Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.07.45

Ronnie Ancona, David J. Murphy, Horace: A Legamus Transitional Reader.   Mundelein, Ill.:  Bolchazy-Carducci, 2008.  Pp. xxiv, 189.  ISBN 978-0-86516-676-9.  $35.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by John Aveline,
Word count: 1078 words

In the foreword to Horace: A Legamus Reader Kenneth Kitchell (co-editor of the Legamus series) states that the transition for Latin students from "made-up Latin" to "real" Latin is a major hurdle for the students and one of the greatest challenges for the teachers. In an effort to meet this challenge Bolchazy-Carducci has created a series of readers (although workbook might be a more accurate name), each based on a different author, which attempts to slowly and carefully guide students in their first efforts to handle the complexities of so-called "real" Latin. A fairly thorough review of the Vergil Legamus has already appeared in BMCR1 and so a brief overview of the content and a few comments should suffice.

The book is well fortified with peripheral material. At the beginning there is a foreword, which describes the Legamus series' purpose and goals, a preface, which explains how to use the book and an introduction to Horace (historical context, life and works as well as a brief bibliography). The book also includes three appendices; a summary of Latin grammar, a list of the major figures of speech to be found in the book's selections of Horace, an overview of metres used by Horace and, finally, a pull-out vocabulary of some 200 words. Sandwiched between are 203 lines from Horace's Satires and Odes.2

Each section of text is presented with roughly the same supporting material, each with its own catchy title:

Before You Read What Horace Wrote--an introduction to the Satire or Ode to be read with historical, cultural, and/or literary background as appropriate and useful.

Keep This Grammar in Mind / Now It's Your Turn--one or, more often, two grammar points which feature prominently in the passage to be read, followed by a practice exercise.

Helping You Read What Horace Wrote--the text of the passage with assistance in the form of vocabulary and notes. The vocabulary offered is extensive and the notes deal mainly with grammatical issues. This section is dropped as the student progresses through the book, when it is felt that less preparation is required before the naked text may be revealed. At this point words in the text which go together but are separated are in a font which is distinct from the rest of the text.

Stopping For Some Practice--a grammatical point or discussion of English derivatives, accompanied by a practice exercise.

What Horace Actually Wrote--the text of the passage with notes and vocabulary. The notes here are different and are often metrical in nature.

After Reading What Horace Wrote--some content questions as well as topics of discussion.

There is a great deal which recommends this book to its target market of high school Latin students and teachers. The authors, guided by the Legamus Committee, well recognize the aspects of 'original' Latin poetry (and Horace in particular) which generally cause difficulties for Latin students making that first step from simplified, text-book Latin. To paraphrase the foreword, these students are moving from a narrow vocabulary, predictable word order and familiar characters (virtually 'kid lit' written in New Latin) to elevated literature, unpredictable word order, an individual author's quirks and a lack of 'cultural literacy'. Having accurately identified the problem, the authors then take up the task of attempting to solve it and they do a pretty good job. The idea of having a lesson on a point of grammar which will be used in the passage under consideration is a stroke of genius, as are writing exercises which focus on the vocabulary which the student is about to see. This has the effect of making the poem familiar to the student before they read it. But the exercises can suffer from a certain dullness as the authors have limited themselves by their adherence to Horace's vocabulary.

Also beneficial is providing the text with assumed words added in and words which go together but are physically separated in the text written in a matching font which is different from the main body of the text or any other word pairings.

The book is also very user-friendly. There is lots of white space on a page and large fonts are used, both of which make it easy for students to make notes. The exercises also have room for answers usually, although not always, lined. As mentioned above, in the Helping You Read What Horace Wrote section, different font styles and sizes are used to graphically show students words which agree even though they are separated within the sentence. This is very useful and addresses the challenge of seemingly random word order that students new to 'original' Latin face. However, often because of the fonts chosen, the text at times resembles a ransom note.

Despite the many fine qualities of the book, there are one or two minor points to raise. In general, the book feels as if it has been put together and published under a tight deadline. Fortunately, there does not seem to be the frequency of typos and inconsistencies that are found in the Vergil Legamus reader. One inconsistency which does occur with some frequency is the seeming indecision when discussing a literary device whether to refer the reader to the glossary of terms at the back of the book, or to an example of the same device which has already occurred in the textbook. For example, on page 150 when anaphora is used, the reader is referred to an earlier use of this device found in the book (by poem and line number, rather than page number), but when a tricolon appears on the same page, the reader is referred to the list of major figures of speech in Appendix B. It might be easier to consistently refer the student to the glossary at the back of the book and provide a somewhat more thorough definition.

Finally, the pull-out vocabulary at the back of the book, similar to that found in Pharr's edition of Vergil's Aeneid I-VI is good in theory, but less valuable in practice. Admittedly there is only a limited amount of Horace, but of the 200 or so entries, a good portion of them scarcely warrant inclusion (i.e., sum, ad, in).

This textbook is a good member of the Legamus series and one which I am and will continue to be happy to use with my students as they traverse the minefield of literary Latin. As the series grows and matures, I am sure it will only improve on its good start.


1.   Thomas J. Sienkewicz, LeaAnn A. Osburn, Vergil. A Legamus Transitional Reader; BMCR 2004.09.38.
2.   To be precise and in order of appearance, Satire 1.4.103-126, Satire 1.6.70-92 and Odes 1.5, 1.23, 1.11, 3.9, 2.10, 1.37, 1.9, 3.30. All of these can also be found in A Horace Workbook by Murphy and Ancona. It is interesting to note that the number of lines for each of the Roman poets for whom a Legamus reader is created are all in the 200 range (Catullus--194, Ovid--202, Vergil--227).

Comment on this review in the BMCR blog
Read Latest
Index for 2009
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 08:08:33, Thursday, 16 July 2009