I have always wanted to create a course on the classical origins of comic book heroes. So many of them have strong ties to classical mythology. The Norse themes of the Thor series are among the most notable. So imagine my pure delight to learn that actor Tim Hiddleston, who played Loki in the recent Marvel movies for Thor and the Avengers, holds a Classics degree from Cambridge! What better training could there be for such a role?! In the following clip Hiddleston offers a wonderful answer to the question, “what do you do with a classics degree?”
Be prepared to take notes. You will want to write these answers down!
While perusing the LatinTeach website I found this wonderful article with reading tips for students. I often find students “paralyzed” in trying to read Latin with their English brains. What I mean by that is that students have trouble leaving behind their English rules for syntax and word order when trying to read Latin. They often want to read words in the order in which they appear or jump to derivatives for meaning. Latin has its own syntax, which is really very logical. Students have to get our of their English brains and learn to read Latin as Latin. This article by Dexter Hoyos has some wonderful tips for doing just that. Click on the title below to view the article. There you will find a pdf with his rules available for easy print out.
Rather than trying to find the “hidden English” in Latin, these rules will help you read Latin as the original authors intended — in the actual Latin word order. Professor Hoyos demonstrates that the Romans were entirely logical in how they composed their writing and that it is possible to train yourself to read in Latin word order by understanding how they grouped words.
In a recent post (July 5) I discussed my love for exploring the connections between Latin poetry and art in my classes.
The writing of poets such as Vergil, Ovid, and Horace is pure art. I often tell students that these poets are literary artists. The page is their canvas, the stylus is their paintbrush, the words are hues of color, and the literary devices are their brush strokes. It is the choice and implementation of the latter two that set all artists apart as masters.
Within that post I shared suggestions for a class lesson that would integrate the analysis of poetic imagery with pieces of art. In such lessons we must begin with the work of master artists. We learn what is truly beautiful by studying the work of those who have mastered the art form, whether that be in the visual arts or in the literary arts. The next step in the art-poetry study is for the students themselves to become creative interpreters of the poem. In my last post we looked at the story of Pyramus & Thisbe from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Liber IV). So let us continue with that same story in our next art lesson.
We begin by reading the story in the original Latin and soaking up the masterful wordcraft of the poet Ovid. We discuss word choice, arrangement, imagery, and all sorts of literary devices. We next look at works by master artists to see how they interpreted Ovid’s poem upon their canvases. We discuss the art in light of the poetry (see July 5 post for guidelines). Next, I assign the students the task of producing their own piece of art that interprets one scene one moment from the poem. After looking upon the work of masterful artists this naturally causes a bit of intimidation. I comfort the students by assuring them that I don’t expect a masterpiece. I do expect their best work, careful, neat, thoughtful, with attention to the detail in the poem. I am pleased to share the work of one of my freshmen ladies below. This is her interpretation of Book IV, Line 71:
What I absolutely love about this particular piece is the manner in which she interprets the chiastic imagery from Ovid’s work. A chiasmus is an ABBA word pattern. Here the word arrangement highlights the tortuous juxtaposition of the two lovers separated by the wall. The wall itself becomes an impersonal character within the story. Later on the young lovers would talk to the wall both chastising it for their separation while also expressing gratitude for the crack (seen here above Pyramus’ head) that allows them to share secret whispers of gentle affection. Many other pieces I receive have used the death scene (my students seem to love gore) and include a greater multitude of details. This piece, however, was bold enough in its abstract simplicity to drive home the image of the wall and the manner in which it divided the two lovers, here Thisbe, Pyramus there.
Well done, my young poetic artist!
Latin poetry is without a doubt my favorite genre of writing to read with students. The writing of poets such as Vergil, Ovid, and Horace is pure art. I often tell students that these poets are literary artists. The page is their canvas, the stylus is their paintbrush, the words are hues of color, and the literary devices are their brush strokes. It is the choice and implementation of the latter two that set all artists apart as masters.
