Friday, June 22, 2012

Latin Without Latin: Auctores

This is my fifty-second "Latin without Latin" essay. For background and a link to other essays, see this page: About the English Essays. After a discussion online today about the difference between teaching with a humanistic pedagogy as opposed to teaching the humanities as a canon limited to classical Greek and Roman authors, I was inspired to include this little distich, as I am definitely a fan of all kinds of writing, ancient and modern alike! This little poem comes from the Disticha de Educatione of Urbano Appendini, published in 1834 (you can see the whole book at Google Books):

Auctóres miror véteres mirórque recéntes:
Pulchra mihi, quisquis díxerit illa, placent.

Here is how it works:

Auctóres. This is from the Latin noun auctor, meaning author; the form is plural: auctóres, authors. The form could be either nominative (subject of the sentence) or accusative (object of the verb); we will have to wait to find out.

miror. This is from the Latin verb mirári, to wonder at, be amazed at, admire (the English word miracle is from this same root). The form is first-person singular: miror, I admire. So that lets us know the auctóres are the object of the verb: auctóres miror, I admire authors.

véteres. This is from the Latin adjective vetus, meaning old (compare the English words veteran and inveterate). The form véteres is plural, agreeing with authors: auctóres miror véteres, I admire the old authors.

mirórque. Here we have the verb míror again, with a -que stuck on the end, meaning and. So we have a second statement to go with the first: auctóres miror véteres, I admire the old authors, mirórque, and I admire...

recéntes. This is from the Latin adjective recens, meaning fresh, new, recent. The form recéntes is plural, giving us the object for our second verb: mirórque recéntes, and I admire recent authors.

So that gives us the first line: I admire authors both new and old, Auctóres miror véteres mirórque recéntes. The second line explains why:

Pulchra. This is from the Latin adjective pulcher, meaning handsome, beautiful (compare the English word pulchritude). The form is neuter plural: pulchra, beautiful things. It could be nominative or accusative; we will need to keep reading to find out what role it plays in the sentence.

mihi. This is from the Latin first-person pronoun, ego, in the dative case: mihi, to me. So, we have an adjective and a pronoun, but no verb yet to show us how they work together.

quisquis. This is a Latin pronoun that means whoever. The comma helps give us a clue that this word will be the subject of a clause inserted into our main statement; the form is nominative, so quisquis, whoever, will be the subject of the verb.

díxerit. This is from the Latin verb dicere, to speak, to say (compare the English words diction, dictation). The form is third-person subjunctive, expressing a hypothetical situation that goes perfectly with the pronoun quisquis: whoever might have said, quisquis díxerit. Now we need an object for this verb!

illa. This is the neuter plural form of the pronoun ille, meaning those things, them - which gives us the object of our verb: quisquis díxerit illa, whoever might have said them. Now we just need a verb for the main clause of the sentence.

placent. This is from the Latin verb placere, meaning to please (as in the English word placebo). The form is third-person plural, so pulchra, the beautiful things, must be the subject: pulchra placent, beautiful things are pleasing - and don't forget about the pronoun, mihi: to me. So that gives us a complete statement: pulchra mihi placent, beautiful things please me (i.e., I like beautiful things), quisquis díxerit illa, whoever might have said them.

That indeed sums up my own wide-ranging approach to language and literature, including Latin - I like the authors both old and new:

Auctóres miror véteres mirórque recéntes:
Pulchra mihi, quisquis díxerit illa, placent.

When looking for an image to use for this post, I was delighted to find an old "Authors" card game for sale at eBay - I used to play this game when I was a small child! For more poems by Appendini, see the Appendini stream in my blog, including a post for this particular poem. For more English essays, check the English stream at the blog. The next poem is by one of the ancient authors, the Roman poet Martial: Non Amo Te.

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