

Suppose you were reading with others, and everybody else complained about this sentence, but you got it. What would you tell them?

The problem with bafflement, is that it seems one has driven into the ditch, but has no idea how to get out, or what clues one missed that would have kept him in the road.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Tue Jan 30, 2018 10:09 pm

I believe one cause of my confusion was ignorance of an idiomatic meaning of "adeo nihil". It did not even occur to me to google "adeo nihil", which I just did. I don't know if knowing this would have solved the problem.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by anphph » Tue Jan 30, 2018 10:20 pm

I guess in this particular instance the problem is that "nihil" is not the object of "patitur", as could be expected after having read "nihil patitur hominum vita". You would read the second clause and be left hanging. "Nihil" must therefore be an adverb in this circumstances, and the object of "patitur" is the whole second clause. Adeo nihil hominum vita [omni ex parte beatum esse] patitur." You could have guessed this earlier because adeo tends to be found with adjectives and adverbs, not so much with nouns, and it being paired with nihil could have rung a bell.

There's also the fact that you have "omni ex parte beatum esse", whereas, grammatically, one couldn't be faulted for expecting "omni ex parte beată esse", since the nominal subject is still vită*. But in impersonal sentences of this kind ("hominum vita" is equivalent to an impersonal 3rd person, maybe even passive), and such slides into accusative sentences are common.

* Unless there's a subject coming from a previous sentence, an 'eum hominem' or equivalent.

In more general terms, there's not much I can tell you. In longer sentences we tend to have fuller context on which to hang, though I'm sure we still miss - I know I do - out a lot because I assume or think I know something, which in reality I understand less than I think I did. In the flow of larger sentences this goes unnoticed more easily, whereas in shorter sentences there's much less breathing room to just "wing it". Nonetheless, it's very easy to be thrown off in any language - it suffices not to know that this preposition can take that case, or that this verb has this nuance when paired with that noun, or anything of the sort.

I'm reading The Libation Bearers at the moment. In line 521 Orestes says "ὧδ' ἔχει λόγος". I read it and I didn't even give it a second thought, it means "I'm done speaking", I assumed. But I'm following a commentary, and there was half a dozen lines discussing the formulation of proverb indicated by that sentence indicated. It had gone completely over my head. I suspect this is impossible to avoid without great erudition and past readings. In the meantime, we keep on dragging ourselves forward.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by mwh » Tue Jan 30, 2018 10:40 pm

Well here’s how I’d approach it, taking it as it comes.
Adeo nihil patitur: is nihil the direct object or is it adverbial? I guess we’ll find out in due course—very soon, in fact.
hominum vita: looks like the subject, don’t see how it could make sense as ablative
omni ex parte beatum esse.: ah, an infinitive construction. Is this dependent on patitur, is this what human life doesn’t “suffer”? Does “suffer” here mean something like “tolerate” or “allow” (well attested dictionary meanings)?
omni ex parte must go together.
beatum esse: to be blessed, beatum presumably masculine accusative but with reference to no particular person mentioned in the first part of the sentence.
Putting it all together: Human life not-at-all suffers(=allows) to be blessed (i.e. that one be blessed) in every respect.
We’re home dry.

I can imagine a number of bumps in the road here, but none that should cause you to drive into a ditch, whether you take them slowly or at speed.

EDIT. I posted this independently of anphph, but may as well let it stand. It's not intended to replace his post, but may complement it.

hlawson38
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Tue Jan 30, 2018 11:00 pm

Many thanks to mwh and anphph for taking the trouble to write out their thoughts. I need to read their posts over and over until I understand them better.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed Jan 31, 2018 12:10 am

taking it as it comes
Dear hlawson38,

In my own experience learning to read Latin and Greek, I can't emphasize enough Michael's advice: Read the first word or clause and ask yourself what the possibilities are (as Michael and anphph illustrate). Proceed in order. Most new words or clauses eliminate some possibilities, either grammatically or semantically (e.g., the possibility of hominum vita being an ablative phrase). Relish the suspense of the Latin or Greek sentence. As Michael says, you'll find out in due course.

(I wrote a blog about this. Mastronarde here calls it segmentation.]

Randy Gibbons

hlawson38
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 1:45 am

Thanks to Randy Gibbons for his comments. I just looked at R.G.'s blog, and I think I must read it again more slowly.


While we're on this sentence:
Adeo nihil patitur hominum vita, omni ex parte beatum esse.
Is it grammatical to read "nihil" as the subject accusative of "beatum esse"?

This would allow a translation into an English exclamatory sentence:

Truly human life suffers nothing to be in every way blessed/happy!

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed Jan 31, 2018 4:30 am

Is it grammatical to read "nihil" as the subject accusative of "beatum esse"?
Grammatical? If I was presented the sentence without the editor's comma, and having no context to know whether beatum is masculine or neuter, I guess I would say yes, grammatical, but still not necessarily the correct interpretation. For myself, I still "feel" that adeo nihil is adverbial. That your editor doesn't think nihil is a noun modified by beatum seems to me indicated by his/her comma. But I confess I don't know whether beatum is masculine or neuter. Michael and I think anphph seem to take it as an impersonal masculine ("one can't be blessed"), but I'm reserving judgement. Can you tell us, from the context?

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by Nesrad » Wed Jan 31, 2018 12:28 pm

@hlawson38

I don't think it's a good idea to apply elaborate parsing techniques. Just think about the sentence for several minutes. If you're still stumped after several minutes, then check a translation. The more you read of this particular author (and the more you read in general), the less often you'll be stumped.

