Sunday, January 20, 2013


Hans-Friedrich Mueller, Caesar: Selections from his Commentarii De Bello Gallico. Text, notes, vocabulary. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2012. Pp. xli, 372. ISBN 9780865167520. $37.00 (pb).

Reviewed by C. L. H. Barnes (

Version at BMCR home site


As the old, supposedly Chinese, curse goes, these are interesting times for those who teach Advanced Placement Latin. With the elimination of the Latin Literature Exam in 2009 due to low numbers of test-takers—less than 4000 students nationally, or to put it another way about the equivalent of one of Caesar's legions plus a maniple and one century—now the sole remaining A.P. Latin exam has been drastically altered by cutting about 1000 lines of the Aeneid and replacing these with readings from De Bello Gallico.1 Naturally, this revision of the syllabus has created the need for a textbook. Enter Hans-Friedrich Mueller and Bolchazy-Carducci who have filled this void. Were I to be teaching A.P. Latin this year, I would use this textbook. However, it does have its problems and I find much with which to quibble.

Unlike Gaul, the physical book is divided into nine parts: Preface and Introductory Notes, Acknowledgments, Introduction, List of Signs and Abbreviations, the Latin Readings with vocabulary and notes, the Latin text, the English readings, an appendix with Figures of Speech and a glossary, including fold out pages of high-frequency vocabulary.2 I say the physical book because, unlike Barbara Weiden Boyd's A.P. Aeneid text, the grammar section has been posted online (Caesar Appendix). The reader is informed of this innovation in the Preface and Introductory Notes (viii). Would that Bolchazy had provided an obvious link to this support material on their home page, or at least on the page for Mueller's book. Citations on virtually every page of the commentary will urge students to keep a tab in their browser open. The grammar itself is based on that of Arthur Tappan Walker's Caesar's Gallic War of 1907. I found one error in section 98 where Mueller introduced occīsum sōlis instead of the original, and correct, occāsum.

The pithy 'Preface and Introductory Notes' (vii-x), after brief synopses of the Latin readings, furnish justifications for the passages of Caesar found on the AP syllabus. These include providing 'good insight into Caesar's genre (commentāriī), his style as an author, the issues he faced as the governor of a province, his decision making as a general and the culture of northern Europe before it was forcibly integrated into Greco-Roman cultural traditions' (p. viii). Mueller does not note that we are learning about an apparently monolithic 'northern European culture' from a Roman, and similar problems of perspective occur throughout his commentary. In the subsection 'How to Use This Reader' he looks to Pharr's Aeneid as a model and seeks an aurea mediocritas between too much and too little information on the printed page. The final introductory notes concern the same- page vocabulary. The Acknowledgements, meanwhile, contain information about texts consulted in the production of this edition as well as about some of Mueller's editorial choices.

In his introduction, Mueller takes on the unenviable task of introducing his audience to Caesar's life, legacy, works, and the Roman army. In addition to the aforementioned he provides an overview of the Gallic War, all in in twenty- four pages (xv-xxxviii) followed by a select bibliography. This is highly ambitious and with so little space Mueller errs too often in wanting to provide too much information, background, and larger significance. 'Caesar's Life' begins by observing 'Caesar was born in troubled times' before moving on immediately to Marius, Sulla, optimates, populares and Pompey by the end of the page. Defining optimates as 'politicians who worked to achieve consensus in the Senate' (xvi) will leave much, I suspect, for teachers to explain. Too many sentences require additional information or make one wonder what logic underlies them, or even why they are there at all. Mueller casts doubt on the reliability of Suetonius with regard to 'iacta alea est', reminding the reader that 'the Romans played with one die; we generally play with two or more dice' (xx). Caesar is said to have 'trampled on Rome's constitution' (xxiii) suggesting that the Romans had developed a written document. Finally, in Mueller's view each Roman general was 'almost like a CEO of a large corporation', in that 'the dux had to build cities (camps), supply that city with food and other necessities, find new markets to fund profit-sharing (plunder), make travel arrangements (e.g., invade), manage hostile takeovers (battle), and negotiate contracts (treaties), as well as supervise and direct operations in the heat of battle' (xxvi). In other words, the dux was nothing like a modern CEO. However, this does raise the question of what the Roman general shared in common with our own military commanders. One cannot fault Mueller for trying to make connections between the Roman world and our own, but this particular analogy does not work.

The introduction concludes with summaries of the readings on the syllabus, both English and Latin. These synopses, and those both earlier and later in the book, make Mueller's desire to help the students absolutely clear. He understands the importance and value of repetition as the students work through the text. The readings in the select bibliography feature well-known works on Caesar and Roman history as well as more recent publications on related topics. I found one typo, 'Marius'ssa', in this section (xvi).

