Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.09.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.09.16

Jeanne Marie Neumann, Lingua Latina: A Companion to 'Roma Aeterna'. Based on Hans Ørberg's Instructions, with Vocabulary and Grammar.   Indianapolis; Cambridge:  Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2017.  Pp. xli, 463.  ISBN 9781585108411.  $31.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Stephen A. Berard, Wenatchee Valley College (


Hans Ørberg’s Roma Aeterna is the continuation of his Familia Romana. Both are inductive readers whose text and notes are in Latin. Roma Aeterna, a history of Rome told through excerpts from a variety of Roman authors, seems most appropriate for either the fourth year of high school or the second year of college. The ancillary booklet, Instructions (35 pages), though useful as an historical, cultural, and grammatical commentary, is too brief and condensed to satisfy the typical autodidact. Not only will most classroom instructors abridge the 424-page text but they will also want to prepare their own materials to supplement Ørberg’s Instructions.

Jeanne Neumann’s Companion to ‘Roma Aeterna’ in fact provides the sort of thorough-going supplementation that the Latin instructor might attempt to provide if allowed far more time than is typically available. In an introduction addressed both to instructor and student, Neumann offers an overview of Roma Aeterna and the curriculum it entails, including advice on pacing the readings, reviewing grammatical structures, and abridging the text. To the student she gives profitable advice about reading long sentences and analyzing style—advice upon which she follows up at various points in the main body of the text. The rest of the book is divided into two partēs, each of which is further divided into chapters corresponding to Ørberg’s 20 (i.e., XXXVI-LVI).

Pars Prima is general and treats the new lexical, syntactic, and stylistic elements found in the corresponding Ørberg chapter as well as providing reviews of previous grammar relevant to the current readings. Each chapter in Pars Altera begins with Ørberg’s own introduction to the reading, then provides a line-by-line commentary, and closes with a Latin-English vocabulary list. The back of the book is packed with materials: a general Latin-English vocabulary, a summary of word classes and their morphologies, a list of the principal parts of all the verbs occurring in Roma Aeterna (using Ørberg’s tripartite pattern), an index of several grammatical terms in Latin and English, and a general index.

Among the outstanding features of the Companion are the concise overviews and graphic summaries of grammatical usages, such as those of temporal clauses (p. 22) and the various uses of dubitō (p. 40). In fact, although the author is appropriately focused only on the Ørberg text and has not composed a general grammar of Latin, one occasionally wishes these lucid summaries were entirely global, as in the case of the overview of expressions of purpose (pp. 60-61), which misses only the use of dative gerunds and gerundives.

The general impression created by Neumann’s book is that of a solicitous teacher attempting to provide her students with absolutely as much information as possible. As the author explains, the commentary text is redundant in that certain difficult or important information is given in more than one place. Not only does Neumann often volunteer information beyond what is in Ørberg, she also furnishes contextual information, like the location of the Pyrenees (p. 244) or the general nature of rhetorical questions (pp. 340-341), with which many would be familiar or could easily look up on their own. Sometimes Neumann seems to be saving the reader a trip to a glossary or dictionary, as when she explains that parum means “too little, not enough.” This is hardly a fault; but, conversely, there are a few rare instances where the presentation seems terse, as in the treatment of the possessive genitive to describe a characteristic (p. 98) or the simple gloss “supine” on the word questum (p. 311) even though Neumann’s practice elsewhere would see to necessitate either an explanation that this is an accusative supine expressing purpose after a verb of motion or at least a reference to the grammar section. However, these rare instances of reticence are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Ørberg's approach is favored by those who teach Latin as a spoken language. Ørberg not only supplies not only a continuous Latin text without the distraction of the vernacular; he even introduces, especially toward the end of Familia Romana, a large number of Latin grammatical and prosodic terms as well as phrases and expressions useful in the classroom. The least compromising proponents of Living/Perennial Latin will bemoan the fact that the Companion was not written in Latin. At a different point on the spectrum will be those who, though they do indeed appreciate the spirit of Latīna Latīnē, nevertheless hold regular vernacular “reality sessions” in class in order to guarantee that their students understand what is going on as well as to provide a little comforting “downtime” from the disorienting work of learning a foreign language. An obvious middle road for Neumann would have been to provide, in the spirit of Ørberg, at least the Latin grammatical terms for all the English ones used in the book and perhaps an occasional example sentence or two showing how to treat the current topic in Latin. Instead of this, we find promising Latin headings like GRAMMATICA LATINA and AUXILIA LEGENDI often followed by English terminology or by English that is sporadically glossed parenthetically in Latin. The terms that Ørberg does not supply are readily accessible in Latin grammarians. A helpful compendium can be found in S. E. Stout's Latin in the Latin Class (Bloomington: 1917), which, though out of print, can be purchased on demand through Google Books. No doubt Latin speakers will end up adding their own notes— something permitted by the Companion's spacious format.

As to the larger question of the base language of this book, there will obviously be some academic contexts, especially at the university level, where students in non-English-speaking countries will be able to use the Companion profitably. In perhaps the majority of non-English-speaking settings, however, its helpfulness will be more limited. Since many in the Perennial Latin movement tend to spurn international English as the new lingua Pūnica, perhaps some stalwart spoken-Latin prōpugnātor will someday turn the Companion into the Comes!

