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Classical Education

Latin Authors in Italy: A Study Tour for Teachers


This summer I was afforded the great blessing of attending Latin Authors in Italy, a study tour designed specifically for high school Latin teachers. The title and description resonated with me immediately. Here I was promised the opportunity to read Latin authors in situ, to walk through the remains of Ancient Rome with an experienced archaeologist, and to discuss practical pedagogical applications with an experienced high school Latin teacher. The balance of culture, history, art, and literature described seemed almost too good to be true. The experience did not disappoint, on the contrary it exceeded my every expectation.

For the past sixteen years I have been the classics chair at Grace Academy, a classical Christian school deep in the heart of Texas. I have built a classical language program here that runs grades 3-10 with opportunities for Latin and Greek continuing through grade 12. We also have a robust ancient and medieval humanities program which I have also assisted in developing. The capstone for our classical program is a senior trip to Italy each spring. I eagerly look for opportunities to integrate these studies at every turn, such that each one complements the others and the division between “subjects” begins to break down. My goal for their senior trip is that as they walk the streets of Rome, Naples, and Florence visiting places, seeing art, and walking streets as though visiting a familiar friend. This study tour as guided by Steve Tuck and Amy Leonard has equipped me more thoroughly than I had dared hope to make this vision a more present reality.

Steve Tuck lectures on the artwork depicted on the great Ara Pacis, built under Augustus. An authority on Roman art, Steve often reminded us of the intentional design of such pieces, the items depicted, and the magnificent artistry and color of such great pieces.

Our first two days of class were spent in the heart of Rome. We covered an immense amount of ground in those first two days. In the first day we along the Tiber and discussed the divide between the ancient city, the Campus Martius, and the intentional designs in buildings and monuments placed in each. The second day took us to the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, and the Palatine Hill. This was my fourth trip to Rome and I had seen most of these places about as many times as I had visited the eternal city. However, this visit was very different. I was able to see for the first time the design and layout of the city and these monumental buildings as a reflection of the leaders and the political times in which they rose. The design of the Mausoleum of Augustus opposite Agrippa’s reconstruction of the Pantheon was particularly striking. Never before had I stopped to contemplate how each site reflected the other in position, design, and even decoration. These two monuments to the dynasty of the Julians and the dynasty of the Pantheon were enhanced by the grand Ara Pacis positioned between them and flanked by the images of Romulus and Aeneas. Images repeated in the Forum of Augustus and later in the Forum of Pompeii. Often we stopped to enjoy excerpts of literature appropriate to the local such as the Res Gestae adjacent to the Mausoleum of Augustus. In the evenings, after putting my feet up, I began reworking my plans for our senior trip to Rome as I recalled the repeated images of Aeneas throughout the city of his descendants.

Sperlonga (a modern Italian corruption of the Latin for cave “spelunca”) offered luxurious dining inside a most unique setting alongside the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The third day brought a big change in location as we traveled by charter bus along the coast down to Naples. Along the way we stopped at Sperlonga to visit one of the many villas frequented by the Emperor Tiberius. This stop was an unexpected treasure. Not for the villa, for which there was not much left to see, but for the luxurious dining room nestled inside a cave next to the sea. The site itself was captivating, but it was made even more wondrous with a short art study at the on-site museum where the statues sculpted to decorate the dining grotto are housed. As would be the case at most every site we visited on this tour we listened intently as Steve divulged the history behind the design of the grotto and the selections of art. Amy Leonard followed by leading us in reading several passages from the Aeneid that aptly described each sculpture group and would no doubt have been ready on the lips of ancient diners as they reclined in front of such art by the sea.

The remainder of the trip was spent exploring the region of Naples from the Villa Vergiliana (Henry Wilks Study Center). This 19th century villa is situated in the vicinity of ancient Cumae with a breathtaking view of the Tyrrenian Sea and the Isle of Ischia. The villa itself is surrounded by groves of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and the remains of an ancient amphitheatre. The grounds lend themselves well to classroom sessions, times of otium in the salon or surrounding grounds, and evening Latin readings on the terrace beneath the stars. The beauty and convenience of the location is matched by the warm hospitality of the Sgariglia family, making the villa an ideal place for a week of contemplative study.

Villa Vergiliana (Henry Wilks Study Center) is a charming 19th century villa surrounded by groves of fruit trees and vineyards with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean. The villa serves as the homebase for study tours with the Vergilian Society.

Several mornings were spent at the villa engaging in discourse regarding best classroom practices. Topics included vocabulary retention and acquisition, advanced grammar lessons, sight reading, art study, historical and cultural integration, and even some diverting games and activities. The topics were chosen based on a pre-trip survey that Amy distributed to the attendees via email several weeks before the trip. She took our respective interests, curricula, and the grade levels we taught into consideration as she designed these lessons. Her many years of experience were evident in the planning, preparation, and execution of these lessons. Her leadership style was not limited to presentation and lecture, but she encouraged contributions through discussions. The result was 15 teachers learning from one another as 15 students. We are each coming away from the experience better equipped to engage our students in the coming years.

