Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Judith L. Sebesta, Mark Haynes, Cicero: a Legamus Transitional Reader. The Legamus Reader series. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2010. Pp. xiii, 222. ISBN 9780865166561. $36.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Kristina A. Meinking, Elon University (

Version at BMCR home site


This latest installment of the Legamus series aims, like those that came before it, to ease Latin students' transition from the safety and surety of baby Latin to the new and challenging world of "real" Latin.1 On the whole, the reader is successful in achieving this purpose. With their contribution, Sebesta and Haynes have also provided the first reader focused on oratory; previous titles have drawn on the works of Catullus, Horace, Ovid, and Vergil.2 Given the extensive notice that these have received and the many features that this volume shares with its predecessors, my comments here will be relatively brief.

The organization of the Cicero reader will be familiar to those instructors who have used others in the series. Following a List of Illustrations, a Foreword about the series, a Preface, and Acknowledgements, the authors provide an introduction to the text, its author, and its subject. The twelve selections from the text, Pro Archia, are arranged in order of difficulty. These constitute the bulk of the reader, and each excerpt is introduced by sections titled "Before you read what Cicero wrote," "Helping you read what Cicero wrote," "What Cicero actually wrote," and "After reading what Cicero wrote." Two helpful appendices, one that covers grammatical points and another that summarizes figures of speech, as well as a pull-out vocabulary list, finish off the volume. Four maps and eighteen illustrations appear throughout the reader. The latter includes images drawn from the reading and relating to Cicero, Homer, and other aspects of Roman life (buildings, mosaics, etc.).

As the list above might suggest, students are equipped with a wide range of resources both before they encounter and as they work through the Ciceronian text. The "Introduction to Cicero" offers a concise yet adequate account not only of Cicero's life but also that of Aulus Licinius Archias. Sebesta and Haynes do well to present here some basic points about oratorical training and procedure in the courts. Their outline of the Pro Archia offers a good example of their ability to combine multiple ideas and pieces of information seamlessly: here we find some general observations about oratorical practice, the introduction of the Latin terms for the division of such a speech, and a brief summary of what Cicero accomplished in each section. For those students keen to learn more (and perhaps for the interested instructor as well), various bibliographic references are provided on subjects as varied as Stoic philosophy, oratorical theory, Cicero's life and work, and systems of patronage.

Two of the volume's greatest strengths are the pre-reading sections (that is, the sections before the text is presented in full). Before the student encounters any Latin, she has been introduced to key historical or literary ideas and has been reminded of grammatical points that occur in the Latin that follows. In both subsections, Sebesta and Haynes provide many examples of the idea, concept, or skill under discussion, in both Latin and English. The numerous questions posed of the student embedded in their descriptions prompt engagement and independent analysis. This attention to the student as someone interacting with the reader is, on the one hand, refreshing to see. Properly used, the volume helps to cue students in to what is most important and becomes a wonderful resource to the instructor. On the other hand, such writing affects the tenor of the text, is at times interruptive, and at other times overwhelming. Nevertheless one should appreciate this wealth of material and realize that it is not necessary to use all of it.

As in other titles in this series, the Wordbank includes a number of Latin words that seem inappropriate for a volume intended to be used in a third level course.4 It also includes more obviously helpful words and word combinations such as ablative constructions that might be relatively new (or long forgotten by) the student. Hereafter Sebesta and Haynes employ the "pass through method," in which the student is presented first with a sentence's main clause and, in subsequent iterations, with additional subordinate clauses. There is much to commend this approach: it helps the student decipher the crux of the sentence, builds student confidence with each additional clause, and gradually allows students to understand the intricacies of an author's style. As language instructors, we constantly encourage our students to break down a sentence and put it back together again, we model the practice day after day in the classroom and yet we have all had students who just as constantly abandon the process when confronted with lengthy sentences. On the face of it, the pass through approach always reinforces what we have taught to the point that it becomes automatic. Yet one of the potential pitfalls of this method, as presented in the reader under discussion, is that it does the work for the student over and over again, even as it means to make the student more independent. By Chapter Six, the help is slightly reduced (pp. 95-99) and in the final chapters, Eleven and Twelve, it is gone altogether, save for a "Discussion" which explains the grammar of the excerpt (p. 192). In addition, the vocabulary for each pass through is repeated two or three times, as are most of the notes. Although one can understand the convenience of this for the student, one wonders about the effects it can have on retention. By the time a student reaches the original Ciceronian passage, he has read each sentence at least once (and parts of it two or three times). Given the repetition of notes and vocabulary, the sentences broken down for the student, the underlining of new clauses, and the use of different fonts to identify potentially challenging noun and adjective combinations might cause some instructors to find that the third level student has almost too much help.

These criticisms aside, this Cicero reader provides an excellent option for instructors who are looking for a way to help their students transition from the Latin textbook to the Latin text. Indeed, those elements of the volume that might strike the instructor as superfluous are those that students might find most useful. With that in mind, the question of audience should be kept close in mind when considering this reader. It seems appropriate for high school students and for college students in their second semester of Latin. Third level students, while they might benefit from the extensive review included in the reader, might not be sufficiently challenged.

Sebesta and Haynes's selection of Pro Archia was an excellent choice, particularly for instructors who incorporate substantial amounts of cultural content into their courses. The text chosen allows for the exploration of an author and a genre, of various Roman cultural ideas and practices, and of larger lines of inquiry concerning cultural exchange, citizenship, and the place of poetry in the Roman state. Here too, the instructor is greatly helped by the material following the presentation of the Ciceronian text "as it was." Many of these sections prompt students to consider etymological points through the inclusion of exercises, invite them to compare ancient and modern perspectives and practices, and further contextualize the speech provision of relevant additional cultural and historical information.


1.   For the rationale, see pages ix-xi.
2.   Vergil: BMCR 2004.09.38 and Horace: BMCR 2009.07.45.
3.   The reader follows the linear progress of the speech, skipping over a handful of sections, until the final two chapters. Here the student is presented with the entirety of Pro Archia 1 and 2 (Chapter Eleven) and 3 (Chapter Twelve). This arrangement remains sensible insofar as it allows students to confront more difficult material later, when they will be best able to manage it. All in all there are 167 lines of Latin text in the reader.
4.   BMCR 2009.07.45, where the criticism is leveled at the pull-out vocabulary; see also the authors' response at BMCR 2009.08.16. In this reader, words of questionable necessity include, in Chapter One, "vir," "nihil," "littera," "vivo" and others (p. 3); even by Chapter Twelve one finds "video," "iudicium," (twice) "otium," and "propter."

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