BMCR 2001.11.14

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

Response to 2000.10.21

Response by

Let me be brief: Wheelock’s Latin is Wheelock’s Latin, even in its 5th- and 6th-edition incarnations; one loves it, or not. It is not necessarily the book I would have written had I begun from scratch (and if I’d had Professor Wheelock’s considerable talents!), but it was a privilege to have the opportunity of revising not only the basal text but also the accompanying Workbook and, most recently, Wheelock’s Latin Reader, an anthology of selections for intermediate students (HarperCollins 2001). Reviewers have been generally very positive about my efforts at making Wheelock’s Latin —not the perfect book, of course, but a very good one—even better (see, e.g., the extensive review article by Cecil Wooten in CJ 91 [1996] 185-91), and so I was pleased to note the conclusion of Smith and Trzaskoma in their recent BMCR review that the 6th edition “remains an excellent choice for the college classroom,” citing in particular the new graphics and maps, the revised readings, and the expanded end vocabularies.

I can appreciate the point of Smith and Trzaskoma’s relatively few criticisms as well and would take exception only to their complaint about the use in sentences and reading passages of syntactical constructions not yet formally introduced—the descriptive and partitive genitives are the examples they cite, and there are in fact many others. Adherents of the reading (or “grammar-in-context”) approach would not object, and even Wheelock himself, the quintessential examplar of the “grammar-translation” approach to teaching Latin, employed this practice frequently; students who know the vocabulary can easily comprehend and translate such phrases as feminas magnorum animorum and satis pecuniae (both in Ch. 5) without having been provided labels for those constructions in advance, just as they understand si erro in the second sentence of the very first chapter and of catenis in Ch. 2 without benefit of the formal discussion of conditional sentences in Ch. 33 and the ablative of means in Ch. 14.

The remarks of John Aveline, however, in response to the Smith/Trzaskoma review might warrant a lengthy rebuttal, were they not so obviously sophomoric and downright erroneous; so, again, I shall be mercifully brief, and indeed I reply chiefly out of protest over this exceedingly rare lapse of judgment on the part of BMCR‘s editors. Most of the typographical errors in Wheelock’s Latin, some of which were present from the very first edition, have been weeded out over the years, but admittedly a few are still lurking (not surprising, perhaps, in a volume of nearly 600 pages replete with foreign-language text and diacritical marks); but temporum (Ch. 7, Practice and Review [=PR] sentence 8—one of two examples Aveline cites) is not missing a macron as the reviewer supposes, apparently confusing third-declension -oris neuters with -ôris masculines.

Focussing in his review chiefly upon the reading and translation exercises, Aveline briefly calls for “some type of narrative…which informs the student about Roman life (social, historical, literary) while at the same time being entertaining” and which would include some “stupra”; in his remarks he altogether disregards the continuous reading passages that were added for the 5th and 6th editions and which constitute the heart of each chapter, over 500 lines altogether from a wide range of authors and representing a variety of social, historical, and literary interests (even including a bit of the scabrousness Aveline finds so important, in Catullus 58 and Seneca Apocolocyntosis 4, Ch. 27 and 34). Aveline focuses his objections primarily on the drill sentences in both Wheelock’s Latin (the Sententiae Antiquae [=σα], and the PR sentences) and the Workbook (the Lectiones [=L] which he characterizes as “dreadfully trite, …stodgy, and laughable…or…just drivel.” Among the drivelling items he cites Quid de me et exitio patriae meae cogitat (L Ch. 4, #4 = 4.4, “What does he think about me and the destruction of my homeland?”) and Neuter scriptor de remedio ullo istius morbi dicebat (L 10.1, “Neither writer was talking about any remedy for that awful disease”); it is hard to see the problem here, except perhaps in the case of a neophyte instructor inexperienced at prompting his students in the direction of a smooth, idiomatic translation.

In the “trite” category Professor Aveline includes two sentences into which he has introduced his own errors ( Pecunia est nihil moribus bonis, L 7.6, from which he has omitted sine, and Mitte, O me frater, ullam cupiditatem pecuniae et studium voluptatis, L 11.4, where the text actually reads mi), as well as Amicus meus de philosophia semper cogitat (L 3.12) and Virtus tua me amicum tibi facit (SA 11.1), objecting that such readings give students the impression “that our greatest assets are our teachers, philosophy and virtue.” Though I had thought such ideas were enjoying a bit of a comeback along with values-based education, apparently good teaching, rational thought, and virtuous behavior are concepts still too old-fashioned.

Fortunately, Professor Aveline offers us some alternatives in the closing sentence of his review. In introducing new grammatical constructions, he explains, “it would be far better to access commonly used expressions from popular culture to serve as illustrations since these are already well known to students,” such as—for the hortatory subjunctive—”Let’s get ready to rumble” (“a standard introduction to boxing matches throughout the 1990’s,” Aveline’s footnote explains—though unnecessarily, of course, since we all understand this “commonly used expression”), and—for result clauses—”The Future’s So Bright, I Got to Wear Shades” (“the title of a song by the musical group Timbuk3,” for those few BMCR readers not among the cognoscenti). Now, why didn’t I think of that!