Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

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Hashimi
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Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby Hashimi » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:16 am

I am looking for interesting books in classical languages, but I want to read stuff other than Greek mythology or medieval Latin hagiographies. Learning a new language, let alone a classical one, is a daunting task, and I don't want to waste my time learning a language with a few interesting stuff to read.

I enjoyed reading books in Classical Arabic like those by Al-Jahiz (just finished his treatise on the glory of the black race), Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia, and Al-Biruni's Indica.

Do you have any recommendations in other classical languages? which language has the richest literature in the second half of the 1st millennium? Syriac? Medieval Hebrew? Medieval Latin? Sanskrit? I'm looking for printed books not manuscripts.

Is there any interesting stuff in Classical Chinese? I'm not interested in classical Chinese poetry or philosophical writings related to Buddhism, Daoism, or Confucianism. How difficult is Classical Chinese compared to Latin, Koine Greek, Classical Arabic, or Medieval Hebrew?
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby Ser » Fri Oct 19, 2018 5:14 pm

Hashimi wrote:I am looking for interesting books in classical languages, but I want to read stuff other than Greek mythology or medieval Latin hagiographies. Learning a new language, let alone a classical one, is a daunting task, and I don't want to waste my time learning a language with a few interesting stuff to read.

I enjoyed reading books in Classical Arabic like those by Al-Jahiz (just finished his treatise on the glory of the black race), Ibn Fadlan's Journey to Russia, and Al-Biruni's Indica.

I am somewhat surprised that the first thing studying Latin makes you think of is hagiographies of the Catholic saints. Most people who study Latin (apart from Catholic priests I suppose) do it precisely to read the literature of the 1st century BC and the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. I'm not sure why you want to focus on the late 1st c. AD, but looking at the three centuries I mentioned, examples of literary works include:

- Catullus' love and ironic poetry
- Cicero's various works, particularly his treatise on friendship, his book on the ideal orator, his attacks against Mark Antony, the conspirator Catilina and governor Verres, and his defence of Caelius (full of both rhetorical tricks and what we'd refer to today as "slander")
- Livy's highly romantized retelling of the City's early history
- Martial's colourful epigrams
- The even more colourful (and vulgar) poetry of the Priapeia collection
- Curtius Rufus' retelling of Alexander the Great's life (the book that would later spawn the various medieval Alexander Romances)
- Suetonius' retelling of the previous Caesars' lives (full of what we'd refer to today as "damaging the memory of the dead")
- Seneca's essays on anger and wasting one's life, besides his letters containing meditations about aspects of daily life
- Tacitus' critical histories
- Gellius' linguistic stories
- Apuleius' novel about a man's adventure after being transformed into a donkey

Honourable mention I have to make, even if it's from the 6th century: Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, written as he faced an unjust death penalty.

Is there any interesting stuff in Classical Chinese? I'm not interested in classical Chinese poetry or philosophical writings related to Buddhism, Daoism, or Confucianism. How difficult is Classical Chinese compared to Latin, Koine Greek, Classical Arabic, or Medieval Hebrew?

I haven't made any real attempt at learning this language, but my understanding is that, unlike Latin (which largely held fast to a vocabulary and grammar used around the 2nd and 1st centuries BC), Classical Chinese changed significantly throughout the centuries. It never matched how people spoke, but it kept undergoing significant continuous change at every level (pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary).

For example, the Latin personal pronouns stayed the same down the centuries, regardless of what happened in Romance (such as the death of is and the near-total death of hic), but in Classical Chinese the inventory kept on changing, as can be seen in the first three columns of this table (note: what that table calls "Classical Chinese" is specifically the written Chinese from the Warring States period). Apparently, Mencius' Classical Chinese from the 4th c. BC was so different from the Classical Chinese used in the 3rd c. AD that when Zhao Qi wrote a commentary on Mencius, he often felt the necessity to "translate" Mencius' language into his...

So, Classical Chinese is harder than Latin in as much as there are more Classical Chineses than there is a Latin. This is not to say there isn't change in Latin, particularly in the early middle ages (the 6th-11th centuries) as can be seen in Gregory of Tours's misspellings, and also later on such as in Thomas Aquinas' (very occasional) use of the Old French definite article li 'the' in his Latin, but I am under the impression linguistic change in Classical Chinese is far more significant.

I'd have to actually get into Classical Chinese to mention interesting things written in it.
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reineke
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby reineke » Fri Oct 19, 2018 10:03 pm

The OP is referring to the first millennium of "the Common Era" whatever that means.The OP has still received a great response regarding Latin.
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby devilyoudont » Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:43 pm

I am not able to read the old forms of any language, but I can say that there is literature of all kinds from the Tang dynasty. This era is considered a golden age. Of course, there are the commentaries on Confucianism etc, and literal boatloads of poetry. But there are also lots of histories, encyclopedias, travel logs (including that which would inspire the novel "Journey to the West" a thousand years later).

I can't advise on how difficult it would be to learn. My guess is that tang era Chinese would be easier than other major literary periods earlier in the millennium due to the rise of regular script during the period. But that may only be helpful if you already can read Chinese.

Edit to add: there was also a flowering of the theater during the Tang, but I think less of those have survived to present. Tang theater consisted not only of conveying Buddhist etc messages to illiterate people, but also just general tales of weird stuff.
Last edited by devilyoudont on Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Ser
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby Ser » Fri Oct 19, 2018 11:59 pm

reineke wrote:The OP is referring to the first millennium of "the Common Era" whatever that means.

Oh, I read "millenium" as "century" somehow. Urgh.
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby Speakeasy » Sat Oct 20, 2018 1:05 am

Ser wrote: Oh, I read "millenium" as "century" somehow. Urgh.
Oh, I read "millenium" as being a question of whether or not "millennials" can read an entire book. Time for my nap.
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Re: Can anyone here read an entire book written in the 1st millennium CE in its original language?

Postby Ani » Sat Oct 20, 2018 3:38 am

I've read the Aeneid. I had to go look up when it was written. I was hoping I'd get to say "Why yes, I've done that" but I missed the boat by 20 years. Still, you can't go wrong with Latin and there are such nice methods & materials available.
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