The main content of this book is a parallel text, in Greek, Latin and English, of The Acts of the Apostles. In making it available, I claim no excellence of scholarship. I downloaded the Greek and Latin texts some years ago from the Internet—so many years ago, indeed, that I no longer remember where from. I have read through each of them, and nothing obviously corrupt has leapt off the page. If, beyond that, I trust in their purity, it is solely because they were uploaded by people who believed they were transmitting the Revealed Word of God, and who therefore showed greater diligence in proofing than I ever have.
You may notice that, while the Greek and English texts mostly correspond, the Latin is missing several verses, and there are a few variations of numbering the verses. The reason for these textual variations is that there are two main lines of descent for the text of the New Testament. The translators of the Authorised Version used one of these lines. So, it appears, do I. St Jerome, who prepared his Latin translation in the fourth century, used the other.
As for the numbering of verses, this is an innovation that dates from the sixteenth century, when Robert Estienne prepared editions of the whole Bible in Greek, in Latin and in French. His numbering was universally copied, but with variations that have never since been standardised.
However, while these discrepancies have generated much heat between the various Christian sects, my current purpose is less to advance any religious view than to promote the learning of the classical languages.
This reservation being stated, I move the question of why anyone should learn these languages. Perhaps the only language nowadays worth learning is English. This is the language of science and technology and the main language of communication. It is also the language of two wealthy and powerful nations, with a shared great literature and with separate but equally instructive histories. If you are not a native, this is the only foreign language you need to learn or perfect. If you are a native, you may find it useful to learn another language to live or do business in a foreign country. But why bother with Greek or Latin?
There are three main answers to the question. The first is that learning either language immerses you in the only civilisation comparable in its achievements to our own. Indeed, in several respects, it was superior to our own. It is worth studying purely for itself. Second, that civilisation is the basis of our own. We cannot fully understand who we are, and where we are, without a close knowledge of the Ancients. Third, there is a practical value for those of us whose first language is English. Our language is deficient in the obvious distinctions of grammar. Most nouns have only singular and plural forms. Most verbs have only four or five distinct forms. The present participle, the gerund and gerundive all share the suffix –ing. All tenses beyond the present and past perfect are formed by compounding with auxiliaries. It is the same with the various moods. For this reason, English grammar is best learned by comparing it with that of a more inflected language. German has shed many of its inflections. Greek uses a different alphabet. That leaves us with Latin.
Which brings me to the question of how to learn the classical languages. Some time between the invention of printing and a time within living memory, the custom in England was to give boys in the better kind of school a text by Julius Caesar or Cornelius Nepos, and to have them go through it sentence by sentence. In class, they would take turns to construe the text, and the master would explain the grammar and syntax of the language. Class preparation involved memorising the declensions and conjugations and using a dictionary to make sense of the text. It was the same with Greek, only the boys were expected to know Latin, and the preferred text was by Xenophon. The first years of a traditional course could be difficult. Several hundred years of experience had shown that the best way to keep the boys attentive and willing to learn was to threaten them with violence.
It was not an ideal mode of instruction, and the modern softness of our manners has removed the chief incentive to learn. It is also not suited to girls or to adult learners. It has nowadays been replaced by giving students specially-composed passages, and providing each of these with a full vocabulary and just enough grammatical explanation to make sense of them. These passages run in complexity from something like Cornelia est puella Romana…, to simplified extracts from the classics.
The method works with children. Even a few months will give them some Latin and improve their English. The problem is that, unless the ascent is very steep, it can take years before a student is able to read a classical text. And it is still not suited to adult learners. If you want to learn Latin, how long will you put up with stories about trips to Eboracum to buy brooches and waxed tablets? For Greek, I still shudder at the memory of translating apparently random sentences about youths dancing in a village, or how soldiers love their horses, while sailors love their ship.
But my suggestion, if you are an adult, is to ignore every instruction course presently on the market. If there are some that cannot be avoided, many of the difficulties involved in learning the classical languages can be avoided or reduced. The method I recommend may seem rather hard. It may seem perverse. On the other hand, it immerses you from the first in the actual literature of the language; and, whatever you may think in advance, the burden it places on your memory will be lighter than with any of the other methods. Moreover, so far from perverse, this is the genuinely traditional method.
