Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Ed DeHoratius, An Ovid Reader. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2009. Pp. vii, 253. ISBN 9781585101498. $26.95 (pb).
Reviewed by John Bulwer, European School, Brussels 1

This is an edition of selections from Ovid for intermediate learners of Latin. It is designed with the American Advanced Placement classes in mind, but it can be used by any Anglophone learners of Latin who are, as the editor puts it, advanced readers but certainly not accomplished or experienced readers. The class I used parts of it with have had three years of Latin at three hours a week, and they felt perfectly at home with the level expected.

DeHoratius gives us four sections of reading material, each combining a story from the Metamorphoses with poems from the Amores. Chapter one (Amor Vincit Omnia) combines the Apollo and Daphne episode with Amores 1.1; two (Benevolentia Deorum) combines Baucis and Philemon with Amores 1.3; three (Amoris Difficilia) the story of Pyramus and Thisbe with Amores 1.9 (Militat omnis amans) and Amores 1.11 and 1.12 (the ones about the message to his lover on wax tablets); finally four (Ars Latet Arte Sua) the stories of Daedalus and Icarus and Pygmalion with Amores 3.15 (the final poem in the collection). While the connections between the elegies from the Amores and the mythological stories of the Metamorphoses are not always obvious, the final result of introducing readers to two different aspects of Ovid's oeuvre is justified. One wonders about the choice of some of the Amores poems: instead of the introductory poems I should have liked to have seen 1.5 (too erotic, perhaps) and 1.13 (to the Dawn not to hurry).

We read the third section (Amoris Difficilia), but rather than the difficulties, the aspect of Ovid that emerged most strongly was the comic and ironic aspect of his attitudes to love. The extensive conceit of the similarities between the soldier and the lover, who both endure the same kind of torment, and the comedy of the slave-girl taking the message to the girlfriend encourage a reading of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe which highlights the absurdity of the plot with its well-known devices of the lion, the cloak and the mistaken suicide. Shakespeare of course does not help us to take a tragic view of this story as DeHoratius points out in his introduction, although he does not give us the text of A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 5. Nevertheless students are encouraged by the juxtaposition of these different texts to make their own comparisons and to find their own points of contrast in extracts that show Ovid at his most witty and irreverent.

The layout of the book is user-friendly, with a lot of attention paid to the needs of intermediate readers. The font is large which gives the users plenty of space to think out the text and to make their own notes in the margins. DeHoratius thoughtfully provides a clean text of all the Latin which he makes clear should be left unannotated and used for revision and test preparation. Other aids to rapid reading are notes facing the short sections of text on each double page, a running vocabulary underneath the text, discussion questions, boxes with short texts for comparison and some (rather disappointing) black and white illustrations. Least helpful (we found) is the prose summary given for each section. Coming from an 1821 edition this is not all that easy to read itself, and provided rather more of a hurdle than an aid to reading. More engaging for the students are the frequent short introductory passages written in a breezy style with lots of references to contemporary culture. For example, DeHoratius compares the rather tasteless metaphor of Pyramus's blood spurting out over the mulberry tree to the similar scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Similarly his list of figures of speech is enlivened by the examples chosen. Often this kind of list from alliteration to zeugma can be quite forbidding and even unhelpful without clear examples which show exactly what metonymy is, but DeHoratius gives clear definitions followed by a Latin example from the Ovid texts used and English examples which range from classic poetry to contemporary political speeches and popular culture. For example, the difficult idea of tmesis is demonstrated by reference to Russell Crowe talking about a "Kanga-bloody-roo".

DeHoratius has a clear rival in the market for an intermediate Ovid reader in Peter Jones' Reading Ovid (Cambridge University Press). Jones provides nineteen passages from the Metamorphoses only, which are graded by difficulty, or rather by the amount of help given to the reader, which declines in quantity as you proceed through the book. This means you have to use it with a class progressively. With DeHoratius you can jump in anywhere. Jones provides the usual introductions and texts in short sections with running vocabulary on the same page, by virtue of a smaller font. Using the two in parallel (possible for Pyramus and Thisbe) makes DeHoratius seem easier on the eye for reading. Jones' running commentary is also at the foot of the page but we have found it easier to read this continuously at the end of the Latin reading, rather than in sections. Jones' running vocabulary is more targeted to the text under consideration, whereas DeHoratius gives a range of meanings, dictionary style, from which the student has to make a choice. For example, Met. 4.136 quod tremit, exigua cum summum stringitur aura: DeHoratius glosses stringo: to bind, draw near, to draw (a sword), but Jones has stringo as ruffle. DeHoratius gives all verbs with full principal parts, and nouns with genitives and genders (again dictionary style). Help with grammar difficulties are given in the facing notes, which are often in the style of prompts from the teacher to stimulate reflection and to draw out existing, but passive, knowledge.

The book would work best as a classroom textbook (which it is designed for) rather than for personal reading. An independent student reader might be happier with Jones. DeHoratius is evidently American in style, but for this European teacher that is part of its charm; Jones tries to straddle the pond with references to both grammar traditions (Reading Latin and Wheelock). Both volumes are necessary for the teacher, but the choice for the student textbook may depend on individual taste, there being no clear winner. Beginners today are fortunate in the Ovid revival and can enjoy their advanced reading with such lively textbooks as these, written with both enthusiasm and rigour.

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