Each afternoon we left the villa via charter bus to explore a site in the vicinity of Naples. I must confess that my knowledge of the area was limited to Pompeii and Herculaneum. I had undervalued the area as not having much more to offer beyond those sites. I have never been more overjoyed to discover I was in complete error. We did visit both of these sites. Once again Steve Tuck gave us a deeper knowledge and richer understanding of these communities, their tragic place in history, and what they can teach us today. Once again his depth of knowledge in Roman art and architecture were the great factor in this paradigm shift. I am forever indebted to him for going the extra mile to spend time with me one evening to re-design my senior trip to these two destinations in order to better make use of the time we spend there.

“quo lati ducunt aditus centum, ostia centum, unde ruunt totidem voces, responsa Sibyllae” Aeneid VI.43-44

Beyond these two well-known ancient cities we explored the ancient sites of Cumae, the villas of Capri, the great bath in Baiae, the amphitheatre at Puteoli, volcanic craters of Campi Flegrei, and even walked to the very gate of the underworld. The site I had most eagerly looked forward to visiting was the Sibyl’s cave at Cumae. Having read the description of her cave numerous times both as a student and as a teacher I was eager to see how well Vergil’s description matched the site itself. Walking the path of centum ostia gave me chills, particularly as the design of the long passage way strongly resembled the shape of the Etruscan tombs we visited just the day before at the museum in Baiae. As we stood in the inner sanctuary Steve pointed out how the inner chamber of this cave was matched (not unintentionally) by the design of Tiberius’ cave at Sperlonga. His ability as our guide to draw connections from one place to the next in geographical placement, in design, in history, is absolutely remarkable. This was evident again the next day as we visited Lake Avernus alongside the Crater of Solfatara in order to gain a better understanding of the original cult of the Sibyl. Once again Amy heightened the experience with descriptive readings of Cumae and Avernus from both Vergil and Lucretius. The sulfurous fumes and boiling mud from Solfatara gave those readings a very present reality.

While Cumae was the most anticipated site for my visit, the most unexpected delight was found in Puteoli. We traveled to this ancient city for the sole purpose of visiting the amphitheatre. I was a bit curious why we might visit this lesser known arena after having recently walked through the grand Colosseum. The answer was a reminder that bigger is not always better. In truth the arena at Puteoli is only a slight bit smaller than the Colosseum, but the building is almost entirely intact. Visitors can walk the arena floor and gaze down through the numerous trap doors that line the perimeter. Even more wondrous is the view from down below. We were able to walk through the substructure of the arena whose arches and pathways and stairwell are intact. While the Colosseum demands that visitors use their imagination to piece together the ruins, Puteoli gifts its visitors with a full picture, nearly complete. Once again I found myself inspired by how I might bring a piece of Puteoli back to my students in Texas, or how I might bring the seniors to Puteoli.

The last site visit of our trip was to pay homage to the alleged tomb of Aeneas near the thirteen altars positioned adjacent to the coast of Latium, and possibly the very site where Aeneas and his fleet first from the shores of Troy set foot on Latin soil. This visit brought our study tour full circle; from the images of Aeneas erected by Augustus in claim of his ancestry to the very tomb of this legend. The careful manner in which Steve and Amy carefully planned this trip was not lost on us. The design of each day, the succession of site visits, the careful selection of texts, all had been carefully planned and orchestrated with the utmost thoughtfulness.

Amy Leonard (right) hosted Latin readings each evening on the terrace. Here we read from the book that she co-authored with Steve Tuck, designed specifically for this study program.

At the outset of this program our directors, Steve Tuck and Amy Leonard, presented each student with a book designed specifically for this course and which shared the course title, Latin Authors in Italy. This would serve as a textbook of sorts for the entire program, providing the numerous texts we would read with Amy (and many more we could read on our own), numerous maps, floor plans of buildings, pictures, and articles on the sites we would visit. This book has become an invaluable resource for me and will most certainly contribute to the shape of future trips to Rome whether through readings and lessons in my Texas classroom or actual site visits to the eternal city. Our group would read selections from Latin Authors at most site visits. The selections were carefully chosen to complement the sites visited. We read from Pliny while in Pompeii, from Vergil while standing before his tomb, the Res Gestae while at the Mausoleum of Augustus. Often we were standing before the very place that the author was describing in his work. Such readings brought new perspective to the scenes before us, the ancient site infused the words on these pages with new life. As with the design of the entire program, this book clearly reflects a copious amount of work in diligent and thoughtful planning as to what texts and materials could best enhance the experience for attendees not only as visitors to the ancient world, but as teachers who desire to introduce that world to our students.

All too often our professional development as teachers is limited to a particular curriculum we teach or a syllabus to which we must adhere. In this instance the professional development allowed us to sit again in the seat of pupils and challenge ourselves to go beyond any preconceived syllabus. We were there to learn, to enrich our understanding of the ancient world, to read literature that we might not otherwise have seen. I would consider this time spent with the Vergilian Society and this particular study tour to be the best professional development I have ever received for classical studies. This course is changing the way I teach Greco-Roman history and expanding my approach to Latin literature. I have long disliked the manner in which history courses seem to run solely on a timeline with a list of dates, people, and events to be memorized. Tedious. I have always enjoyed incorporating art into history and literature (whether taught in English or Latin or Greek). I am now better equipped to integrate classical art into my classroom in order to tell the stories that appear in history and literature classes. I have also been inspired to include architecture into my lessons for this very same purpose. After all, architecture is art on a much grander scale and sometimes gives a louder political statement. I look forward with great anticipation to the approaching school year and the opportunity to enjoy the ancients with my students, given the lessons I learned during this trip. I look forward to the opportunity to one day bring them to walk the streets of Rome and experience these lessons for themselves.

