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Lewis and language

The man. The myth.

Postby interloper » 12 May 2007, 12:48

I'm wandering off topic again (I'm not called Interloper for no reason), but discussion of the original topic seems to have petered out for the present.

I think Karen makes a good point about the Romans, but I don't dismiss completely Carol's assertion that they had no ideas of their own (I don't think Karen meant to do that either). Greek civilization predated Roman, at least from the point of view of knowledge and understanding, and in the later stages of Roman civilization they (the Romans) built on what had been inherited from the Greeks, making very significant advances, particularly in the areas of architecture and engineering as Karen pointed out. In due course they became pace setters in their own right, and there is a great deal that is rightly attributed to Roman innovation and invention. In England for instance, the benefits of their capacity for design and planning are felt even today. Looking at a detailed road map, it's pretty obvious that most main routes (other than those created in the 20th century) date from Roman times: Roman roads are all dead straight (and all lead to Rome), and contrast markedly with the aimless meandering of more localised routes which are the product of haphazard planning, or lack of planning, on the part of the indigenous population.

I think in modern times we may compare this scenario with the Japanese. Some years ago, someone remarked to me that the Japanese have no capacity for original thought, and that their advances in engineering, technology, manufacturing processes and so on, only build on the inventiveness of Europeans, or those of European descent. Again, there may have been a case for thinking this way in the 1950s & 60s. But today, to say that the Japanese have no original ideas is to underrate them by a substantial margin. Admittedly we're looking at a time span of six decades, compared with more like six centuries in the case of the Romans, but history happens much faster today than it did then, and I think the comparison is fair.
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Postby carol » 14 May 2007, 07:15

Karen wrote:
carol wrote:Greek grammar is the basis of Latin grammar, since the Romans had no ideas of their own...

Ahem. I beg to differ. Not about the grammar, but the "had no ideas of their own". The Romans invented concrete and, most important of all, the book, in the form of a codex rather than a scroll.

No, they weren't the most purely inventive civilization, but their innovations in the fields of architecture and engineering, while based on earlier examples, were extraordinary.

I stand corrected - thanks, Karen!
I am so intrigued about their inventing concrete! I'm trying to put a concrete mixer into an "Asterix" story!!!! :lol:

I can't recall ever being shown examples of Roman concrete - there were plenty of bits of stone, shards of all manner of pots, etc.... in the Roman sites I have seen (eg Hadrian's Wall locations)

The Romans contributed their Pax and their good roads to the spread of the Christian Gospel; this added to the common language for the whole eastern Mediterranean (Koine Greek - as used in the Bible), and the readiness of Jews, God-fearing non-Jews, and total outsiders to hear it. What a window of opportunity - and God knew exactly when it would be, when to send His Son!
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Postby Karen » 14 May 2007, 11:47

Hi Carol,

You can see a lot of Roman concrete in Rome (in the Colosseum, for example) and wherever they built aqueducts. Concrete made the sophisticated systems of arches in those structures possible. Plus they used it decoratively as well:


And here's my favorite use of it, in the coffered ceiling of the Pantheon:

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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Postby alecto » 24 May 2007, 22:48

mgton wrote:My first Latin class is about a month from now. I would actually like to learn ancient Greek, but it's really tough to schedule my classes to where I could sneak it in, especially since I must hurry up and take intro level classes in order to have time to take the upper level classes in the future. I guess that's what inspired me to start this thread about Lewis' ability with languages. Any suggestions from you Latin folks on getting started?

And for the people that know Greek, is it a particularly hard language to learn? I ask because my adviser, who knows Latin and French, was talking about how hard he found it, how he had to give it up in frustration.


My first day of Latin class in high school was the day that I knew that my education had been bumped up a level after the generally insipid nature of 8th grade.

In case you're still checking. . .

Step 1: keep up with vocabulary. Take it seriously. Make flash cards if you have to. You will be learning thousands of vocabulary words but only about 100 grammar rules. The emphasis will be on grammar, so you'll tend to leave vocabulary behind.