I spoke of the invention of printing. Before then, dictionaries were scarce. Of one kind or another, word lists have always existed. So far as I can tell, though, the samples dug out of the Egyptian rubbish dumps deal mostly with the meanings of foreign or unusual words. A lexicon of Greek and Latin in the modern style, or just the kind of spelling dictionary you can buy in a pound shop, would have filled dozens of papyrus rolls, and would have been available only in the libraries of places like Rome and Alexandria. Even written texts were prohibitively expensive. Therefore, if a Roman schoolboy was to learn Greek, he would sit cross-legged before a tutor who took him, word by word, through a text that he might hardly ever see. Each word would be explained. Though not read, the text would then be remembered. Together with conversation in the language, this would be how he was instructed.
It was the same in the middle ages with the teaching of Latin. Instruction was oral. The schoolmaster would be both dictionary and book of grammar. The meanings he gave to words would be appropriate to their particular context and their particular form. When Petrarch tried to learn Greek, it was by reading through The Iliad with the help of a Byzantine scholar.
This method went out of fashion around the end of the sixteenth century. Now that printed dictionaries and grammars were reasonably affordable, the custom grew of expecting boys to work out meanings for themselves. The justification was that a dictionary gave fuller information about the meaning of words than the average schoolmaster could. A grammar book was more systematic, and came with the authority of a man of great learning.
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It would be a good justification had the method not been tried. Learning the classical languages from a dictionary and grammar can be disheartening. In Greek, most verbal forms comprise a stem with both suffixes and prefixes. Take the verb λύω (I loose or release). You will find this in the dictionary. You may be able to work out that λύονται (they are being loosed) is the third person present passive. But how about ἐλελύκεισαν? This is a third person pluperfect (they had loosed). It will not be in the dictionary. Now, λύω is one of the standard paradigms given in the grammar books. You can find all this if you look in Abbott and Mansfield. But you will have trouble locating every form of the irregular verbs.
In Latin, a limited vocabulary was overcome by giving a diversity of meanings to words. Take the verb soluo, which is the equivalent of λύω. This can mean: to undo, untie, release, free, acquit, break up, relax, weaken, cancel, remove, destroy, explain, pay, let down hair, open a letter, set sail, refute—and my own dictionary continues for half a column of definitions and illustrations. Cast most boys adrift with nothing but a dictionary and grammar, and no wonder they will need to be flogged like tired galley slaves to keep moving forward.
Though unchallenged in the best schools, this method never achieved total hegemony. There were always protests. One of the first and most notable comes from John Locke. Published in 1693, Some Thoughts Concerning Education makes this recommendation:
[If a teacher cannot be found] . . . the next best is to have [your son] taught as near this way as may be, which is by taking some easy and pleasant book, such as Æsop’s Fables, and writing the English translation (made as literal as it can be) in one line, and the Latin words which answer each of them, just over it in another. These let him read every day over and over again, till he perfectly understands the Latin; and then go on to another fable, till he be also perfect in that, not omitting what he is already perfect in, but sometimes reviewing that, to keep it in his memory. And when he comes to write, let these be set him for copies, which with the exercise of his hand will also advance him to Latin. This being a more imperfect way than by talking Latin unto him; the formation of the verbs first, and afterwards the declensions of the nouns and pronouns perfectly learned by heart, may facilitate his acquaintance with the genius and manner of the Latin tongue, which varies the signification of verbs and nouns, not as the modern languages do by particles prefix’d, but by changing the last syllables. More than this of grammar, I think he need not have, till he can read himself Sanctii Minerva, with Scioppius and Perizonius’s notes. [s167]
In short, he suggests a return to the older method of instruction, though advising reliance on printed texts as a substitute for purely oral instruction. Students are to get their vocabulary from the text, and to learn only as much grammar as is needed to make sense of the text.
Then, there was the work of James Hamilton (1769-1831). In his History, Principles, Practice, and Results of the Hamiltonian System, he recommended that all foreign languages should be learned from the study of interlinear texts. Again, there were to be no dictionaries, and grammar was to be secondary to comprehension. Despite the sneers of those already educated, his ideas were taken up by many adult learners. In his Autobiography, John Stuart Mill says that he learned German by “the Hamiltonian System.” If you look around on Google Books, you will find any number of interlinear texts of the Greek and Latin Classics.
