Which prose Classical Latin author do/did you find most difficult?

Which prose Classical Latin author do/did you find most difficult?

  • Apuleius

    Votes: 3 27.3%
  • Caesar

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Cicero

    Votes: 1 9.1%
  • Livy

    Votes: 2 18.2%
  • Petronius

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Pliny (either one)

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Seneca Minor

    Votes: 2 18.2%
  • Tacitus

    Votes: 1 9.1%
  • Other (comment below)

    Votes: 2 18.2%
  • All about the same/I didn't really find any of them difficult ;)

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    11

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
I've mentioned before a teacher of mine who once told the class that you weren't actually meant to make perfect sense of Livy; the idea was that Livy's prose was impressionistic, and in places you were meant to get just an impression of what he was saying and no more.
It occured to me that this was perhaps because of the long, complex sentences? You have to keep up a certain pace in reading prose with long sentences and many clauses. I even discovered that when I first read Caesar's De Bello Gallico. If you stop to make sense of every grammatical construction, you will certainly forget where you were in the sentence, how the clause fits together with the other, etc., and then you'll have to start over again.

So if you just assume that what you're reading is "impressionistic", and read accordingly, without pausing to make sense of all the grammar, but focus on keeping track of the content, I guess you will be excercising yourself greatly in comprehensive reading. And then it may seem less "impressionistic" as you get used to it and become able to figure out more and more complex grammatical constructions without falling off track.

Perhaps.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
So if you just assume that what you're reading is "impressionistic", and read accordingly, without pausing to make sense of all the grammar, but focus on keeping track of the content, I guess you will be excercising yourself greatly in comprehensive reading. And then it may seem less "impressionistic" as you get used to it and become able to figure out more and more complex grammatical constructions without falling off track.
I disagree; I've had far too much experience with fellow students, even teachers, attempting Latin in an "impressionistic" manner and never really pinning down exactly what any of it means.

My method, for what it's worth, is to:

1) (as best as I can tell at the time, and of course this also changes as I go) break a sentence up into logical chunks (keeping a broad idea in my mind of how the chunks relate even if I don't entirely understand them yet)
2) analyze each chunk, repeating Step 1 recursively if needed
3) "glue" the chunks back together in my mind
4) read through the whole sentence, ensuring that it flows logically and everything makes sense.

Yes, it is a lot of work. But it leads to understanding in the end, whereas the "impressionistic" method doesn't really, I think. (There are times, if I'm tired or just feeling lazy, that I read Latin "impressionistically". I don't get much out of it, and often I come away from a sentence thinking I know what it means, only to find the next day when I really tackle it in a precise manner that I had entirely the wrong idea. ;) )
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Do keep going through to Book XXII --the account of the Battle of Trasimene is absolutely some of the best Latin prose I have ever read. The lead-up feels like some big, epic movie: the sheer things the man does with language should be illegal, they're so good. Gosh, I need to read it again because I get chills just thinking about it -- there's a bit, the line just before the battle starts, and I won't spoil it for you, but when you get there, pay attention to the meter in your reading because what he does with the clausulae there is utter perfection. If ever an author's style was inspired by the divines, it must be Livy.
I've decided to read Book XXII and have created a thread here. Critical feedback and help (I'm quite new to Livy) from all are very much welcome. :)
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
I see your point, and thank you very much for sharing your method :) However, I think that sometimes it is worthwile to force yourself to read in a faster pace than what a thorough analytical approach allows. For that I usually go back to Caesar and the Vulgate, where the grammar is clear enough for that to be possible.

When I get stuck on something, I try to read it aloud, and make my intonation reflect what are the main points of the sentence. Especially useful with speeches and poetry. Also, looking up each difficult word and then memorising the whole phrase so that I don't have to look at it forever is very helpful and helps loosen the brain up, so to speak.
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
So if you just assume that what you're reading is "impressionistic", and read accordingly, without pausing to make sense of all the grammar, but focus on keeping track of the content, I guess you will be excercising yourself greatly in comprehensive reading.
I hope you don't mind my saying that there's an inherent contradiction there. I fail to see how you can keep track of the content and comprehend what you're reading when you're not making sense of the grammar. I'm not saying you won't learn quite a bit of Latin by reading in that way, but you may well end up with a very skewed idea of what is going on in the texts you're reading.

I think it's best just to be honest with ourselves as we read and acknowledge whether we do or don't understand the Latin. Perfect comprehension of everything in a passage is clearly an unrealistic goal for most learners in the early stages even if much backtracking and dictionary work is done while the reading proceeds, but it is better to work methodically from the outset, taking as much time as you need to understand your text as well as you can, and to slowly build on that, than to spend years floundering in a self-imposed fog of uncertainty every time you look at a passage of unfamiliar Latin.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
When I get stuck on something, I try to read it aloud, and make my intonation reflect what are the main points of the sentence. Especially useful with speeches and poetry.
Yes -- I've found this quite helpful before (as an aid to more rigorous analysis, of course, not a replacement for it.)

