Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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.

Described image
Figure 5 An example of a Latin parallel text: pages from Pliny: Letters and Panegyricus I, Books 1–7, translated by Betty Radice. Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of the Loeb Classical Library from Pliny:Letters and Panegyricus I, Books 1–7, Loeb Classical Library Volume 55, translated by Betty Radice, pp. 424–5, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1969 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Loeb Classical Library ® is a registered trademark of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

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:

  1. An English translation typically contains more words than its Latin equivalent. From the standpoint of English, some words appear to be ‘missing’ in Latin.
  2. 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.


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