I have no principled objection to these texts. Whatever works is right. But I have downloaded an interlinear Lucian from 1838. It begins:
I would not like to throw this at a beginner, or even at someone who already knows Latin. It strikes me as both too complex in itself and too alien in many of its assumptions. This is despite the Editor’s rearrangement of Lucan’s text from its original word order: ἄρτι μὲν ἐπεπαύμην εἰς τὰ διδασκαλεῖα φοιτῶν ἤδη τὴν ἡλικίαν πρόσηβος ὤν….
My preference is to use a parallel text of The Bible. On the one hand, most of us have read at least parts of it in English, and we know much of its background. On the other, there is none of the looseness of translation that you generally get in all but interlinear versions of the pagan classics. It is invariably translated by men who believe that the original must be followed absolutely. St Jerome made as literal a translation from Greek and Hebrew as his own language allowed. So did the commissioners appointed by King James. Each version corresponds with the original. Leave aside the slight variations, already noted, between the originals, and each version corresponds with the other. Having any one of these versions as your key, you can read the others without a dictionary.
Here, then, are my recommendations for how to proceed with the contents of this book.
I will first assume that you are ignorant of both Latin and Greek, and that you want to learn Latin. You should begin by getting hold of the shortest Latin grammar you can find. The best I know fills a few dozen pages in the Teach Yourself Latin Dictionary. This may no longer be in print, but there are copies to be had on Amazon, or you can find something like it on the Internet. You must read through this, to get an overview of the language. Please do not feel any obligation to memorise the declensions and conjugations. The most you need is a vague awareness of how things like accusative cases and present participles look, and enough of an overview to know where to look if the English is not clear enough as a key to the grammar of the Latin. It is only when you start looking up particular issues that you should pay attention to the details of things like ablative absolutes and subjunctives. Yes—do not try in advance to learn the grammar. It is to be consulted not committed to memory.
This done, you begin with 1:1—primum quidem sermonem feci de omnibus o Theophile quae coepit Iesus facere et docere.
Read it aloud so that you can familiarise yourself with the sound of the language. You then turn to the English—“The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach. ” You puzzle out the Latin. Primum and sermonem you can guess from their English derivatives mean “former treatise.” You may recall from your skimming of the grammar that nouns ending in m are likely to be direct objects. Feci seems to correspond with “have I made.” Omnibus is used in English to mean the whole of something, and so probably means “all.” O Theophile explains itself, though you may look in your grammar to confirm that it is a vocative case—that is, a form showing that someone is being spoken to. And so you continue, corresponding Latin to English by guesswork or by looking for English derivatives.
Once you have finished with the first three verses, you commit them in both Latin and English to memory. This is not as hard as it sounds. What you have here is a text with an overall meaning. It is easier to memorise than the meanings of individual words. For example, you could look up doceo (I teach), and try to remember its various forms. I think you will do better to recognise docere (present infinitive) as a word in its context that means “to teach.” Equally, you should avoid digging round to find that feci is the perfect form of facio, and keep reciting facio, feci, factum. Do this with twenty verbs, and you will forget half of them. Trying to remember the meanings of words in themselves is harder than to remember the sentences in which they occur. Declension and conjugations do nothing to help with comprehension. They provide a system after the fact of comprehension.
This does not mean, by the way, that you have to get the whole book by heart in both English and Latin—though it will do no harm if you do. You only need to memorise those verses that introduce meanings that you might otherwise forget. For the most part, you need to read and reread the text until you have a feel for the Latin.
Reading the first chapter in this way will be hard work. If you get that far, though, the second will be easier. By the time you get to the fourth, you will be able to read simple Latin. At this point, you will have outgrown the simple grammar you started with, and can get a copy of The Revised Latin Primer, which will now become your main work of reference. As you continue, you will find that you are turning to the English version only for new words that you cannot guess from their look or context, or to resolve ambiguities in the unpunctuated Latin. As you continually turn back to revise, you will see that previous difficulties no longer exist. Long before you get to Chapter 28, you will have become moderately competent in Latin.