Many artists must share this view as they allowed the literary artwork of these great poets to inspire their own graphic compositions. In fact, the Metamorphoses inspired so many paintings in the 12th century that it was called the Aetas Ovidiana [Ovidian Age]. I explain to students that the artists of this time period would have been well versed in Latin and quite possibly Greek. They would not have read the Metamorphoses in English or Spanish or French, but would have read Ovid in Latin. The diction, syntax, and style used by Ovid would have created images and impressions in the mind of the artist who then interpret those images upon a canvas. I challenge students to read a piece of Latin poetry and then study a piece of art in light of that poetry. Consider the words and arrangement of the poet. Then seek to discover those elements within the poem. Where does the artist interpret the poet? What lines/phrases do you see interpreted? How? Where does the artist take license? Why?
Consider the following two pieces inspired by the myth of Pyramus & Thisbe in Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
- Where are we in the story? What has happened thus far?
- What scenery here is described by Ovid? mulberry tree – arbor, fountain – gelido contermina fonti (Metamorphoses IV.90), Thisbe’s tattered cloak – vestem quoque sanguine tinctam (Metamorphoses IV.107)
- What elements are different than perhaps what Ovid may have described? Why? The clothing is not entirely Greco-Roman, but has been influenced by fashion in the time period of the author. The statue on the fountain is a small cupid. No such statue is mentioned, but this statue adds an element of personification to the fountain as witness to the deed.
- How does the author use color? Very little actual blood appears in the painting, but there are copious amounts of red. The red appears most notably on the cloak/garment on which Pyramus is lying. Is it a red pattern? Is it blood? Does it give the appearance (with respect to color and folds) of blood pouring from Pyramus?
- How does the author use lighting? The light falls most notably on Thisbe who must be the center of the piece due to her position and her depicted action (clearly her death scene), but also falls greatly upon Pyramus the cause of her death. The fountain statue (witness) also receives some light.
- ALWAYS introduce or conclude discussion with the author, time period, and location of the work. If possible gather information online also for any additional elements about the art that may be of interest to students or help further their appreciation of the piece. This piece is an oil on canvas painted in Florence, Italy (c. 1558-1605). It is now on display in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
It is always nice to juxtapose two pieces to see how authors interpret the same scene differently.
- This too is an oil on canvas. This is a more recent painting, created in 1799 by a French artist.
- Repeat discussion questions from above noting both similarities and differences.
- The fountain is represented in a different way (which do you think is truer to Ovid’s description)?
- The tomb and city are present this time – cumque domo exierint, urbis quoque tecta relinquant (Metamorphoses IV.86) . . . conveniant ad busta Nini (Metamorphoses IV.88).
- How is the clothing different? Note that the artists both use red fabric in a similar manner.
- How is the mulberry tree different (foliage and fruit)? – madefactaque sanguine radix/
purpureo tinguit pendentia mora colore (Metamorphoses IV.126-127)
- The sword in Thisbe’s hand is more directly tied to Pyramus and his empty scabbard. – Quae postquam vestemque suam cognovit et ense/vidit ebur vacuum (Metamorphoses IV.147-148)
- Particularly note the difference in style: lighting, human form, use of color, etc.
- Discuss how these differences reflect the genre of art and the time period.
- HINT: Pull in an art teacher to either give you guidance in leading the discussion, or integrate lessons by discussing in his/her class, or act as a guest instructor in your Latin class.
The story of Pyramus and Thisbe is included in the Latin Alive Reader: Latin Literature from Cicero to Newton. In a coming post I will share a student assignment related to interpreting poetry through art using this same story.
For a similar art study using Caesar’s work visit the previous post: Romans Under the Yoke – an Art Study for Caesar.
A colleague recently shared an article by William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College, titled “Latin . . . Why Study It At All?” I found the article intriguing. Professor Harris expresses his discontent with the usual line-up of reasons for studying Latin. He then goes on to offer his own reasons for the study, strong reasons which I think must seriously be considered not only by those who question the study, but also by those who seek to support it. A link for the article is provided along with my thoughts on two of his arguments in particular.
