Tuesday, May 29, 2018


James, W. Chochola, A Latin Picture Dictionary for Everyone: Lingua Latina depicta. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2017. Pp. viii, 205. ISBN 9780865167490. $22.00 (pb.

Reviewed by Jeanne Marie Neumann, Davidson College (jeneumann@davidson.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

I love a good dictionary. Admit it: you do too. And what is more fun than a Latin dictionary? Who has never curled up just to read Lewis & Short? With all due respect to the OLD, there is something about L-S: all those synonyms, all those indicators of time and usage ("rare but class; most freq. in Cic."; "class in prose and poetry; not in Hor."). While they can poke you with bits et dulce et utile, neither L-S or the OLD aims at defining all Latin words: they confine themselves to parameters of date. A Latin Picture Dictionary for Everyone refuses to confine itself to either date or audience. Latin through the ages can be found in these pages, from the ancient fish sauce liquamen to the 14th century rocheta to the contemporary computatrum.

A foreword and introduction precede chapters that introduce different categories of objects as well as different aspects of morphology and syntax. Exercises follow each chapter to help internalize the vocabulary and to further one's skills in Latin. The fifteen chapters (animals and numbers, colors, family, buildings, vehicles and transportation, home, furniture, pastimes, professions, the military, parts of the body, clothing, kinds of food and shopping, preparing food, the arts) follow a similar pattern: labelled line drawings illustrating the chapter's objects followed by a series of exercises, of varying difficulty. According to the foreword, 1200 words are introduced (although the claim that these 1200 words will give the reader 60% of a functional Latin vocabulary misleads and should be modified). Appendices end the book: Pronunciation of Classical Latin; Major parts of speech and their uses; How Latin words work: nouns, verbs, adjectives; Grammatical outline, indicating what grammatical points each chapter aims to drill. A short addendum offers additional Latin vocabulary and synonyms for some of the items in each chapter.

The vocabulary sources represent the range of oral Latin lexicography: Sigrides Albert and Caelestis Eichenseer, John Traupman, Josè Mir and Corrado Clavano, the Vatican, Terence Tunberg. The major source for vocabulary seems to be the late David Morgan's Lexicon Latinum, surely the best possible choice. Morgan was a first-rate linguist and lexicographer whose first principle was, where possible, to use an ancient word; where the ancient word did not exist, Morgan paid careful attention to the morphological principles of Latin and its borrowings from Greek.1

We begin with numbers, taught through animals. Armadillos illustrate the number 3 (tres dasypodes), here not a kind of rabbit or hare (Pliny) but the family of Dasypodidae. Okay. But will I really ever need the word for armadillo? I'd like some dogs, horses, or plain old mice if I want to learn vocabulary in order to read Latin or impress my parents. When we return to animals in Chapter 13 (Kinds of food and shopping), we do get dormice (glires), but also antelope (dorcas) pictured next to the she-goat (capra). Is this for fun? It is fun, but also gives the impression that Romans ate antelope, as another part of the market displays things they did consume, such as glires and liquamen (pictured as a bottle with a fish label).

In the first chapter we find an exercise apparently accessible for those with little or no Latin. The first exercise gives the following exemplum: quot animalia efficiuntur, si duobus bubonibus adduntur quattuor zebrae? The answer is given as sex. A second exemplum uses exstant instead of efficiuntur, and also gives the answer, so you probably do not need to know Latin in order to figure out the numbers, and it is good practice to be exposed to a variety of syntax and to read aloud even without complete (any?) understanding. In a subsequent exercise, given an illustration of a serpent and the number quinque, the student needs to write out serpentes a tedious five times. My friend the armadillo shows up in another exercise in this chapter, where I need to know his habitat. Realizing my knowledge stopped at 'not in my backyard,' I went to Wikipedia, where I learned the armadillo lives in temperate and warm climates, which hits more than one of my options: in silva, in tropica silva, in campis patentibus and maybe in desertis. Okay. So I could use a bit more of a working knowledge of the armadillo, but I'm guessing so could a lot of people.

