Most of the non-classical Latin in the Navigatio is common to other medieval Latin texts throughout western Europe.  The question of whether Latin in medieval Ireland has specific characteristics that reflect Old Irish (Celtic) is vexed, and there is little in the Navigatio that is obviously influenced by the local language.  Latin in medieval Ireland was learned as a second language, in schools for those intended for the church.  Students learned their Latin from two sources in particular, both from the fourth century: the Vulgate Bible (see Sources for the Navigatio) of St. Jerome and the grammatical textbooks of Jerome’s teacher, Aelius Donatus.

Editions of the Navigatio largely avoid medieval spellings, such as cepit for coepit, and much of what is distinctive about medieval Latin more generally is intuitive to modern readers, so long as they are not too wedded to classical grammar.  Reading medieval Latin is made easier by its tendency to avoid the complex sentences of classical Latin prose, preferring shorter and more direct sentences.

This commentary will try to address potential difficulties caused by medieval Latin usages, and it will sometimes point to ways in which classical Latin would probably have been different, even where the Latin is not difficult to translate.  Here, I will point to only the features of medieval Latin in the Navigatio that are most likely to cause confusion or surprise.  Often these meanings can be found in classical Latin but are not common.

Nouns. Classical Latin diminutives are used as though they were ordinary nouns. In our text, nāvicula, –ae, (f.) means simply “boat” or “ship.”

Pronouns and Adjectives. The distinctions in classical Latin between hic, ille, is, idem, iste, and ipse are often ignored, and the words are often used interchangeably.  They sometimes mean little more than “the.” (The Romance languages were to derive their definite articles, such as le, la, il, el, from ille and illa.)

ūnus ex habitātōribus eiusdem īnsulae (23.5)
one of the inhabitants of the island

nōn potuimus fīnem ipsīus invenīre (1.17)
we could not find its boundary

The classical Latin reflexive pronoun and the reflexive adjective suus, –a, –um can be used as an ordinary third-person pronoun or adjective.

dīmittite sibi (15.6)
leave it to Him (God)

nec faciem prīncipis nostrī ausī sumus vidēre dōnec sibi reddāmus suum amīcum (25.23)
nor do we dare see the face of our master until we return his friend to him

The adjectives quīdam, quaedam, quoddam, and ūnus, ūna, ūnum can be used simply as indefinite articles.

conclūsit sē in ūnō ōrātōriō (2.1)
he shut himself up in an oratory

The participle praedictus (“aforementioned”) is used frequently and often means little more than “the” or “this.”

Prepositions. Common prepositions take on meanings different from what we would normally expect in classical Latin.  Prepositions are often used when classical Latin would use a simple ablative of means or specification.

cum fūnibus (10.2)
with (by means of) ropes

dīversīs mirāculīs (1.5)
with (by means of) the different wonders

ex īvō (4.3)
with yew

in virtūtibus clārus (1.1)
famous for his miracles

prae multitūdine ovium (9.5)
because of the multitude of sheep.

prō quā rē (11.16)
for which reason

sub Allēlūiā (17.20)
with the "Alleluia"

Instead of the classical Latin partitive genitive, medieval Latin will often use a preposition + ablative.

aliquis ex vōbis (7.1)
one of you

ūnum ex tribus frātribus (6.19)
one of the three brothers.


a. Conjunctions that indicate logical connections in classical Latin (at, “but”; aut and autem, “or”; enim, nam, namque, “for”) in medieval Latin can be equivalent or nearly equivalent to et.

sānctus Brendānus ... coepit ... frātribus dīcere: “Vidēte nē aliquis ex vōbīs aliquid dē substantiā istīus īnsulae tollat sēcum.” At illī omnēs respondērunt, etc. (7.1–2)
Saint Brendan began to say to the brothers, “See to it that no one of you takes anything of the substance of this island with him.” And they replied, etc.

sānctus Brendānus interrogābat illum dē suō adventū aut unde esset aut quantō tempore sustinuisset ibi tālem vītam (26.26)
Saint Brendan asked him about his arrival, and where he was from, and how long he had lived such a life there.

et ille praedictus vir nōbīscum pervēnit usque ad lītus ubi erat nostra nāvicula. Ascendentibus autem in nāvim (1.26–27)
And that man went with us to the shore where our ship was. And we climbed into the ship.