“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”
William Harris, Prof. Em. Middlebury College
While I think the author oversimplifies his objections to the “usual arguments” for Latin (there are still many benefits in the usual line up) the author has made several good points that should be considered. The argument that resonates most strongly with me is the lack of authentic reading most programs provide. I too am frustrated by programs that view Latin grammar as both the means and the end of a Latin program. It saddens me to see students learn a language and then stop just short of reading. How can one not see the value of reading Vergil in the original? Or for Christian schools Augustine or Aquinas? It seems that is like taking a music class, studying the notes, learning “Mary Had a Little Lamb” but never learning to play anything of Gershwin or Mozart. What is the point? The language in and of itself should not be the goal of study, but the opportunity to read and enjoy the masters in their element. Reading original texts is the beauty of the Latin Alive! program. We are having the students read adapted and then authentic passages as soon as they are able. This is vastly different from Cambridge, Ecce, Orberg, etc. All of our work in each chapter from vocab, to grammar lesson, even to simple sentences is meant to prep them to read a passage. And the passages offered are just marvelous: Cicero, Vergil, Pliny, Tertullian, Augustine, Aquinas, even Newton. There is not another program that offers the variety of styles and genres found in the LA series, particularly the reader.
Another fantastic point highlighted in this article is the case for reading Latin out loud. In my own classes, I always have students read the Latin out loud before interpreting into English and find that to be very important. Even the finest Roman orations and works of poetry were meant to be heard, not read in silence. The goal is to begin to follow Latin as a Roman would, to hear and feel the language not just look at it as a mathematical equation. It is also important for students to understand the Roman mind as revealed in Latin grammar. In many ways, their way of thinking and speaking makes more sense than modern English. We are looking at the way two different cultures express thought and that is fascinating. It ought not to be excluded in the classroom. Both of these points draw attention to studying Latin as the beautiful expression of a language for a culture and a way of thinking. Let’s entice students to continue in Latin by engaging them in the joys of the beauty of this literature and the language in which it is contained.
The following links are to a short film created by one of our sixth grade students at Grace Academy. The story, told entirely in Latin, recounts the thrilling story of the Horatii vs. the Curiatii. The lego animation accompanied by the dramatic Latin reading makes for a wonderful short film.
Spoiler Alert: The synopses below will reveal key events and the story’s ending.
Click here to watch video: Horatii_video1
The Romans and the Albans were at war for some time when the suggestion was made that representatives from each tribe should fight on behalf of their people, thus deciding victory and limiting bloodshed. According to Roman legend there happened to be two sets of triplet brothers both distinguished in courage and valor. These fought for honor and for country; the Horatii for Rome, the Curiatii for Alba Longa. The battle did not start off well for the Horatii. Two of the brothers were killed by the Curiatii. The odds were now stacked 3 against 1.
Click here to watch video: Horatii_video2
The last of the Horatii is now faced with the loss of his two brothers and a battle with 3 Curiatii who probably think this gig is in the bag. Fortunately, this is a clever Horatius. He starts off running, faking his retreat. The Curiatii, exulting in near victory, start sprinting after him and lose formation. As the first of the Curiatii brothers reaches Horatius3, Horatius turns and delivers a death blow. The next two brothers suffer the same fate each in their turn.
The impetus for this creative video was a dramatic interpretation assignment. Each year at Grace Academy we give students a Latin passage based on an oration or story from ancient Rome. The students first translate this story, then they memorize the passage, and then they must perform the passage with dramatic flare. Much attention is given to understanding what they are saying and how they are saying/performing the passage. This video, which was not assigned, flows from a young creative mind who clearly loves learning Latin!
Researchers knew there were ruins of some sort in shallow waters off the Greek island of Delos, assuming the structures were simply remnants of a port that had been submerged.
But a recent examination of the ocean bottom showed it wasn’t a port down there but the ruins of an ancient settlement dating back to the first century B.C., complete with its own pottery workshop and other buildings.
Divers from the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the Greek Ministry of Culture discovered large stones, columns, clay pots, and the remnants of a kiln at a depth of just six feet, according to English language media outlet the Greek Reporter.
“Similar workshops have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum,” the ministry said in a written statement, as reported by Discovery News.
