How to Read Scholastic Latin

I’ve just read with great pleasure Dylan Schrader’s Shortcut to Scholastic Latin (Paideia Institute, 2019). It’s a brief, reliable, sometimes even charming handbook for beginners, which I recommend having on your shelf for students, if not for yourself.

I do, however, have one complaint: the book seems to me to target the wrong audience. Father Schrader’s intended audience is someone with a solid intermediate grasp of classical Latin, coming to scholastic Latin for the first time. But, in my many years of training people to read scholastic Latin, I find that such students are rare. What I’ve encountered, overwhelmingly, are students who have quickly run through a beginner’s course in Latin, and now wish to put that knowledge to work on texts they actually care about.

Schrader’s Shortcut will help them, for sure, but I think it is not quite the book they need. They don’t need information about the differences between classical and scholastic Latin, since they barely know classical Latin. They need a shortcut to the most important features of scholastic Latin that they probably didn’t acquire from racing through Wheelock’s Latin.

So what are those features? I’m not going to write a book, but here, as my gift for the holidays, is an attempt at a top-10 list:

1. First and most importantly, constantly look for the logical connectives, in particular:

  • A ergo B / A igitur B : these always mean that B follows from A.
  • A … B enim / A quia B : these almost always mean that A is true because B is true.
  • A … B vero / A … B autem : these very often mean that B is an additional, complementary fact beyond A, and especially that B is a minor premise relative to the major premise that is A. (Don’t be fooled into thinking that vero has something to do with truth.)

2. Relatedly, become accustomed to seeing these connectives as, in effect, the text’s punctuation. Here it helps to be aware that, unlike in English, many of these words tend to be used in postpositive position—that is, as the second word in the new clause. And once sentences start to take form around these words, some otherwise confusing particles can be put into this same framework:

  • quidem autem : this works (much like mende in Greek) to build a construction of the form “On the one hand …, on the other hand….”
  • sicut A … ita B: you’ll see this comparative construction everywhere: just as A, so too B.
  • tum A … tum B / tam A … quam B: these particles build lists: A and B
  • vel A vel B: these particles build disjunctions: either A or B

3. The passive voice. Because logical and causal relationships are nearly everything in philosophy, it is utterly critical (a) to recognize the difference between the active and passive voice; (b) to become proficient at putting subject and object in their proper place when the verb is passive; (c) to bear in mind the common deponent verbs (sequor, loquor, utor, patior…); (d) to be prepared for a verb in the passive voice to be impersonal: dicitur quod …. “it is said….”; (e) to be ready to identify passive infinitives, which are very common.

4. Dependent clauses. This is a large subject, but there are some easy things to look for:

  • cum with a subjunctive verb is extremely common and almost always means since/because….
  • indirect discourse is extremely common and is routinely done in either of two ways:
    • quod + subjective: Quidam dicit quod anima sit forma
      • do not overtranslate the subjunctive here; it is subjunctive just because it is within a dependent clause; its meaning is indicative, i.e. he says that the soul is a form.
    • accusative + infinitive: Necesse est animam esse formam; “it’s necessary that the soul is a form.”

5. Counterfactual conditionals using the imperfect subjunctive. E.g., Si esset divisa, tunc sequeretur…. (“If it were divided, then it would follow…”). This might seem like an advanced bit of Latin that beginners don’t need to worry about for a while, but in philosophical prose the counterfactual is critical and very common.

6. Gerunds made easy. When dico becomes dicendum, it has assumed noun form as a gerund. Things get tricky here, and Schrader is helpful on the intricacies, but for beginners what’s critical are three usages that appear all over the place:

  • modus dicendi : “manner of speaking”; this is the most straightforward use for the gerund; native English speakers who never learned their grammar should note that ‘speaking’ is how we make a gerund in English.
  • dicendum est : here the gerund has obligatory force: “it should be said.”
  • ad dicendum : here the gerund expresses purpose: “in order to say.”

Part of what’s tricky here is that, in these three cases, the gerund plays completely different roles. But if you simply learn these three fairly well defined usages, you’ll be able to get a long way.

