Memorize a Chunk of Vergil (or Virgil)

Make a Bit of Latin Your Own

Carlo Raso/Flickr/Public Domain Mark 1.0

One technique that may help if you are trying to re-learn Latin is to memorize a chunk of Latin poetry and make it your own. For this purpose, you might want to memorize the first 11 lines of Vergil's (or Virgil's) Aeneid.

Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram;
multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem,
inferretque deos Latio, genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres, atque altae moenia Romae.
Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso,
quidve dolens, regina deum tot volvere casus
insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
impulerit. Tantaene animis caelestibus irae?

Listen to Robert Sonkowsky reading this passage to get a sense of the pronunciation and rhythm of Classical Latin.

After you have begun to learn the passage, read a translation and try to make the translation and the Latin go together.

What you do with this chunk of Latin is up to you. You may just keep it in mind as a reminder of the word order in Latin – the first clause is “arms and the man I sing,” with the verb at the end. Or the fact that certain sentences, like the final question, don’t require an expressed verb at all. Or you may keep the whole passage in mind to remember the names, (Juno, Lavinia, Latium, Italia, Troy, and Alba). Or to try to make sense of the early legendary history of Rome. But here is my suggestion.

After you have the passage down cold, try writing your own translation into good English. Then try reverse translating back into Latin prose. The purpose is not to do worry too much about the syntax but to see how different your phrase structure is from Vergil’s .

If nothing else, this should give you an appreciation for the variety provided by the Latin language. Example:

I sing about arms and the man
arma et virum ego cano.