Step 1: The Text as a Whole (quickly read, look up vocab)
Forte quadam divinitus super ripas Tiberis effusus lenibus stagnis nec adiri usquam ad iusti cursum poterat amnis et posse quamvis languida mergi aqua infantes spem ferentibus dabat. Ita velut defuncti regis imperio in proxima alluvie ubi nunc ficus Ruminalis est—Romularem vocatam ferunt—pueros exponunt. Vastae tum in his locis solitudines erant. Tenet fama cum fluitantem alveum, quo expositi erant pueri, tenuis in sicco aqua destituisset, lupam sitientem ex montibus qui circa sunt ad puerilem vagitum cursum flexisse; eam submissas infantibus adeo mitem praebuisse mammas ut lingua lambentem pueros magister regii pecoris invenerit—Faustulo fuisse nomen ferunt—ab eo ad stabula Larentiae uxori educandos datos.
Step 2: Sentence work (read for thorough comprehension)
Forte quadam divinitus super ripas Tiberis effusus lenibus stagnis nec adiri usquam ad iusti cursum poterat amnis et posse quamvis languida mergi aqua infantes spem ferentibus dabat.
This sentence is tricky for a few reasons. One way to get at it is to look at the conjunctions. The “nec” and the “et” divide it into three portions. The first, though, has no finite verb. Sometimes Livy uses a participle for a finite verb when he is presenting the information more as background than as the focus of narrative attention. “Tiberis” is capable of several parsings, but it is most sensible to assume that it is in agreement with “effusus,” so it is nominative singular, the subject. With “Tiberis effusus” (the Tiber having flowed) as our kernel, we can identify three modifying phrases. “Forte quadam divinitus” (by a divine stroke of luck) is a clever way of combining “as luck would have it” (forte) with the insinuation that this luck received a nudge from above (divinitus). The Tiber flowed “super ripas” (beyond/above its banks) and “lenibus stagnis” (into calm pools –> stagnant standing water).
The second part of the sentence is a bit more straightforward. The kernel is “nec adiri … cursum poterat” (and it was not possible to approach the current). “Adiri,” though a passive form, signifies the same as its active counterpart “adire.” However, it takes an “ad” phrase to signify what is being approached. “usque ad iusti cursum amnis” (all the way up to the current of the river proper). Translating “iusti” as “proper” is unusual, but nothing else seems to make sense.
The third phrase has quite a few phrases all jammed together. We can untangle it starting with the finite verb. “dabat spem ferentibus” is a classic do + spem + dative construction, a circumlocution for “X (dative) hopes.” So, “the ones carrying were hoping.” Now, “infantes” seems to be doing double duty as the object of “ferentibus” and the subject of “mergi,” which is the completer of “posse.” “…carrying the infants, that they could be drowned.” Now the concessive clause “quamvis languida aqua” (however slow the water).
All together: “By a divine stroke of luck, the Tiber had overflowed its banks into stagnant pools, so that it was impossible to approach all the way to the current of the river proper, and those who were carrying the infants hoped that the infants could be drowned, however slow the water might be.” Note that I translated “nec” with a consequential (“so that”) force. Sometimes Latin uses a bare conjunction to signify a result or consequence, but an English translation should pick up on the nuance.
Ita velut defuncti regis imperio in proxima alluvie ubi nunc ficus Ruminalis est—Romularem vocatam ferunt—pueros exponunt.
The kernel here is quite succinct: “Ita pueros exponunt” (thus they exposed the boys –> they left the boys to die of exposure). Now the locative phrase “in proxima alluvie” (in the nearest overflow pool). This phrase gets a further specifying clause: “ubi nunc ficus Ruminalis est” (where the fig tree Ruminalis is now); and this phrase gets its own parenthetical specifying clause: “Romularem vocatam ferunt” (reportedly it was then called Romularis). [Livy uses the verb “ferunt” (they report) to signal that he is relaying information he has gleaned from reading previous historians.]
Now we just need to deal with the subordinate clause at the beginning: “velut defuncti regis imperio.” Often “velut” (as if) signifies a hypothetical condition, but here it is making a comparison, commenting on the manner in which they executed the deed. “Defuncti,” a nominative plural participle from defungor, means to finish a task, often an unwelcome one, so here it carries the sense of just getting it over with. It also takes its complement in the ablative (regis imperio) “the king’s command.”
All together: So, as if to be done with the king’s command [as soon as possible], they left the boys to die of exposure in the nearest overflow pool, where the fig tree Ruminalis now stands, though reportedly it was then called Romularis.” [Note: If it seems unlikely that the tree was called Romularis before Romulus became famous, the explanation is that one of the previous kings of Alba Longa was named Romulus Silvius (cf. 1.3).]
Vastae tum in his locis solitudines erant.
Simple enough, with some smoothing: “At that time this region was a vast wilderness.” Or perhaps, “At that time there were vast stretches of wilderness in this region.”
Next installment, the boys are rescued by a she-wolf!