The dangers of Google Translate Latin

Blogosphere, pardon me while I get really pedantic for a short bit.  Some of you may be familiar with Phil Wickham: in fact I hope you are!  He’s one of a slew of quite talented worship singers.  My wife and I have both greatly enjoyed his music over the years.  We own most of his CDs, and I’m sure we’ll purchase his next one soon (due out 9/24).  My wife recently told me that the t shirt for his new album had Latin on it, so I asked her to read it to me.  It didn’t seem right, so I asked her to send me a photo of the shirt.  The shirt, which otherwise looks quite nice, reads Surgamus et ascensionem, which doesn’t make much sense in Latin.  The et, in particular, is out of place here.  Though it usually means “and”, in this case, we have to understand it adverbially.  “Let us raise even the ascension” or “Let us elevate even the ascension” is about the best I can come up with; “Let us make even the ascent” might work too.  Dropping the et would give us something like “let us go up to the ascension,” or “let us make the ascent,” which is not bad.  Surgamus ad ascensionem might work even better “let us rise to the ascension,” which has nice resonances with the Psalms of Ascent.  

So then, where did surgamus et ascensionem come from?  I suspect Google Translate was the culprit here. “Let us start the ascension” spits out surgamus et ascensionem.  The original phrase might have been different, but I’d be quite surprised if Google Translate wasn’t responsible for this error latinitatis.  If “let’s start the ascent” is the intended meaning (which seems like a good thing to put on a t shirt!), then I’d render it something like, incipiamus ascensionem, though I’m sure there are other good possibilities.  

Let this then serve as a warning!  Google Translate is liable bungle most any translation, not least something into an ancient language.  If you are seeking something for a fixed medium (tatoo, tee shirt, etc.), then you’d do well to ask someone who has studied the language in question.  My department actually has a process for this:  If you’re looking for a short phrase in Latin, there’s plenty of graduate students like me who’d be happy to help.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

A Contemporary Reference in Origen’s Homilies on the Psalms

I stumbled upon an oblique historical reference in one of the homilies today.  I was reading the Sources Chrétiennes edition of Rufinus’ translation of Origen.  While Origen was discussing the fleeting nature of “fleshly glory,” he used this example:

“Audi quid etiam Isaias de omni gloria carnali pronuntiet: Omnis – inquit – caro fenum et omnis gloria eius ut flos feni.  Vis etiam per  singula videre quomodo flos feni sit carnis gloria? Vide quis imperavit ante hos triginta annos, quomodo imperium eius effloruit: continuo autem sicut flos feni emarcuit, tunc deinde alius post ipsum, deinde alius atque alius, qui deinde duces qui principes et omnis eorum gloria, honor non solum tamquam flos emarcuit, verum etiam tamquam pulvis aridus et a vento dispersus ne vestigium quidem sui reliquit.”

“For hear what Isaiah announced concerning all carnal glory, “All flesh,” he says, “is wheat, and all its glory is as a flower of wheat.”  Do you want also to see by each how the glory of flesh is a flower of wheat? Look at who has ruled over us these prior 30 years, how his reign blossoms.  Immediately, though, as if a flower of wheat, it withers and dies, and then another reigns after him, and then another and another, and then those who are leaders and those who are princes, and all their glory.  Their honor does not only whither like a flower, but it truly, like dry dust dispersed by the wind, leaves no mark.”  (Homily I on Ps. 36, 2) (pg. 62)

The rulers here are the Roman emperors of course.  Origen spells out a period of 30 years, within which emperors appear, blossom, and die, leaving no trace.  This certainly isn’t as precise as one might hope, but the editors leave the following note (my translation from the French):

“Without doubt, this is an allusion to the thirty years which followed the flourishing reign of Septimus Severus.  The emperors succeeded one another rapidly: Caracal, Macrinus, Elagabalus, Alexander Severus, Maximinus Thrax, and his son, then various competitors, then Gordian III, and Philip the Arab.  This text allows us to place these homilies at the end of Origen’s life.” (p 64n1)

Septimus Severus’ reign ended in 211, so 30 years later would put us at 241.  That means that at least this homily was delivered between 241 and 254/255 (when Origen died).  That would place them squarely in the Caesarean period.

I found the corresponding Greek text in the recently discovered codex.  It mentions the same period of thirty years, but diverges a bit after that. 

ἄκουε τοῦ Ησαΐου διδάσκοντος σε καταφρονεῖν τῆς δόξης τῆς κοσμικῆς, καὶ πάντων τῶν κατὰ σάρκα ἡδέων, φησί γάρ, πᾶσα σάρξ, ὡς χόρτος, καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς, ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου. ἴδε τὴν δόξαν τῆς σαρκός, ἐβασίλευσαν πρὸ ἡμῶν πρὸ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα. ἐδοξάσθησαν, οἱονεὶ ἄνθος ἡ δόξα αὐτῶν, ἀλλ’ἐσβέσθη, ἐμαράνθη. ἄλλοί τινες ἐπλούτησαν, ἐν ἀξιώμασι γεγένηνται. περιεπάτουν πεφυσιωμένοι ἐπὶ τῇ προαγωγῇ τῶν προαγόντων αὐτούς. παρῆλθεν ἐκεῖνα, ὅτι ὡσεὶ χόρτος ταχὺ ἀποξηρανθήσονται. πᾶσα γὰρ σάρξ, χόρτος. καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς, ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου. ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν. (folio 35, starting at line 8)

