Sunday, November 12, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 4

With Group 4, we move from first declension nouns and adjectives, to second declension nouns and adjectives. As I mentioned before, the "a" is the distinctive vowel for the first declension. For the second declension, the distinctive vowel is "o". You can think of the second declension as the "o" declension.

Even the Latin sound "um" was really pronounced more like "onhm" (nasalized, like in French!). Although it is written "um," the "um" sound really was a variant of the "o" vowel sound. In fact, it is because of the way the Latin "um" was pronounced in the Romance languages that you get Spanish "amigo" and Italian "amico" from the Latin amicum, "friend," etc.

Unlike the first declension, the second declension is actually two sets of endings, combined together. There is a masculine set of endings, and a neuter set of endings. Sometimes the masculine and neuter endings are the same, but sometimes they are very distinctively different!

In the genitive, dative, and ablative cases, the masculine and neuter endings are the same, and the endings are also the same in the accusative singular. In the nominative singular and plural and in the accusative plural, however, they are different.

Here is a very important rule of thumb for ALL neuter nouns, in any declension: the nominative and accusative forms of neuter nouns are always identical. In other words, you have to decide from context whether a neuter noun is in the nominative or in the accusative, since the forms are identical.

In the proverbs for Group 4, you will have masculine second declension nouns only, with no neuter forms. In addition, the nouns and adjectives in Group are in the nominative case only. Be careful, though, because you will find both nominative singular and nominative plural forms!

After you have finished with the proverbs, you might want to play a Proverb Word Jumble game to test your knowledge!

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 4

41. A faithful friend is hard-to-find. (Note that the predicate rarus comes before the subject fidus amicus. The saying is found in Thomas à Kempis, On The Imitation of Christ. Thomas goes on to compare human friendship as a poor substitute for the inimitable faithfulness of God: Tu Domine, tu solus es fidelissimus in omnibus, et praeter te non est alter talis, "Lord, you alone are the most faithful in all things, and besides you there is no other like you.")

42. The middle place is safe. (This is one of many Latin proverbs promoting the "golden mean." Notice that in Latin the adjective can follow the noun in a phrase, locus medius, but this is not possible in English. This saying is quote by Bernard of Clairvaux, De Consideratione.)

43. A slave yesterday, a free man today. (The words heri and hodie are adverbs, and so they do not decline. Watch out for liber meaning "free" (as in the English word "liberty") and liber meaning "book" (as in the English word "library") in this set of proverbs!)

44. Once bad, always bad. (The words semel and semper are adverbs and do not decline. Notice the nice parallel construction here; parallelism is a very popular style used in proverbs. This dictum forms part of the Latin legal tradition.)

45. Neither worst nor first. (This proverb is even a bit better in English than in Latin since it rhymes so nicely! It is one of the proverbs in Erasmus's Adagia, 4.4.22.)

46. A good book is the best teacher. (You could also translate this as "The best teacher is a good book." Either translation would be just fine... but instead of worrying about the English translation, see if you can appreciate the Latin on its own terms, for its own sake!)

47. A good book is the best friend. (I didn't have a lot of friends when I was a child, so this was literally true for me: my best friends really were books!)

48. Books are silent teachers. (Be careful with subject and predicate here; if you translate this as "mute books are teachers" it just does not make sense. There is not a grammatical rule to tell you how to identify the predicate and the subject in the Latin sentence, so you need to figure that out based on context.)

49. Few, but good. (The Latin makes it very clear that something plural is being referred to here. In fact, something masculine and plural, such as "men." To spell out what is implicit in the Latin, you could say: [The men are] few, but [they are] good.)

50. Neither many friends, nor none. (In other words, this is another proverb about the "golden mean." It's best to have not too many friends, but to have at least some friends!)

51. Mountain-men are always free. (Notice that there is no confusion here between liberi meaning "free" and libri meaning "books." The confusion arises only in the nominative singular forms of the words, not in their plural forms or in any of the other cases. This is the state motto of West Virginia! You can see a list of state mottoes in Latin at the Bestiaria Latina blog.)

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

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