Learn Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Classical Greek & Other Ancient Languages in 10 Lessons

Germania-tacitusI receive weekly reminders of my linguistic ignorance whenever I read anything by authors fluent in Latin. How could I not, whenever Clive James starts to pontificate on the greatness of, say, Tacitus?

“For students acquiring Latin in adult life, the language is most easily approached through those historians who really wrote chronicles — Cornelius Nepos, Sallust, Suetonius and Livy — but with the Histories of Tacitus you get the best reason for approaching it at all… What Sainte-Beuve said of Montaigne — that his prose is like one continuous epigram — is even more true of Tacitus.”

Fantastic! So, which translation should I read?

“There are innumerable translations but the original gives you [Tacitus]’ unrivalled powers of compression.”

As with Latin classics, so with other Indo-European language texts, including Beowulf, originally in Old English, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, in Classical Greek, and the ancient Vedic hymns of the Rigveda, in Sanskrit.

For those willing to take up the challenge of reading these canonic texts in their original form, the University of Texas’ Linguistics Research Center provides an excellent resource. In addition to hosting a multitude of Indo-European volumes in their entirety, the LRC has made 10-lesson crash courses, developed by several UT-Austin academics. Lessons include a brief guide to the alphabet, background knowledge on the language’s development, and a grammar guide, all  available for the following languages:

Best of all, lessons are based on seminal texts from each language: Latin lessons rely on Tacitus’ Germania, Livy’s History of Rome, and Virgil’s Aeneid, while Homer, Hesiod’s Works and Days, and Plato’s Republic feature prominently in the Classical Greek classes. Students progress through each lesson by reading the original passages, and using the provided guides to translate them to English.

We’ll be adding these to our growing list of Free Language Lessons (and our list of Free Online Courses), where you can learn over 46 languages, from Arabic to Yiddish.

Note: These links will direct you to pages formatted in Unicode 2. If you’re having trouble reading the texts, head to the Early Indo-European Online lessons site and choose a different encoding in the sidebar.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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  1. Laura Gibbs says . . . | January 29, 2014 / 4:01 pm

    For anyone seeking to learn Latin, I highly recommend Evan Millner’s Latinum series at YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/evan1965

  2. Michelle says . . . | January 29, 2014 / 4:51 pm

    Laura, do you know any good video or website for Ancient Greek?

  3. Dan Colman says . . . | January 29, 2014 / 5:01 pm

    Thanks Laura, we added the Latin Lessons to our big list of Free Language Lessons.

    http://www.openculture.com/freelanguagelessons

    If you know of any other great resources, definitely let us know!

    Thanks,
    Dan

  4. Pasha Yerbanaut says . . . | January 29, 2014 / 9:09 pm

    Thanks, that’s great stuff. Does anybody know a good Sanskrit dictionary?

  5. athaler says . . . | January 30, 2014 / 8:40 am

    Pasha, it depends on what your needs are.

    For user-friendliness for someone coming from one of the other classical European languages, I’d go with Monier-Williams. Macdonnell is also not bad, but it makes you think a little harder (prefixed verbs, for instance, are defined under the unprefixed, root form of the verb).

    Scans of both are available here: http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/

    Once you’ve gotten the hang of where you’ll need to look up words, though, Apte is really excellent. I don’t know personally of a scanned version online, but this was what I used when I was reading regularly (alas, those days are gone): http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/~tjun/sktdic/

  6. athaler says . . . | January 30, 2014 / 8:43 am

    Michelle, these texts have the drawback of being sometimes a little thick to get through at first reading, but Textkit (http://www.textkit.com/) has pulled together many public-domain grammars and elementary methods of both Ancient Greek and Latin.

  7. Victoria says . . . | April 28, 2014 / 10:45 pm

    It’s a pity, that old Syriac is not in the list.

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