Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.04.37 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.04.37

Brian Beyer, Legends of Early Rome: Authentic Latin Prose for the Beginning Student.   New Haven; London:  Yale University Press, 2015.  Pp. xvi, 109.  ISBN 9780300165432.  $30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Debra Freas, Occidental College (


Legends Of Early Rome is a compact reader for Book I of Eutropius’ Breviarium, a work that in ten books provides a succinct history of Rome from its foundation up to the death of Emperor Jovian in 364 CE. Book I begins with the foundation of Rome in 753 BCE and ends with the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BCE, briefly cataloguing pivotal moments in Roman History in the intervening years. Eutropius—who lived and served under the Roman Emperors Constantine, Julian, and Valens in the fourth century CE—wrote the Breviarium for a Greek speaking audience and therefore writes in standard Classical Latin.

Beyer designed Legends Of Early Rome for beginning students as they transition from their introductory textbook to Latin literature. I have used the reader with students after their completion of the introductory Latin sequence, 101 and 102, and incorporate student feedback in this review when appropriate.

Beyer organizes Legends of Early Rome into eleven sections: Preface, Acknowledgements, Introduction, Text and Notes, Unannotated Latin Text, Commentary, Vocabulary, Appendix A Maps, Appendix B Additional Textbook Cross-References, Bibliography, and Index of Select Grammatical Constructions. Four images are included in the text sections.

The Preface contains five sections: Why Eutropius?; Format Of This Edition; Vocabulary; Latin Text; and English Translations of Livy. Beyer makes a compelling case for using Eutropius as a bridge text as the author’s syntax, style, and vocabulary prepare students to read beginning authors such as Caesar and Nepos. The organization of the reader, while straightforward, is explained in the format section and students should be advised to pay attention to this explanation in order to take advantage of the many valuable features contained in the reader. For example, Beyer explains that the vocabulary section is designed with beginning students specifically in mind and therefore includes all inflected forms of words found in Book I after the dictionary entry. Beyer’s commitment to present uncomplicated Latin prose to students is reflected in the decision to opt for the “reading easiest for the beginning student” (xii) when differences arise in the manuscript tradition for Book I of the Breviarium.

The two-page Introduction provides another overview of the book’s contents, a history of the Breviarium, and a biography of Eutropius. While brief, the history section concisely explains why this text is ideal for the beginning student: the Breviarium was written for an audience “whose first language was often not Latin” (xv). The accessibility of the Latin and relevance of the historical subject matter made the Breviarium a popular read from late antiquity on into the modern era where it fell by the wayside in the 1950s. This historical overview confirms the value of Eutropius as a bridge author and Beyer convincingly makes the case for an updated edition.

The Text and Notes section is user friendly and the glosses consistently provide assistance where students tend to get stuck. Passages from Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita are interspersed throughout, “adding color and detail to Eutropius’s succinct account” (x). Some students found these insertions to be distracting but most appreciated the additional historical material. Page 2 presents an image from a Renaissance manuscript of the Breviarium, a pertinent reminder to students of how this text has survived from antiquity as they begin reading the work.

Beyer’s decision to include an Unannotated Latin Text is convenient for quiz and exam use and for immediately reviewing passages read using the annotated text. Students found it particularly gratifying upon completion of the text to read through the unannotated Latin with relative ease and speed. This section begins with a photograph of the Lupa Capitolina, an appropriate image as Book I begins with the birth of Romulus and Remus.

The Commentary provides “more in-depth translation help, formal analyses of the grammar and syntax, and historical notes…” (x). Between this help and the glosses found in the annotated section of the text, students receive ample support to master the Latin of Book I. I encouraged my students to use the commentary sparingly as it often provides the answers to all of their problems, an approach that Beyer advocates as well.

The Vocabulary section is a comprehensive resource for the Latin in Book I. Beyer includes all inflected forms of words after the dictionary entry, a valuable feature that allows students to confirm their correct identification of the word. Such exhaustive assistance is welcome at a time when students are encountering vocabulary that they may be unfamiliar with. The vocabulary entry aliquī, -qui, -quod should be corrected to aliquī, -quae, -quod on page 84.

Appendix A contains two fifth century BCE maps, one of early Rome and one of the regions and peoples of central Italy, both of which are valuable resources for locating events recounted in Book I.

Appendix B presents additional cross-references for select grammatical constructions found in textbooks not mentioned in the Commentary section, such as the Oxford Latin Course, Part III, 2nd Edition (1997).

The Bibliography includes annotated editions, critical editions, English translations, Lexicon, and online versions, the last particularly prudent as these are most accessible for students.

The Index of Select Grammatical Constructions is a valuable resource for students who wish to review all examples of a construction in Book I, such as the ablative absolute.

Beyer includes two other images in the reader: Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Intervention of the Sabine Women on page 15 and Gavin Hamilton’s painting The Death of Lucretia on page 37. The inclusion of these two paintings points to the recurrence of rape at pivotal moments in Roman history. As high school and college students are most likely to be using this reader, it is perhaps a missed opportunity not to include a broader comment about the prevalence of rape in Roman history and Latin literature in the commentary.

Beyer has the students’ perspective firmly in mind when compiling material for this compact and comprehensive reader. Students today, much like Eutropius’ original audience, will find Book I to be a useful, episodic overview of early Roman history even if the material can be a bit dry. The only oversight may be that Beyer twice mentions that an epitome of Livy is Eutropius’ primary source, and therefore a brief account of Eutropius’ sources, with particular emphasis on Livy, would be welcome.

This book is a welcome follow up to Beyer’s War With Hannibal and the format is similar to its predecessor. The two readers are organized so similarly, in fact, that it is convenient when working through Book I of the Breviarium to use sections from the annotated text of War With Hannibal for sight translation passages on exams. Instructors will find the consistent review of grammatical constructions throughout the book invaluable, and I think it is an excellent choice for beginning students transitioning from their textbook to Latin prose.

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