One might think of Latin translation in much the same way as one would fill out a crossword puzzle. The text contains certain clues that allow you to fill in the answers; some of those answers intersect with other answers and provide extra clues which ultimately enable you to complete the puzzle in its entirety through a combination of deduction, experience, and educated guesswork. Here are some suggestions to help you achieve better, more accurate, and well-written translations.
The Big(ger) Picture
- READ the title.
- Read the prompt or description CAREFULLY - 2 or 3 times ideally.
- Both of these will give you clues and set the background for the passage. Highlight any NAMES, PLACES, key VERBS since these will probably be in the passage.
- SKIM READ the passage. 2 or 3 times. Do NOT translate right now. Get a general feel for what is going on.
- SCAN the passage and check for:
- PROPER NOUNS - NAMES, PLACES etc.
- Conversations i.e. punctuation marks, use of inquit or similar.
- Familiar constructions:
- ablative absolute (often at the beginning of a sentence);
- accusative and infinitive (indirect speech);
- subordinate clauses with the subjunctive (e.g. use of ut, ne, cum, si);
- connectives (e.g. et, sed etc.) whicj associate ideas.
- SCRUTINISE the passage more carefully.
- Take each sentence separately. Remember that each sentence can be boiled down to SUBJECT + VERB (+ OBJECT). Remember too that in ENGLISH that is the order: subject then verb.
- Where is the main verb? UNDERLINE it!
- What is the subject? UNDERLINE it and anything that agrees with it.
- What is the object? Find the ACCUSATIVES and any adjectives in agreement - remember -am, -em, -as, -os are accusatives. -um, -es can be nominative or accusative.
- Mark off PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES
- Mark off RELATIVE CLAUSES
- Mark off other SUBORDINATE CLAUSES e.g. relative, purpose, temporal, si clauses.
- Look for GENITIVES - they depend on other nouns.
- Look for DATIVES - is your main verb one of 'giving', 'showing', 'telling', 'persuading' etc. all of which take a dative case?
- Look for ABLATIVES - these will extend the meaning of the sentence.
- Other clues that will help you:
- Rhetorical features such as 'chiasmus' (AB/BA) constructions; use of synonyms (you still have to translate them both and differently!); triple-lists;
- Familiar constructions: non modo ... sed etiam; alii ... alii; passive verb + a/ab and ablative of the agent.
- SOLVE the translation!
- Do the easy sentences first. This will give you confidence and help you to start making sense of the more difficult sentences.
- Don't just guess; leave difficult sentences, come back to them, reread them - several times if necessary;
- Go over your translation. Are you sure you have all the 'hes' and 'shes' lined up? Or have you confused them? Do other parts of the translation make sense? Check and recheck that what your translation says matches up with the title and description.
- Ideally rewrite the translation paying attention to producing a clear and coherent English style.