BMCR 2005.01.21

Learn to Read Latin. 2 Volumes: Textbook and Workbook

, , Learn to read Latin. Yale language series. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. 2 volumes : illustrations ; 28 cm.. ISBN 0300100841. $55.00.

Learn to Read Latin (LTRL) is a new introductory text offering an attractive alternative to others of its genre, such as Wheelock, Ecce Romani, or the Cambridge and Oxford Latin courses. The primary goal of its authors, Andrew Keller and Stephanie Russell, is to teach students to read Latin, rather than merely translate. To that end, Keller and Russell use selections from original authors, rather than “several volumes of stories in Latin written not by ancient authors but by the authors of the books themselves.” They also claim to teach about Roman “domestic life and culture” through ancient authors, rather than by giving the “tidbits of information” found in other texts (xvii). Keller and Russell acknowledge their debt to F. L. Moreland and R. M. Fleischer’s Latin: An Intensive Course and to H. Hansen and G. M. Quinn’s Greek: An Intensive Course. They also acknowledge use of the Packard Humanities Institute from which they obtained Latin literature up to Justinian I. LTRL is intended for middle- and high-school students (two or two and a half years) and college level students (two to three semesters) (xx).

The textbook is supplemented by a workbook containing perforated pages with additional exercises. These are much more intensive than those found in most basic grammar textbooks. Keller and Russell have included various drills, sentences (English to Latin and Latin to English), synopses, and the like. The workbook includes vocabulary (Latin to English, 479 ff., and English to Latin, 489 ff.) and the same morphological appendix that appears in the textbook (503 ff.). The last pages of the workbook have handouts summarizing the grammar and syntax discussed in the text. These provide a valuable resource for students who like to use such sheets for reference.

The textbook itself consists of fifteen chapters covering basic morphology and syntax. The chapters are subdivided into sections, as described below. There is the usual front matter: a preface stating the aims of the text, an introduction with a nice discussion of Indo-European languages, illustrated by a chart of the languages in the Indo-European family (xxvi), and an explanation of classical pronunciation.

In general, the presentation in LTRL is much more thorough than most introductory texts. Its organization and sequence may be very different from what many teachers are accustomed to. For example, the tenses of the subjunctive (Chapter VII) are taught before fourth- and fifth-declension nouns and third-declension adjectives (Chapter VIII), while conditional sentences are treated in separate chapters, those using the indicative mood in Chapter V and those using the subjunctive in Chapter VII. The relative pronoun, usually taught in first-year Latin, does not appear until Chapter IX, that is, after the introduction of the subjunctive mood, which many high-school Latin teachers do not cover until the third year. Indirect statement, which is generally taught at the end of the first high-school year or the beginning of the second, does not appear in LTRL until Chapter XI.

Rather than giving an exhaustive account of the contents of each chapter of the textbook, I will instead present a detailed view of Chapter VIII, which is typical of the structure of all the chapters in LTRL. Chapter VIII begins with an extensive vocabulary list (41 words in all), followed by the “Vocabulary Notes”, which give more detailed glosses on the words.

Chapter VIII continues with a morphology section. It is a densely-packed discussion of fourth- and fifth-declension nouns, third-declension adjectives, third-declension adverbs, demonstrative adjectives and pronouns ( hic, iste, ille), deponent and semi-deponent verbs, and finally accusatives of time. Covering the chapter would consume several weeks in an average high school class. Each grammatical unit, such as the fourth-declension masculine/feminine endings and the noun given as example, is set off in a grey box. Forms are usually followed by “Observations” discussing variants (e.g., the peculiar declension of domus is given here). The rationale for the grouping of these particular morphological forms is not readily apparent. The authors say only that they wanted “to put together morphology and syntax most easily taught together and to have a logical progression of topics from chapter to chapter.”1

Following the morphology is a section entitled “Short Readings” (these commence in Chapter II). These cannot be used until all the chapter’s morphology has been taught, for each sentence combines several new concepts, as in this example: Rem tene, verba sequentur, which incorporates the imperative mood, the fifth declension, the future tense of the third conjugation, and a deponent verb. This is true also of the “synthetic” Latin sentences for Chapter VIII in the workbook. This indeed was the authors’ intention, for they caution against assigning drill sentences “until all new material in a chapter has been introduced” (xxi). This forces the teacher who wishes to follow each morphological concept with practice sentences either to hunt for the sentences that contain none of the other new material or to find them from other sources. While many teachers do this as a matter of course to supplement any textbook they might use, it is indeed cumbersome for those who like to have each concept reinforced by its own exercises in a single textbook.

