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CJ-ONLINE  February 2008

CJ-ONLINE February 2008

Subject:

CJ Online (Forum) 2008.02.01 ASHDOWNE AND MORWOOD, Writing Latin

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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:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20

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,
clausulae).

In sum, Writing Latin looks and reads as a good review for students
揻inished with grammar and about to begin reading ancient authors.

JEANNE NEUMANN
Davidson College


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