Monday, November 13, 2006

Latin Via Proverbs 5

In Group 5, you will have some examples of neuter nouns and adjectives from the second declension. See the previous posts for some general observations about second declension nouns and about nouns in general.

Here in Group 5, you will have only nominative forms of the neuter nouns and adjectives, but watch out: some of them are singular, and some are plural. One proverb also contains a masculine noun phrase, but I'll warn you in the notes about that one.

All adjectives, but especially neuter adjectives, can be used as if they were nouns. This is called a "substantive" use of the adjective. A substantive adjective is used by itself, and does not modify any noun. This can be rather difficult to translate into English, since the substantive use of adjectives in English sounds very stilted and formal ("Only the good die young," for example). If you want to translate a substantive neuter adjective into English, you often have to add the word "thing" or something like it.

Unlike nouns and adjectives, adverbs do not decline in Latin. In other words, they do not change their form. You will notice that adverbs are frequently formed from the same root as a noun or adjective. For example, the adjective novus means "new," but the word nove is an adverb meaning "anew, in a new way," etc. The adjective novus changes its gender, case and number depending on the role it plays in a given sentence, but the adverb nove is always the same, no matter what role it plays in the sentence. Whether the adverb is modifying a verb, modifying an adjective, or modifying another adverb, the form of the adverb never changes.

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.

52. A rare thing is valuable. (Notice the sound-play in the Latin: it rhymes! Rhyme is commonly found in Latin proverbs, especially in medieval Latin proverbs.)

53. The middle way is certain. (This is another of many Latin proverbs praising the "golden mean.")

54. An injury is a lesson. (This is one of my favorite Latin proverbs. The idea is that if you get hurt, you learn not to make the same mistaken again. It's learning in the school of hard knocks! This Latin word is the origin of our English word "document," and it has the same root "doc," meaning "teach" as in words like doctrine, docile, etc.)

55. There is no free lunch. (Although the English word "gratuitous" is derived from the Latin gratuitus, the English word has quite different connotations! The Latin word for "lunch," prandium shows up in the admittedly obscure English word "post-prandial.")

56. No bad deed is unpunished. (One of my favorite sayings in English is "no GOOD deed goes unpunished," which in Latin would be: nullum beneficium impunitum.)

57. Quickly ripe, quickly rotten. (Notice that the adverb cito is used to create a parallel structure, one of the most common styles of proverbs.)

58. A crooked branch will never be straight. (In addition to supply a present tense of the verb "to be" if needed, you can also supply a future tense verb if that suits the context best, as it probably does here. And yes, the Latin adjective gives us the English word "rectum," which is the terminal portion of the large intestine, the part that is more or less straight compared to the more parts of the intestive that are all twisting and turning.)

59. A big book is a big evil. (Notice that this proverb has both a masculine and a neuter noun. This is a Latin version of a phrase made famous by the Greek poet Callimachus. The Greek is not too hard to understand, if you are interested: "mega biblion, mega kakon.")

60. If there is enough, that is plenty. (This is the opposite of the English aphorism, "if some is good, more is better." You can see the Latin adverb satis at work in words like satisfied, satisfaction, etc.)

61. Much, not many. (This proverb is a bit subtle. The idea is that you should do something thoroughly and completely, which is the idea expressed by the adverb multum. It's better to do one thing this way than to do many things, multa, plural. In other words: quality, not quantity. )

62. Not new things but in a new way. (Like the preceding proverb, there is a play here between the adverb nove and the substantive adjective nova, "new things.")

63. Few, but good. (In its full form, this would be: [There are[ few [things], but [they are] good. Notice a recurring pattern?)

64. The old things are best. (This saying expresses the typical Roman preference for old things that are tried and true as opposed to anything new-fangled.)

65. All beginnings are panicky. (This proverb expresses that "fear of the unknown" which necessarily attends every beginning, given that you cannot be sure how things will turn out. The saying is found in the writings of Cassiodorus.)

66. Thus are all human things futile. (The literal meaning of the Latin adjective vanus is "empty." You can see this meaning of the Latin root at work in the English word "vanish.")

67. So all things are unsteady. (The underlying root in the Latin adjective caducus means "fall," as in the English word "deciduous," for trees whose leaves fall in the fall.)

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

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