Friday, March 16, 2012

Latin for Beginners, by Benjamin Leonard D'Ooge - Full Text



What is Latin? If you will look at the map of Italy on the opposite page, you will find near the middle of the peninsula and facing the west coast a district called Latium,1 and Rome its capital. The Latin language, meaning the language of Latium, was spoken by the ancient Romans and other inhabitants of Latium, and Latin was the name applied to it after the armies of Rome had carried the knowledge of her language far beyond its original boundaries. As the English of to-day is not quite the same as that spoken two or three hundred years ago, so Latin was not always the same at all times, but changed more or less in the course of centuries. The sort of Latin you are going to learn was in use about two thousand years ago. And that period has been selected because the language was then at its best and the greatest works of Roman literature were being produced. This period, because of its supreme excellence, is called the Golden Age of Roman letters.

1. Pronounce Lā´shĭ-ŭm.

The Spread of Latin. For some centuries after Rome was founded, the Romans were a feeble and insignificant people, their territory was limited to Latium, and their existence constantly threatened by warlike neighbors. But after the third century before Christ, Rome’s power grew rapidly. She conquered all Italy, then reached out for the lands across the sea and beyond the Alps, and finally ruled over the whole ancient world. The empire thus established lasted for more than four 2 hundred years. The importance of Latin increased with the growth of Roman power, and what had been a dialect spoken by a single tribe became the universal language. Gradually the language changed somewhat, developing differently in different countries. In Italy it has become Italian, in Spain Spanish, and in France French. All these nations, therefore, are speaking a modernized form of Latin.

The Romans and the Greeks. In their career of conquest the Romans came into conflict with the Greeks. The Greeks were inferior to the Romans in military power, but far superior to them in culture. They excelled in art, literature, music, science, and philosophy. Of all these pursuits the Romans were ignorant until contact with Greece revealed to them the value of education and filled them with the thirst for knowledge. And so it came about that while Rome conquered Greece by force of arms, Greece conquered Rome by force of her intellectual superiority and became her schoolmaster. It was soon the established custom for young Romans to go to Athens and to other centers of Greek learning to finish their training, and the knowledge of the Greek language among the educated classes became universal. At the same time many cultured Greeks—poets, artists, orators, and philosophers—flocked to Rome, opened schools, and taught their arts. Indeed, the preëminence of Greek culture became so great that Rome almost lost her ambition to be original, and her writers vied with each other in their efforts to reproduce in Latin what was choicest in Greek literature. As a consequence of all this, the civilization and national life of Rome became largely Grecian, and to Greece she owed her literature and her art.

Rome and the Modern World. After conquering the world, Rome impressed her language, laws, customs of living, and modes of thinking upon the subject nations, and they became Roman; and the world has remained largely Roman ever since. Latin continued to live, and the knowledge of Latin was the only light of learning that burned steadily through the dark ages that followed the downfall of the Roman Empire. Latin was the common language of scholars and remained so even down to the days of Shakespeare. Even yet it is 3 more nearly than any other tongue the universal language of the learned. The life of to-day is much nearer the life of ancient Rome than the lapse of centuries would lead one to suppose. You and I are Romans still in many ways, and if Cæsar and Cicero should appear among us, we should not find them, except for dress and language, much unlike men of to-day.

Latin and English. Do you know that more than half of the words in the English dictionary are Latin, and that you are speaking more or less Latin every day? How has this come about? In the year 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England with an army of Normans. The Normans spoke French—which, you remember, is descended from Latin—and spread their language to a considerable extent over England, and so Norman-French played an important part in the formation of English and forms a large proportion of our vocabulary. Furthermore, great numbers of almost pure Latin words have been brought into English through the writings of scholars, and every new scientific discovery is marked by the addition of new terms of Latin derivation. Hence, while the simpler and commoner words of our mother tongue are Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Saxon forms the staple of our colloquial language, yet in the realms of literature, and especially in poetry, words of Latin derivation are very abundant. Also in the learned professions, as in law, medicine, and engineering, a knowledge of Latin is necessary for the successful interpretation of technical and scientific terms.