Barry Hofstetter
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Jan 31, 2018 12:53 pm

Here is the context:

http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/erasmus/moriae.shtml

14. Eat nunc qui uolet, et hoc meum beneficium cum reliquorum Deorum metamorphosi comparet. Qui quid irati faciant, non libet commemorare: sed quibus quam maxime propitii sunt, eos solent in arborem, in auem, in cicadam aut etiam in serpentem transformare: quasi uero non istud ipsum sit perire, aliud fieri. Ego uero hominem eumdem optimae ac felicissimae uitae parti restituo. Quod si mortales prorsus ab omni sapientiae commercio temperarent, ac perpetuo mecum aetatem agerent, ne esset quidem ullum senium, uerum perpetua iuuenta fruerentur felices. An non uidetis tetricos istos et uel Philosophiae studiis, uel seriis et arduis addictos negotiis plerumque priusquam plane iuuenes sint, iam consenuisse, uidelicet curis, et assidua acrique cogitationum agitatione sensim spiritus et succum illum uitalem exhauriente? Cum contra Moriones mei pinguiculi sint, et nitidi, et bene curata cute, plane choiroi, quod aiunt, Akaranioi, numquam profecto senectutis incommodum ullum sensuri, nisi nonnihil, ut fit, sapientum contagio inficerentur. Adeo nihil patitur hominum uita, omni ex parte beatum esse. Accedit ad haec uulgati prouerbii non leue testimonium, quo dictitant, STVLTITIAM unam esse rem, quae et iuuentam alioqui fugacissimam remoretur, et improbam senectam procul arceat.

In fact, failure to grasp the sense of a sentence at this level is more often than not because the reader doesn't see how it fits into the context or failure to consider all the syntactical/semantic options, or both.

It would be interesting to see if the comma is original or whether other editions use it. Note that any of these readings yields the same essential result.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.

hlawson38
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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by hlawson38 » Wed Jan 31, 2018 2:53 pm

Many thanks for all the replies. Every one of them was helpful. They persuaded me that I had wrongly concluded that there was perhaps a distinct category, difficult short sentences, for which there might be some standard methods or rules-of-thumb.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by Hylander » Wed Jan 31, 2018 3:01 pm

Adeo nihil patitur hominum uita, omni ex parte beatum esse.

The comma probably led you astray.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by mwh » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:09 pm

What a splendid writer Erasmus is!

But to the question: “Is it grammatical to read "nihil" as the subject accusative of "beatum esse"?”
If we ignore the comma, the answer is Yes. But grammar alone does not determine meaning, it merely delimits it. Even without the comma, and even without the context, and even if it weren’t for hominum vita, each of which shows what the meaning actually is, to read the sentence as saying that nothing (rather than no-one) can be wholly blessed/happy would be misguided. For it’s a commonplace of ancient Greek and Roman thought, evidently echoed by Erasmus here, that no-one is wholly blessed. (If anyone seems to be, there’s probably a surprise in store for him.) So it comes down to a question of cultural literacy.

That said, it’s true that short sentences can be more difficult than long ones, even in context. Seneca’s sententiae might be a case in point. That may be because of their density, or their ellipticality, or their obliqueness, or even their ambiguity. But they hardly constitute a distinct category to which special rules apply.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:31 pm

:( . I was a happy Acharnanian pig until being infected by the wisdom of all you sapientes in this thread! Now I am the antecedent of beatum.

But so be it, let me be a senex taetricus for a moment. The sentence is a proverb, and the context - thank you, Barry, for providing - doesn't actually provide a particular antecedent for beatum. It only provides, well, context. Let's remove this particular editor's comma so as not to prejudice our understanding of the sentence. It seems to me you could legitimately interpret it as either nihil ... beatum (beatum as neuter) or as beatum being a masculine singular ("one") whose antecedent is effectively hominum. I'm not sure which one we've opted for in this thread, though I opt for the latter.

As for the comma, here is a link to an image from a 1511 edition I found on Google Books. There's no comma after hominum vita, though interestingly (not to open another can of worms) adeo nihil ... is not an independent sentence in this version.

EDIT: I wrote this not having seen Michael's reply.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by Shenoute » Wed Jan 31, 2018 7:48 pm

To help(?) here is another sentence by Erasmus
Adagia IV, viii, 14 wrote:(...) At nunc de moribus gentis nihil dicam, ceterum cum ipse per Campaniam iter facerem, nusquam repperi succum illum per omnes terras inclytum. Nusquam gutta vini Phalerni, Caleni, Massici, Setini, Cecubi, Surrentini. Imo minimum abfuit quin in ipsa quae nunc monstratur Capua vinaria angina fuerimus praefocati. Implevimus totam phialam saccaro contuso : vicit vinum quovis aceto acerbius. Fere defrutis utuntur, quod alioqui non durent usque ad proximam vindemiam. Et ubi sunt illa laudata vina ? Quorum nomen patriamque vetustas delevit. Pulveris affatim hausimus. Adeo natura nihil in rebus humanis patitur esse perpetuum.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by mwh » Wed Jan 31, 2018 8:27 pm

To be even more of one of those juice-sucking sapientes, the Akaranioi in the extract copied by Barry should undoubtedly be Akarnanioi, Ακαρνανιοι, and Randy the Acharnanian pig (too much wallowing in the Acharnians?) likewise.

Randy, I hope I’ve convinced you that beatum is indeed masculine. Shenoute’s nice comparison sententia (It’s a law of nature that in human affairs nothing lasts for ever) rather confirms it.

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Re: how to tackle baffling short sentences?

Post by RandyGibbons » Wed Jan 31, 2018 8:35 pm

oink

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