Throughout the Introduction the reader will find nine photographs, one drawing, and two maps. In fact, maps and illustrations also appear at the beginning of each section of the Latin text cum commentary. All are in black and white and the print quality is good. The items chosen are eclectic and often interesting, but the captioning of many is problematic while others raise additional concerns. A 'famous bust of Caesar' is 'idealized' with no further explanation of how this portrait deviates from veristic sculpture (xv). The map of the 'Roman Empire in Caesar's Day' features no borders or shading to indicate where that actual empire was (xix). We encounter a photo of the Roman curia constructed during the reign of Diocletian (xxi), since the building known to Caesar and his contemporaries had been burnt in a riot in the mid-first century B.C., although Octavian would eventually build its replacement. A statue of 'Julius Caesar', unless I am mistaken, rather depicts the emperor Claudius as Jupiter (xxx). Although Cleopatra does not appear in the Latin text or English readings, one finds a photograph of the relief sculpture from Dendera featuring her and Caesarion (xx). Such variety does stimulate the reader's curiosity. However, the pages about the Roman army receive no illustrations. Only the reconstruction of a pile driver in Koblenz evokes the activity of Caesar and his men on the Rhine (xxxv), yet even this is not a part of the text the students read in either Latin or English. Finally, a map of Europe appearing later in the book features Londinium which was founded around the mid-first century A.D. Additionally, the same map includes the name of the Esuvii which appears as Esubii in the text and vocabulary (80).

I found no problems with the Latin text of Caesar. The notes of virtually any commentary will be found lacking by many readers for different reasons. Often I preferred alternative explanations to those offered by Mueller on various grammatical and syntactical points as well as in matters of interpretation. In the vocabulary, he is inconsistent in breaking down compound words into prefix and root. Not all readers will be happy with the derivation of conicio from 'co + iacio' (69, 71). inire consilium has 'plan' missing from its definition (69). Three times Mueller calls gerundives future passive infinitives (concedendum , 41, faciendum, 145, and exspectandam ,146). On matters of interpretation, at times he proves skeptical where such a standpoint seems unnecessary. For example, Orgetorix 'disappears under mysterious circumstances' (21), when Caesar wrote quite simply mortuus est and goes on to explain the Helvetians thought he committed suicide (25). When Caesar invades Britain, what smacks of boasting, principes undique . . . Caesari commendare coeperunt, is taken at face value as the Britons 'submit to Caesar's superior military power in formal surrender' (59). As a final example, we are told several times 'Romans preferred bread to meat' (xxvii, 261) which appears based solely on Mueller's interpretation of B.G. 7.27, ut . . . pecore ex longinquioribus vicis adacto extremam famen sustentarent '(they) had to satisfy their extreme hunger with cattle driven from remote villages'. This is simply a result clause and to render sustentarent as 'had to satisfy' strains the meaning unacceptably.

The twenty-one pages of Latin text without vocabulary and notes, consistent with Bolchazy editions for this level, are most welcome. The small margins and single-spacing on the majority encourage students to keep the text clean and to test their memories and translation skills.

With the English readings that follow, Mueller provides short summaries for what has been covered in Latin. Although a map appears at the beginning of this section, I found myself wishing at times that it contained more information, such as the names of more tribes mentioned in the text. Caesar describes the location of the Hercynian Forest (B.G. 6.25, p. 242), but no map clearly points out his landmarks, the areas occupied by the Nemetes and Rauraci and the course of the Danube. Not all of Caesar's narrative is clear and notes to help the reader would have been welcome. I found three typos: 'we should not to state openly' (256), 'to reap at least the harvest of victory' (267), and Melodonum, where the Latin has Metiosedum (284).

The appendix on figures of speech is taken from Francis W. Kelsey's C. Iulii Caesaris Commentarii Rerum Gestarum: The Gallic War, Books I-IV, with selections from Books V-VII and from the Civil War, published in 1918. I am not sure myself about the distinction between brachylogy (a condensed form of expression) and ellipsis (the omission of words essential to the meaning) (307). To my mind, the more modern term gapping is equivalent to both. There is a typo in the entry for brachylogy with figura consimilia rather than consimilis. In addition, the text cited is actually B.G. 6.27, not 7.27. Chiasmus appears in the list of rhetorical figures, but not synchesis, which is called interlocked word order in the notes (141) while a later appearance goes unremarked upon (hanc Graecis conscriptam litteris, 150). Many instances of hendiadys and asyndeton are not drawn to the reader's attention. In the case of polysyndeton, I find myself unconvinced by Mueller's definition or examples (30, 49, 52, and 72) which seem to make the inclusion of any et or –que an instance.

I do believe Mueller wants to make his book interesting and engaging. He obviously wants to connect with the audience and help his readers to understand why the study of Latin and the Romans continues to be relevant and important. He undermines his own arguments, however, when he informs us that the story of Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus 'is an entertaining distraction from an otherwise dreary narrative' (138). It is not entirely clear where the disappointing part of Caesar begins or ends, but this contrasts sharply with the claims that Caesar's commentāriī 'have seduced many readers over thousands of years with their seemingly objective authority' and that his 'view of the world is a pleasure to read' (xxv).


1.   For the numbers and organization of the legion, xxix. In 2007, 3771 students took the AP Latin literature and 4929 took the AP Vergil exams respectively. 2007 AP Grade Distributions
2.   Mueller remarks 'Like Gaul, each page has been divided in to three parts', vii.

1 comment:

  1. "With the elimination of the Latin Literature Exam in 2009 due to low numbers of test-takers." Not quite accurate. The aggregate # of takers for both exams (@8,000), which served essentially the same population, did not support the costs of creating two exams. So Latin now has one (still relatively small), as do the majority of subjects covered by AP. The statement here makes it sound as though Latin Lit was markedly less popular than Vergil, which it was not.


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