7. The omnipresent impersonal verbs. It helps a lot to recognize fluently the following verbs:

  • Oportet quod: it is necessary that
  • Contingit quod: it happens (occasionally: it is a contingent fact that)
  • Accidit + dative: it occurs to someone/thing (occasionally: it is accidental to)

Bear in mind that licet almost always appears as a conjunction, not a verb. It introduces a subjunctive verb and means Although…. (Here again, don’t overtranslate the subjunctive; cf. #4.)

8. Nous vs. adjectives. In scholastic Latin, word order starts to look a bit like the word order in modern European languages. But because it’s never exactly the same, it’s easy to mistake one part of speech for another—that is, to be confused about what’s a noun, what’s a verb, what’s an adjective, and what’s an adverb. There’s no easy rule here—this is the heart and soul of reading Latin—but one common, easily fixable mistake is to confuse nouns and adjectives. So, forma is the noun and formalis is the adjective. In principle, this is pretty easy, but in practice beginners often fail to catch the difference, in part I think just because they aren’t on guard against the mistake.

9. These phrases need to become second nature:

  • secundum x (“according to x”; note that ‘secundum’ only rarely means “second”)
  • quantum ad x
  • inquantum est x
  • propter x

These expressions have shades of meaning, but they all serve a similar function: they bring x into salience as explanatorily relevant.

10. Exploit the compositional nature of Latin. An astonishing number of Latin terms are formed using prefixes such as con-, per-, ab-, ad-, in-, and so on. Learn the connotations associated with each prefix, and become comfortable with the range of meaning suggested by common roots like sisto. Once you’re alert to this sort of thing, expand your reach by attending to cases where common verbs have surprisingly different principle parts, such as fero, tuli, latus. If you can connect latus to fero, and remember that this means “to carry,” you’ll unlock a lot of further composite vocabulary.

Of course, these rules won’t make you fluent in scholastic Latin all by themselves. The only way to achieve that is to practice constantly. I recommend that you find an easy text (Aquinas or Ockham are leading candidates) that has been translated into a friendly language, make a printed copy of the text and the translation (so that you get away from electronic distractions and so you can write notes on the page), and then devote a set time every day (30 minutes?) to working through the Latin and checking yourself against the translation.

Happy Holidays!

More of What We’ve Come to Expect from 2020

Silvia di Donato (CNRS Paris) has organized, this Thursday, a daylong conference on La prophétie et la révélation dans les traditions philosophiques arabo-islamique et juive. It’s a mix of French and English papers, all online of course (December 10, 2020).

Antoine Côté (Ottawa) has organized a great series of online talks for this spring, starting with Scott MacDonald (Cornell) on January 15, 2021. Details here.

Next fall, the Sociedad de Filosofía Medieval will hold its 8th International Congress on the subject De cognitione (Porto, September 6-8, 2021). The cfp deadline is March 15, 2021.

Schabel and Duba have concluded their editorship at Vivarium with an issue that seems perfectly suited to 2020. When I unwrapped my hard copy yesterday, I swear that a little smoke came off the thing. It begins with a series of Retraction Notices and ends with an extended review by Mark Thakkar (St. Andrews) that forecasts “a gathering crisis in medieval studies.” I won’t be publishing reader comments here—this isn’t that sort of blog—but suffice it to say that volume 58:4 is a memorable read.

Berlin, Oxford, and Other News

Three one-year postdocs on the topic of Human Abilities are being advertised at the Humboldt University in Berlin. This is the latest funding opportunity from the Perler-Vetter DFG project. The application deadline is January 10, 2021.

Oxford is advertising a multi-year postdoc in medieval Islamic philosophy, with the possibility of its turning into a permanent position. The application deadline is very soon: midday UK time on Friday November 27, 2020.

The Medieval Institute at Notre Dame is advertising a one-year junior faculty fellowship. To apply you must hold a position as an assistant professor at a North American university. The application deadline is February 1, 2021.

Don’t yet have a job as an assistant professor in North America? Maybe it’s because you’re not studying Byzantine philosophy! But, good news, the Gennadius Library in Athens is sponsoring a summer session on medieval Greek, with some funding available (June 28 – July 28, 2021). Application deadline is January 15, 2021.

