Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 12

So far, the proverbs I've reviewed here have used first and second nouns and adjectives only. Starting today, I'll be doing a long stretch of proverbs focusing on third declension nouns, and then third declension adjectives.

Unlike first and second declension nouns, with third declension nouns you have to memorize both the nominative singular form of the noun (the dictionary form) PLUS the genitive singular form. This is because the genitive singular form cannot be safely predicted from the nominative singular, as was the situation with both the first and second declensions. So, every time you learn a third declension noun, you must make sure that you learn both the nominative singular and also the genitive singular form.

After you learn the genitive singular form, you will have no trouble recognizing all the other forms, both singular and plural. There is a distinctive set of endings for the third declension nouns, just as there was a distinctive set of endings for the first declension and for the second declension. Your Latin textbook contains a chart of the third declension noun endings, and you can safely add those endings on to the stem that you see in the genitive singular form.

There is a special set of third declension nouns call "i" stem nouns, which contain an extra "i" in the endings: ium instead of um in the genitive plural and ia instead of a in the neuter nominative/accusative plural. This really is not something you need to worry about. If you know that a noun is a third declension noun, you won't have any trouble recognizing the "i" stem ending.

What can really cause trouble, though, is the ambiguity between the third declension endings and the first and second declension endings. For example, a common third declension noun like tempus, "time" ends in us, but it is not a masculine second declension noun! It is a third declension neuter noun, with the genitive form temporis. A word like ventrum might look like it is a second declension neuter noun, singular, because it ends in um, but in fact it is a plural form of venter, meaning "of the stomachs." A word like luminis might look like a first or second declension plural, but it is actually a third declension singular form of lumen, meaning "of the light."

There is one, and only one, solution to this potential problem: you must ALWAYS learn the nominative and genitive form of every third declension noun that is part of your active vocabulary. If you do this religiously, third declension nouns are no problem at all! So, just make sure you learn the genitive singular form for every third declension noun, and they will be just as easy to work with as the nouns from the first and second declensions.

In addition, you also have to be much more careful about memorizing the GENDER of third declension nouns. In the first declension, most, but not all, of the nouns are feminine. In the second declension most of the nouns are either masculine (nominative in us) or neuter (nominative in um). In the third declension, you will find feminine, masculine and neuter nouns, and you need to memorize the gender of every one of them.

In this first group of proverbs, you will find only nominative forms of the third declension nouns, along with some first and second declension nouns.

I hope these notes will help you tackle this 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.

Group 12

153. Youth is wind. (The idea here is that youth passes by as quickly as the wind, but it's impossible to capture the delightful Latin word play with an English translation.)

154. Someone who praises is a flatterer. (The charm of the Latin saying depends on the sound play, which is lost in the English.)

155. A greedy person is always poor. (You can find a similar idea expresses in Ausonius's Septem Sapientum Senteniae: Quis dives? Qui nil cupiet. quis pauper? Avarus., "Who is rich? He who will be without desire. Who is poor? The greedy man.")

156. A speaker is not always a doer. (This is another proverb that depends on sound play for its charm, which is impossible to reproduce in the English. The Latin word operator is a late Latin word, not found in classical Latin, although it has become a commonly used word in English!)

157. Poetry is like a picture. (The word poesis is actually a Greek word, adopted by the Romans. You are probably used to the word ut being used to introduce purpose or result clauses, but it is also commonly used to mean "so," introducing a comparison, as here. The phrase is most famously found in Horace's Ars Poetica.)

158. Virtue is a thousand shields. (The Latin word virtus has a much wider range of meaning than the English word "virtue." In Latin, virtus encompasses the sense of moral virtue, but also physical prowess, resourcefulness, bravery, etc.)

159. Conscience is a thousand witnesses. (Even if you do something in secret, with no external witnesses, your own conscience is like having a thousand witnesses to the deed. This saying made its way into Erasmus's Adagia, 1.10.91.)

160. God is my illumination. (This is the motto of Oxford University.)

161. The stars my camp, god my light. (This is a double rhyming proverb! For a note about the etymology of the Latin word numen, meaning "divinity," see the Bestiaria Latina: Innuendo.)

162. I am the mightiest mouse. (This phrase sounds like nonsense in English, but notice that this Latin phrase is a palindrome, reading the same both backwards and forwards! You can find extensive lists of palindromes in many languages, including Latin, at wikipedia.)

163. We are dust and shadow. (This phrase comes from an ode by the Roman poet Horace.)

164. The body is earth and the mind is fire. (This phrase is adapted from a fragment of the Roman poet Ennius.)

165. Man is earth, reputation is smoke, the end is ash. (The charm of the Latin proverb is in the elaborate sound play, which is impossible to reproduce in English. The Latin word fama is notoriously difficult to translate in English, completely aside from the sound effects; it can mean both "rumor" and also "renown, reputation.")

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

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