Let me now assume that you already know some Latin, and that you want to learn Greek. All that I have said above still applies. The difference is that you will use the Latin text as your key to the Greek. Also, you will benefit from a more comprehensive grammar. I recommend Abbott and Mansfield, which explains many points of Greek by reference to Latin. Again, you should skim this, not trying to remember, let alone memorise, what you read. The purpose is to know where to look for the answers to specific questions that may arise. You will see at once, that while it is a more complex language, with more exceptions to its general rules, Greek is structurally similar to Latin. This is because they are genetically related, and because, after about the third century BC, Latin was reshaped under Greek influence. With the present text, moreover, you will benefit from St Jerome’s concern with absolute fidelity to the Greek original.
Take, for example, the end of Acts 26. St Paul has been examined before Festus and Herod Agrippa. He thinks he has talked his way out of trouble. However, once they are in private, “Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” This wonderfully ominous line in Greek is: Ἀγρίππας δὲ τῷ Φήστῳ ἔφη Ἀπολελύσθαι ἐδύνατο ὁ ἄνθρωπος οὗτος εἰ μὴ ἐπεκέκλητο Καίσαρα. St Jerome translates this as: Agrippa autem Festo dixit dimitti poterat homo hic si non appellasset Caesarem. We have here the same order of words and the same case endings, and a close similarity of moods. If you have trouble recognising ἀπολελύσθαι as the perfect passive infinitive of ἀπολύω, you have the more easily recognised dimitti as a guide.
Once you are finished with Acts in either language, you will be ready to move to the more conventional classics. You may have read that the Greek and Latin of The Bible is somehow defective. Undoubtedly, the Greek you will find in this book is the simplified form that became standard among the educated classes after the conquests of Alexander. It avoids dual cases and classical uses of the middle voice, and there is a greater use of prepositions. But whether or not it was written by St Luke, The Acts of the Apostles was written by men who had received a good education. In other circumstances, they could probably turn out a fair imitation of Demosthenes. When you do pass to Xenophon, you will need a dictionary—or perhaps an interlinear text. But it will not be as if you were jumping from George Orwell to Chaucer. There is probably less difference between “St Luke” and Xenophon than between Xenophon and Thucydides.
It is slightly different with the Latin of St Jerome. Again, he was an educated man, and we have many other writings by him that are as classical in style as you could want. But, as said, he tried to produce a literal translation. He was also mindful of changes in the spoken language since the Roman classics and been written, and of the need to produce something that was broadly accessible by countless millions of the uneducated when it was read in church.
One consequence is the occasional avoidance of the accusative-infinitive construction in favour of quod or quia as a subordinating conjunction. See, for example, 3:17— scio quia per ignorantiam fecistis (“I wot that through ignorance ye did it”), instead of the more classical scio vos per ignorantiam fecisse (I understand you through ignorance to have done it). In this case, the words are a direct translation of οἶδα ὅτι κατὰ ἄγνοιαν ἐπράξατε.
Here, St Jerome is using a popular form that is found in the early Latin playwrights, and in Aulus Gellius, who wrote in the second century, and that became general in the middle ages. I am not enough of a scholar to say why it was so deprecated by the classical authors, especially since it was normal in Greek. But variations like this aside, if you can read The Bible in Latin, you will be well on your way to reading anything else in Latin that takes your fancy.
So here is my advice on how to learn the classical languages. Whether I am setting you on the straightest road possible, or am encouraging you to run head first into a brick wall, is entirely for you to decide. I will say no more.
Introduction to the Second Edition
Since I prepared the first edition of this work, my formatting skills have advanced to the point where I can fit the whole three columns on a single page. I have also been able to correct a number of typing mistakes. No doubt, I have introduced others.
I will add that I have spent the years since the first edition teaching the classical languages at both schools and universities in the United Kingdom, where I have been required to put aside my possibly eccentric views on learning. On the one hand, I have come to a more positive view of the traditional methods. Not every student is capable of being dropped into a cold sea and told to swim. Many respond best to a more gradual approach. On the other, I do know students who have made impressive progress by using this book and others of its sort.
I also specialise in an updated ancient and mediaeval approach to teaching, where I sit with a student and focus on reading a text, explaining the grammar and vocabulary as we go. This works well in person. It works well on Skype
I am pleased, therefore, to issue it in the present new edition.