The researchers expect the discovery to shed new light on the history of Delos, which is an important site for Greek mythology. According to Greek myth, the sun god Apollo and his sister Artemis were born on Delos.
Delos was also a thriving cultural center from the 8th to the first century B.C., and it served as a bustling cosmopolitan port between the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C., according to UNESCO. The island was abandoned in the 6th century A.D.
Today, Delos consists only of ruins and is maintained as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The following post is a synopsis of the rules for syllabication and accent of words in Latin literature. Students will find this increasingly helpful as they begin to work with oratory and poetry in Latin. I very much encourage the memorization and recitation of such pieces. While Latin is predominantly a written language today, it was once crafted to sway minds and move hearts. We should not deprive students the opportunity to both study and experience the spoken language of masters such as Cicero and Vergil. This summation is included as an appendix in Latin Alive Book 3 and Book 4. The rules also appear in books 1 and 2.
Caveat: I am unable to include macra (long marks) on this blog site. I will make notations of long vowels where important.
The term “syllable” is used to refer to a unit of a word that consists of a single, uninterrupted sound formed by a vowel, diphthong, consonant, or by a consonant-vowel combination. Syllabication is the act of dividing a word in order to reveal its individual syllables. With English this can be tricky because there are often letters that remain silent. However, in Latin there are no completely silent letters, so any given Latin word will have as many syllables as it has vowels or diphthongs. The rules of syllabication indicate that words are to be divided as follows:
1. Between two like consonants:
2. Between the last of two or more different consonants:
3. Between two vowels or a vowel and a diphthong (never divide a diphthong):
4. Before a single consonant:
Caveat Discipulus: As with most rules, there are sometimes exceptions to the syllabications rules just mentioned. The most common exception occurs with prefixes. A division will always occur between the prefix and the root word. The root word will always divide as if he prefix was never there. Consider the following example:
creo = cre-o pro-cre-o
Notice how the division in the compound verb occurs between the prefix and the root word. Notice also that the cr is still not divided when the prefix is added.
5. Before a stop + liquid combination, except if it is caused by the addition of the prefix to the word (see above): pu-bli–ca (but ad-la-tus according to the prefix exception)
stops: b, c, d, g, p, t liquids: l, r
6. After the letter x. Though it is technically two consonants, it is indivisible in writing, so we divide after it:
7. Before s + stop, if the s is preceded by a consonant:
Each syllable has a characteristic called quantity. The quantity of a syllable is its length—how much time it takes to pronounce or say that syllable. A long syllable has twice the quantity or length of a short syllable. It is easy to tell the quantity of syllables in Latin and it will be important to know how to do so in order to properly accent words. Syllables are long when they have:
1. a long vowel (marked by a macron);
2. a diphthong;
3. a short vowel followed by two consonants or the letters x or z.
The only exception for this two consonant rule is the letter h. This letter is often reduced to an aspiration, barely audible.
Otherwise, syllables are short. The first two rules are said to make a syllable long by nature because the vowel sound is naturally long. The last rule is said to make a syllable long by position, because the length depends on the placement of the vowel within that word. Recognizing the length of a syllable becomes particularly important when reading poetry.
Caveat Discipulus (Let the Student Beware): The quantity of the syllable does not change the length of the vowel. You should still pronounce short vowels according the phonetic rules you have just learned. The quantity of the syllable will affect how you accent the words.
Accent is the vocal emphasis placed on a particular syllable of a word. The accent can only fall on one of the last three syllables of a word. Each one of these syllables has a name. The last syllable is referred to as the ultima, meaning “last” in Latin. The next to last syllable is called the penult (from paene ultima, meaning “almost last”). The syllable third from the end is known as the antepenult (from ante paene ultima, which means “before the almost last”). Which one of these syllables carries the accent depends on the length of the syllables.
