Classics’ Transferable Skills part III


Skill 2. Attention to Detail and Patience

Latin is logical. Logic requires attention to detail and careful concentration. We saw in the previous article on ‘Logical Reasoning’ that in Latin the meaning of and connection between the different parts of a sentence is expressed through the endings of nouns and verbs. As Latin sentences build in complexity, careful analysis of endings is needed when translating. Here is another example.

canem puella videt.

It is always tempting to take the first word in the sentence as a starting point. However, look at the ending on ‘canem’ and recall: ‘M’ = being on the receiving end. So the ‘canem’ is not the doer. We have met ‘puella’ before and we know that it means ‘girl’ and that when the word ends in ‘a’, the ‘puella’ is the doer. ‘videt’ is the verb, which we can deduce from the ending ‘t’, compares to ‘salutat’, and ‘vocat’ in previous sentences that we have looked at. The verb means ‘see’. So, the girl sees the ‘canem’. ‘canem’ you may be able to work out from its similarity to ‘canine’ – it means dog. So,

The girl sees the dog.

However, Latin sentences, of course, aren’t always this nice.

credo ego vos, iudices, mirari quid sit quod, cum tot summi oratores hominesque nobilissimi sedeant, ego potissimum surrexerim, is qui neque aetate neque ingenio neque auctoritate sim cum his qui sedeant comparandus.

(Cicero)

I once played a mean trick on a year 12 class with this passage. One of my techniques for breaking down a complex passage is to mark out each sentence and then break each sentence down into is main clause(s) and subordinate clauses. The first sentence…was the entire passage. I told them to find the end of the first sentence. ‘Oh, very funny Dr Longley’, said one of them and I just chuckled wickedly. However, by using the ‘clause and effect’ method (as I used to call it) first to gain an idea of he overall structure of the passage, and then carefully identifying and labelling the endings, they were able to crack it.


The method they used to crack it was logical. It required attention to detail. And it required patience. This is hardly a process peculiar to Latin. But Latin does hone it very well. I would also argue it trains resilience. Yes, it is a hard passage (I first met it in year 12). But encouraged they had the tools, knowledge, and method to break it down, with the occasional prompting from me, they persevered.

One of them even said, ‘clever opening from Cicero.’ Classics certainly fires the enthusiasm.

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