Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.10.22 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.10.22

Claude Pavur, Easy on the Odes: A Latin Phrase-book for the Odes of Horace.   St. Louis, MO:  Claude Pavur, 2012.  Pp. xi, 185.  ISBN 5800089976853.  $14.95 (pb).  


Reviewed by Peter Kuhlmann, Seminar für Klassische Philologie, University of Göttingen​ (pkuhlma@gwdg.de)

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The volume contains an edition of Horace’s odes with additional didactic material for classroom use. The author Claude Pavur has already published other useful Latin teaching materials on his homepage at Saint Louis University, which are partially based on the results of the psychology of learning languages. The overall aim of this text-book is to enable students to understand the difficult language of Horace’s odes with a special phrase-based approach to language acquisition. This innovative method is supposed to offer a time saving means for the complete reading of this central text corpus of classical antiquity.

In his short introduction (11 pp.), along with some important methodological remarks Pavur explains his didactic concept and the literary relevance of the work of Horace for classical scholarship and education. Pavur’s new method consists in listing and glossing all the adjective phrases in Horace’s odes. The adjectives comprise about 27% of the whole text, and, combined with the substantives related to their attributes, these phrases comprise 69% of the text. According to Pavur this high frequency of "adjective phrases" gives them a central importance for the reader of the text. Another point concerns the typical word order of poetic Latin texts with the separation of adjective and related noun (hyperbaton) such as "non hoc iocosae convenient lyrae" (Odes III.3.69) where the adjective iocosae is separated from the noun lyrae ("to a playful lyre"). Since these hyperbata occur in nearly every verse of Horace’s odes, the students have to develop something like a syntactical expectation or feeling for these special constructions. A third point concerns the difference between "understanding" and "translating" the text (p. xi): The first aim of the text-book is not the translation of the poems as such, but the immediate act of understanding the grammatical forms and structures while reading the text.

After the introduction follows the whole text of the odes (taken from The Latin Library with corrections) printed in three columns: On the left side are the odes with the adjectives in bold, e.g. (Odes I.1.1-2): "Maecenas atavis edite regibus / O et praesidium et dulce decus meum (…)". In the middle the whole adjective units or "chunks" are printed without the verbal or other information, e.g.: "Maecenas atavis edite regibus / dulce decus meum …". The right column contains the translation of these "chunks", e.g. "Maecenas sprung from ancenstral kings / sweet glory of mine (…)". The final part of the text-book provides a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all adjective forms in Horace’s odes beginning with "abditae / abdito / abeunte / absens / abstinens / abstinens / acer / acer / acer (etc.)". These are given without translation or text reference, but this listing does at least make it possible to find out the exact frequency of the concrete inflectional forms of the adjectives.

In many respects, the text-book takes up the typical difficulties of students when they encounter the complex language of Horace, and it tries to handle these problems using the insights of current psychology of language learning and lexicostatistics. One important principle is the method of learning in contexts and "chunks", i.e. the attempt to present the vocabulary in semantic and syntactical contexts in order to facilitate learning. Text comprehension is based on the understanding of smaller syntactical units below sentence level, such as noun phrases consisting of adjectives and nouns. With this method and the special layout of the text presented in three columns it is indeed easier to quickly view the semantic structure of entire odes. On the other hand, the stress on adjectives seems questionable because in most of the odes this word class is less relevant for the meaning of the whole text than substantives and verbs. This phenomenon can easily be proved in the first ode (Odes I.1.1-2): "Maecenas … regibus, / o et praesidium et … decus …, / sunt quos curriculo pulverem … Olympicum / collegisse iuvat metaque …" (without adjectives) delivers more information and is far easier to understand than for instance: "… atavis edite …, / o et … dulce … meum, / sunt, quos … Olympicum / collegisse iuvat … fervidis" (without substantives). Therefore it seems rather arbitrary to emphasize the importance of the adjectives so much. Another difficulty regards the listing of all adjective forms in the appendix. It would have been more useful for students to present a lemmatized list of the adjectives in nominative singular instead of the "tokens", along with appropriate English translations; in the present form the appendix is useful only for linguistic and stylistic studies on Horace’s odes, and even there the user lacks the information where the concrete form occurs.

To sum up, in spite of the critical remarks above, Pavur’s didactic edition can help advanced learners find an effective and time saving way to detect the linguistic and stylistic characteristics of a very complex and demanding lyrical text corpus. Particularly important is the combination of semantic and syntactic approaches which primarily focus on the understanding and not on the translation of the Latin text, for the translation into English can create a filter or even a barrier distracting the modern reader from the original language and its features.

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