BMCR 2000.10.21

Wheelock’s Latin, 6th edition, revised by Richard A. LaFleur

, , , Wheelock's Latin. New York: HarperResource, 2000. xliv, 508 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm. ISBN 0060956410 $20.00.

2 Responses

Any Latin instructor faces a difficult task when choosing an introductory textbook that is suitable for his or her particular style and will work well at a given university or college. For many programs, Wheelock’s textbook has remained the standard text, since it occupies a middle ground (as Wheelock himself wanted) between the approaches found, e.g., in Moreland and Fleischer’s Latin: An Intensive Course and more “user-friendly” texts like the Oxford Latin Course. Those who are still a bit gun-shy after the debacle of the 4th edition of Wheelock’s Latin can rest assured that the sixth edition, edited by Richard A. LaFleur (hereafter L.), remains an excellent choice for the college classroom. After saving the venerable textbook by making substantial and generally productive revisions in the 5th edition, L. has now given us what is essentially an incremental improvement. Some of the (relatively minor) changes are useful and beneficial; others are at best dubious, and some old annoyances remain.

All in all, this is recognizably Wheelock. The chapters remain in the same order as those in the 5th edition and are very close to them in length. There are still the excellent Loci Antiqui and Loci Immutati, the self-tutorial exercises with keys, the supplemental appendices (on etymology and constructions not used in the chapters), and somewhat expanded glossaries. On the whole, the changes are slight and we are confident that, if you presently use the 5th edition and are pleased with it, you will likely continue to use it. If you found that the 5th edition does not suit you, there is little new here to convince you that you should switch to the 6th.

L. conscientiously lists the new features on pp. xxii-xxiii. The “most immediately apparent” are the graphics. The textbook now sports a new cover, three maps (for which L. and Thomas R. Elliott utilized the resources of the Classical Atlas Project1), and several black and white photographs scattered throughout the chapters. The cover is colorful and attractive, and no one will regret the disappearance of the rogues’ gallery of Roman portrait busts that graced the 4th and 5th editions. The maps are useful and comprehensive. The illustrations have been added to many chapters (usually at the end of a chapter where earlier there was white space) and have been chosen to reflect the subject matter or theme of chapter readings (or occasionally of individual sententiae antiquae [hereafter SA]). Ancient works of art are favored over more modern ones, but the selection is wide-ranging. The quality of the reproductions is good, though these are not plates and some images might better have been left out. One can compare the image of the Laocoon group on p. 169 with the murky Trojan Horse fresco from Pompeii on the next page. The former is crisp and quite nice; the latter is, on the other hand, so muddy that it might as well not have been included.

Next on the list is “revision of chapter readings, especially the Practice and Review [hereafter PR] sentences, for greater clarity and increased reinforcement of new and recently introduced chapter vocabulary items.” For the most part, these changes are welcome and precisely fulfill the claims made for them. One need only look through the first chapter to find a representative example. In SA 11 we used to have merely Apollo me servat, but the 6th edition has him doing so saepe; thus the student meets this adverb four times in chapter 1. Small changes of this nature occur throughout the book. For example, cras and heri, moved to chapter 5 from 18, are added 18 times in the next 13 chapters; non solum … sed etiam, introduced in chapter 9, is reinforced with two new sentences in the next two chapters (ch. 10 PR 12, ch. 11 PR 13); chapter 10 PR 6 adds neuter de pace cogitat to emphasize neuter, which is only tested once in the previous chapter where it was introduced. The occasional addition of new cultural material, such as the funerary inscription of the daughter of Minicius Fundanus to the notes accompanying Pliny 5.16 (p. 80), is also welcome.

Some typographical errors have been corrected: chapter 5 s.v. sanus now reads “sanitarium” for “sanitorium;” chapter 8 PR 8 now reads correctly moram for moran. The unfortunate choice of ducere, with its irregular imperative, as the paradigm for the 3rd conjugation in the 5th edition has been rectified: the 6th edition has the regular agere.

Not all of the changes are welcome, however, and some are downright strange. For example, for a textbook that boasts on its cover that it is “[t]he Classic Introductory Latin Course, Based on Ancient Authors,” the change from (chapter 2 SA 2) fama volat [Verg. Aeneid 3.121] to fama et sententia volant is inexcusable, even if it does test the students on an extra first declension word and a conjunction. Likewise, the addition (chapter 11 SA 10) of aut easdem cupiditates studiaque habent to Horace’s [ Ep. 2.2.58] non omnes eadem amant is uncalled for and lessens one of the benefits accruing to students who read “real Latin.”

Next on L.’s list of changes is the “expansion of derivative lists in the chapter vocabularies and of cross-references to related words in other chapters.” We are unclear about the benefits of much of this. Many of the new derivatives are not particularly useful for a novice Latinist trying to remember what a Latin word means, and sometimes the relationship of the English and Latin will be entirely opaque. It would take longer to explain how English “sage” is related to sapientia than any of us has time for in class, and to no one’s benefit. One may also wonder what precisely is the benefit of adding a word like “magistracy” to a list of derivatives for magister (chapter 4) which already includes “magistrate,” or of having both “procrastinate” and “procrastination” in the subsequent chapter under cras.

