Project: Redcap; the crossroads of the Order



From Project: Redcap

Latin is the primary language of the Order of Hermes. Most magi use it as a spoken language among themselves, and also to write Lab Texts and other Books.

Latin is also the language of the Church and of educated Europeans generally.

In Eastern Europe, Greek typically fills a similar role. Magi in the Thebes Tribunal may or may not learn Latin as a secondary language with which to communicate with foreign magi.

Latin Primer for Ars Magica Players[edit]

There are several good English-Latin dictionaries online. For example, you might try The information you find there or in any Latin dictionary is useful, but you can be even more accurate by learning a bit about Latin grammar. If you're looking to say something in Latin, chances are it's a name for a character or a covenant or something like that, for which a little summary of Latin grammar should be very helpful. If you want to translate your covenant charter into Latin, that's a little too ambitious for this FAQ.

Here's two common Ars Magica words as they might be presented in a Latin dictionary:

aqua -ae f. [water]
magus -i m. [magician]

Latin nouns have several different cases. Case describes the purpose of the noun within the sentence. The first case is called the nominative, which is the case you would use if you want to name something, like a magus or a covenant, or if you wanted to define the subject of a sentence. These are likely to be the most common words you'll want to look up, and conveniently, this is the word presented by a dictionary entry.

Latin doesn't have articles, like "a" or "the," so they can be applied as desired. "Magus" means "magician," "the magician," or "a magician," and it is up to the reader to determine the meaning based on context.

In the dictionary listing, after the nominative, you will find a suffix which tells us how to form the second case, which is called the genitive. The genitive is used to indicate origin or possession, and can be roughly translated as "of (word)." For example, "magus aquae" could be translated as "magician of the water." The order of the words doesn't matter; you could say "aquae magus" and mean the same thing, the emphasis would just be more on the water than the magus, something like "the water's magician."

You might question why we are using "aqua" instead of "aquam." Doesn't "aquam" mean "water" in Ars Magica? It does, but it is a different case of "water," called the accusative. This is because "aquam" is used as the direct object of a verb, such as "creo." Since "creo" means "I create," "aquam" is the thing created. If you're interested in writing complete sentences, you'll need to learn a bit on your own about the additional cases.

The suffix following the nominative in the dictionary entry also tells us the word's declension, which describes how the word is conjugated. This is how we know what suffixes to use when making other cases, including the plural. There are five declensions in Latin, which conjugate by five different sets of rules. Some even have multiple rules, either because of irregular nouns, or based on the word's gender. The gender follows the suffix, and is either female, male or neuter. Here is a list of the most common conjugations, based on gender.

Decl. (gender) nom. nom. plural gen. gen. plural
1 (f) -a -ae -ae -arum
2 (m) -us/-r -i -i -orum
2 (n) -um -a -i -orum
3 (fm) * -es -is -um
3 (n) * -a/-es -is -um
4 (fm) -us -us -uum
4 (n) -u -ua -us -uum
5 (fm) -es -es -erum

Third-declension nominatives can end with pretty much anything. Therefore, this is a good declension to use if you want to "Latinize" a word that isn't clearly Latin, or which doesn't easily fit into any of the other declensions. For example, the genitive for "Bjornaer" could be "Bjornaeris," and "Tremere" might become "Tremeris."

Thus, following these rules, "ferrum, -i, n." would conjugate "ferrum/ferra" in the nominative, singular and plural, and "ferri/ferrorum" in the genitive. "Mater, matris, f." ("mother") would be "mater/matres" and "matris/matrum." "Dies, -ei, m." would be "dies/dies" and "diei/dierum." With our expanded vocabulary, we could now say "ferra aquarum," meaning "iron of the waters," and "Matris Dies," "Mother's Day."

Adjectives look a little different. Adjectives always modify a noun, and they have to match the noun in case, gender and number. Therefore, in a dictionary, an adjective is listed in the masculine nominative case, followed by the feminine suffix, and neuter suffix. Here is an example:

 magnus -a -um [great]

If you wanted to refer in Latin to a "great magician," you would say "magus magnus." "Great magicians," plural, would be "magi magni." Using the genitive, "Magician of the Great Waters" would be "Magus Aquae Magnae." Adjectives have several declensions as well, but you can usually just match the noun. There are some irregular adjectives, but they should be indicated for you in the dictionary entry. The declensions for adjectives go as follows:

Decl. (gender) nom. nom. plural gen. gen. plural
1, 2 -us/-a/-um -i/-ae/-a -i/-ae/-i -orum/-arum/-orum
3 -er/-is/-e -es/-es/-ia -is -ium

Latin verbs, unlike English verbs, do not require a pronoun ("I," "you," "he," etc.). Rather, the pronoun is part of the verb's conjugation. For example, "Creo" means "I create." Likewise, "Creas," means "You create," and "Creat," means "he creates." You can use nouns with the verb; if you say "Magus creat," it means "The magus creates." Nouns do not necessarily precede the verb, though, so "creat magus" does not mean "He creates the magus." (That's where you get into accusatives again.)

Verbs are listed with at least two parts, like so:

amo -are [to love] 

The first word is in the first-person active present ("I love"), ending in -o. The second is the infinitive, the word from which you can determine the ending for the other cases. By dropping the "re" and adding -or, -s/-ris or -t/-nt, you can conjugate most verbs in the present tense. Past and future tenses require a bit more study.

This summary should help you recognize and correctly use the words that a Latin-English dictionary will provide you. May you find and use many "boni verbi" in your future games.

Google Translate[edit]

While far from perfect, Google Translate does a passable translate of simple sentences (and a great approximation of the bad Latin common among priests of the time). Just don't trust it if you're using it for anything where accuracy is important.

See also[edit]

External web resources[edit]

Legacy Page[edit]

The history of this page before August 6, 2010 is archived at Legacy:latin