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Classical Journal On-Line <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 4 Feb 2008 09:08:14 -0600
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Writing Latin: An Introduction to Writing in the Language of Cicero and 
Caesar. By RICHARD ASHDOWNE AND JAMES MORWOOD. London: Bristol Classical 
Press, 2007. Pp. vi + 186. Paper, $23.50. ISBN 978𢴖53997013.

Order this text for $23.50 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
CAMWS and the Classical Journal: 


While Ashdowne and Morwood抯 (A&M) Writing Latin: An Introduction to 
Writing in the Language of Cicero and Caesar seems quite useful as a 
grammar review in intermediate/advanced Latin classes (high school or 
college level), it would not be my choice for a class in prose composition. 
The author抯 goal, as stated in the introduction, is twofold: (1) to use 
prose composition as an aid to gaining mastery of construction (揊irst, 
practicing the language in this way helps to fix constructions and 
vocabulary in the mind, so that a student can read texts with greater 
fluency, accuracy, and therefore enjoyment, p. v), and (2) to give 
students a greater appreciation of 搕he style, artistry and literary 
qualities of the ancient authors (p. v). The book offers much review and 
practice of Latin grammar. It is harder, however, to see that the second 
aim is fulfilled.

A new composition book such as A&M抯 invites a reexamination of aims and 
means in teaching students to compose Latin. More simply put, different 
textbooks will better suit different classes. As an example of an 搊ld 
style prose composition text, consider Bennett抯 Latin Prose Composition. 
Bennett begins each chapter with references to his own New Latin Grammar. 
The grammatical references are followed by examples in Latin. The scant 
prose explanations are confined to useful remarks, followed by vocabulary 
necessary for the exercises (with a full English-Latin vocabulary in the 
back) and exercises. A&M, on the other hand, offer an abbreviated grammar 
written with a view to composition, which offers prose explanations and 
examples, followed by useful notes on the differences between English and 
Latin. Unlike Bennett抯 Grammar, which, e.g., devotes ten chapters to the 
uses of the ablative (and divides them over two halves of the book, Part I 
based on the usage of Caesar and Part II based on that of Cicero), A&M 
treat all cases in their opening two chapters, a good approach for a 
comprehensive review of the major uses of the ablative.

Latin grammar is covered in this summarizing way in 21 chapters. A brief 
chapter on word order follows. along with some annotated examples of Latin 
prose style; longer passages for translation; and two appendices (numbers 
and dates; top irregular Latin verbs), plus the aforementioned vocabulary.

The text is visually packed. While there are some useful bullet lists, 
breakout boxes, notanda (for differences between the way English and Latin 
work), A&M present much of their information in paragraph form, and it 
would be easy for students to get lost in the words. Explanations are also 
confusing at times. In the discussion of participles, for example, A&M 
observe that 搕he usual abl. sg. of present participles is in 杋, except 
when they are used as nouns or are in the ablative absolute construction 
(see below), when the abl. Sg. Ending is 杄 (p. 21). 揃elow is one 
unmarked example in the middle of the next page (fele dormiente). Nor are 
there any examples of the participle used as a noun, although I have found 
this e/i alteration to be a point of anxiety for students. In the same 
chapter, A&M urge their reader: 揜emember that perfect participles which 
are passive describe nouns that are the objects of the actions described 
(p. 22). If I had to read this twice, how easy will it be for students?

While A&M often seem to take for granted that students will see points of 
style by being given points of syntax, the book contains some good pointers 
on Latin idiom, their command of which leads to felicitous examples of how 
the language works. In discussing word order, for example, A&M point out 
that Latin will say 搃s est puer quem pulcherrimum umquam vidi rather than 
搃s est puer pulcherrimus quem umquam vidi (p. 26), and that the emphatic 
forms of the verb are made clear by putting the verb first (搉um hoc dixit? 
dixit hoc, p. 43). They also blessedly encourage students to check a Latin 
dictionary for the final word on usage (e.g. p. 38). The best parts of the 
book seem to me to be those that address idiom head-on; for example, the 
break-out box that looks at how to say 搘ithout, instead of in Latin (p. 
113) and the chapter devoted to 揵ecause, as if, although (pp. 99103).

The Latin examples given in the text are very simple, and are not taken 
from Caesar or Cicero. While that fits with A&M抯 goal of updating the 
approach to prose composition, it does little to give students a feel for 
the style of ancient authors. The first mention of ancient authors comes at 
the very end of the book: after a brief and less-than-satisfying chapter on 
word order, A&M offer a sample of passages illustrating Latin prose style 
(two from Cicero, one each from Caesar, Livy and Tacitus), each followed by 
reading notes and notes on prose style. None of the passages is accompanied 
by a general overview of its style, although the notes point out useful and 
important features that students could imitate (e.g. fronting of verbs, 
In sum, Writing Latin looks and reads as a good review for students 
揻inished with grammar and about to begin reading ancient authors.

Davidson College

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