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Classical Journal On-Line <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 6 Jan 2008 10:04:26 -0600
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Latin Alive and Well: An Introductory Text. By P.L. CHAMBERS. Norman, OK: 
University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. Pp. xv + 350. Paper, $24.95. ISBN 

Order this text for $24.95 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit 
CAMWS and the Classical Journal: 


[ed. note: macrons not displayed; clean article to be posted at 

The title of this book sounds slightly defensive, as if the author had 
heard the phrase 揹ead language too often. Readers should not be faulted, 
therefore, for expecting a markedly innovative approach to teaching and 
learning basic Latin. What they receive instead is a highly traditional 
grammar-translation textbook, very similar to Wheelock抯. This is not a bad 
book; it simply does not offer much that is not presented equally well 

There are certainly a few innovations. Learning objectives are boxed off at 
the start of every chapter, giving the teacher and student a concrete idea 
of what is to come. Some material that is scattered in other books is 
presented here in a single chapter. By Chapter V, the student has been 
introduced to the present indicative of all conjugations; the present, 
imperfect and future indicative of sum; and first- and second-declension 
nouns and adjectives. Perfect, imperfect and future tenses for all four 
conjugations are each presented within a single chapter. This is a sensible 
decision, since imperfect and perfect endings are the same for all regular 
verbs, and it does students no favor to let them believe that all future 
tense verbs end in -bo, -bis, -bit, -bimus, -bitis and -bunt, only to have 
them find out otherwise when they learn the third and fourth conjugations. 
The method of teaching the present tense of the third conjugation is also 
clever, since it avoids the pitfall students often experience when they 
reach this conjugation. If they have previously been told to drop -re from 
the infinitive and add -o, -s, -t, -mus, -tis and -nt, they may become 
confused when that suddenly will not work. Instead, they are told here to 
揊ind the verbal stem [[by dropping the last three letters of the 
Infinitive]] [boldface (marked "[[ ]]") is original] and then add the 
endings -o, -is, -it, -imus, -itis and -unt (p. 29). The six tenses of the 
indicative active are introduced quickly, in the first third of the book. 
The five declensions are all presented by Chapter XIX (of 36). Covering so 
much material so quickly inevitably leads to important topics being put off 
a long time, for example comparative and superlative adjectives (Chapters 
XXIV and XXV). There is an even longer wait for adverb comparison (Chapter 
XXIX). The oddest postponement, however, is numbers, which are relegated to 
the penultimate chapter. Why should students of Latin wait so long for 
numbers, something those learning modern languages typically cover early 

The readings are initially presented Wheelock-style, as 揝entence 
Translations consisting of sentences created by the author (Fortuna 
patriae est magna) and/or snippets adapted from ancient authors (Puella 
poetam non amat. Vale, puella! 桟atullus). Beginning in Chapter V, Chambers 
adds connected passages (揟ext Translation). The choice of material for 
the latter is very traditional: first the story of Aeneas adapted from 
Vergil, and then passages adapted from Livy抯 Ab Urbe Condita. These 
include a version of Livy抯 Preface, which represents a very challenging 
reading for Chapter VIII of a beginner抯 text. Later chapters contain 
readings from authors such as Caesar (particularly his invasion of 
Britain), Cicero, Seneca, Nepos, Martial and Horace. Chambers also throws 
in the occasional Latin for All Occasions-type quotation (Est bonum esse 
rex! 桵el Brooks). In addition, the Text Translations contain two 揻un 
passages, one on 揚rocurator Nihil Nihil Septem (p. 86) and one on 揃ella 
Stellarum (p. 213). The book could have used more of these, since many of 
the other sentences and readings may not be intrinsically engaging even to 
more mature college students. A passionate and enthusiastic teacher can 
make the material interesting, but it would be nice not to have to do so 
much of the author抯 work for her.

There are some exercises apart from readings; these tend to be 搘rite out 
the declension/conjugation of, 搘rite the ___________ forms of 
______________, or other short-answer activities requiring plugging in a 
form or two. Only occasionally does the student write Latin of his/her own 
creation that is not a direct translation. At the end of the chapter on 
present subjunctive formation, there is an assignment to 揥rite a tombstone 
inscription in Latin including at least six of the following grammatical 
constructions厰 (p. 204). Had the book included more such exercises, the 
student might gain a better feel for Latin as a language, not a puzzle that 
one either translates into English or translates English into. Nor does it 
help that the book抯 cultural information is scanty. There is no systematic 
presentation of Roman daily life, mythology, Roman history after the death 
of Romulus or even the history of Roman literature. There are a few 
visuals, in a welcome contrast to Wheelock抯 text, but they are infrequent 
and sometimes random. Barocci抯 Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius Fleeing Troy 
is reproduced at the start of a chapter containing a reading on Aeneas, but 
other shots of Roman ruins, such as the Curia or the Colosseum, seem 
haphazardly placed. The most effective visual aid is a series of cute 
drawings of a goldfish in a bowl that accompanies the chapter on 
prepositions (p. 54).

Among the Sentence Translations is this one by the French philosopher Rene 
Boylesve, which the author quotes in English in her 揘ote to the Student 
on p. xi: 揗emoria teneamus nos non discere Latinam linguam ut declinemus 
verba et in investigationibus splendeamus sed ut hac lingua penetremus in 
regnum  cogitationis humanae. We do receive some glimpses into the 
cogitatio humana of the Romans in this text, but all too often we are left 
with the impression that the be-all and end-all of Latin study is indeed ut 
declinemus verba (et nomina et adiectiva).

Townsend Harris High School

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