Especially when the principal subject of the work being reviewed is grammar, a somewhat exact science, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to report on accuracy. In these times of insufficient editing services supplied by publishers, it is commendable that the Companion is at least 99% mistake free. Macrons are almost always correctly applied. One exception is the inconsistency in the treatment of the lexical roots vast- (e.g., p. 169 vs p. 174) and vāll- (e.g., p. 317 vs p. 318). Typos are rare. Those in English never create real confusion: e.g., “gentive” for genitive (p. 209). Those in Latin could be more of a problem for the neophyte: e.g., “nārrātor” for nārrātur (p. 159), “partiā” for patriā (p. 181), and Hannibal, “Hanilaris” fīlius, “Karthāginiēnis” for Hannibal, Hamilcāris fīlius, Karthāginiēnsis (p. 263). This reviewer noticed only two mistakes in Latin generated by the author that are not typographical errors: “facerētur” for fieret (p. 116) and ablātīvus mēnsūrae “an” differentiae (not in a question) for something like ablātīvus mēnsūrae sīve differentiae (p. 89). Finally, the exposition of the problematical third declension nouns pecus pecudis (f.) and pecus pecoris (n.) and the fourth declension pecū (n., usually in the plural form pecua) is confusing at best. The noun pecus pecudis is virtually always feminine, with a regular plural pecudēs and the neuter pecuda occuring only in tragedy; but this noun is listed incorrectly in one glossary (p. 118) as neuter and correctly in another (p. 406) as feminine. The root of the confusion is that the author treats these three words as suppletive of each other (see p. 107) although, even if the Romans may have indeed occasionally mixed these up themselves, both Lewis and Short and the OLD quite rightly, nay, mercifully keep them separate. In summary, though, in a book of 504 pages, these are really minor faults for correction in future editions.

The grammatical terminology employed by Neumann is notional, traditional, and appropriate for the audience. One detail that could be rethought is the use of the term descriptive relative clause for the more common relative clause of characteristic. Since all relative clauses can be seen as "descriptive" in some way, the latter term seems more distinctive and thus more helpful.

There are two summary lists in the Companion that may puzzle some. First, the author places numerals in her list of "parts of speech" (p. 421), with the remark “nouns and adjectives which denote numbers.” The author clearly does this in order to be inclusive and not to imply that numerals constitute a part of speech per se; however, this may still confuse the student.1 The other issue is the omission of the locative from the list of cases (p. 421). Obviously there is a locative case function in the deep structure of Latin syntax. The question would appear to be whether there is sufficient morphological justification to teach students that there is in fact a “locative case” as opposed, for example, to an “instrumental” case, which is clearly not distinctively present in the morphology. Latin locative morphology exhibits two types of distinctiveness: global and local. Globally, we find that in the four relevant declensions (the fifth does not denote locations) the underlying locative termination -i/ī is either directly phonetically expressed or, in the first and second declensions, is present in assimilated form (-āi > -ae and -ei > ). In the third declension, earlier locatives like Karthāginī appear to have been replaced with the ablative due to confusion with the dative, although the older usage remained in classical rūrī. Locally, in the fourth declension, the locative form domī is absolutely distinctive in classical Latin. By comparison, the vocative case is distinctive (absolutely so when unassimilated) only in one declension: the second. Why not then grant students the bragging right to say that they are learning a language with seven cases?


1.   Numerals are indeed treated as a special class by grammarians, not, of course, because they constitute a part of speech (or word class) in themselves but rather because the semantically based category "numeral" actually spans three parts of speech: adjectives, nouns, and adverbs. Ancient Latin grammarians did not differentiate between nouns and adjectives but rather considered them all to be nōmina that could optionally be used as nōmina adiectīva. For example, in the sentence Prōcēra abiit, prōcēra would be seen as a nōmen; in Fēmina prōcēra abiit, prōcēra, contrary to modern thinking, would still have been considered as belonging to that subclass of nōmina called nōmina adiectīva. In other words, it would have been assigned to the same class as victor in the sentence Dux victor discessit, even though moderns would see victor here as an apposed noun with adjectival semantic force. The modern view that words like “prōcērus, -a, -um” constitute their own separate word class is based, theoretically at least, on considerations of universal grammar that do not need to be specified here. With regard to numerals: the ancients would have understood words like trēs and tertius (as in Trēs adsunt and Tertius adest) as nōmina that could optionally appear as nōmina adiectīva: i.e., in sentences like Trēs virī adsunt and Tertius vir adest. Ørberg, who was focused only on Latin, did not admit adiectīvum into the partēs ōrātiōnis; but, following modern practice, Neumann wisely does. To be perfectly consistent, it would seem best for moderns to construe cardinal, ordinal, distributive, multiplicative, categorical numerals and the like--trēs, tertius, ternī, triplex, tertiānus, etc.--as fundamentally adjectives that can be optionally substantivized: e.g. Trēs adsunt, Tertius adest, Ternōs līberāvit, Triplex mihi magis placet, and Tertiānīs praeest. In Latin, to refer to the number three as an abstract, nominal entity, we must say Trēs numerus. To complete the picture, inclusive and summative frequentatives like ter (“thrice”) and tertium ("for the third time") as well as differential numerals like triplō are always adverbs.

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