Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.02.17 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.02.17

Drew Arlen Mannetter, I Came, I Saw, I Translated: an Accelerated Method for Learning Classical Latin in the 21st Century.   Boca Raton, FL:  BrownWalker Press, 2012.  Pp. viii, 551.  ISBN 9781612335117.  $46.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Beert C. Verstraete, Acadia University (beert.verstraete@acadiau.ca)

In nearly all Latin primers for universities and colleges, the student is guided through the grammar in a gradual and incremental manner. Typically, with nouns the first two declensions come first, along with the use of the nominative and the accusative case, and with verbs the first conjugation and perhaps the second as well, together with the present indicative active, while the student is given her first taste of the fact that Latin, unlike English, is a highly inflected language. The basic pedagogy is really not all that different from primers directed to pre-college students except that the material is covered at a much faster pace, so that one year of university Latin equals two, three, or even four years of Latin at the secondary school level. However, even then a student cannot be expected to tackle unadapted texts of classical Latin, unless in the form of extremely short snippets, and the reading of extended passages of Latin prose or poetry without any omissions or alterations must be left until the very end or until the second year; the still much used Wheelock’s Latin is a good example.

With Manneter, the student’s encounter with Latin is very different: “[T]he aim is to get students to read classical Latin and not, as most texts have it, in the future, but from the very first day of study.” (iii) The text chosen is Caesar’s Gallic War, chapters 1,2, 4, 5, 24-28. This is a good choice. Caesar shows the complex periodic-sentence structure so characteristic of classical Latin prose at its best, but is relatively free from the ornate rhetorical flourishes in Cicero and Livy. In the section on historical background (14-16), the select bibliography 17-19, the occasional note or question in the main text, and even more, the large number of study questions in Appendix E (515-546), the author also makes the student come to grips with the historical background; he is in fact expected to read much more of The Gallic War in translation.

Following the Introduction in which the author sets out the rationale for his methodology are five units: 1, Latin Pronunciation; 2, The Eight Parts of Speech; 3, Sentence Structure; 4, The Life and Times of Gaius Julius Caesar, 100-44 B.C.; 5, Select Bibliography. The main body of the text is divided into three parts: Pars Prima covers chapter one of The Gallic Wars, Pars Secunda chapter two, and Pars Tertia the remaining chapters. There are six Appendices: A, Vocabularies; B, Worksheets; C, Reference Grammar; D, Notes on Pars Tertia; E, Study Questions for Caesar’s Gallic War; F, Index of Terms, Grammar and Syntax. Pars Prima, which is devoted entirely to the first chapter of The Gallic War, spans no fewer than 150 pages (29-158). The Latin text is broken up into its eight sentences, and each of these is subjected to a meticulously detailed analysis in terms of vocabulary, morphology, and syntax which will give the student her first immersion, one might say, in the complexities of ‘real’ Latin. Each word in each sentence is individually parsed and accompanied by copious and detailed notes explaining its meaning, morphology (with the necessary paradigms provided), and syntax. Thus, the well-known first sentence, Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur, requires (including the first chapter’s full text and a very detailed Table of Contents at the beginning, 23-28) no less than 57 pages (23-79). Not surprisingly, therefore, in his Introduction the author makes a special note of the fact that he budgets six to seven weeks in his syllabus for the preliminary units and this first sentence.

The all-important sentence structure is tackled first in sentence one, as it is for all the following sentences in chapter one and in the remaining chapters. Here it is carefully broken up and laid out, clause by clause, on p. 33, showing the combination of a main clause with four relative clauses, and then is written out again with the suppressed words inserted, so that student will see that in Latin obvious words which can be inferred from the syntactic context are omitted as much as possible. With the first word, Gallia the student is introduced to the inflectional factors that determine the morphology of nouns (case, number, and gender), the overall system of noun cases, and first declension of nouns; this takes four pages (34-37). The next word, est, gets three pages, introducing the verb sum, esse in the present indicative and comparing it with the French and Spanish forms. And so it continues with the remaining words in the sentence. Along the way, the student is introduced to third declension adjectives and the use of adjectives in general (adjectival and substantival), adjectives of the first and second declension, prepositional phrases, the use of the cases with prepositions, third declension nouns, the first ten cardinal numbers, the relative pronoun, the regular Latin verb with the forms of the present indicative active of all conjugations, the pronominal adjective alius, second declension nouns, the first ten ordinal numbers, omitted antecedents, the intensive pronoun ipse, the ablative of means or instrument, predicate nominative nouns, possessive pronouns (adjectival and substantival use), the personal pronouns, and finally, the present passive indicative of all regular verbs. With each word, come brief exercises; for more extensive review work the student is referred to Appendix B (353-461). The student should now be ready to give an accurate, idiomatic translation of the sentence.

One will appreciate the very substantial amount of grammar that has been covered in this one sentence. The grammar, of course, cannot always be taken up in the sequence found in the more conventional introductory texts, e.g. first and second declension before third declension nouns, but the first sentence and the remaining sentences of chapter one work beautifully in that the verbs are all in the present tense, while the following chapters covered by Manneter are replete with past tense forms.

The amount of new grammar gradually decreases as one moves along in the chapters, so that the pace of work, including translation, also accelerates. Thus, the complete text for chapter 28, the last chapter covered by the author, runs for only eleven pages (316-326). In the Endnote after this (327-8), the student is referred to a reference grammar for the imperative forms of the verb as well as for the future and future perfect tenses. These forms may be “rare,” as Manneter claims (326), but not so rare that they need not be covered in an introductory text. I would recommend, therefore, that in a possible future edition a few pages be added to include this material. Until then, the teacher should familiarize the student with these forms and their uses, making sure to include negative commands as well.

As the author himself recognizes, his text is directed to highly able and motivated students and their teachers. It certainly will be ideal for graduate-level students. I am not teaching first-year Latin anymore, but if the opportunity were to arise, I would love to try out this superbly conceived and meticulously executed introduction to Latin.

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