Sunday, June 19, 2011

Climbing the Scala Sapientiae

UPDATED: July 22, 2011

This project is the result of a blog I started about a year ago, Verbosum, where I looked for proverbs and mottoes to illustrate basic Latin vocabulary. I was surprised and impressed at how well the proverbs were able to illustrate vocabulary usage, with an abundant supply of proverbs for all the basic vocabulary of Latin.

Then, earlier this summer, I had a sudden idea of how to organize the proverbs in terms of vocabulary: I could build the vocabulary, step by step, starting with the most common words and adding vocabulary one word at a time, thus creating a "ladder" or "stair step" structure. Hence the name: Scala Sapientiae, from the Latin scala, meaning a "ladder." From proverb to proverb there is at most just one step (one word) which you need to move on to the next one.

Then, I set as my goal to organize 5000 proverbs into this ladder formation. No mean feat! I had done a book a few years ago, Latin Via Proverbs, which contained 4000 proverbs. Since writing that book I have found so many more wonderful sources of Latin proverbs that I wanted to expand the coverage to include 5000 proverbs in this new book. I felt sure I could do this using Filemaker's Bento personal database software, a GREAT software product for the Mac which I used to write my Mille Fabulae et Una book last summer. So, I started by loading appx. 6000 favorite Latin proverbs, emphasizing short proverbs and mottoes, into Bento. Then, I had to go through and find the dictionary form for each word in each proverb, thus building up a Latin dictionary. Next, I created an algorithm I could use to build the ladder, moving from proverb to proverb with at most one new word each time... and it worked! To be honest, I wasn't even sure if such a thing were possible, but it turned out great - I have not had any problem arranging all these thousands of proverbs into a step by step ladder. And...... here is the first step on the ladder: Scala 1 (1-50)

I had originally planned to create a book with 5000 proverbs in the Scala - but along the way something happened: I kept finding more and more amazing books at Google Books from which I could harvest proverbs. So, now I am really not quite sure what book might result from this project. For now, I am just going to keep collecting proverbs and building the ladder. When I reach 5000 I will leave the numbering stable for proverbs 1-5000, but until I reach 5000, even the numbering is not fixed since I keep finding good, simple proverbs that best fit down on the lower rungs, so to speak! I hope to reach 5000 by the time my school starts up again in August; then, I can probably add another 5000 during the school year... which will allow me figure out what to do in terms of a possible book next summer, in 2012.

Oh, one another note: In late July, someone reminded me of the great tool at for creating word maps, so I've decided to do that for each new batch of 50 sayings. I changed the overall design of the blog to make it more neutral when I started adding the "wordles" in July.

As always, your feedback would be much appreciated. I'm really curious what people will think about this style of presentation! I've worked with probably a hundred or more books of Latin proverbs over the past five years, and I've never seen anything organized in quite this way. Personally, I am really pleased with it: the interweaving of the words creates some thought-provoking relationships between the proverbs. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment anywhere here at the blog - or, if you prefer, you can contact me via email: laurakgibbs AT gmail DOT com. :-)


bearing said...

Brilliant. I'm going to use this with the homeschooled students (some mine, some others') I teach Latin to, immediately (as in, starting this morning.)

Love your database approach. I almost want to say "Wish I'd thought of it!" except that I'm glad you did instead of me because I don't have the time for such things. :-)

Laura Gibbs said...

Great! You might also find useful the materials from my old proverb book which arranges the proverbs by word forms - you can find that here: Latin Via Proverbs (that's the wiki that goes with the book). When I did that old book I did not have a real database to help me, just a giant spreadsheet - so I think this new book will be so much better, thanks to the power of the database! :-)

Gabe said...

Laura - this is an absolutely wonderful tool. Infinite thanks to you for your contributions to the world of Latin education.

larus argentatus said...

Thank you very much for doing this. It's very useful.