May 10, 2006

Ne Hospes Plane Veniam

Quare, etsi, cum tu haec leges, ego iam annuum munus confecero, tamen obvisae mihi velim sint tuae litterae, quae me erudiant de omni re publica, ne hospes plane veniam. Hoc melius quam tu facere nemo potest....

Why, by the time you read this, I will have already finished my years duty, however I want your letters to be accessible to me, that they might inform me of all public things, that I might not come, clearly a guest. No one can do this better than you.

We spent all hour today translating a short passage of five lines. "Home" The City, Cicero. At his wit's end, our teacher made a decision. We'd work through it as best we could, with the harder words, the one's he didn't know, circled; with helpful hints below, with certain passages underlined and rephrased for breaking so many rules it was hard to expect us to keep them straight.

Fourth Years, now, and we don't feel like it. I'm ten times as confident a German speaker in my first year, and I'm rapidly approaching a similar reading level. My vocabulary is, admittedly, at a decent level, but all we read is scholars and poets, and they use words that render all of our knowlege to nothing. They eschew all the words one has already learned, each poet, we learn, having his own vocabulary suited to his needs. We learn that in any decent Latin dictionary, they will tell you who uses each word, and how often. It's quite a common word that gets used by more than 2 or 3 people more than so many times. Something like one of the forms of "and" might aspire to this achievement, but none others. Then it is that when you look up a word, there are a thousand translations to choose from. A passage originally translated (with confusion) as "Atrocious Blind Origin" turns out to mean, "From light beginnings, a savage murder arose."

So now these hints, and lines written out in proper word order, because only the Romans could keep straight 7 cases (Nominative, Vocative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Ablative, and Locative) * 5 declensions * 3 genders for a total of 105 hardly unique but utterly patternless noun endings and make sense of sentances in their original, convoluted order. So where hoc melius quam tu facere nemo potest was written, pencilled in above is nemo potest hoc facere quam tu.

The nasty peice of work turns out to mean (quite obviously in the reworked version), No one can do this better than you. Thanks for the subliminal encouragement, Cicero. But really. I don't want to need hints to read a language I'm supposed to be becoming proficient in. But I do, and it kills me.

"Sed Quamobrem!?" I want to ask. But I dare not. They will guess what I have said, and fail, and it will hurt worse than not saying anything in this language at all. So instead I say, "But Why? What can the purpose be of putting the sentance on it's head like this?"

And so the teacher tries to explain, or maybe tries to understand, but he fails at one if not the other as he tries to say that it makes the line more interesting, that in one word at the beginning he connects to the sentance before, that the compliment must come afterwards, and everything else flops down, exhausted, at the end. It makes a compelling story, but I almost have to wonder if it's not just an excuse.

Maybe I'm stupid, maybe we're all stupid and that's why we fail. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I didn't see, for a moment, that searching look in the teachers eyes as he tries to make sense of it all for one of us. Was he searching? Was he searching for a student to understand? Or for himself? For how he got into all of this, and where he lost the way?

Ne Hospes Plane Veniam... But we are all guests, even the guide.

1 comment:

TheStapleite said...

This comment has nothing much to do with this particular post, really, but I just wanted to say that as a high school sophmore in America I really like your blog, it reminds me of so much stuff in my own life. Especially becuase language class (which for me is Spanish) is driving me absolutely crazy right now.