“Longer Readings” follow the shorter ones. Like the shorter examples in the textbook (the workbook contains “synthetic” sentences), these are drawn from real Latin authors. An eclectic group of authors in Chapter VIII includes Ennius, L. Afranius, Cicero, Sallust, Vergil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Livy, Seneca the Younger, and Tacitus. These “longer” readings range from two lines of Ennius to four of Cicero to six of Livy to nine of Vergil. Beginning with Chapter X, the longer readings are followed by “Continuous Readings” from Vergil, Ovid, Cicero and Sallust.

Chapter VIII concludes with a section “About Meter I.” This is a rather odd place to locate a section that many users would want to see in an appendix at the end of the book. Also, this title leaves one wondering where “About Meter II” is located; to find out that it appears in Chapter XI one must weed through the table of contents. There are several sections of this type. “Names in Latin I” and “Names in Latin II” discuss the Roman method of names for individuals (44), gods (118) and legendary and historical persons (119). “Greetings and Interjections” are treated at the end of Chapter VII (143-145). The section includes various pleasantries (” Ut vales?“), exclamations (” Heu, cor meum finditur!“), and a very interesting segment on salutations in letters (” M. Caelius M.Tullio salutem dicit“). Another section deals with Roman numerals, cardinals and ordinals to 1000, plus the declensions of unus, duo, tres (210-212). A curious group of ten rhetorical devices is introduced at the end of Chapter X, along with examples from real authors, and a nice discussion of periodic sentences (262-263). Finally, there is a section entitled “Unassimilated forms, Archaic Spellings, and Syncopation” (364-365) which is very useful for students who are likely to encounter them (e.g., inpius for impius; olli for illi; amasti for amavisti).

LTRL has many strengths that set it apart from its competitors. One of the main foci of the text is vocabulary acquisition, which many Latin teachers complain is the hardest thing to get students to master. The word lists appear at the beginning of each chapter, “to emphasize their importance.” Basic meanings are presented here. To use Chapter VIII again as an example: res, that bane of the Latin student, is defined as “thing; property; matter; affair; activity; situation.” Below it appear some of the more frequent idioms: res gestae, res novae, res publica. So far, a typical presentation; however, the “Vocabulary Notes” then offer a much more detailed explanation of the definitions given for the word for the more advanced or curious student. The Latin-to-English Vocabulary in the back of the book gives the same definitions and lists the chapter in which the word is discussed, which is very useful for the student who has moved beyond basic grammar and syntax into reading courses, but may wish to use this book as a reference or even a basic dictionary. This is indeed where the book stands out from other texts of its kind: because of the emphasis on real Latin the dictionary is not full of words geared to artificial Latin passages, making it much more useful for students who have moved on to Vergil, Catullus, Cicero and the like, though it is no replacement for a good dictionary.

The depth of Keller and Russell’s treatment of their subject cannot be emphasized enough. This text can be used with confidence by teachers of all levels, from those who prefer to keep things simple to those who want more complete and detailed explanations for vocabulary, morphology, and syntax. That being said, however, there are some possible caveats. The organizational structure of the textbook, as noted above, may cause some teachers problems. The text is also not easy on the eye: the typeface is a curious greenish color and some of the print is extremely small (as in the Vocabulary Notes, for example). This is not the textbook for those teachers who like books with photographs of Roman art and architecture (as in Latin for Americans), or for those who like to follow the activities of a hypothetical Roman family (as in Ecce Romani). Some teachers will be dismayed to find that there is no teacher’s edition for the textbook. An “answer key” for the workbook is available from Yale University Press by e-mail, and corrigenda for both text- and workbook can be accessed through the YUP website. All in all, however, LTRL is an exemplary text that should be in every Latin teacher’s repertoire of supplementary material, if it is not used as the primary text for teaching.


1. ” Frequently Asked Questions about Learn to Read Latin“, Yale University Press.