Also, looking up each difficult word and then memorising the whole phrase so that I don't have to look at it forever is very helpful and helps loosen the brain up, so to speak.
This sounds like a useful tool as well.
 

Lucius Aelius

Linguistics Hippie
I now feel terribly ignorant, but I hadn't even really heard of this (as a prose technique) until now. Can you recommend a book/article (or other resource) where I can read up on it (since Google only reveals some very vague descriptions of how these are used)?
Honestly? The best resource I've found is a two-page section of Ramsey's commentary on the first two Philippics (and that mostly just gives you the clausulae Cicero liked to use without any explanation, so not really useful for this purpose), which is sad, because you'd think there'd be a better one, but not even A&G have a good section on the use of clausulae in prose. There might be a very thin book or two out there on the interwebs, but I'm not sure.
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
I hope you understand that I just suggested a different reading approach (that has helped me a good deal), and that I'm not just skimming texts and ignoring the grammatical details on a regular basis :confused: But it's definitely best only to do this with texts that you have read already and are familiar with, and that you no longer find particularly challenging.
 

Imperfacundus

Reprobatissimus
For the beginners' level, no. Too many unfamiliar words, constructions, etc.

But eventually, if one's ever to actually read something in Latin like one reads in, say, English (assuming one doesn't normally read by neurotically combing over each word 3+ times) then yes, one's going to have to do it 'impressionistically'.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Maybe not everyone in this thread has the same definition of "impressionistic reading". I was taking it to mean reading with a vague understanding of what the text is all about, but missing a lot of it. You seem to be taking it to mean reading (and understanding well) without consciously analysing the structure of what you're reading.
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
Maybe not everyone in this thread has the same definition of "impressionistic reading". I was taking it to mean reading with a vague understanding of what the text is all about, but missing a lot of it. You seem to be taking it to mean reading (and understanding well) without consciously analysing the structure of what you're reading.
The latter is closest to what I meant. Letting the grammatical thinking happen in the back of your head so to speak, while you focus mostly on the content. Maybe not for everyone. I can only say it works for me when the text is not to hard, and the content not too unfamiliar.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
The latter is closest to what I meant. Letting the grammatical thinking happen in the back of your head so to speak, while you focus mostly on the content. Maybe not for everyone. I can only say it works for me when the text is not to hard, and the content not too unfamiliar.
Of course, I think it's ideal when this can happen; but I really don't think it's possible for a beginner. The vast majority of people learning Latin aren't used to an inflected language, and so it's not intuitive (at an early stage) to do this sort of grammatical analysis in the back of your mind; it's just not automatic yet. I agree this is an ideal one should aim for, but there's no question it takes time, and if you try to do it too early, it can leave you thinking that you're "reading" Latin when you're really not ;) (I've watched people do this, and the results were painful, to say the least.)
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
Of course, I think it's ideal when this can happen; but I really don't think it's possible for a beginner. The vast majority of people learning Latin aren't used to an inflected language, and so it's not intuitive (at an early stage) to do this sort of grammatical analysis in the back of your mind; it's just not automatic yet. I agree this is an ideal one should aim for, but there's no question it takes time, and if you try to do it too early, it can leave you thinking that you're "reading" Latin when you're really not ;) (I've watched people do this, and the results were painful, to say the least.)
Very true. It's risky to be too focused on this early on, and too eager to become "fluent" in reading Latin. Many who take up Latin do not have the vast patience that is needed in order to work carefully through a difficult and complex text.

I wonder if the Romans found it very hard to keep up with recitations of epic poetry? Say Virgil or Lucan for instance. I don't know if there are any historical sources that mention anything about certain authors being "hard" for contemporaries to read, or comprehend in vocal recitation. At least I imagine that is very possible.
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
I wonder if the Romans found it very hard to keep up with recitations of epic poetry?..
Those who hadn't had the necessary initiation (viz a good education) will certainly have found it difficult to follow all that was going on. You don't need historical sources to tell you that. How many English people among Milton's contemporaries would have listened to a recitation of Paradise Lost for the first time and understood what was meant by such things as "Siloa's Brook", "the blissful seat" or "adamantine chains", or followed every twist and turn of Milton's often highly periodic syntax?
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
I see. And I believe Paradise Lost makes a very fitting analogy on that point.

I just came to think of this picture here



... It seems a bit to me like Augustus is desperately motioning Virgil to slow down so they can all catch up.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
It looks like the woman has fainted. I don't think it was because she couldn't keep up, lol, but perhaps she fainted from emotion at Dido's death or something. I seem to remember reading something about some people getting emotional about it...
 

Araneus

Umbraticus Lector
It was something in book 6 that made Octavia faint. Probably some details about the underworld. Allegedly true story, but we may of course never know.
 

Aurifex

Aedilis
Staff member
It was something in book 6 that made Octavia faint. Probably some details about the underworld. Allegedly true story, but we may of course never know.
It's the passage eulogising the dead Marcellus, Octavia's son.
 
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