Nihil herbae vīdimus sine flōre et arborum sine frūctū; lapidēs enim ipsīus omnēs pretiōsī generis sunt (1.18)
We saw no vegetation without a flower and no trees without fruit; and all its stones were of a kind that was valuable.

Ibique vīdērunt trēs turmās ... nam inter turmam et turmam spatium erat quasi iactus lapidis dē fundā (17.7)
There they saw the three choirs ... and the space between the choirs was like the throw of a stone from a sling.

aliī singulōs calicēs bibēbant, aliī bīnōs, cēterī namque ternōs (13.9)
some drank one cup, others two, and the others three

b. dum in medieval Latin can introduce what in classical Latin would be a cum clause.

Dum haec dixisset (9.15)
when he had said this

Adverbs. Certain classical Latin adverbs are used as conjunctions, often equivalent or nearly equivalent to et.

Porrō quīntodecimō diē (1.19)
and then on the fifteenth day

Post multum vērō temporis (1.8)
and after much time

The Verb.

a. Voice. Deponent verbs in classical Latin can be passive in medieval Latin.

Praedor ā vōbīs (24.5)
I am snatched (as plunder) from you.

b. Tense. Medieval Latin may ignore the classical Latin distinctions between imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect.

Interrogābat quoque sānctus Brendānus illum, quōmodo potuissent ovēs esse tam magnae (9.21)
Saint Brendan also asked him how the sheep could be so big.

cumque cōnsīderāssēmus haec omnia, dubium nōbīs erat quid agere dēbuissēmus (1.19)
And when we had considered all these things, we were doubtful as to what we should do.

c. Mood. Medieval Latin may ignore the classical Latin distinctions between indicative and subjunctive.

ubi est ille paradīsus, ignōrāmus (1.33)
where that paradise might be, we do not know.

d. Auxiliary Verbs. Some verbs lose their classical Latin meaning and become auxiliary verbs to create past tense forms.

coepit lacrimāre (1.3)
he wept


a. The Nominative. In the Navigatio, the subject of a sentence will often come at the end. This, of course, is perfectly consistent with classical Latin rules, but the examples can be striking and sometimes cause difficulty in translation.  It is tempting to see this as a reflection of Old Irish since Irish English tends to round out a sentence with a repetition of the subject: “And she came to my house, so she did.”

at vērō dēfendēbat sē, usque dum superāsset ac abstulisset oculōs grifae praedicta avis (19.5)
but in fact, she defended herself, until the bird had defeated and snatched the eyes from the griffin.

b. The Gerund. Gerunds in the ablative can be used where classical Latin would use active participles. (This usage is reflected in, e.g, modern Italian: sto facendo means “I am doing it.”)

cantābant sedendō (17.14)
they sang while sitting

c. Infinitive of Purpose. Where classical Latin would express purpose with a subordinate clause in the subjunctive, medieval Latin may use a simple infinitive (as in English).

Frātrēs vērō ībant vidēre quod dīxerat vir Deī
The brothers, in fact, went to see what the man of God had said.

d. Indirect statement. Instead of classical Latin’s indirect statement with accusative and infinitive, medieval Latin often uses quia or quod with the indicative or subjunctive.

nōvimus quia fuistī in paradīsō Deī (1.33)
we know that you were in God’s paradise

nūntiātum est mihi quod plūrēs monachōs sēcum habuisset (1.8)
it was reported to me that he had many monks with him.

e. Absolute Constructions.

i. Medieval Latin may ignore the classical Latin rule that the subject of an ablative absolute should not be connected grammatically with the subject or object of the main sentence (Caesar, acceptīs litterīs, nūntium mittit).

Ascendentibus nōbīs et nāvigantibus, nebulae cooperuērunt nōs undique (1.15)
With us embarking and sailing, clouds covered us everywhere.

ii. Medieval Latin also has the “nominative absolute,” which could also be regarded as an anacolouthon, i.e., a breakdown in syntax (“My friends from work, you’re going to like them.”). The nominative absolute has been claimed as a reflection of Old Irish, but it occurs in non-Irish late Latin and medieval Latin texts.

antecēdentēs magnae ac dīversae perīclitātiōnēs, vōbīs inveniētis Terram Reprōmissiōnis Sānctōrum (15.33)
With many and diverse dangers coming first, you will find for yourselves the Land of Promise of the Saints.