Why study Latin? The foregoing paragraphs make it clear why Latin forms so important a part of modern education. We have seen that our civilization rests upon that of Greece and Rome, and that we must look to the past if we would understand the present. It is obvious, too, that the knowledge of Latin not only leads to a more exact and effective use of our own language, but that it is of vital importance and of great practical value to any one preparing for a literary or professional career. To this it may be added that the study of Latin throws a flood of light upon the structure of language in general and lays an excellent foundation for all grammatical study. 4 Finally, it has been abundantly proved that there is no more effective means of strengthening the mind than by the earnest pursuit of this branch of learning.

Review Questions. Whence does Latin get its name? Where is Latium? Where is Rome? Was Latin always the same? What sort of Latin are we to study? Describe the growth of Rome’s power and the spread of Latin. What can you say of the origin of Italian, French, and Spanish? How did the ancient Greeks and Romans compare? How did Greece influence Rome? How did Rome influence the world? In what sense are we Romans still? What did Latin have to do with the formation of English? What proportion of English words are of Latin origin, and what kind of words are they? Why should we study Latin?





1. The Latin alphabet contains the same letters as the English except that it has no w and no j.

2. The vowels, as in English, are a, e, i, o, u, y. The other letters are consonants.

3. I is used both as a vowel and as a consonant. Before a vowel in the same syllable it has the value of a consonant and is called I consonant.

Thus in Iū-li-us the first i is a consonant, the second a vowel.


1. N.B. The sounds of the letters are best learned by hearing them correctly pronounced. The matter in this section is, therefore, intended for reference rather than for assignment as a lesson. As a first step it is suggested that the teacher pronounce the examples in class, the pupils following.

4. Latin was not pronounced like English. The Romans at the beginning of the Christian era pronounced their language substantially as described below.

5. The vowels have the following sounds:

Vowels2 Latin Examples
ā as in father
ă like the first a in aha´, never as in hat
hāc, stās
ă´-măt, că-nās
ē as in they
ĕ as in met
tē´-lă, mē´-tă
tĕ´-nĕt, mĕr´-cēs
ī as in machine
6 ĭ as in bit
sĕr´-tī, prā´-tī
sĭ´-tĭs, bĭ´-bī
ō as in holy
ŏ as in wholly, never as in hot
Rō´-mă, ō´-rĭs
mŏ´-dŏ, bŏ´-nōs
ū as in rude, or as oo in boot
ŭ as in full, or as oo in foot
ū´-mŏr, tū´-bĕr
ŭt, tū´-tŭs

2. Long vowels are marked ¯, short ones ˘.

Note. It is to be observed that there is a decided difference in sound, except in the case of a, between the long and the short vowels. It is not merely a matter of quantity but also of quality.

6. In diphthongs (two-vowel sounds) both vowels are heard in a single syllable.

Diphthongs Latin Examples
ae as ai in aisle
au as ou in out
ei as ei in eight
eu as ĕ´o͝o (a short e followed by a short u in one syllable)
oe like oi in toil
ui like o͝o´ĭ (a short u followed by a short i in one syllable. Cf. English we)
cui, huic

Note. Give all the vowels and diphthongs their proper sounds and do not slur over them in unaccented syllables, as is done in English.

7. Consonants are pronounced as in English, except that

Consonants Latin Examples
c is always like c in cat, never as in cent
g is always like g in get, never as in gem
i consonant is always like y in yes
n before c, qu, or g is like ng in sing (compare the sound of n in anchor)
că´-dō, cĭ´-bŭs, cē´-nă
gĕ´-mō, gĭg´-nō
iăm, iŏ´-cŭs
ăn´-cŏ-ră (ang´-ko-ra)
qu, gu, and sometimes su before a vowel have the sound of qw, gw, and sw. Here u has the value of consonant v and is not counted a vowel
ĭn´-quĭt, quī, lĭn´-guă, săn´-guĭs, suā´-dĕ-ō
s is like s in sea, never as in ease
t is always like t in native, never as in nation
rŏ´-să, ĭs
ră´-tĭ-ō, nā´-tĭ-ō
v is like w in wine, never as in vine
x has the value of two consonants (cs or gs) and is like x in extract, not as in exact
vī´-nŭm, vĭr
ĕx´-trā, ĕx-āc´-tŭs
bs is like ps and bt like pt
ch, ph, and th are like c, p, t
ŭrbs, ŏb-tĭ´-nĕ-ō
pŭl´-chĕr, Phoe´-bē, thĕ-ā´-trŭm

a. In combinations of consonants give each its distinct sound. Doubled consonants should be pronounced with a slight pause between the two sounds. Thus pronounce tt as in rat-trap, not as in rattle; pp as in hop-pole, not as in upper. Examples, mĭt´-tō, Ăp´pĭ-ŭs, bĕl´-lŭm.