The rules for accent are as follows:
1. In words of two syllables always accent the penult or first syllable: aúc-tor.
2. In words of more than two syllables, accent the penult (next to last syllable) when it is long:
* The e in monemus is long by nature and should have a macron
3. Otherwise, accent the antepenult (third to last syllable): fé-mi-na.
4. The ultima will never carry the accent unless it is a one-syllable word: nóx.
We are very excited to announce the publication of the fourth and final installment of the Latin Alive series! The Latin Reader is the fruition of the dream Gaylan and I shared for the series from its earliest beginning. It was our desire to create a series that would train students to read original Latin literature and then enjoy the fruits of such literature, not just from ancient Rome, but literature that reflects the great breadth and depth of Latin influence through the ages. This unique reader provides excerpts of Latin literature that includes the prose of Cicero, Caesar, and Bacon; the poetry of Vergil, Ovid, Queen Elizabeth and Milton; the theological treatises of Augustine, Luther, and Aquinas; and the scientific musings of Pliny and Newton. And these are only a few of the authors represented! So great is the content, that we are delighted to welcome Dr. Steven L. Jones as a third author for this special book. You can read more about Steven on the “about the authors” page of this blog site.
As with previous LA books we include biographies of each Latin author so students can learn about the context of each piece: historical, social, and even political. Footnotes abound which provide further insight to the language, idioms, and cultural references for each piece. We have also provided a variety of reading comprehension questions (Latin and English) to allow teachers to explore the readings further with students. For all intents and purposes, this book serves as the basis for a humanities class in Latin. For my students, this is their favorite Latin class.
Another distinctive unique to this book is the inclusion of a thorough grammar review in the second section. Teachers and students may use this to review aspects of Latin grammar that apply to the pieces of literature they are reading. Numerous appendices with reference charts, pronunciation review, and lessons in both Medieval Latin and poetry make this book on Latin literature complete. There truly is nothing like this in circulation to date. We are overjoyed to share this treasury with all of you.
You can read more about the Latin Alive Reader on the CAP website, including sample chapters. Here is a sneak peek at the wealth of literature contained within its pages. Among these you will see many of the authors and titles often included among the literature lists of classical schools. This is very intentional as it is our hope through this book to support and enhance the study of these pieces of literature.
- Pro Archaia, Cicero
- Cornelia Gracchi, Nepos
- De Bello Gallico, Caesar
- Tria Poemata, Catullus
- Aeneid, Vergil
- Quattuor Poemata, Horace
- Metamorphoses, Ovid
- Fabulae Breves, Phaedrus
- de Ira, Seneca
- Evangelium secundum Sanctum Lucum, St. Luke
- Evangelium sucundum Sanctum Mattheum, St. Matthew
- Naturalis Historia, Piny the Elder
- Institutio Oratio, Quintilian
- Alia Epigrammata, Martial
- Perigrinatio Egeriae, Egeria
- Confessiones Sancti Augustini, St. Augustine
- Confessiones Sancti Patricii, St. Patrick
- Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum, Cassiodorus
- Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Bede
- Vita de Caroli Magni, Einhard
- Magna Charta, The 25 Barons
- Summa Theologica, St. Aquinas
- Epistola ad Ciceronem, Petrarch
- Epistola Latina Columbi, Columbus
- Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum, Luther
- Stultitiae Laus, Erasmus
- Adversus Lutheranos, Cajetan
- Carmen et Oratio, Queen Elizabeth
- Elegia Secunda, Milton
- Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Angliae, Bacon
- Principa Mathematica, Newton
In addition, we have provided two readings included on the AP Latin syllabus from Caesar and Vergil.
The Latin vote
Later in this issue, the Yale classicist Donald Kagan writes about Sir James Headlam-Morley, the man who occupied the position of Historical Adviser to the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. Headlam-Morley was a fount of good advice about all manner of strategic issues, not least the threat of German militarism. Headlam-Morley’s deep acquaintance with the past allowed him to predict the future with a gimlet-eyed clarity that, unfortunately for the world, most of those charged with steering the ship of state in the post-World War I years lacked. Headlam-Morley, Professor Kagan observes, was “a man with the only proper training for an expert in almost any field of human endeavor, but especially for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy: I mean, of course, Classical Studies.”
We smiled when we read that, too. The “of course” was especially nice. A more charming example of disciplinary chauvinism would be hard to find. Except that it is more than disciplinary chauvinism. It is also the simple, pragmatic truth.