For the record, that was just a little Thanksgiving humor about Byzantine philosophy as useful on the job market. (Though, who knows….) But if by chance you do have expertise in Byzantine philosophy, you can apply for the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame’s nine-month postdoc in Byzantine Studies. The application deadline is February 1, 2021.

The British Society for the History of Philosophy is sponsoring a Graduate Essay Prize. The deadline is very soon: November 30, 2020.

The Scotus Archiv at Bonn is sponsoring a colloquium on the Quodlibet of John Duns Scotus (December 4-5, 2020, online).

The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Group at Marquette is advertising their annual graduate-student workshop (March 19-20, 2021, online). The cfp deadline is February 1, 2021.

There’s an interview of Henrik Lagerlund (Stockholm University) at Richard Marshall’s site 3:16am.

If you’ve been waiting to buy the critical edition of William Ockham, or any of the many other useful texts published by the Franciscan Institute, now is a good time: all books, from November 27 to 30, are 40% off.

Report on My Online Week

A lot of people have asked me to file a report on how my week of virtual teaching went. I ended up holding 17 classes/talks/meetings, on four continents. Contrary to what I expected, only about half of these were classes—the rest were invitations to give papers and to meet informally with smaller groups. The whole thing was exhausting, but also tremendously fun and rewarding.

It’s hard to single out any highlights from the week, since it was all great, but just to give you a sense, here are a few that stand out:

  • Most heartwarming: teaching the Republic to honors students at Houston Baptist University. So young and enthusiastic and full of ideas. I wanted to grab them through my screen and pull them up to Boulder to hang out with me for the week.
  • Most surprising: giving a talk to a classroom full of scholars at Guangzhou University, most of them not wearing masks. At the end, they optimistically assured me that America would soon beat COVID!
  • Most challenging: making a presentation to Eleonore Stump’s dissertation group at Saint Louis University. It’s like arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court. You’re lucky if you get two sentences into your brief before they start firing questions at you.
  • Best show: 7am Thursday at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral. As it happens, the talk was recorded, and you can watch it here.

News of the Week

The Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies (Hamburg) is advertising junior and senior fellowships for 2021-2022. The topic for next year is language and scepticism. The application deadline is December 10, 2020. Details here.

SUNY Stony Brook has started an MA in the History of Philosophies, East and West. This is a joint MA between Philosophy and Asian Studies, across the whole history of philosophy. Thanks to Rosabel Ansari for the pointer.

A year-long series of seven lectures on the theme The Christian West And Islamic East is starting up this next Tuesday, October 20, 2020, featuring Billy Dunaway on “The Epistemology of Theological Predication.” The series is sponsored by Dunaway and Jon McGinnis’ Templeton project, and by Richard Taylor’s Aquinas and “The Arabs” group. Lecture time is 9am in St. Louis.

Three days of talks on Theories of Paradox in the Middle Ages begins next week. The fun starts Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at 1:45pm in St. Andrews. Organized by Stephen Read.

There’s an interview of Scott Williams (UNC Asheville) on the podcast The Reluctant Theologian, concerning Scott’s new edited volume, Disability in Medieval Christian Philosophy and Theology (Routledge, 2020).

A Week of Virtual Bob

I don’t know about how things are in your corners of the world, but around here morale is pretty low and, as the semester grinds on, it seems to be getting lower.

Since I’m on sabbatical this year, I’ve been happily saved at least from the burden of online teaching, but alas that just gives me more time to tune into other kinds of unhappiness around the globe. So I’ve come up with a plan both to distract myself from the news for a week and, at the same time, to contribute a little bit during the COVID era.  I’d like to offer my services as a virtual professor.

So as to put reasonable limits on this offer, it’s confined only to the week of October 26-30, but within those five days the offer is pretty much unlimited. I am prepared to meet with any group of any size at any level, anywhere on the planet: undergraduate, graduate, faculty, high-school students, 11-year-olds — anyone who is interested in the sorts of issues I am interested in. I am, moreover, interested in lots of things — pretty much any area of philosophy and any period in the history of Western philosophy, plus long stretches of the history of science, Christian theology, medieval history, and medieval literature. My idea is that I would try to teach whatever you’re supposed to teach on a given day. Try me!