8. A Latin word has as many syllables as it has vowels and diphthongs. Thus aes-tā´-tĕ has three syllables, au-dĭ-ĕn´-dŭs has four.

a. Two vowels with a consonant between them never make one syllable, as is so often the case in English. Compare English inside with Latin īn-sī´-dĕ.

9. Words are divided into syllables as follows:

1. A single consonant between two vowels goes with the second. Thus ă-mā´-bĭ-lĭs, mĕ-mŏ´-rĭ-ă, ĭn-tĕ´-rĕ-ā, ă´-bĕst, pĕ-rē´-gĭt.3

3. In writing and printing it is customary to divide the parts of a compound, as inter-eā, ab-est, sub-āctus, per-ēgit, contrary to the correct phonetic rule.

2. Combinations of two or more consonants:

a. A consonant followed by l or r goes with the l or r. Thus pū´-blĭ-cŭs, ă´-grī.

Exception. Prepositional compounds of this nature, as also ll and rr, follow rule b. Thus ăb´-lŭ-ō, ăb-rŭm´-pō, ĭl´-lĕ, fĕr´-rŭm.

b. In all other combinations of consonants the first consonant goes with the preceding vowel.4 Thus măg´-nŭs, ĕ-gĕs´-tās, vĭc-tō´-rĭ-ă, hŏs´-pĕs, ăn´-nŭs, sŭ-bāc´-tŭs.

4. The combination nct is divided nc-t, as fūnc-tŭs, sānc-tŭs.

3. The last syllable of a word is called the ul´-ti-ma; the one next to the last, the pe-nult´; the one before the penult, the an´-te-pe-nult´.


Divide the words in the following passage into syllables and pronounce them, placing the accent as indicated:

Vā́dĕ ăd fŏrmī́căm, Ō pĭ́gĕr, ĕt cōnsī́dĕrā vĭ́ās ĕ́iŭs ĕt dĭ́scĕ săpĭĕ́ntĭăm: quae cŭm nōn hắbĕăt dŭ́cĕm nĕc praecĕptṓrĕm nĕc prī́ncĭpĕm, pắrăt ĭn aestā́tĕ cĭ́bŭm sĭ́bĭ ĕt cŏ́ngrĕgăt ĭn mĕ́ssĕ quŏd cŏ́mĕdăt.

[Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which, having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer and gathereth her food in the harvest.]


11. The quantity of a vowel or a syllable is the time it takes to pronounce it. Correct pronunciation and accent depend upon the proper observance of quantity.

12. Quantity of Vowels. Vowels are either long (¯) or short (˘). In this book the long vowels are marked. Unmarked vowels are to be considered short.

1. A vowel is short before another vowel or h; as pŏ-ē´-ta, tră´-hō.

2. A vowel is short before nt and nd, before final m or t, and, except in words of one syllable, before final l or r. Thus a´-mănt, a-măn´-dus, a-mā´-băm, a-mā´-băt, a´-ni-măl, a´-mŏr.

3. A vowel is long before nf, ns, nx, and nct. Thus īn´-fe-rō, re´-gēns, sān´-xī, sānc´-tus.

4. Diphthongs are always long, and are not marked.

13. Quantity of Syllables. Syllables are either long or short, and their quantity must be carefully distinguished from that of vowels.

1. A syllable is short,

a. If it ends in a short vowel; as ă´-mō, pĭ´-grĭ.

Note. In final syllables the short vowel may be followed by a final consonant. Thus the word mĕ-mŏ´-rĭ-ăm contains four short syllables. In the first three a short vowel ends the syllable, in the last the short vowel is followed by a final consonant.

9 2. A syllable is long,

a. If it contains a long vowel or a diphthong, as cū´-rō, poe´-nae, aes-tā´-te.

b. If it ends in a consonant which is followed by another consonant, as cor´-pus, mag´-nus.

