Let’s parse some Latin:) Part. 2


I just know that you want to parse :

In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram

In these days of Covid, I hope you are all keeping all staying safe and finding ways to amuse yourselves, and what better way than playing with Latin?

And it will also help you with your Croatian;)

“In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram” is the first sentence, of the first paragraph of the first page of the Vulgate (St Jeromes translation of the bible), and basically kicks off the Old Testament. Genesis. 1. 1. to be precise.

It is also great to parse as it is simple and illustrates all sort of cool things about Latin.

The Vulgate was written to be understood, and the Latin wasn’t horribly complicated. This means it’s a great way to practice. Digressing a bit, but when I learnt Latin (back in the dark ages), we had to learn all sort or rules by heart. The idea was that this would help us to learn Latin.

Latin has nouns which fit into groups (declensions) which have similar endings, an example being Bellum.

This is an example of a second declension neuter noun) and declines like so :- bellum, bellum, bellum, belli, bello, bello in the singular. The plural is different.

Well, this kind of activity certainly kept me busy but didn’t encourage any kind of appreciation of Latin or languages for that matter.

But, we can analyse, look at and parse a small sentence such as “In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram” and start to understand why Latin is cool.

I’ve saved you the bother of looking the words up. It gave me something to do in these days of lock-down. As is traditional with Latin (and indeed with other similar languages), I’ve listed them in the nominative singular.

principium Beginning. Second declension. Neuter.

Deus. Divine being. God. Second declension. Masculine.

Caelum. Heaven. Sky. Second declension. Neuter.

Terra. Earth. First declension. Feminine.

Et. And. Conjunction.

In. In when followed by the ablative case.

Creo, are. To create

And now onto the parsing.

In principio. The Latin word ‘in‘ followed by a noun in the ablative ‘principio‘ means somewhat anticlimactically ‘in’, giving us ‘in the beginning’.

The case matters as if it was followed by a noun in the accusative, it would mean ‘to’.

Creavit. This is a verb and the ending ‘it‘ tells us it mean ‘he created’.

The subject normally does the creating, and must be in the nominative case. The only noun which fits the bill is Deus.

The object is the ‘thing’ which was created, and in this snippet we have two objects ‘caelum et terram‘.

But, I hear you wonder (petulantly if you are anything like I was), how do we know that either caelum et terram is an object?

We know because they are both in the accusative case (reserved in general for objects).

Remember my example of bellum?

Well, caelum declines in the same way, giving us caelum, caelum, caelum, caeli, caelo, caelo.

caelum is both the nominative and accusative, but it fits as an object and makes sense in the context of the sentence.

terram is the accusative of terra. I will leave this as an exercise for the interested;) reader to decline.

This gives us literally :-

In the beginning created God heaven and earth.

Latin word order is flexible and not entirely similar to English so a better translation is obviously :-

In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

BTW I’m doing this from memory so fell free to correct me (politely) in the comments if I have erred.

Remember to wash you hands …

Pax, besos and baci.


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2 Responses to Let’s parse some Latin:) Part. 2

  1. Rhonda says:

    Thank you so much for parsing this passage. I’m in a position where I’m leading students through a Latin class without the benefit of having learned Latin myself (!) and without a solid text/reference. The above was very helpful.

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