Listen to Isaiah, as he teaches you to despise wordly glory, all the pleasures of the flesh, for his says, “All flesh, is as wheat, and all its glory, is like a flower of wheat.”  Looks at the glory of the flesh: they have ruled over us for these thirty years.  They have been glorified: their glory is like a flower; but this glory was dried up and withered.  Some others were wealthy, and came upon honors.  The walked as ones puffed up because of the honor of the things which promoted them. These things passed away, and so as a flower of wheat they will wither way, for “all flesh is wheat, and all of its glory is as a flower of wheat.”  The wheat is dried up and the flower has fallen. 

The divergences here between the Greek and the Latin are interesting, and deserve more attention.  I’ll look at those more in a future post.  For now, I’ll leave this small historical reference to ponder.

ἐν αὐτῷ,


Greek to Latin translation example

As a follow up to my post from a few days ago, I thought that I’d post an example of Greek to Latin translation. For those familiar with Latin, you’ll see just how nascent my Latin is. Naturally though, the purpose of this is to learn Latin (and practice Greek), not to produce the successor to the Vulgate ;-).

I’ve tried to produce a fairly literal translation, though there were a few places where I simplified the syntax (trading participles for sub-clauses), or used an infinitive instead of a relative clause.

This excerpt is from John 1:26-29. I’ve included the Greek text (which comes from a manuscript at the British Library:, my Latin translation, and an English translation. I have since looked at the Vulgate, but I haven’t corrected my word choice or sentence structure against the Vulgate. (For instance, I should have put Ecce agnus Dei in the final line, but I used a plural imperative of video instead). I’ve only corrected grammatical/spelling errors as I’ve noticed them. If you spot any errors, please let me know in the comments!

in caritate Dei,

εγω βαπτιζω εν υδατι, μεσοσ δε υμων εστηκεν ον υμεις ουκ οιδατε
Ego baptizo per aquam. in medio vostrorum stetit quid vos non conspicitis.
I baptize with water. Among you all stood the one whom you do not understand.

αυτος εστιν ὁ οπισω μου ερχομενος ος εμμπροσθεν μου γεγονεν.
ille est qui post meum veniet et ante meum fuit.
He is the one who comes after me, and was before me.

ὁυ εγω ουκ ειμι αξιος ινα λυσω αυτου τον ιμαντα του υποδηματος
Ego non sum dignus lorum calceorum solvere.
I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandles.

ταυτα εν βηθανια εγενετο περαν του ιορδανου ὁπου ην Ιωαννης βαπτιζων.
haec in Bethanae in ripa Iorandanis fuerunt, ubi Joanes baptizibat.
These things took place in Bethany at the bank of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

τη επαυριον βλεπει ὁ Ιωαννης τον Ιησουν εχρομενον προς αυτον και λεγει
cras vidit Joanes Jesum venientem ad illum et dixit,
On the next day, John saw Jesus approaching him and said,

ιδε, ὁ αμνος του Θεου, ὁ αιρων την αμαρτιαν του κοσμου.
Videte, agnus Dei qui rapit peccatum mundi.
Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Learning Latin with Greek

As I’ve been plodding away trying to learn Latin, I thought that I’d write a bit about my process. Over the span of my Latin study, I’ve tried four or so different approaches. The first was Rosetta Stone. I honestly found Rosetta Stone frustrating. Maybe it was because I never got past “puer legit” and “puella edit” but it was boring and I often felt like the vocabulary being taught was useless. I suppose it is useful to know “radiophonam” is a modern word for radio, but that wasn’t going to help me read Augustine or Cicero. Granted, I do think immersion is a good thing (which entails learning modern words), but that didn’t help my interest.

At the same time, I was also using the traditional textbook: Wheelock. The traditional approach was similar to how I had approached Greek: memorize the basic charts and just start translating sentences. I do find Wheelock a bit daunting. The amount one has to memorize for Latin is significantly higher than one does for Greek (5 declensions versus 3!). I’m still working through it because I do like seeing all of the grammar laid out, but it’s not my sole approach any longer.

Recently, I purchased Ortberg’s excellent “Lingua Latina per se illustrata.” For those who aren’t familiar with this book, it’s an excellent way to get acquainted with reading Latin. The chapters start off very simple “Roma in Italia est. Italia in Europa est. Graecia in Europa est” etc. It progressively gets more difficult, but the entire textbook is in Latin. The exercises are mostly of the “fill in the the ending” sort, which is fantastic practice as I try to make the declensions second nature.