Step 2: when you learn a word or a concept, don't memorize it by connecting it to its English equivalent. For example, don't memorize "equations" like "canis means dog". Imagine the thing itself that the word names and rename it in Latin. Imagine a real dog, yours or someone else's, and call it "canis".

Step 3: from the beginning, even though you will not be required to do it, learn all the forms of each vocabulary word that is given in the glossary at the end of the textbook. For example, if you look up "king" or "rex" you'll see something like "rex, regis, m, a king or chief". The second form of the noun is the genetive case, which usually functions like the possessive. "Canis regis" means "the king's dog." It's not as easy as adding 's, so you have to learn it. The problem is that if you wait until they start making you learn it, you'll suddenly have all these things to learn about these words you think you know already.

Step 4: the "m" after "regis" in my example above is a gender tag. Latins divided up all their nouns into three categories, masculine, feminine, and neuter. Masculine adjective forms have to go with masculine noun forms, and so on. Learn the gender as part of the vocabulary. Glossaries will mark the three gengers with m, f, and n.

Step 5: Latin tells you the part a word plays in a sentence by changing the end of a word. We do this some in English. We have "boys play" but "boy plays" (singular vs. plural). We have "king's dog" (possession), "talk" and "talked" (verb tense), and "who", "whose", and "whom" (subject, possession, and object cases.) Latin uses endings instead of word order and helping verbs to construct nearly all sentences. Know this going in and pay attention to details. There are more similarities to English than most people notice. Most Latin genitives (possessives) end in s, just like English. "Who", "whose", and "whom" are qui, cuius, and quem. You'll see vocabulary similarities too, like mater for "mother", pater for "father", and duo for "two".

Step 6: All the English grammar terms and concepts that you learned like "noun", "verb", "tense", "case," "person," etc. are all Latin grammar terms and they serve Latin much better than they do English. If you don't remember them all, make sure that you know them. The poor English language (and English students) suffer from Latin grammar some. It'll all make more sense. For instance, nouns and verbs are distinct classes in Latin. You don't verb nouns and noun verbs without distinctly changing their structure.

Step 7: at some point months from now you'll hit the subjunctive. This causes undue misery but it's not that hard. It's an entire class of verb forms that are supposed to be used whenever you're talking about "what if land". If you haven't forgotten your proper English, you'll know that I'm supposed to say "what if it were raining today" instead of "what if it was raining today". This is because I'm talking about an alternate world, the one that isn't happening. "Were" is the subjunctive form of "was". In Latin, unreal alternate scenarios and some potential scenatios will use the subjunctive verbs. For example, in the sentence "I learned Greek so that I might read the New Testament", "might read" expresses the subjunctive and you would render it by a subjunctive verb in Latin. The word "subjunctive" means "occuring in subjoined contexts", referring to the fact that it occurs in subjoined or dependent clauses.

Greek is harder at the beginning because you jave to learn the alphabet, there are even more tenses and moods and voices than Latin, and the verb and noun structures are not as regular. For example, nearly all Latin verb tenses can be constructed using a few rules from four "principle parts" you have to memorize. Some Greek verbs require much more than that. And then there's an accent system that has to be learned. But once you get going, Greek (particularly koine Greek) is easier. This is because Greeks built sentences and connected sentences together in a way much more similar to English than Latins did. If you translated Star Wars word-for-word into Greek it would be far more intelligible to a Greek speaker than it would to a Latin speaker if you did the same thing going to Latin. Classical Latin uses many "particles", little words like "to" in English that have no meaning out of context, but are very important, so you have to get all of the words in the sentence down before you can figure out the particles and then figure out the sentence. Don't get scared. That kind of sentence is usually left out of beginning courses - but when you start reading Cicero, you'll wonder at his deft and confusing use of these miserable little words. (English is not spared this difficulty entirely. "Where are you going to" is a perfectly grammatical English sentence. It doesn't end with a preposition. It ends with an adverbial particle specifing that the "going" in this case is directed rather than random.)
Sentio ergo est.
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