If you want to book my time during this week, email me as soon as possible and describe what you have in mind. First come, first serve. And don’t hesitate to get in touch, even if we’ve never met, no matter how modest your circumstances. For that week, I’m ready to go anywhere, virtually.

The Medieval Text Consortium

For a long time I’ve wanted to organize a better way to publish texts in the history of philosophy. A group of us have now come together to do just this. Here is the announcement:

The Medieval Text Consortium is an association of leading scholars formed to make works of medieval philosophy available to a wide audience. Our goal is to publish texts across all of Western thought between antiquity and modernity, both in their original languages and in English translation.

In collaboration with Open Book Publishers, we provide a rigorously peer-reviewed platform for the dissemination, in printed and electronic form, of the finest scholarly work in the field. Publications will be open-access in their electronic form and available in print at an affordable price.

For the time being, our focus is Latin texts. We are open to publishing works of various kinds, from critical editions to editiones minores intended to provide scholars with a provisional working text. We will not ordinarily consider publishing bare transcriptions of a text, but we are open to various possibilities regarding how much editorial work is appropriate in a given case.

We are likewise open to translation proposals of all kinds, including translations of a whole text, partial and abridged translations of a text, and collections of shorter texts on a single subject. The open-access electronic format, combined with affordable print prices, makes us an ideal place to publish material with classroom applications, but at the same time we are not constrained by commercial considerations.

Authors may choose to publish an edition alone, a translation alone, or the two together side by side, along with whatever level of accompanying commentary seems appropriate. We are open to a wide range of formatting possibilities, and the flexibility of the electronic format makes it possible to present the text in multiple different and innovative ways.

Among our goals is to facilitate publication in cases where a definitive critical edition, or a complete translation, is at present impractical. We hope that scholars, who might otherwise have watched a project languish for years, will be encouraged by this initiative to bring to press work that is of substantial scholarly value without having yet been brought to a definitive state of critical perfection. In keeping with that objective, authors who wish to make subsequent improvements to their work may do so either through the MTC or with another press.

Projects will be accepted for publication only after rigorous review by the editorial board. No subvention from authors is required, although contributions to the cost of publication are welcomed and will help sustain the project. Authors interested in exploring a relationship with us should begin by contacting the editor with an informal proposal.

 

Editorial Board

Robert Pasnau (University of Colorado)

Monica Brinzei (CNRS Paris)

Russell Friedman (KU Leuven)

Guy Guldentops (University of Cologne)

Peter King (University of Toronto)

John Marenbon (University of Cambridge)

Christopher Martin (University of Auckland)

Giorgio Pini (Fordham University)

Cecilia Trifogli (University of Oxford)

Rega Wood (Indiana University)

Congratulations etc.

  • Congratulations to Ota Pavlíček (Institute of Philosophy in Prague), who won an ERC Starting Grant worth $1.5 million for the project, Reconstructing Late Medieval Quests for Knowledge: Quodlibetal Debates as Precursors of Modern Academic Practice.
  • Congratulations to Jon McGinnis (Univ. Missouri-St. Louis), whose paper “A Continuation of Atomism: Shahrastānī on the Atom and Continuity,” from the Journal of the History of Philosophy, was named one of the top ten papers of 2019 in the prestigious Philosopher’s Annual. I believe this is the first time a paper in medieval philosophy has made this list!
  • Congratulations—and thanks!—to Peter Simpson (CUNY) who has recently completed his massive online translation of Scotus’s Ordinatio. (And thanks to Lee Faber at The Smithy for the pointer.)
  • LMU Munich is advertising a three-year assistant position in late ancient and/or Islamic philosophy, working with Peter Adamson. The application deadline is October 1, 2020. Details here.
  • A call for papers has been announced for a special issue of Methodos focused on Argumentation and Arabic Philosophy of Language. Submission deadline is January 20, 2021.
  • The Royal Society of London is advertising an Essay Award for junior scholars working in the history of science. Submission deadline is February 28, 2021.