It is a truth whose practicality the industrialist and oil man Jean Paul Getty appreciated. Getty, widely reckoned to be the richest man in the world until his death in 1976, employed only classicists to run his worldwide business empire. He understood that mastery of (say) the passive periphrastic was a more important business qualification than an MBA. (Pecunia obtinenda est!) It wasn’t romance but competitiveness that underlay his decision. Asked why he insisted on employing classicists in key positions, he answered bluntly: “They sell more oil.”
We take the story about J. Paul Getty from the opening pages of Gwynne’s Latin, a new introductory Latin textbook by N. M. Gwynne, author of Gwynne’s Grammar, “The Ultimate Introduction to Grammar and the Writing of Good English,” which was a surprise bestseller in England last year and has been making some headway in America since its release here a couple of months ago.
When it comes to grammar, Mr. Gwynne, himself a retired businessman, is a prescriptivist. Not for him the split infinitive, the cringing accommodation to feminists (s/he, using “their” instead of “his” after a singular pronoun like “everyone,” etc.), or the semi-literate but ever popular “between him and I.” The fact that people speak and write that way does not mean that they should speak or write that way. Shakespeare split no infinitives, neither did the scribes who gave us the King James Bible. We should, Mr. Gwynne advises, follow their example. (Incidentally, let us forestall the excitement of impatient readers who clamor “What about Sonnet 142?” Shakespeare there writes “Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.” But that is not a true split infinitive, in which an adverb is interposed between “to” and the verb—“to boldly go”—but is rather an inversion undertaken to preserve the meter.) Gwynne’s Grammar, which we have only begun to read, seems full of good things. If it is half as good as Gwynne’s Latin, it will be a masterpiece—an atavistic masterpiece, perhaps, given the drift of our culture away from the virtues of orderliness, precision, logic, and precedent that Mr. Gwynne advocates, but a masterpiece nonetheless.
Mr. Gwynne is an evangelist for the classics, especially for his chosen métier, Latin. Why learn Latin? Mr. Gwynne lists nearly twenty reasons, many of which will be familiar to anyone who has ever sat through an introductory Latin class. Nearly half the words in English derive from Latin (when they have not come down to us intact); a mastery of Latin grammar helps us better understand English grammar; so much of the jargon of the law, of science and medicine, of our political and civic heritage, is instinct with Latin; Latin is the language of one of the three great world literatures (the others being classical Greek and English); etcetera.
But Mr. Gwynne goes far beyond such familiar recommendations. “What a well-designed course in Latin provides,” he writes, “is a training and development of the mind and character to a degree of excellence that no other mental or physical activity can come anywhere near to bringing about.” Don’t believe him? Hark:
Specifically, it trains these: the ability to concentrate and focus; the use of the memory; the capacity to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement, of taste. In fact, it trains the mind and character to the utmost extent in everything human that is valuable. It does all this as no other academic subject (other than classical Greek), or other activity of any kind at all, can come remotely close to doing.
Latin,” he writes, “is, quite simply, the most utterly wonderful . . . thing.” The ellipsis is in the original. Like the pedestrian abstract noun it precedes, it is occasioned by contemplation of an abundance, not a paucity, of riches. Does it sound extravagant, all this praise for learning a dead language? Just wait.
Mr. Gwynne reminds us of a few pertinent facts. For the last thousand or more years, up until about fifteen minutes ago, i.e., up until the 1960s (O devilish, shadow-casting decade!), Latin and Greek were taught much as Mr. Gwynne advocates and, what’s more, until the 1850s they were virtually the only subjects that were taught in any of the leading schools in Britain. The reason for this exclusive concentration on the classics was not that our forebears were unaware of the importance of other subjects: English, say, or mathematics, or history or geography or other foreign languages. No, schools and universities slighted other subjects because, in comparison with Latin and Greek, they were easy. “Picking them up,” Mr. Gwynne writes, “was something that could more appropriately be done during the school holidays and in other spare time.”
