Thursday, November 09, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 1

The Latin Via Proverbs book is organized grammatically. The first 1000 proverbs in the book contain no verbs at all, only noun forms (along with indeclinable words, such as adverbs). The nouns, in turn, are subdivided by declensions. Most Latin textbooks begin with the "First Declension," and that is where the proverbs in the book also begin. But first, I will provide a quick overview of the terms: declension, gender, case, and number. If you are a beginning Latin student, you will find all of these terms explained in more detail in your textbook, and if you are an intermediate Latin student, I hope this will be a helpful review.

Latin declensions.There are five noun declensions in Latin, referred to as the first, second, third, fourth and fifth declensions. Adjectives are also declined, and Latin adjectives are found in the first, second, and third declensions.

Every Latin noun belongs to a declension, and you must memorize the declension when you learn the Latin noun. You must know the declension of each noun so that you can add the correct endings to the noun when you use it in a sentence. The declensions are, essentially, the patterns of endings used for the nouns and adjectives.

The first declension nouns are characterized by the letter "a" - so if you want, you can think of the first declension as the "a" declension.

Nouns and gender. In addition to memorizing the declension of every noun, you must also memorize the gender of the noun. Each Latin noun is assigned a gender: feminine, masculine, or neuter. Most, but not all, of the first declension nouns are feminine in gender.

Subject and verb. Every sentence has a subject, and every sentence has a verb. This rule applies to both English and to Latin. In some Latin sentences, however, the subject may be implied, but not directly stated. In other Latin sentences, the verb may be implied but not directly stated. This can be difficult at first for English speakers, since the grammar of English requires that the subject AND the verb be clearly stated in every sentence. This is not true for Latin! More often that not, a Latin sentence will omit either the subject or the verb, and you will need to be able to infer the missing part of the sentence from context.

Here's an example of a Latin proverb where the verb is implied but not directly stated: Roma aeterna, "Rome (is) eternal." If you translate that directly into English, "Rome eternal," it starts to sound like Tarzan speech! In Latin, however, Tarzan speech is normal speech! It is very common for a verb to be omitted this way from a Latin sentence.

Case. Whenever you use a noun or adjective in a Latin sentence, you must put the noun or adjective into the correct "case," based on the grammatical function of the word in the sentence. There are five cases (plus one quasi-case), based on the various grammatical roles that a word can play in a sentence. As you now know, every Latin sentence has to have a subject, and whenever a word is the subject of a sentence, it goes into the nominative case. Traditionally, words in the dictionary are listed in their nominative case form, so when you learn a noun, you have already learned the nominative case of that noun!

Number: singular and plural. In addition to making sure you have the word in the right case, you also have to make sure you have the right number for the word: singular or plural. Since English also has singular and plural forms for its nouns, you will find this easy to remember! If you have one "elephant" in English that is not the same as having many "elephants," obviously! Elephant is a singular noun in English, and elephants is a plural noun. Just like Latin, we use a word ending ("s") to indicate the number of the noun. In Latin, however, the word ending of the noun is used to indicate BOTH case AND number.

Quick review: Declension, gender, case, number. When you are working with a Latin noun or adjective in a sentence, you need to be aware of the declension, gender, case and number... which is why Latin is sometimes called a "hard" language to learn (but remember, even the most foolish Roman spoke Latin with no problems at all - it's just different from English, rather than really being harder). Something that you must keep in mind at all times is this: the declension and gender of a noun NEVER change (you memorize that, or look it up in a dictionary), but the case and number of the noun ALWAYS change depending on how the word is used in a sentence (yes, you have to figure that out on your own!).

Paradigms. To help you keep track of the case and number endings for the different declensions, the information is usually organized in the form of a paradigm, and you can find the paradigms for the Latin first declension in your textbook. I am not going to reproduce the actual paradigms here in the blog because that is something you can easily find in your textbook. A good pocket dictionary, such as Traupman's New College Latin and English Dictionary, will also list the main noun paradigms in a summary chart at the beginning of the dictionary.

Latin word order. In Latin, the word order is completely free. In other words, there are no rules that govern word order. Given all the other rules you have to learn in Latin (declensions! gender! case!), you would think that Latin students would rejoice in the freedom of Latin word order and the absence of word order rules. Unfortunately, because English has so many rules about word order, most English speakers go kind of bonkers when they are confronted by the freedom of Latin word order. It's kind of like being thrust into zero gravity! You cannot tell which way is up or which way is down. In other words: you cannot tell where the subject of the sentence is. In English, the word order rule tells you that the subject of the sentence comes before the verb, but there is no such rule to help you in Latin. Here's my advice about that: just let go and enjoy! You've all seen the astronauts in outer space totally enjoying zero gravity, just goofing around and zooming up, down, and sideways with delight. Latin word order is free, and there's not a darn thing you can do about it - so have fun with it!

Today's proverbs: Group 1. I hope the notes above will help you tackle the first group of proverbs in Latin Via Proverbs. Please note: to read the proverbs in Latin, you need to acquire a copy of the book from! What I am providing here in the blog are notes to help people who are making their way through the book either in a Latin class or on their own.

All the proverbs in Group 1 contain first declension nouns and adjectives. They are all in the nominative case, singular number. As you will see, sometimes there is a stated verb (est), but usually the verb is omitted. Please try to read through and understand the proverbs on your own before looking at the English translations. You will have a much greater sense of accomplishment that way! Use the English translations provided here only if you are stuck. And if you have questions, please use the comment form here at the blog to ask your question and I will be sure to get back to you, either by email or by responding to your comment here at the blog.

Meanwhile, there is also a Proverb Game at the Bestiaria Latina blog that you can play, using the proverbs below.

Group 1

1. Knowledge is power. (The Latin scientia means "knowing" or "knowledge" in general, and it is of course where we get the English word "science").

2. Fortune is blind. (In other words, she seems to dispense her favors at random, without seeing what she is doing: this is why good things happen to bad people, for example.)

3. Fortune is shaped like a wheel. (Latin rota is "wheel," hence the adjective rotunda). The Romans were big believers in the image of "the wheel of Fortune."

4. Fortune is inconstant. (Although the English word "vague" is derived from the Latin adjective vaga, the Latin word has a much wider range of meaning: the idea here is that Fortune is inconstant, she wanders, she comes and comes).

5. Fortune is made of glass. (In other words: it shatters).

6. Life is many-sided. (In other words, life has its good moments and bad moments, too.)

7. Such is life. (I like how this rhymes in Latin!)

8. Life is long, if it is a full life. (This is a profoundly comforting thought: live your life fully, and you do not have to worry about how long it will be... since that is, obviously, something quite beyond your control.)

9. Rome is eternal. (The Romans were certainly right about that, at least so far!)

10. Envy is blind. (Compare the English cliche, "blind with envy." What is interesting here is that the Latin word for "envy" is itself based on a verb of seeing. Literally, it means "looking on," the idea being that when you looking longing on something, you were doing so enviously or, even worse, casting the evil eye on it.)

11. Greed is a wild beast. (Greed, avaritia, is a dominant theme in Latin proverbs; see this Latin Audio Proverbs post for a great proverb about people who are greedy for money.)

This blog post is part of an evolving online guide for users of the book Latin Via Proverbs.

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