End of Summer News

Lots of useful information has been piling up in my inbox. Many of the deadlines are soon!

  • The 42nd Kölner Mediaevistentagung, on the topic ‘Curiositas,’ is online this year, and so accessible to everyone (September 7-10, 2020). It’s a wonderfully international program, with lots of talks in English. Registration and general information here.
  • Leuven is hosting, virtually, a conference on “Essence and Existence in the 13th and 14th Centuries.” (September 11-13, 2020).
  • The University of Jyväskylä is advertising a three-year postdoc to work on the project “Vicious, Antisocial and Sinful: The Social and Political Dimension of Moral Vices from Medieval to Early Modern Philosophy.” Application deadline is September 15, 2020. Details here.
  • Filipe Silva (University of Helsinki) is advertising a 46-month postdoc to research Augustinian Natural Philosophy ca. 1277. Application deadline September 15, 2020. Details here.
  • NYU Abu Dhabi is advertising research fellowships for junior and senior scholars focusing on “the study of the Arab world.” Application deadline is October 1, 2020. Details here.
  • Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist (Gothenburg) is advertising a multi-year postdoc as part the project on Medieval Aristotelian Logic 1240-1360. Application deadline is September 24, 2020. Details here.
  • The Schindler Foundation is advertising a 3-6 month grant for junior scholars focusing on “Medieval Latin Studies,” in honor of Claudio Leonardi. Application deadline is September 15, 2020. Details here.
  • UCLA is advertising the Wellman Chair in medieval European history. Review of applications begins November 1, 2020.
  • Western University (Ontario) is organizing a weekly online Latin study group, aimed at students who are just beginning their Latin studies, and who wish to concentrate on philosophical texts. Application deadline is September 5, 2020.
  • The New Narratives Project is organizing a work-in-progress seminar for early-career scholars. Officially the deadline passed yesterday to submit a proposal, but it might not be too late to get involved!
  • The SMRP has issued a call for papers, on any medieval topic, from scholars of any rank, for the APA Central meeting in February 2021 (which will be online). Deadline is September 15, 2020. Details here.
  • Reginald Lynch is organizing a session at Kalamazoo (May 13-15, 2021) on “Scholasticism and the Sacraments.” Cfp deadline is September 15. Details here.
  • The Paris Institute for Advanced Studies is accepting applicants for visiting fellowships during 2021-22. Having spent a year there myself, I can report that they are enthusiastic about the history of philosophy. The deadline is September 15, 2020.
  • The Aquinas Institute has begun an online masters program in theology. Details here.
  • Congratulations to Michiel Streijger, who has won a three-year German Research Foundation grant: “Digitale Edition von Walter Burleys zwei frühen Kommentaren zur Physik des Aristoteles.”
  • Congratulations to Gordon Wilson and to Rega Wood for each receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for their editions of Henry of Ghent and Richard Rufus.
  • Congratulations to Gaston LeNotre (Dominican University College), who won the annual SMRP Founder’s Award for the best paper by a younger scholar. Honorable mention went to Milo Crimi (UCLA).

News of the Week

  • I previously announced the major grant on Human Abilities that Dominik Perler and Barbara Vetter won in Berlin this past year. Currently posted, as part of that project, is a PhD position in the history of philosophy scheduled to begin this October. Details here. The application deadline is August 8, 2020.
  • The SMRP is sponsoring a session on Giordano Bruno at the Renaissance Society of America meeting in Dublin (April 7-10, 2021, deo volente). The cfp deadline is this coming Monday (July 27, 2020). Details here.
  • As it happens, you can learn more about Giordano Bruno this coming Tuesday (July 28, 2020) at the next installment of the Lumen Christi series of online lectures. Valentina Zaffino will be speaking on Giordano Bruno and the Poetry of the Cosmos.
  • This Friday begins the weekly series of online lectures on 13th-Century English Franciscans that Lydia Schumacher has organized. Speaking this week are Nicola Polloni, Simon Kopf, and Neil Lewis. Details here.