2 Beginning Latin
Your first encounter with a classical text is likely to take place through an English translation. To delve deeper, the next step might be to acquire the Latin text and a Latin–English dictionary. With these in hand you can inspect the text and translation in parallel, trying to relate one to the other.
You can make some headway with this approach. It has the great advantage of allowing you to work with ‘real’ Latin composed by a native Latin speaker. Eventually, however, its limitations will become clear. Two problems stand out in particular:
- An English translation typically contains more words than its Latin equivalent. From the standpoint of English, some words appear to be ‘missing’ in Latin.
- English word order will almost certainly differ from the Latin.
These problems arise because English and Latin work on different principles. If you can grasp these principles and their implications, you will have taken an important step on the path to reading Latin as Latin instead of through the medium of English.
In the following sections, you will work step by step through some short pieces of Latin, including two small extracts from the works of the Roman aristocrat Pliny the Younger and the poet Catullus to see how these differences work in practice.