Note. The vowel in a long syllable may be either long or short, and should be pronounced accordingly. Thus in ter´-ra, in´-ter, the first syllable is long, but the vowel in each case is short and should be given the short sound. In words like saxum the first syllable is long because x has the value of two consonants (cs or gs).

3. In determining quantity h is not counted a consonant.

Note. Give about twice as much time to the long syllables as to the short ones. It takes about as long to pronounce a short vowel plus a consonant as it does to pronounce a long vowel or a diphthong, and so these quantities are considered equally long. For example, it takes about as long to say cŭr´-rō as it does cū´-rō, and so each of these first syllables is long. Compare mŏl´-lis and mō´-lis, ā-mĭs´-sī and ā-mi´-sī.


14. Words of two syllables are accented on the first, as mēn´-sa, Cae´-sar.

15. Words of more than two syllables are accented on the penult if the penult is long. If the penult is short, accent the antepenult. Thus mo-nē´-mus, re´-gi-tur, a-gri´-co-la, a-man´-dus.

Note. Observe that the position of the accent is determined by the length of the syllable and not by the length of the vowel in the syllable. (Cf. § 13. 2, Note.)

16. Certain little words called enclit´ics5 which have no separate existence, are added to and pronounced with a preceding word. The most common are -que, and; -ve, or; and -ne, the question sign. The syllable before an enclitic takes the accent, regardless of its quantity. Thus populus´que, dea´que, rēgna´ve, audit´ne.

5. Enclitic means leaning back, and that is, as you see, just what these little words do. They cannot stand alone and so they lean back for support upon the preceding word.

17. To read Latin well is not so difficult, if you begin right. Correct habits of reading should be formed now. Notice the quantities carefully, especially the quantity of the penult, to insure your getting the accent on the right syllable. (Cf. § 15.) Give every vowel its proper sound and every syllable its proper length. Then bear in mind that we should read Latin as we read English, in phrases rather than in separate words. Group together words that are closely connected in thought. No good reader halts at the end of each word.

18. Read the stanzas of the following poem by Longfellow, one at a time, first the English and then the Latin version. The syllables inclosed in parentheses are to be slurred or omitted to secure smoothness of meter.


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ’mid snow and ice,
A banner with the strange device,
Cadēbant noctis umbrae, dum
Ibat per vīcum Alpicum
Gelū nivequ(e) adolēscēns,
Vēxillum cum signō ferēns,
His brow was sad; his eye beneath,
Flashed like a falchion from its sheath,
And like a silver clarion rung
The accents of that unknown tongue,
Frōns trīstis, micat oculus
Velut ē vāgīnā gladius;
Sonantque similēs tubae
Accentūs lingu(ae) incognitae,
In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a groan,
In domibus videt clārās
Focōrum lūcēs calidās;
Relucet glaciēs ācris,
Et rumpit gemitūs labrīs,
“Try not the Pass!” the old man said;
“Dark lowers the tempest overhead,
11 The roaring torrent is deep and wide!”
And loud that clarion voice replied,
Dīcit senex, “Nē trānseās!
Suprā nigrēscit tempestās;
Lātus et altus est torrēns.”
Clāra vēnit vōx respondēns,
At break of day, as heavenward
The pious monks of Saint Bernard
Uttered the oft-repeated prayer,
A voice cried through the startled air,
Iam lūcēscēbat, et frātrēs
Sānctī Bernardī vigilēs
Ōrābant precēs solitās,
Cum vōx clāmāvit per aurās,
A traveler, by the faithful hound,
Half-buried in the snow was found,
Still grasping in his hand of ice
That banner with the strange device,
Sēmi-sepultus viātor
Can(e) ā fīdō reperītur,
Comprēndēns pugnō gelidō
Illud vēxillum cum signō,
There in the twilight cold and gray,
Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay,
And from the sky, serene and far,
A voice fell, like a falling star,
Iacet corpus exanimum
Sed lūce frīgidā pulchrum;
Et caelō procul exiēns
Cadit vōx, ut Stella cadēns,

6. Translation by C. W. Goodchild in Praeco Latinus, October, 1898.

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