Hack Your Latin, Part 5: The Gradus ad Parnassum

Mike Fontaine |

Build Vocabulary With This Time-Honored Thesaurus

Want to make your Latin vocabulary huge, easy and fast? Come closer.

The secret way to hack vocabulary is the Gradus ad Parnassum. What is it? It’s a gigantic Latin thesaurus. Here’s a sample:


                        The Gradus ad Parnassum.
The Gradus ad Parnassum.


The entry starts with a quotation from Horace illustrating the basic meaning of generosus (noble). It then tells you that generosus means essentially the same thing as nobilis, though fortis, audax, and so on are close in different degrees— those are the SYNonyms. Then come PHRases. They’re poetic expressions more or less equivalent to generosus, with vowel quantities marked. (Hence the title Steps toward Parnassus, the mountain of the muses). Finally it tells you to see (Vide!) the entry for fortis (strong or brave). It’s all intuitive.

The Gradus went through tons of editions and, though they never admit it, zillions of early modern Latin poets cribbed from it. That’s why this awesome resource dropped down the memory hole. Teachers didn’t want students to know about it.

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Get the Gradus free right now from Google. It includes English meanings. Right now it’s a PDF, but I bet some enterprising hacker — hint, hint — can zap the thing into an easy-to-use app for us.

Until then, enjoy! And start learning synonyms. It’s the quickest way to make your Latin vocabulary huge. And doing that will take your reading pace to warp speed.


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Mike Fontaine

Cornell University professor of classics; former LLiR professor; author of Funny Words in Plautine Comedy; Advisory Board member


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