Latin, and Cicero, and Reading oh My!

My New Year’s resolution is (in part) to be better at setting aside four or five hours each day to study: Latin in the morning, then Greek and in the evening one of two other languages I need.

Today I started the day with Cicero. I never knew reading him could be so entertaining until I read his speeches against Catline (it’s like the Roman version of the “Inquirer” lol. there’s very little proof offered in his court speech but a lot of ad hominem attacks. It’s hilariously entertaining). Now i’m reading several of his letters to his wife and daughter, written while he was in exile in the 50s. They’re tender, moving, and filled with his worry about her health. It’s a totally different impression and insight into this Roman orator. Quite lovely.

To all the Latin students out there who might stumble across this: it does get easier and better. one day there will be this moment where your gut doesn’t twist in fear when presented with a latin translation and you’ll have a sudden sense of “i got this. i can do this. No problem.” it make take a couple of years, but it does happen and one day you’ll be able to pick up a Latin letter, or a history, or poem and it will make sense. Maybe you’ll have to look up a word or two, but the syntax and grammar will untangle itself with an ease you never thought possible. Persevere!

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Posted on December 31, 2015, in Classics, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Lol, I LOVE the Cateline “dramas”

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  2. As much fun as I’m having with Catullus, Latin right now is a nightmare. I needed to read that last paragraph you wrote. Might even frame it on my wall! I hope that day comes, and quickly. For now, another semester of Latin…. The best of luck to you!

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    • poetry is more difficult, for me any way, than prose. it takes longer because all the rules can be thrown to hell in favor of meter. I find Virgil and Horace very difficult to read even now. (check out Catullus 16–best poem ever. lol).

      The more you read, the easier it will get. I promise. how much latin have you had?

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      • For some reason I feel more comfortable with poetry – most likely because my first language is Spanish, so I’m a bit more comfortable with the very florid flexibility of Spanish.

        I’ve only had one semester of Italian, but my grad class ramped me up really quickly. I would be considered an intermediate Latin student (but my confidence level is not so high!). I think the reason I’m having so much difficulty, besides the nature of the language itself, is because I am not speaking Latin in my classroom. I will have to spend more hours speaking Latin out loud so I can be more comfortable with grammar and connect the sentences more fluently.

        All I can do is ask the gods to help me, although I am pleased that They find my struggling VERY amusing! đŸ™‚

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      • I often feel the same way with Biblical Hebrew (which I’ve been trying to read daily in recent months after I realized my skills were atrophying from years of disuse). The narrative portions of the Hebrew Bible are generally ridiculously easy to read, but poetry–particularly the prophetic writings–are still intimidating to me, and generally require a lexicon and consulting translations.
        I would love to get back to Latin and Greek at some point. My only formal study in either was in high school for Latin and a semester of Greek in college, which was disappointing since the regular Greek teacher went on sabbatical that year. But, at the moment, I need to focus on Finnish which I’m finally studying formally since the fall with the Finnish instructor at the U of Minnesota. I love that his academic background is heavy in linguistics; I get frustrated studying languages under people who don’t know anything about linguistics.
        And per your comment somewhere else here, I also get frustrated with modern methods of teaching languages. I love those old-school, grammar-heavy texts, and I can’t stand those books that just have you memorize phrases with the assumption that you’ll understand the syntax later.

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  3. yeah, latin isn’t generally taught as a spoken language. this is why modern languages are difficult for me: i learn through my eyes, not my ears. But definitely speak it out loud if that works for you. I often chant my declensions and conjugations. it does help! I also make copious offerings to the Gods, seriously, begging help.

    Get a copy of Wheelock’s Latin. it’s a standard Latin text and just slowly work through it as a confidence builder. Some teachers also focus more on poetry.

    Do you know where your difficulties lie? for instance, if someone were struggling with the subjunctive, i’d have them read Caesar’s “Gallic Wars’ because after that, they will know the subjunctive like the back of their hands. lol.

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    • What’s interesting is that Latin, in newer/younger circles, is being taught as a spoken language. Many middle and high-schoolers who have younger-generation teachers pick up latin very quickly because they concentrate on both spoken and written translation! Which is actually really cool, I would love to hear Latin being spoken – and I also have been learning a lot about the Roman worldview (and the personalities of the Roman gods!) by studying Latin. As much as I grovel and struggle, Latin is quite incredible!

      I do have my copy, I just have to reinforce everything I’ve learned six times over. And, thankfully, my Family is helping me. I have a feeling that, now that things are getting very serious in academia, my offerings will be ten-fold.

      I will have to sit down and see just where my difficulty is. For now I really think the worst hurdle is memory – memorizing all of the endings, since depending on the declension it can either be masculine, feminine, or neuter. Even with my studying I always forget or mix them up, which is very frustrating for me. But I will absolutely save your recommendation — and thank you for helping me, Galina!

      I just have to remember that even the study of Latin is a work for the gods….

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      • I’m really of two minds about that. I can see the utility but i find modern pedagogical methods for foreign languages abysmal. unless students are learning to parse grammar and syntax, they’re not learning latin. But yes, it’s the big thing in Classics now, the dividing line between us old fashioned teachers, and the newer, cutting edge generation (that and bringing lit crit into classical analysis. ugh).

        there’s a saying in both Latin (by seneca) and russian: repetition is the mother of learning and it’s so true, esp. with Latin

        memory is the issue i find the most challenging with my students too: we’re just don’t emphasize it in grammar school anymore. Trust me, you’re not along there.

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  4. That’s an awe-inspiring resolution, and it’s only PART?

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  5. We used Wheelock’s in the Latin tutorial I had my last year of undergraduate work (1971-2). My instructor and I got to the Vulgate in the first semester. I never did get to Caesar ;-(. I’m just going to have to find that old edition and get back to work. Are the newer editions any better? Which text do you recommend for Attic/Homeric Greek? I’m also going to have to do a major update on my German reading comprehension as well. What other language are you Studying?

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    • I may need Hebrew for part of my program. I’m not sure yet. I’m lazily learning the alphabet and then over the summer, if it turns out i do need it, i’ll cram grammar.

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  6. Kauko, i think modern language pedagogy is absolute horse shit. if you don’t understand the bones and sinews of a language, it’s grammar and syntax, you’re not ever going to speak and read well. give me an old fashioned grammar any day.

    Julia, I ‘d recommend the newer version of wheelock. I think some of it is a bit more streamlined than older versions of the text that i’ve seen. I usually recommend anne groton’s “From alpha to omega” for greek. You can get the answer key too so you can check yourself. I really need to get my german back up to par. I may need Hebrew in the future for the program i’m trying to get into. so i’m slowly working through the alphabet and then over the summer i’ll focus on the grammar. I’m hesitant to add it to the mix right now because three languages is about the limit of what i can handle at once.

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