In February 2014, I started producing a series of free screencasts. They are all on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/visuallatin
Several people have asked… “Why are you using the Vulgate? Shouldn’t students read Caesar, Cicero, Livy, or Virgil?”
I will answer the second question first.
“Shouldn’t students read Caesar, Cicero, Livy, or Virgil?”
No. They shouldn’t. There I said it.
Why shouldn’t students read those authors? Here’s why:
“Much of Classical Latin is highly artificial, not to say unnatural, in its modes of expression. The authors whose works are most generally wrote for a fastidious and highly cultivated society of litterateurs who, in most cases, thought far more of style than of matter. Their subject matter was often borrowed from the Greek; they wrote rather to please than to instruct; and, especially under the early Empire, they wrote with a view to reading their works to admiring circles of friends, whose applause they hoped to arouse by some novel or far-fetched turn of expression. All Classical Latin literature, except the very best, is vitiated by rhetoric, and by the desire to say old things in a new way.“
– Henry Nunn, An Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin
Translation: Classical authors were trying to impress their high-society friends. They were attempting to outdo each other with complicated Latin.
The everyday, first-century Roman, fluent in Latin, would barely understand the writing of these guys.
And we, in our wisdom, hand that kind of Latin to our kids.
That would be like handing Milton, or Shakespeare to someone who just learned English.
Henry Nunn again:
“The Christian authors, on the other hand, although most of them had been trained in the rhetorical schools, and although their writings show many traces of their training, were at least men in deadly earnest. They did not write to amuse the leisure of their friends: those of the first three centuries wrote with the fear of death always hanging over them to men who needed help and guidance in the face of the same terror: those belonging to the age after the triumph of the Church wrote of things which they held to be of eternal and sovereign importance both to themselves and to those who should read their books. This, generally speaking, gives their writings a simplicity and directness which greatly facilitates the progress of the learner.”
Did you catch that? The Christian authors, under fear of death and torture, wrote clearly.
Who was threatening the Christian authors with death and torture? The elites of Rome. The politicians and their hangers-on. The leaders of an empire built on slavery, heavy taxation, deficits, and warfare. Given their exalted political positions, they were left with more free time and more leisure. They could use this leisure to attend parties… parties where poets and authors would try to outdo each other with complicated Latin.
Want a glimpse into the political life and intrigues of Rome? Watch the HBO series, Rome. On second thought, don’t watch the series. It’s disgusting. If you do decide to watch the series, it will give you a glimpse into the political life and intrigues of Rome, which was, for the most part, disgusting. By the way, the series is rated R.
What, then, should students read?
Try the Vulgate… the Latin Bible.
“John Locke stated that in his opinion the best way for an adult to learn Latin was by reading the Latin Bible, and so great a linguistic genius as Lord Macaulay did not disdain to learn German from a German Bible. The author feels confident from experience that those who begin with the Latin Bible and the easier Ecclesiastical authors will be able to go to the study of the Classics, if they desire to do so, with far more intelligence and profit than if they had tried to approach them without some previous preparation. He believes that, in the general absence of any opportunity of hearing spoken Latin and speaking the language oneself, the next best course is to read as much as possible of such authors as are most easily understood. The Gospels in the Vulgate are very simple and easy to understand.”
– Henry Nunn, An Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin
If you want to read the Classical authors, go read them. But, for crying out loud, start with the easy books before you jump into the hard books. Seems like common sense to me. It also seems to me common sense is lacking in most college Classics departments.
Save yourself the headache. Read the Latin Gospels first.
By the way, the Vulgate is now a free, dramatized, Latin audiobook. Here you go:
- Apple app version: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/bible/id378075859
- Android version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.faithcomesbyhearing.android.bibleis&pli=1
The Vulgate is also available with a side-by-side Latin and English translation here: https://vulgate.org/
If you are learning Latin, I have written a book with all of my best tips and strategies. It’s available as a free download here: https://dwanethomas.com/downloads/via-latin-lost/
If you are interested in learning Latin, you can go through the classes on my site 24/7. I recommend the book Lingua Latina by Hans Ørberg. If you tackle the book and find yourself bogged down, you may find the classes on my site helpful. To join, just click here: https://dwanethomas.com/join/
If you want a more professionally filmed experience, check out the best-selling DVD series: Visual Latin.
Or, if you want to skip Latin, and just jump right into learning English words from Latin and Greek roots, you may enjoy the series Word up! Warning. Word up! is a bit wacky. You will learn a lot… but, you may find yourself rolling your eyes, too.
And, finally, every Saturday (almost) I send out a “tip of the week”. If you would like to hear from me every Saturday, simply go to this page and enter your name and email: https://dwanethomas.com/