The Latin cross-references, on the other hand, are more useful, but that utility is undercut by three difficulties. First, a few of them are simply not very helpful. When students see that magister derives from magnus, we suspect they will only wonder where the “n” went and why. Second, and more importantly, these cross-references are inconsistent. Why is cupiditas related only to cupio, while the latter is related not only to the former, but also to cupido and cupidus as well? Why senectus and senatus to senex, but not to each other? Or senex to neither senectus nor senatus ?

Third and most seriously, the cross-references are often (especially, for obvious reasons, in the early to middle chapters) to words that are in future chapters. This problem existed in the 5th edition, but the expanded number of references here makes them particularly noticeable. Also, all cross-references to future chapters are now accompanied by the appropriate chapter number, while references to words already encountered do not show the chapter in which they first occurred. This places a great deal of visual emphasis on the words from later chapters, but the principle is entirely wrong-headed here . What possible use could a student, likely still in his or her first month of studying Latin, make of the statement, for instance, that tolero in chapter 6 is related to tollo and fero from chapters 22 and 31 respectively? Rather, emphasis should be placed on words that have already been encountered to allow for easy review. It makes little sense to send students forward by sometimes as many as twenty chapters to look at a word that may be in a declension or conjugation not yet learned and of no real use to them. In fact, it would be better to remove all references to future chapters and include full listings of words from previous ones with references.

The final change listed by L. is the “enlargement of the English-Latin vocab[ulary].” This is significant. We count twelve new entries under “A” alone. The glossary is now far more useful as an aid to students in classes which emphasize composition in Latin, particularly the English to Latin exercises in each chapter. L. seems to have given especial thought to sources of potential confusion. Thus, next to “please, placeo etc.” we also find “with a request amabo te,” which is an idiom that gains new prominence in the early chapters of the new edition. “Any” now gives ullus, -a, -um in addition to the old “(anyone, anything, after si, nisi, ne and num), quis, quid,” though we wonder why the full aliquis, aliquid was not also added. We certainly look forward to the time that every English word given as a meaning in the Latin-English Vocabulary will appear in the English-Latin one. Incidentally, although we noticed no entirely new entries in it, the Latin-English Vocabulary has also been improved, albeit in less noticeable ways. Matters of mere detail (e.g., confido now has a properly long i) have been corrected and definitions have occasionally been expanded, refined, or both (e.g., pes, pedis is now glossed as “lower leg, foot” instead of merely “foot”).

This is the full extent of the changes made to the new edition, and so several problems remain. We list a few examples. Paradigms are still sometimes awkwardly split up by page breaks. The text continues to insist crankily that “shall” is the more correct and usual form of the future modal in English with a first person subject. Some of the generalizations concerning usage are simply too general to be useful or are just plain odd (cf. the psychological explanation of the position of adjectives on p. 12). Nouns with separate masculine and feminine forms sometimes have the masculine listed first in the vocabulary, sometimes second; at other times both appear in the same entry, at other times in separate entries.

There are also more serious issues that we feel ought to have been addressed in the new edition. In particular, if one wishes to have students practice morphology (without having an easy answer key as one finds in the Self-Tutorial exercises in the back of Wheelock), one must resort to the accompanying workbook.2 This has been updated to include the changes made to the 6th edition and provides a solid set of exercises. But, as L. himself says, “[t]his revised edition of Wheelock very likely contains more material for translation than can actually be covered in the two or three days typically allotted to a chapter in a semester course or the week or so allotted in the high school. Instructors may thus pick and choose and be selective …” But the workbook only forces more difficult choices, and the additional expense of a book that will not be fully and consistently employed is not something many instructors are willing to pass on to students. We would suggest for the next edition that a few of the exercises be incorporated into the main text and that some of the SA and PR be excised.

Also, Wheelock, even in the 6th edition, retains its peculiar habit of introducing material for translation before any mention of the constructions involved, and sometimes the syntax is never explained. Students are tested numerous times on the genitive of description in the early chapters, but the first explanation is in chapter 40. The anticipatory relative in chapter 17 (SA 5, Martial 1.38) will continue to baffle students, until their instructor explains why the antecedent follows the relative. Satis is introduced in the vocabulary in chapter 5, but no mention of its taking the genitive is made anywhere, though SA 11 has satis pecuniae. The alternate endings of several forms (3rd plural perfect active indicative, etc.) are introduced in asides throughout the book, but are never tested, even when the original text behind any of the SA contains one. So chapter 12 SA 9 would be the perfect opportunity to use Tacitus’ habuere from Annales 1.1.

In spite of these quibbles, both minor ones and those more than minor, we feel that in the marketplace of introductory Latin texts Wheelock in the 6th edition remains the best of an imperfect lot. Every experienced Latin instructor will have a list of personal gripes about any text that he or she has used. That the lists concerning Wheelock are generally shorter than comparable lists of the faults of other textbooks is a testament to the good sense of Professor Wheelock (and of L. over the last two editions). It is also the reason why Wheelock, warts and all, will continue to be used by many programs, including our own here at the University of New Hampshire.


1. See the American Philological Association’s Classical Atlas Project (

2. Instructors around the country have developed other useful tools. The gem among them is 38 Latin Stories (Bolchazy-Carducci 1995, ISBN 0-86516-289-1) written and edited by St. Olaf College’s Anne Groton and James May. Online one can make use of several resources, notably Dale Grote’s study guide ( R. Scott Smith has online quizzes ( keyed to Wheelock chapters 1-25, with more to come.