BMCR 2000.11.18

Response: Aveline on Smith and Trzaskoma on Wheelock’s Latin, 6th edition

Response to 2000.10.21

Response by

I awaited with some anticipation the review of Wheelock’s Latin, 6th edition which recently appeared in the BMCR due to my long association with this particular teaching tool. I was introduced to the third edition of Wheelock in 1983 in the first year of my B.A. and have used the fifth and sixth editions as an instructor. I was sufficiently disappointed with the efforts of Smith and Trzaskoma that I felt some comments were necessary.1 For convenience the following abbreviations will be used throughout: PR = Practice and Review, SA = Sententiae Antiquae, L = Lectiones (from the Workbook). A specific sentence will be identified by the category under which it falls, the chapter number and the sentence number (e.g., SA 4.3 the third sentence in the Sententiae Antiquae from chapter 4).

To be sure, the reviewers make some very good comments which I am happy to acknowledge. The English-Latin vocabulary should be expanded to the level that all English words are included. Also, the paradigms are sometimes awkwardly divided by page breaks and the stubborn insistence on distinguishing between ‘shall’ and ‘will’ is quite unnecessary. On the other hand, the following observations are less than accurate. The typos have not all been found and corrected. The Practice and Review in Chapter 7 has two instances of a missing macron (‘de’ in #1 and ‘temporum’ in #8). The expansion and refinement of the definitions are not to be entirely praised. The example of pes, pedis being glossed as “lower leg, foot” would seem rather to be an example of a bad change. Adding “lower leg” to the definition only confuses the issue and provides an unnecessary choice for the student.

What is most unfortunate is the lack of reaction to the sentences offered for translation in the PR, SA and L. The most glaring weakness of Wheelock is ignored and the focus, instead, is upon minutiae. The reviewers claim “for the most part, these changes (to Practice and Review) are welcome” and to illustrate the point they applaud the addition of ‘saepe’ to ‘Apollo me servat’ (SA 1.11). This is something like admiring the colour of the deck chairs on the Titanic. There is no question that the grammar is organized and laid out very well in Wheelock. This is almost entirely vitiated by the atrocious sentences that have been composed for the students to translate. The sentences are either dreadfully trite and full of stodgy and laughable pieces of philosophical advice or they are just drivel, collections of words whose sole purpose is to test the students’ recollection of the various elements of grammar and vocabulary without making any effort to engage the imagination or interest. A small sample will illustrate:


O puella, patriam tuam serva, amabo te! (L 2.4)

Amicus meus de philosophia semper cogitat. (L 3.12)

Pecunia est nihil moribus bonis. (L 7.6)

Mitte, O me frater, ullam cupiditatem pecuniae et studium voluptatis. (L 11.4)

Angustus animus pecuniam amat. (SA 5.3.)

Officium meum faciam. (SA 10.2)

Virtus tua me amicum tibi facit. (SA 11.1)


Pecuniam puellarum non vides. (L 2.8)

Quid de me et exitio patriae meae cogitat? (L 4.4)

Agricola uxorque in terra sub caelo pulchro saepe cenabant. (L 8.3)

Neuter scriptor de remedio ullo istius morbi dicebat. (L 10.1)

Filium nautae Romani in agris videmus. (SA 3.1)

Secundas litteras discipulae heri videbas et de verbis tum cogitabas. (SA 7.1)

Rationes alterius filiae heri non fuerunt eaedem. (PR 12.2)

It would seem from reading this textbook and accompanying workbook that the greatest threats to us are tyrants, money and pleasure and that our greatest assets are our teachers, philosophy and virtue. Obviously neither the authors nor the reviewers have the least notion of what interests and engages young minds. It has been my experience that students are completely unimpressed by what they are offered to read. They find the sentences ludicrous and/or unfathomable, often asking uncertainly whether a perfectly correct translation of theirs is right because it sounds like nonsense. They also find the use of words like itaque and autem difficult to appreciate and this hardly surprising since they depend upon some previous thought or sentence which does not exist when there is no narrative sequence. This does not encourage to pursue their study of Latin, since they are led to believe that here is nothing in Latin worth reading.

If the authors/editors of Wheelock would like to make some meaningful improvements to the textbook, let them entirely change the reading element. Instead of disjointed sentences, with no context, they should compose some type of narrative, preferably something which informs the student about Roman life (social, historical, literary) while at the same time being entertaining. This would also entail introducing the students to the maculate muse. Any student of Latin is going to at some time encounter stupra, whether they read Catullus, Martial, Suetonius or Pompeiian graffiti.

One final suggestion. The examples provided to first illustrate a grammatical point often suffer from the same artificiality as the practice sentences. It would be far better to access commonly used expressions from popular culture to serve as illustrations since these are already well known to the students (“Let’s get ready to rumble!” hortatory subjunctive; “The Future’s So Bright, I Got to Wear Shades” 3D result clause).2


1. I would like to thank my students in Humanities 161 at Simon Fraser University for the invaluable comments which helped to clarify the issues in this response.

2. The first example is a standard introduction to boxing matches throughout the 1990’s, particularly associated with Michael Buffer and now extended to professional hockey, baseball, football and other sports. The second is the title of a song by the musical group Timbuk3.