Monday, June 24, 2013


Latin Word Order

Patrick Maxwell, Pribbles and Prabbles: or, Rambling Reflections on Varied Topics (London: Skeffington & Son, 1906), p. 264:
Countless generations of schoolboys have groaned, and, I greatly fear, will yet groan, under the difficulties of Latin poetry, difficulties caused mainly by the occasional defiance of all reasonable order or arrangement in the position of the words which compose the text, these words being generally placed just where they may assist the metre, and without any regard to the sense. It is this feature of the Latin tongue which, to my thinking, renders it a far more difficult language than Greek, in which latter the arrangement of the words much more closely resembles that of English.

The other day I was reading—not for the first time—the fourth ode of Horace's fourth book of Odes, and I was forcibly struck—also not for the first time—with the extreme difficulty of its first sixteen lines, and the extraordinary involution and confusion of the words which compose that thorny passage. In these formidable lines, from "Qualem ministrum fulminis alitem" down to "Dente novo peritura vidit," the words are so hopelessly jumbled together that it is a marvel that the meaning was ever made out at all by anybody, let alone by a schoolboy.

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