READING LATIN: TEXT AND VOCABULARY and READING LATIN: GRAMMAR AND EXERCISES

Peter Jones and Keith Sidwell

 

CUP (2nd edn., 2016) p/b 344pp £18.99 (ISBN 9781107618701)

CUP (2nd edn., 2016) p/b 458pp £20.99 (ISBN 9781107632264)

Reading Latin first appeared in 1986 as a beginners’ Latin course aimed at sixth-formers and university students. Its first volume originally comprised the core texts for reading, being passages drawn and adapted mostly from Plautus, Cicero and Sallust, with some other late-Republican and Augustan literature, fortified by explanatory background and pictures. The second much larger volume contained all the relevant vocabulary and grammar arranged to keep in step with the smaller text volume, including also practice exercises, both Latin-to-English and English-to-Latin, together with some matching deliciae, that is, selected passages from a wider variety of literature, including Augustus’ Res Gestae and the Vulgate of the Bible. The key feature of this course, mirroring the parallel Reading Greek (first published by JACT, 1978; rev. ed. 2007), was that, from the outset, the student got to read extended and continuous passages of Latin.

Now, thirty years on, a second edition of Reading Latin has appeared. How does it differ? First, the format is larger, which allows, for instance, for the illustrations to be bigger and grammatical tables to be clearer. Secondly, the two volumes are no longer so imbalanced in length, since much material has been shifted between them. This principally involves relocating vocabularies to accompany their passages (a running vocabulary plus a deeper ‘learning vocabulary’) in the much-expanded text volume, which ends with a ‘total’ vocabulary (pp. 329-344). Further, in addition to the existing summaries of content for each text, some selected paragraphs in the earlier portion of the book are now followed by direct translations (marked out by grey bars running down the margins), the intention being to allow more rapid progress. The emphasis, therefore, is rather on enabling the teacher to draw out the grammatical features from a well-understood passage, less on the potential for stressful unseen, or at least unsupported, translation. The explanatory historical and social background previously present has been supplemented by additional passages taken from the authors’ The World of Rome: An Introduction to Roman Culture (Cambridge 1997), discussing topics such as slavery or marriage. Finally, the miscellany of varied deliciae passages has also been relocated to the text volume.

Another significant change is that the amount of Plautus has been reduced. While it is fair to use the dramatic format as a suitable beginning for beginners, precisely since it enables plentiful introductory use of the present tense and the 1st and 2nd persons, nevertheless Plautus’ early and poetic Latin does require considerable redaction. In the new edition, therefore, only two, not three, plays are plundered, with a new section substituted covering episodes from early Roman history down to Hannibal, drawn from several authors, including Livy, Ovid and Virgil. The focus of the volumes, therefore, remains heavily on Golden Age Latin literature (Ciceronian and Augustan), if with occasional contrasts (as with passages from the Vulgate). This is not a focus of which I disapprove, and I think it essential as a starting point, before exploring the Latin of other periods. Indeed, such a grounding is a presumption of Sidwell’s Reading Medieval Latin (Cambridge, 1995).

The two resulting volumes are very handsome and balance one another well, while retaining the basic nature of the course. Having already made use of the first edition, I know that students do like engaging with longer passages and their connected narratives, rather than just with isolated sentences. I must also commend the indication in the Latin texts of long vowels, already a feature of the first edition, a very necessary aid to both understanding and pronunciation (the –īs marking some 3rd declension nominative and accusative plurals is particularly helpful, I find). Finally, although this is not a course of Latin composition, the number of exercises in English-to-Latin is very necessary, while not excessive. Learning Latin as an adult is far from easy, but the shape and balance of content in these volumes is a great basis for the combined efforts of teacher and student.

One final point. For those who are trying to learn Latin on their own or with limited teaching support, Cambridge is also publishing this autumn the revised edition of the same authors’ supplementary volume, An Independent Study Guide to Reading Latin.

Simon Corcoran

 

 

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