For more information on the Vergilian Society including their summer study tours please their website

Also recommended: A History of Roman Art by Steve Tuck, the excellent director for this study tour.

Vocabulary Building with Picta Dicta

Picta Dicta is an innovative and highly engaging tool for students to build their Latin vocabulary. This program could easily serve as an introduction for young students into the delightful world of Latin. The lessons would also prove a wonderful supplement to any Latin curricula, or even as a summer strengthening program for Latin students. The approach engages students in learning vocabulary through pictures and images rather than the usual vocab word list found in most textbooks. Read the rest of this entry »

The Classic Texan – April 21, 753 B.C. and A.D. 1836

All classicists know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the founding of Rome. All Texans know that today, April 21, is the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Do you know the story of the Classic Texan, the legendary figure of Sam Houston and the imprint of the Classics in his own life? His tale is truly that of a modern Odysseus or Aeneas beset with a torment that forces him from his home and sends him wandering through the wild west. Eventually, Providence would guide him to Texas where his destiny and that of the land he came to love became forever inextricably linked. Read the rest of this entry »

How My Road Led to Rome – A Latin Teacher’s Testimony

I am often asked why I became a Latin teacher. The story is not what one might expect. It is every bit a testimony of God's direction in my life. The Lord had a plan and a purpose for me. He made sure to lead me down a path that He clearly purposed for my life, my own Roman road of sorts. Read the rest of this entry »

Scripture Memory

My New Year's Resolution? This year it began in August. I am in the process of joining my daughter and her classmates in memorizing the book of Philippians. This exercise is part of a vision that began in 2010 when my 7th grade ancient humanities class first memorized the book of James. Since then our school, Grace Academy, has challenged our students to commit an entire book of the Bible (or extensive passage) to memory each year, hiding God's Word in their hearts. The Association of Classical Christian schools asked me to write an article for Classis, their quarterly journal, about the vision and implementation of our Scripture Memory program. I share it here with all of you. Read on to learn the historical precedent, the present implementation, and the fruit this work is bearing in the lives of our students. Read the rest of this entry »

Imitation in Writing through Latin

l believe the purpose of learning the Latin language is in order to study Latin literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean studying the Great Books. These are great pieces of literature of outstanding merit that have stood the test of time. Such works reflect the worldview of the culture and time in which they were written. Such works have often influenced not only the people of their own time, but the people of times that would follow. Such works should demonstrate some combination of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. By studying such works we better understand the flow of human thought over the course of history. We better understand our civilization when we know from whence it came. We better understand what is truly great literature. By studying Latin literature, I mean Read the rest of this entry »

Loki Loves Latin!

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!

“Latin . . . Why Study It At All?”

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.

Latin Alive Reader: Latin Literature from Cicero to Newton!

LA Team: Steven, Chris, Karen, and Gaylan at the book release during the national conference for the Society for Classical Learning in Austin, TX.

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.

  1. Pro Archaia, Cicero
  2. Cornelia Gracchi, Nepos
  3. De Bello Gallico, Caesar
  4. Tria Poemata, Catullus
  5. Aeneid, Vergil
  6. Quattuor Poemata, Horace
  7. Metamorphoses, Ovid
  8. Fabulae Breves, Phaedrus
  9. de Ira, Seneca
  10. Evangelium secundum Sanctum Lucum, St. Luke
  11. Evangelium sucundum Sanctum Mattheum, St. Matthew
  12. Naturalis Historia, Piny the Elder
  13. Institutio Oratio, Quintilian
  14. Alia Epigrammata, Martial
  15. Perigrinatio Egeriae, Egeria
  16. Confessiones Sancti Augustini, St. Augustine
  17. Confessiones Sancti Patricii, St. Patrick
  18. Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum, Cassiodorus
  19. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, Bede
  20. Vita de Caroli Magni, Einhard
  21. Magna Charta, The 25 Barons
  22. Summa Theologica, St. Aquinas
  23. Epistola ad Ciceronem, Petrarch
  24. Epistola Latina Columbi, Columbus
  25. Disputatio pro Declaratione Virtutis Indulgentiarum, Luther
  26. Stultitiae Laus, Erasmus
  27. Adversus Lutheranos, Cajetan
  28. Carmen et Oratio, Queen Elizabeth
  29. Elegia Secunda, Milton
  30. Historia Regni Henrici Septimi Angliae, Bacon
  31. Principa Mathematica, Newton

In addition, we have provided two readings included on the AP Latin syllabus from Caesar and Vergil.


Why everyone should learn the ancient languages.

November 2014

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 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 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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