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Learning Latin :)

When I was in school, my English teacher – whenever we told her that something was tough – used to reply back saying that what we were supposed to do was easy and it was not Greek or Latin. I used to wonder at that time why Greek and this mysterious Latin were regarded as difficult – I thought they would be as easy or as difficult as any other language. As Latin had the same alphabets as English, I wondered how it could be difficult as it would be so easy to read, once one had learnt the Roman alphabet. It was definitely not Chinese, wasn’t it?

In later years, I added Latin to the list of languages that I wanted to learn – because then I could say that I knew Latin 🙂 I was also inspired to learn Latin by one of the characters called Larry in Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘The Razor’s Edge’. In that book, Larry leaves a good job, goes to Paris, lives in a small apartment, and spends his time learning Greek and Latin and visiting bookshops and cafes. What a life! I also thought that if I learnt Latin, I could get to read some of the classics in the original like ‘The Aeneid’ by Virgil, some of Ovid’s poems, some of Cicero’s speeches and other such interesting stuff. But this dream was always on the backburner and I hadn’t done anything about it. Then I discovered that fellow blog-friends Ana (at Things Mean a Lot) and Jenny (at Jenny’s Books) were Latin ‘experts’ and I was green with envy – it must be so wonderful for them to read ‘The Aeneid’ in the original and other beautiful Latin literary works! So, I thought instead of feeling envy I will do something about it and I thought I will start getting acquainted with Latin. I got a beginner’s book and browsed through it. It had eighteen lessons. I finished the first lesson today – so that is a good start, I guess 🙂

The first lesson talked a little bit about Latin grammar – subject and object and cases. In one breadth the author mentions the nominative, accusative and ablative cases! I learnt cases for eight months in Russian and I am still confused. I hope the author expands on Latin cases in future lessons. The book also touched on the similarities between Latin and English and had some simple Latin phrases and passages. It also talked a little bit about famous classical Latin authors.

One of the first Latin passages in the book went like this :

Paulus in silva ambulat. Mulus cum Paulo ambulat. Mulus non Paulum sed sarcinam portat. Fessus est Paulus et mulus est lentus. Mulus silvam non amat. Mulus silvam spectat. Silva mulum spectat. Mulus est territus.

I tried teasing the meaning out of this passage 🙂 This is what I got out of it.

  • Paulus in silva ambulat – Paulus seems to be the Latin version of Paul. ‘Ambulat’ seems to be related to the English ambulatory, which is related to walking and so Paul is probably walking. ‘in silva’ looks like ‘in somewhere’. Maybe ‘silva’ means ‘street’, or ‘forest’ or some place. So this line probably means ‘Paul is walking in some place’.
  • Mulum cum Paulo ambulat – ‘Cum’ is similar to the English ‘cum’. It probably means ‘together’ or ‘with’. ‘Mulum’ looks like ‘mule’ (I am cheating here – there is a picture in the book which helped me to guess this :)). So, the mule is walking with Paul.
  • Mulus non Paulum sed sarcinam portat – ‘Non’ probably means ‘not’. ‘Portat’ is probably related to ‘porter’ and so has a connotation of ‘carrying’. So this line probably means ‘The mule is carrying not Paul but something else’. (‘Sed sarcinum’ was impossible to guess. Maybe Paul and the mule are going on a long journey. Maybe the mule is carrying a bag with Paul’s belongings and some food.).
  • Fessus est Paulus et mulus est lentus – ‘Est’ in French means ‘is’. ‘Et’ in French means ‘and’. So, Paul is something and the mule is something. Can’t guess what these somethings are. Maybe this describes the physical characteristics of Paul and the mule – like tall and short – or maybe it describes what they are doing or their emotional state or their energy levels. ‘Fessus’ and ‘lentus’ don’t look like verbs but look like adjectives. So probably these words denote the physical or the mental state / characteristics of Paul and the mule.
  • Mulus silvam non amat – ‘amat’ means ‘love’ (I know it because I read it in Anton Chekhov’s play ‘Three Sisters’, where a character called Masha gives the conjugation of the Latin verb ‘to love’ 🙂 Reading literature helps, doesn’t it?). So this probably means ‘The mule doesn’t love / like the thing where it is walking.
  • Mulus silvam spectat – ‘Spectat’ seems to be related to spectator and so it probably means ‘to watch’ / ‘to see’. So the mule watches that thing.
  • Silva mulum spectat – This one is simple. That thing called ‘silva’ watches the mule 🙂 This is getting interesting! The mule and Paul are walking in some place and the mule doesn’t like that place and looks at it and that place looks at it back! Looks like a ghost story / fantasy! Reminds me of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ where the trees in the forest look back at the hobbits.
  • Mulus est territus – My guess here is that the mule is terrified / afraid.

If I put this together, the story goes like this :

Paul is walking somewhere. The mule is walking with Paul. The mule is carrying not Paul but something else. Paul is ‘something’ and the mule is ‘something’. The mule doesn’t like the place where they are walking. The mule looks at this place. The place looks back at the mule. The mule is terrified.

Not bad for a first lesson, isn’t it? Eventhough I couldn’t understand some of the specifics, I could follow the overall story 🙂 I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

Who said Latin was difficult? I am already dreaming that maybe once I finish this book in a month’s time, I can start reading ‘The Aeneid’ 🙂 But then the inner voice in my head interrupts my idyllic thoughts and looks at me with contempt and says – “Whom are you kidding? Just learning some elementary alphabets makes you a Latin expert and a literary critic, is it? Wait for the next few lessons and then think about this. You learnt Russian for nearly a year-and-a-half. Can you read a Tolstoy book in the original? If you can’t do that, how are you hoping to read ‘The Aeneid’ after a month? Fat chance!” I hate my inner voice, but I know that what it says is true. But one can always dream, isn’t it? Sometimes dreams do come true too, don’t they 🙂

Have you tried learning Latin? What do you think about it? Do you think it is easy?


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