Review of Intermediate Latin: An Online Supplement to Intermediate Latin

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Intermediate Latin: An Online Supplement to Intermediate Latin

The core of Intermediate Latin is the set of twelve texts by four Latin authors: Catullus, Poems 7, 10, and 11; Cicero, De Amicitia 2, 7.23-25, and 8; Ovid, Amores 1.1, 1.9, and 2.17; and Pliny the Younger, Letters 1.9, 4.19, and 8.16). The choice of texts reflects the site's emphasis on personal relationships, and the authors chosen represent, in addition to centrality in the ordinary canon of the curriculum, both prose and verse from a range of periods (explained in some detail by the authors at http://www.iona/latin/textintro.html).

The supposition, not unnatural, is that your second-year Latin class will consist, at least in part, of reading (i.e, translating) unadapted Latin authors, and that students who are reading these specific texts may find the aids provided here helpful. The texts are all divided into short segments, each of which is annotated and linked to subsequent and previous segments. The annotation is very full: in addition to guidance on vocabulary (every word is glossed; so students may click on any word to find dictionary help); students may also click an icon that changes the help data to morphology/syntax, which is arranged by line for poetry (by "paragraph" for prose) rather than by word. I found no errors in either set of this information. Each segment is further annotated with standard commentary, which students access by clicking an icon. Finally, each page displays a "Magister/Magistra" icon, which - when clicked - is supposed to pop up further illumination, provocative questions, or items of interest. Unfortunately, when I tried it, nothing happened (with any of the browsers), evidently a java script problem. This, however, while disappointing, does nothing to decrease the value of the site as a whole. Each page also displays an icon which, when clicked, pops up an email box so that students can submit written translations to their instructor. (Students are advised to open Notepad or another text editor and write their translations there, cutting and pasting the final result into the email message.) The authors have made good use of the web interface and of the pedagogical advantages of this medium for delivering both content and commentary. (At present, there is no sound or motion video.) The layout is attractive and clear, and navigation is straightforward.

The texts are not actually translated (i.e., there is no "answer" key): if students get hopelessly stuck, they will have to find guidance from a live teacher. The site is not intended to replace a classroom experience, but there is enough guidance provided that these texts could in fact be read independently by students at (for example) the advanced level. Finally, the site has a page of helpful internet resources of both general and specific kinds.

There is very little here to quibble with. The most serious issue is the unevenness with which the four authors are "introduced" outside the actual texts. For Ovid, there is a full biography, a link to additional web resources, a description of his works, and a short discussion of Book 1 of the Amores. This is excellent, and should be the model for all the other authors. The introduction to Pliny provides adequate information but is formatted in a less attractive way. Alas, for Catullus the introduction consists entirely of a short and inadequate biographical sketch which would do little to suggest the richness of his work or reasons why students might want to pursue his poetry outside the three poems presented here; at the very least, a link could have been given to Richard Cardona's Catullus on the Web. Cicero is done a little better, but his political life gets short shrift indeed, and there is no indication of why he might have been important for his times or for the history of Latin literature; for biography, students are merely referred to Andrew Riggsby's Cicero Homepage, an excellent resource but rather forbidding and hardly suitable as an introduction for students whose knowledge of Cicero might be tabula rasa. I hope that this uneven treatment can be remedied as time goes on: perhaps indeed these differences derive from the site's being somewhat unfinished, for clearly priority was given to the annotation and commentary on the texts.

A final, minor point: while presentation for annotated reading on the web works well in segments, such segments are inevitably arbitrary, and it would be pleasant if there were a link by which students could at any time view the poem/letter/essay that they are reading as a whole. This seems to me especially important for a poem, but by no means useless for prose. This would also make it possible to print out the whole text so that it could (for example) be brought to class for reading if the instructor prefers (as I do) not to have translations written down.

In short, this is a reliable and useful site. Certainly, it will be helpful for its stated target audience of third- or fourth-semester Latin students, but I should think that advanced students would also be able to use the material, especially for independent assignments. I urge users to cooperate with the authors and "sign in," since tracking usage was a condition of the grant that paid for the development of this resource.

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