SUBURANI: A Latin Reading Course Book 1

Hands Up Education

Hands Up Education (2020) p/b 301pp £20 (ISBN 9781912870011)

SUBURANI: A Latin Reading Course Book 2

Hands Up Education

Hands Up Education (2021) p/b 318pp £20 (ISBN 9781912870042)

Eleven humans, three doves, a dog and a parrot crowd the cover illustration of Book One. Twelve prominent humans (+ three behind), three gulls, three antelope, two lions, three very pink flamingos, a camel and a giraffe draw attention not just to the ethnic diversity but also to the grim reality of the bloody shows in the amphitheatre (chapter twenty, Book Two). From the outset these covers make it apparent that this Roman Empire includes young and old, male and female of diverse ethnic origins and social status. The presentation of each volume is so lively, colourful and attractive it invites a look inside. There it becomes clear immediately that this is a descendant of the Cambridge Latin Course, but with more reading, more engaging detail and eye-catching graphics. The setting at a popina in the Subura for the introduction of characters in Book One gives the opportunity to present the language in a vibrant context. Each book is divided into 16 chapters with illustrated stories (in the style of a graphic novel) to introduce new features of both language and culture.

Language notes explain features of syntax and accidence encountered in the reading material. For example in chapter twenty five (set in Olympia) after the first illustrated story, Nero omnia vincit, there follows a language note on indirect commands with imperfect subjunctives. Six examples have already been encountered in the opening story of the chapter and there are a further six in the Language Practice section where the correct forms of the subjunctives need to be chosen to complete the sentence before translating. Further examples are to be found in subsequent stories to consolidate learning. Two other language notes in this chapter cover indirect questions and fifth declension nouns. They too are accompanied by practice exercises. Indeed, this pattern is similar throughout, with reading passages, language notes and culture presented in close proximity: in chapter twenty one (p.78-9) reading, language note, language practice and a Roman civilisation topic (‘Adorning the Body’) are presented all on a double page spread.

Each chapter has a vocabulary checklist for learning, but it is not included in the chapter! Instead it is to be found at the beginning of the reference section at the end of each volume. This position allows all the words for learning to be seen in one place. In Book Two there is a key to words required to know for Eduqas and OCR GCSE. Indeed, the whole project is designed with a view to covering all the grammar and vocabulary needed for these qualifications without going beyond examination specifications.

Besides the conventional tables of verbs, nouns, pronouns and adjectives in the reference section at the end of each volume is an English-Latin vocabulary as well as a Latin-English dictionary with guidance on how to use it. A summary of the uses of the cases and, in Book Two, the uses of the subjunctive are included as one might expect, but as this is a reading course, a survey of the order of information in Latin sentences is a natural reference item and one discussed from the earliest chapters. Book Two also has a helpful grammatical index and in both books there is a handy list of ‘expressions, mottoes, and abbreviations’.

A Timeline from 753 BC to AD 1453 and a section of thumbnail sketches of ancient authors offer students a broad spectrum of events, sources and literature. Teachers using this reading course may well be slightly puzzled by the inclusion of the English to Latin dictionary in the reference section when there is almost no practice of translating into Latin in the course books. It seems that it is there as a resource for teachers to help them to create their own exercises from a basic vocabulary list. It may be that the help and support online that Hands-Up includes as part of its package have some practice exercises.

The plot takes characters to a wide variety of places across the empire after the initial setting of Rome. Some of them are met but once, like Bastiza whose tale of woe is told in chapter twenty eight, some have a prominent role in the development of the plot, of whom the emperor Nero is one (the stories are set in his reign). The amount of information about Roman civilisation contained in the two books is truly impressive. Subjects are discussed in clearly written text, with translations and visual material supporting the presentation. Colour coded text boxes are a regular feature containing translations of sources, often with questions to encourage careful and thoughtful reading. Besides, details of the Roman civilisation topics are often cleverly conveyed through the passages for reading and the graphics. For example, in ch.1 the story leads to the attic of the insula where pigeons flap about beneath the roof tiles recalling Juvenal (3.201-2*) whose description of the dangers of Roman streets at night (3.268-77) is translated with two questions. When the story has returned to the Subura in the final chapter as well as Sabina reading (as she did in chapter one), three doves and roof tiles reappear – a visual ring composition that adds some little detail to a nice conclusion.

This is an outstanding, exciting, brilliantly organised course that should have a wide appeal. Details of its charitable aim to support Latin in schools and much more information can be found online. This review is confined to the books, but a visit to to see what else is available is highly recommended. Schools are offered a free inspection copy. Go, look!


*ultimus ardebit quem tegula sola tuetur

a pluvia, molles ubi reddunt ova columbae


Alan Beale