Since my knowledge of basic grammar has progressed somewhat, I’ve added a third practice that really seems to be helping. One thing I’ve realized about language is that I don’t even begin to internalize it until I start “producing” in the language. Thus, I’ve started translating bits of the Gospel of John into Latin (from Greek of course!). This is not only much more fun than Ortberg or Wheelock, but I’m learning quite rapidly. I’m having to look up most of the words I write, but certain things are starting to stick. Plus, there’s something that’s just fun about writing in Latin. Perhaps that’s the nerd in me though ;-). Oh, and if you really want to nerd out, then don’t dare translate from your printed/online Greek New Testament. Instead, pull up one of the beautiful Greek manuscripts online, like this one. Then you can practice your Latin, Greek, and Paleography!

Finally, I’ve found reading about the Church Fathers to be helpful also. I’m currently reading J.N.D. Kelly’s excellent biography of Jerome. As the early Church’s linguist par excellence, he definitely encourages me to press on. I want to be able to read what he wrote in the original!

in caritate Dei,

Thoughts on Rosetta Stone

I’m now about a week into Rosetta Stone’s Latin. It’s been a largely positive experience. Rosetta Stone is truly a remarkable program. The software is completely “Latin driven,” in that none of the instruction is in English. The only English you see is the “click here to continue” or similar items from the interface. The program has you do quite a bit of reading, listening, and speaking. There’s not been much writing so far, though I’m expecting that to increase as I get farther. The speaking uses a microphone to capture your voice and then tests it against their samples. Occasionally this is frustrating, but most of the time it works well.

After a week in, I’ve completed the first two units of level one. The breakdown is something like this: Each level has four units. Each unit consists of four “core lessons.” These core lessons have grammar and vocabulary components (though it’s all taught inductively through pictures). In addition to the core lessons, there are supplements to each which focus specifically on areas like pronunciation, reading, or writing. The program has time estimates for each exercise. The “core lessons” are estimated at 30 mins, and the supplements range from 5-10 mins in estimated length. I often complete the core lessons in less than 30 minutes (I make a point to move quickly), though the estimates have been more accurate for the supplements. Each unit concludes with a mock conversation of some sort where much of the dialogue you’re supposed to generate yourself from context. These are actually quite challenging, though I haven’t had to repeat one yet (I’ve only done two).

Note that the program chooses the supplements based on the focus you choose at the beginning of the level. I chose to do the “standard” focus, which is a good mix. However, I kinda wish I had done the “reading and writing” focus since many of the exercises seemed superfluous. Thankfully, the program allows you to deviate from the plan and skip exercises if you so choose (as well as do exercises the “focus” would otherwise have you skip).

I’ve been pleased with my progress so far. I’m starting to get a feel for basic Latin sentence structure, and my vocabulary is growing. But so far, the vocabulary has been my single biggest complaint. Rosetta stone is targeted primarily at people who want to be able to communicate in the language. This is terrifically sensible for languages like Spanish, French, and Russian. It’s even useful to an extent for languages like Latin, in that you engage the language like you would any other. Latin is something that real people spoke, wrote, sang, and prayed. However, I don’t care about most of the vocabulary I’ve learned so far. Knowing that coffee is ‘potium arabica’ isn’t going to help me work through Cicero or Tertullian! I can’t fathom how knowing words like ‘telehorasis’ (TV) and ‘radiophonia’ (radio) will ever aid my study of ancient texts! At points, they do try to take a word and relate it back to it’s ancient context (through handdrawn pictures of Romans, or by people dressed up in togas!), but this is not terribly frequent.

For this reason, I’m glad that I’m combining Rosetta Stone with a more traditional textbook (Wheelock’s Latin). Here, I get to flex my analytical and textual muscles more. I get to see the standard metavocabulary (genitive, ablative, etc.), and learn more useful vocabulary. Working through both a textbook and Rosetta Stone has worked well so far, though I am anxious to see how it goes in the future. I hope that I’ll soon be able to make sense of some actual Latin text, though I suppose we’ll see.

Deo gloria!


A few days into Latin

I’m now a few days into Latin. I got my Rosetta Stone license from the school on Friday: I have access to it for two months. The Rosetta Stone is fun, but somewhat frustrating. For someone who prefers text to images, all of the pictures can be overwhelming. I know that it’s necessary to the learning process, but I am a bit overwhelmed at times. Also, I’m rather impatient. Currently, it’s doing basic vocabulary and really basic grammar (nominative + accusative, verb conjugation, simple adjective agreement). I wanna move on to more complicated stuff!

However, I know that I need to be patient. One doesn’t learn a language overnight, especially one like Latin. It’s a bit boring right now, but hopefully it will pick up soon. I’m planning to do some work from Wheelock’s famous textbook. I also ordered the reader, which hopefully I’ll be able to work through sooner rather than later ;-). I’m planning to devote my morning to Greek and my evenings to Latin this Summer, so by the grace of God I’ll progress quickly (I’ll definitely need a good dose to do so!).

Finally, I’d love some suggestions for Latin texts to read. Eventually I’d love to work through some of Augustine’s confessions in Latin, but I know that’s a long way off. I also expect that Tertullian would be difficult for a beginner, though I’m not sure. I’d appreciate if anyone could point me toward some simple Latin texts (perhaps in the same way that John’s gospel is a starting place for Greek students). Pagan writers are okay, but I’m especially interested in Christians.