Aorist and Imperfect

I don’t remember where I came upon this fact; I suspect it was over at Steve Runge’s blog, but I can’t remember for sure. The observation is that in Greek, the “normal” (or unmarked to use a linguistics term) past tense [*] [**] verb varies depending on genre. If the genre is narrative (like the Gospels), then the imperfect is the normal tense chosen. In other genres (like epistles or commentaries), the aorist is the default (or unmarked) form.

All I can say is that this has been hugely reinforced over the past several months of my reading. My reading has been almost exclusively genres that heavily use the aorist: commentaries, letters, and psalms. I recognize the aorist readily, but the imperfect still often throws me for loops. For a while, I had honestly forgotten that there was such a thing as the imperfect! However, I have recently started noticing the imperfect more. For example, during a commentary on one of the Psalms, Eusebius might retell a story from David’s life to explain something In such cases, the imperfect invariably becomes prominent.

So, I guess all of that goes to say, I’ve found this linguistic/grammatical distinction to be helpful!

[*] I know “tense” may not be the most correct work, and that there are lots of debates on aspect versus tense, but since tense seems pretty linked to morphology, I think it serves pretty well here. If anyone has the better term, please pony up!

[**] I’m also aware that Greek verbs aren’t quite as tied to time as English verbs are, but since the imperfect and aorist are typically used to describe events that occurred in the past, I’ll use the term “past tense,” even if haphazardly.

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.

Suggestions?

~alex