Some of the exercises do seem to hit all skill levels. In the chapter on Professions (Chapter 9 Quaestus), drawings of the tools of the trade for various professions make readers go back and search. This exercise is followed by two-word actions preceded by a blank for the name of the profession (e.g. _____________ vestimenta purgat). This exercise has the advantage of giving students useful, common verbs to use in talking about the professions. Chapter 4 (buildings, aedificia) has a great exercise that, by offering a few prepositions and adverbs, enables students to follow directions to a particular building. Some of the exercises, however, are too complicated for the novice, while others are too elementary for those with any facility with the language. Further, there seems to be no coherent distribution of skill levels in the exercises across the chapters.

The book's boundless vision of audience, while claiming to be appropriate for traditional and non-traditional students, at all levels, bemuses and frustrates the reader throughout. In Chapter 5 (vehicles and transportation) an exercise asks quomodo veharis? A neophyte looking up veharis would be lost without some knowledge of the subjunctive. A more advanced student (of classical Latin at least) would wonder at the odd use of the potential subjunctive instead of, say, malle with the infinitive. Beginners would be further confused since the other questions are indicative (e.g. quomodo vehitur a few pages on). In Chapter 8 (Pastimes) we find Quid fecisse cupivisses, a construction that makes sense only after you read the directions ("what you would have been eager to do if you lived in ancient Rome"), and only if you understand the subjunctive in conditions. Since this exercise is to be written in English, it seems to be aimed at beginning students, for whom the directions would have been opaque.

An excerpt from Augustine's confessions (on the effect of the games) closes the same chapter, with instructions to read aloud, look for derivatives and see how much sense can be made. This is a great idea, and the passage's vivid description of an eyewitness account is powerful. It is hard to imagine the same user following the instructions for the previous exercises (look up iacta alea est and ad metam on the internet and remark on the relevance to the games, answer in English what kind of fighter the reader would be and why), only then to be confronted with unadapted Augustine. This exercise is the sole one of its kind in the book. There are no other bits of extended prose, although the book does close with the opening 11 lines of the Aeneid, with the instruction not to translate but to memorize the lines. Memorization is an excellent tool, but made more complex by not having any idea what one is memorizing, thus rendering this exercise difficult for the beginner and puzzling for the intermediate/advanced student.

The drawings are both fun and at times confusing, especially if you do not know what you are looking at. Syngrapha (personal check), e.g., is written below a piece of paper that resembles a check only if you know what syngrapha means. Otherwise, it might be an envelope, postcard, etc. The introduction indicates that the words are printed on the drawings themselves, but this is not always the case. Lines that connect the words to their referent and the lines that make up the drawings can be confusing (the latter is thicker). In a mock-up of a clothing store (Chapter 12, vestimenta) the line seemingly connecting syngrapha and inauris is actually part of the table which holds them both. Picky? Yes. Too picky? Maybe, but putting an arrow at the end of each word-pointer would clarify all.

As it stands now a background in oral Latin seems necessary in order to use the book—some inexperienced instructors (and surely self-learners) will be confused. What seems to be needed here most of all is a good instructor's manual that will make the book more broadly useful. Such a manual would tell the reader exactly what is meant (is that woman in Chapter 9 with a briefcase in front of a government building, a femina civilis, meant to be a civil servant, a lawyer, a politician?). The manual might give the age and provenance of the vocabulary. Students are going to ask—especially about objects not from the ancient world. It would be useful to be able to say what is a modern coinage and what dates back, e.g., to the fourteenth century or the first century BCE. The manual might also provide guidance on how to use some of this vocabulary in class in ways that will facilitate students' becoming comfortable with Latin syntax and developing into good readers of Latin texts. A teacher's guide is, according to the introduction, forthcoming.


1.   The most updated version of this wonderful resource, curated by Patrick Owens, is now hosted by Paideia Institute and freely available: http://neolatinlexicon.org.

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