Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Rose Williams, A Beginning Latin Christian Reader: de bonis cogitationibus. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2010. Pp. iv, 79. ISBN 9780865167506. $15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Michael Klaassen, St. Timothy's Classical Academy (michael.klaassen@st-timothys.ca)

Version at BMCR home site


Rose William's "A Beginning Latin Reader, De Bonis Cogitationibus" is a much-needed book and a welcome addition to the field of elementary Latin readers, where good, simplified versions of biblical texts are in short supply. This book will serve a niche market, of course – Christian and "classical" schools, as well as the home-school crowd, who want biblical and ethical readings to back up their elementary study of Latin. Williams has explicitly designed the book as a companion to Waldo Sweet's Artes Latinae, and as such its approach is not one that will appeal to all teachers of the language, particularly those who use the grammar-translation method.

The book is a manageable size (79 pages in all, but only 32 with Latin readings, some of which are very short indeed), divided into fourteen sections, each designed to illustrate the famous passage from Philippians 4:8: "quae sunt vera, quae sunt pura, quae sunt iusta, quae sunt sancta, quae sunt amabilia, quae sunt famae bonae: haec cogitate." The passages are drawn largely from the bible, but also from Christian authors (and a smattering of classical authors: Livy, Pliny, Quintilian, Nepos and Cicero). The passages increase in difficulty, but never rise to a very difficult level, with only a few passives and subjunctives, mostly in the last few readings and all translated in the notes. Each section of readings has a vocabulary section with nearly all the words covered. From section IV on, vocabulary is given in its standard "dictionary" format, i.e. principal parts for verbs, nominative and genitive singular and gender for nouns, and so on. The book ends with a full glossary of vocabulary. An elementary morphological appendix is provided at the back which covers the noun and verb forms seen in the readings. Such appendices seem to be de rigueur in Latin readers, but one wonders how often they are actually used by students. A teacher's guide is available, which this reviewer has not seen (though, given the simplicity of the readings, one would hope that no teacher would need it).

The reader is well suited to those teachers who prefer the reading in context method of teaching to the grammar transation method. Many words, phrases and verb forms are glossed in the notes (present and future passives, for instance, on page 35), and more complicated grammatical constructions are passed over without comment (for example, p. 42, the double accusative with rogō; p. 50, a dative with praeficiō; p. 25, a double dative; and p. 44, a locative). But these are matters which can be dealt with by a teacher in the course of reading with a class.

Simplifying "good" Latin and keeping it "good" poses serious difficulties to the editor of this kind of reader. Rather like in the attempts by filmmakers to adapt books to movies, loss of the sense of the original, or even loss of coherence, is sometimes the result when we try to make a difficult passage readable for our students. Yet it is precisely the coherence of the Latin paragraph that we want most to teach them. On the whole, Williams has successfully simplified the passages. There are a handful of places, though, where the simplification has gone so far that the original force of the passage has been lost. In the fourth paragraph on page 16 (adapted from Joshua 24),, for instance, the flow of the original passage and the logical progression from one sentence to another has been stripped away, making the passage comprehensible only if one has read the original (here, as well, the "nōn" in the third sentence must be a mistake, see below). The passages from Timothy and Titus on page 36, and from Nepos and Cicero, on page 44, are so far removed from the original that they can't really be called "adaptations" at all. Furthermore, it is simply wrong to say baldly that "Caesar, Brutus, Antony and Augustus were "inimīcī" (p. 44). There are also several places where the easier version actually does not get across the sense of the original. On page 51, lines 5-6, the attempt to avoid the subjunctive or an impersonal construction results in the sentence "Rēx scrīpsit ēdictum in lēge Mēdīs et Persīs quae numquam potest mutārī," which is not "good" Latin. A subjunctive or at least "licet," which appears in the original ("rex ait verus sermo iuxta decretum Medorum atque Persarum quod praevaricari non licet," Daniel 6.12), should be used. Luckily, these places where Williams has sacrificed too much in favour of making the passages easy to read are not frequent.

Having co-authored a set of introductory Latin texts (New Steps in Latin, Focus Press), this reviewer knows better than most how difficult it is to bring a text like this to publication without errors. I have noted in what follows a handful of mistakes which should be corrected in subsequent reprints: p. 15, the passage from Joshua is also drawn from Joshua 24; p. 16, line 12, "Dominō" should be "Dominum"; in the same line, "nōn" should be omitted; p. 22, "intellegentis" should be "intelligentis"; p. 24, 26, and 71 "divītiāe" should be "dīvitiae;" p. 26 "moris" should be "mōris;" p. 34, line 8, should be "aliī" not "aliō;" p. 35 "committum" should be "commissum;" p. 41, the adaptation is from Colossians 4:7-9; p. 38, line 3, "Constantinopolem" should be "Constantinopolim;" p. 38, line 12, "parentēs" should be "parentum" or "parentis;" p. 47, line 18, should be "ciliciō," not "cicliciō;" and p. 50, line 24, "inventus est" should be "inventus es;" and p. 50, line 31, "Daniēle hōc" should be "in Daniēle hōc."

To sum up, some teachers may find these simplified passages irksome, and some may not, but the book has real value in its presentation of material that is not readily available elsewhere, and in its functional size and ease of use. Many will be grateful to Williams for making it available.

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