It’s fitting because the Adams would drill Latin into their children’s heads   Leave a comment

I was feeling worn-out and exhausted today, so I decided to pep myself up by reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln, because that is who I am now. I’m reading Doris Kearn Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, that book that won all the awards in the late 2000s. I opened the book up to page 152 and scanned the page to see where I had last left off. On page 152, Virginia officially seceded from the Union, taking the crucial Norfolk Navy Yard with it.

With its stategic location, immense dry dock, great supply of cannons and guns, and premier vessel, the Merrimac, the Norfolk yard was indispensible to both sides.

But, of course, Virginia secedes from the Union, and Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, was unable to secure the vital navy yard before the Confederacy took it over. We shall see what the consequences of this was.

The loss of Norfolk prompted Charles Francis Adams* to note in his diary:

We the children of the third and fourth generations are doomed to pay the penalties of the compromises made by the first.

You may recognize this as my facebook status a few days ago.^ For some reason that quote has stuck with me. I stopped at that line again. I read it over a few times. I couldn’t think of why I like that sentence so much. I read it again. Suddenly I realized that to pay the penalty is a vocab term in early Latin studies (poenas dare. Had the sentence simply triggered my Classics scholarship?

I decided to translate the sentence into Latin rather than read on.

After writing out the sentence, the next step is to break it down into parts of speech. Diagramming it. However the old-school folks say it.

We the children nominative (subject)
of the third and fourth generations genitive (possessive)
are doomed first person plural indicative active present
to pay the penalties infinitive/accusative plural (infinitive/object)
of the compromises genitive (possessive)
made wait there’s another verb?
by the first ablative

I stared in horror at the last three steps. There was already a possessive and a verb in the sentence. How could there be more? I set that question aside for the moment and tried to think about the ablative.

Ablative doesn’t have a direct correlation in English, unlike nominative/subject, genitive/possessive, dative/indirect object, and accusative/direct object. The best I can explain it is as a setting. Ablative tells you where the sentence happened, when it happened, or how it happened (ablative of means). The first several chapters of my textbooks avoids ablatives, and then suddenly ablatives are everywhere. They’re hard to get across in English. When I was in high school, I wrote out English translations for every single word I diagrammed: by/with/in/on/from the troops, I would write.

My life is brilliant
My love is pure
I saw an angel
Of that I’m sure
She smiled at me on the subway
She was with another man
But I won’t lose no sleep on that
‘Cause I’ve got a plan

You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful, it’s true
I saw your face in a crowded place
And I don’t know what to do
‘Cause I’ll never be with you

You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful
You’re beautiful, it’s true
There must be an angel with a smile on her face
When she thought up that I should be with you
But it’s time to face the truth
I will never be with you

But I also knew from my days in community college Latin that there was another use for ablative. And by another I mean “the way bearded dragons and komodo dragons are both lizard dragons.” That way is Ablative Absolute.

There must be an angel with a smile on her face
When she thought up that I should be with you <—BAM WHAM

When the angel thought up that he should be with her, the angel smiled.

Ablative absolute sets the scene like nothing else. It can’t stand on its own, it’s not a full sentence even though it might have a subject and a verb (wait-). It’s very ablative-heavy. And it always (well, typically) goes in the front, especially in Latin.

By the compromises made by the first generation, we the children of the third and fourth generation are doomed to pay the penalties.

Compromissit primis aetatibus facerunt, nos pueri aetatis tertiae et quartiae damnamus poenas dare.

Is it correct? I actually have no idea.

*grandson of John, son of John Quincy
^or you may not, I don’t know you.

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Posted September 23, 2015 by agentksilver in history, Latin

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