Possibly, but the classics aren’t practical,” you say. Really? Ponder this: the heyday of classical learning in Britain, from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries, was also the heyday of British intellectual, political, and economic supremacy. During this period, Mr. Gwynne points out,
Britain shone in every single human endeavour, academic and practical, to such an extent that, “single-handed,” Britain was responsible for the Industrial Revolution and most of the scientific inventions of that period that changed the world, and, for better or for worse, actually ruled about a quarter of the world—and, what is more, all this while producing one of the greatest literatures of every kind of all time.
What do you think, merely post hoc? Or was there an element of propter, of causation, about the contingency that brought a mastery of Latin together with worldly success?
It seems that, since retiring from business, Mr. Gwynne has devoted himself to proclaiming the gospel of the Latin language. Together with his teaching partner (who is also his daughter) he visits schools and even—via the Internet—homes to exhort, inspire, illuminate, and instruct. His method is based firmly on the tried and true example of Dr. Benjamin Hall Kennedy, D.D., whose first Latin primer appeared in 1871 and whose Shorter Latin Primer was known to generations of schoolboys as “Kennedy’s Shortbread Eating Primer” (you needed to be a dab hand with a pen nib to effect the transformation). “The difference in effectiveness between the traditional methods and those used by even the best schoolteachers of today is so astonishing, consistently so,” Mr. Gwynne claims, that the results speak for themselves.
So what can a neophyte who gets outside the material of Gwynne’s Latin hope to learn? One answer is “about as much Latin as a reasonably intelligent eleven- or twelve-year-old would have known in the days when I was at school” (ca. 1950). If that seems like small beer, he quickly adds. “Another answer is: many times more Latin than will be known, in almost all cases, by highly intelligent scholars of today who have passed all their Latin exams and are studying Classics at any of the top universities in Britain.”
For those of you tempted to respond as did the travel writer Alexander Kinglake, who wished to inscribe the legend “Interesting, if true” upon the lintels of churches throughout Britain, we suggest suspending judgment until you conjure with the book and Mr. Gwynne’s methods. You can start doing this today. There is a popular misconception that classicists tend to be enemies of innovation. Mr. Gwynne’s commitment to the traditional method of teaching Latin (the one, he points out, that generations of students have shown actually works) may at first reinforce that misconception. But Mr. Gwynne is not against innovation. He is only against innovation that experience has shown is unproductive where it is not downright destructive. Which is where the 1960s and its legacy of ruin come in. But one need merely look at the Gwynnes’ website gwynneteaching.com to appreciate their readiness to employ new technologies, when appropriate. The online videos show just how infectious, and how effective, the Gwynnes’ pedagogy can be.
It was and probably still is common among classics students to look askance at the Loeb Classical Library, that huge (521-volume) library of the Greek and Roman classics brought to the world by the wealthy Harvard alumnus James Loeb. Since its inception 102 years ago, the pocket-sized Loebs, with their distinctive green (for Greek) and red (for Latin) jackets, have been a familiar fixture in school and university libraries. But because they feature an English translation en face with the original, many students regarded them as slightly infra dig. (which is not to say that most of them did not gratefully avail themselves of the trots when need arose, which, typically, was often). In years gone by, the translations one found in the Loebs were hit or miss. The more glandular passages of Horace, Martial, and many other authors were typically rendered in Italian or (if the author was writing in Greek) in Latin. Translations of other writers were comically out of date. Augustine’s Confessions, for example, was rendered by the English translation of William Watts, 1631.
But for the last couple of decades, the Loeb Library has been undergoing a renaissance. There are new or revised translations of many authors, and, a month or two back, the entire library was brought online at loebclassics.com. There are other searchable classics databases, the Perseus project through Tufts University, for example, or The Packard Humanities Institute’s library of Latin authors, which contains nearly the whole of Latin writing down to 200 A.D. Yet there is still something glorious about having all 500-plus Loebs online. Free trial access is available and an annual subscription for individuals is $195 for the first year, $65 for subsequent years. It’s an extraordinary resource, one which we like to think the exacting Mr. Gwynne would be pleased to welcome to the world.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 33 November 2014, on page 1
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