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Introductory latin/Greek texts?


Macrina
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Hi there,

I usually hang out over in the religion section. I'm trying to learn latin and Greek on my own (will take a course this summer) and am aiming to be at an intermediate level in at least one of them before next fall so I can take a class or two.

I'm working with Wheelock and Mounce, and am still very much at a beginning level, slightly more advanced with the Latin. I would love to add in some reading of Latin and Greek texts, preferably from late antiquity,

Can anyone recommend a couple of books or authors, texts, etc written by native speakers but at a more basic level? I don't expect to understand every detail, but I'm looking for more stuff like the brief passages in Wheelock's, only I don't know enough to know where to start on this. Thanks!

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Does it matter what language? Erm one of the pitfalls/great things about Classical pedagogy is that people go directly into the highest register of awesome as hell literature. Like...learning English and then given anything from Beowulf to Shakespeare to read. I find it hard to gauge difficulty now, I don't really have trouble besides contested passages and I already spoke Greek before learning ancient Greek, but I have some observations from teaching.

 

Firstly, the traditional starters are tradition for a reason. Caesar for Latin, Xenophon or Plato for Greek. These make sense and working through these will give you a solid grounding in either language, that being said there is a case for certain non standard choices: Chariton's Callirhoe is an excellent choice, its very manageable Greek and repeats a lot of vocabulary. Very simple syntax and not too many varied forms or idioms. However it's not strictly classical Greek and a decent proportion of the vocab you learn will be useless due to the emphasis on piracy, tomb robbing and so on. 

 

In fact, as long as you keep in mind it's not quite classical, any of the novels will be fine and these are all accessible without too many genre conventions affecting language. 

 

Latin, well a lot of people seem to vary from omg I want to start with Ciceronian Latin to I'll read the Res Gestae Romanorum. The latter is an increasingly popular choice but...its too simple, to non Roman in Latin usage...too...its just not a very sensible choice and if you want something late some section of Ammianus Marcellinus re very, very, manageable indeed but there are certain genre conventions (history) which do have an effect on the difficulty of the language. Its much easier than Tacitus, Cicero etc though. Eutropius is also somewhat easy. He was actually used as a sort of textbook in late Roman schools too.

 

What it comes down too though, is that it doesn't matter. There are so many graded readers, commentaries etc out there to help. Just pick something. Whatever you choice you can triumph via hard work. 

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Latin Prose: Cicero (there are good elementary commentaries on a lot of works. Catilinarians and Verrines II.4 are popular, but De Amicitia & Pro Archia are arguably more fun)

Greek Prose: Orators (e.g., Isocrates, Lysias) or Xenophon. Possibly Plato, who will be noticeably harder, but Apology, Symposium, etc. are doable with an elementary commentary. (e.g., Apology has a good recent elementary commentary, Miller & Platter 2010)

 

Latin Verse: Vergil (Pharr commentary)

Greek Verse: Homer

 

*Edit: I'd also recommend Keller & Russell (Latin) and Hansen & Quinn (Greek). They give you a lot of "detail" up front, but you will be very grateful for it down the road.

Edited by Starbuck
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Since you're interested in late antiquity, I would add the following to the other suggestions already given.  Of course this depends on what you mean by "beginning."

 

Greek: besides the New Testament (most of which is about the easiest authentic Greek there is), there's the Apophthegmata Patrum (col. 71).  The Greek is usually not too bad, although the meaning is sometimes obtuse. In addition, Justin Martyr and Athanasius are both fairly straightforward Greek prose writers.  You might also look at the narrative sections of the Septuagint, such as Genesis.  It would possible to read much more Genesis in one sitting, than, say, Plato.

 

Latin: the Vulgate is also fairly easy, at least the narrative sections (the Gospels, Genesis, etc.).  Jerome's De viris illustribus (which begins with St. Peter) is also fairly easy Latin.  I second the recommendation for Eutropius, who's fallen out of favor, but used to be the first "real" Latin author students were given to read.  Nepos' Lives is also a common text for intermediate Latin students; it's harder than Eutropius, but better preparation for Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, etc. if you wish to go that direction.

 

Edit: I forgot to mention two excellent websites: Dickinson College Commentaries and Geoffrey Steadman's site.  Both have free commentaries aimed at intermediate readers of Latin and Greek.  As far as later authors, Dickinson has Severus' Life of St. Martin and Steadman has The Passion of Perpetua.

Edited by Petros
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Thanks, folks. The suggestions are much appreciated.

Petros, I've been working my way through the New Testament, hadn't thought to look at the Septuagint -great idea! And I really like the suggestion of de viris illustribus. Perfect!

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(Keep in my too that it will be significantly more difficult to go from koinē Greek or medieval Latin to classical Latin/Greek than vice versa. In fact, learning ciceronian latin/attic prose first will make reading later Latin & Greek a lot easier. Not to mention authors like M. Aurelius, Augustine, Boethius imitate classical styles, albeit not always 100% successfully, in much of their writing.)

Edited by Starbuck
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It's true that going from the New Testament from Plato, or from the Vulgate to Cicero, is a bit of a shock.  But I'm not sure that starting with the more difficult authors, in order to make later authors seem easier, is the answer.  I'm not making prescriptions for Macrina here, but I think beginners do best with large quantities of easy prose as they acquire morphology and some vocabulary.  Then the transition to more difficult, "classical" prose may be made gradually: in Greek, say from the Gospel of John to Matthew to Luke/Acts to Paul to Athanasius to Justin Martyr to Xenophon or Lysias and then on to Plato, Demosthenes, Thucydides, and comparable late antique authors like Gregory of Nazianzus.  I think classics pedagogy tends to baptize students by fire with overly difficult texts, which isn't actually necessary.  By the way, Starbuck, I'm musing here more than arguing against you; ceteris paribus, I certainly agree that the transition from classical Latin or Greek texts to later ones is easier than the other way around.

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Augustine's Confessions are a good suggestion. Many parts are repetitive and hymnic, but further in you encounter more difficult prose. It's ideal for beginners. When I first did a reading Greek course, we read the Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. The language was straightforward and there was a very enjoyable narrative. I would recommend something like that if you've just started learning Greek.  

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I wouldn't mess with the Septuagint much unless you have had Hebrew. It is so thoroughly 'un-Greek' in much of its syntax (esp. the Pentateuch) that you would be better off reading the NT (my main area has been LXX; so I feel confident in saying this!). 

 

A classical grammar that I found insanely helpful at an intermediate level: 

http://www.amazon.com/Eros-Banquet-Reviewing-Symposium-Classical/dp/0806141425/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1387053105&sr=8-7&keywords=greek+plato+symposium

 

Also get the review book thing with it (has a lot of helpful charts and summations)!

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Fair enough. I'm not saying it's completely worthless for someone wanting to learn Greek. But overall, I think the NT is a better road into more difficult Greek. There are a lot of odd word choices in the LXX that conflict with the semantic range of the (presumed) Hebrew source. These have no bearing on someone who just reads through the text without reference to the other ancient versions. So, my comment is a bit unjustified, to be sure. But, this all comes from the load of caveats beat into my head as a LXX guy throughout my coursework. I'm sure you folks have to work with these issues in 'translation studies', too. 

 

cheers

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