Bloomsbury (2020) p/b 232 pp £16.99 (9781472575708)
The title of this book is self-explanatory and the advantage of this Virgil reader over the traditional type is that it includes a third element in addition to the standard text and vocabulary—commentary notes. Also, unlike other Virgil readers, this one provides extracts (approximately 250 lines) from each of the first six books of the Aeneid.
C. has kept the introduction short: an introduction to the poem and synopsis, notes on metre and stylistic features, and a list of people and places. Thereafter, on a typical two-page spread, you will find: top left—Latin text; bottom left—relevant vocabulary (all but the commonest words are glossed, and arranged in the order that they appear, not alphabetically; right-hand page—commentary notes; bottom right—a box containing study questions).
Virgil’s text (that of R.D. Williams) is divided into chunks of usually between 20 and 40 lines, and the bits in between are summarised in English. Presumably, choosing what not to include was a difficult task. Most of the classic scenes that one might expect are there—though we will all have our quibbles (where is Neptune calming the storm?).
Another set of difficult decisions must have been what to include in the commentary notes and what not to. C. has focused on the immediate needs of a reader with only a few years of Latin: explanation of references to people and places, grammatical explanation, translation of ‘tricky bits’ and identification of stylistic tricks (‘Note the alliteration’). Space on the page is limited, and so C. keeps it simple—no intertextual games or generic polyphony here. Controversy is avoided, which is a shame. For example, on 4.172 (coniugium vocat, hoc praetexit nomine culpam) C. explains, ‘[Dido’s] “sin” is breaking her vows to Sychaeus’—a contested interpretation, but not presented as such.
Of course, this can be left to the teacher, and in my view it is with a teacher that this book could best be used. Perhaps an A Level Latin teacher might feel that his or her class really ought to read more Virgil than just the set text. The carefully prepared vocabulary and notes can save the teacher a huge amount of time and for this reason the price is very good value. I will just add that my ageing eyesight does not find the small font size and tight spacing easy to negotiate, but on the other hand young eyes will not normally find this a problem.