BMCR 2005.05.29

Finis Rei Publicae: Eyewitnesses to the End of the Roman Republic. An Intermediate Text. Second edition

, , Finis Rei Publicae: Eyewitnesses to the End of the Roman Republic. An Intermediate Text. Second edition. Newburyport, MA: Focus, 2003. 172; 126. $26.95 (Text). $12.95 (Workbook).

For students of Latin, the transition from grammar study to reading, or from reading simplified texts to standard Classical Latin texts, is often frustratingly difficult. They are no longer asked to understand the language one syntactical unit at a time but rather to read authors seemingly too fond of esoteric vocabulary and subordinate clauses. This transition typically occurs in a third level course, taken during the third year of a high school sequence or third semester of college study. These courses have lofty goals; ideally, they provide a review of grammar and increased vocabulary, while introducing the students to “authentic” texts and their cultural contexts. Making these courses even more crucial for departments is the fact that the success of such a course often determines which students go on to further study in the language and which students drop out after the minimum requirement (often the third level course itself). Luckily, teachers of third level Latin have an increasing variety of texts from which to choose, so the course can be tailored to students’ needs and experience.1 The instructor looking for an intermediate textbook with a focused content should take a long, hard look at Finis Rei Publicae: Eyewitnesses to the End of the Roman Republic.

Robert Knapp and Pamela Vaughn intend their book, Finis Rei Publicae, now in its second edition,2 to meet the pedagogical goals of the intermediate Latin course against the background of a major event in Roman history, namely the Civil War. To this end, the readings in Finis Rei Publicae (hereafter FRP) as stated in the subtitle, come from eyewitnesses to the events of 49-48 BC, mostly from Caesar’s de Bello Civili, but enriched with some letters of Cicero and a portion of Aulus Hirtius’ setup of the struggle in Book VIII of de Bello Gallico.3 After an Introduction containing many tips to reading and writing Latin, the readings begin, divided into 40 Sections. Spaced throughout the first 29 Sections are grammatical review presentations covering major units in Latin grammar, from parts of speech (Section 1) to case usages (treated through the course of the book) to dependent uses of the subjunctive (Section 28). Starting at Section 30, the focus is wholly on reading; the passages become longer, and no more grammatical material breaks up the readings. All readings in the text have accompanying vocabulary, translation, and historical notes on the same page. In addition, the book is rich with black and white images, including useful maps, and it contains several appendices for reference, including timelines, a list of words glossed in the text, and a very thorough “Glossary of Persons” mentioned in the passages.

The Workbook is a new feature of the second edition. It contains brief exercises keyed to the grammatical presentations (in the first edition these appeared within the main text). The authors have added to the exercises a bare Latin text of all the readings in the textbook, plus thirty pages of additional contextual passages, including Livy’s Periochae covering the years 63-49 BC, additional readings from Cicero’s letters (actually copies of letters of Antonius, Caesar, and Balbus), and a selection of inscriptions and coin images involving the historical figures mentioned in the rest of the text.

The content of the readings dwells primarily on the events of the first few months of 49 BC, including the crossing of the Rubicon, the Fall of Corfinium, and Pompey’s flight from Italy. The excerpts from both Caesar and Cicero focus more on the attitudes of the participants than the actions of the participants, giving students a “behind the scenes” glimpse of Roman politics, especially Cicero’s misgivings. Readers looking for action will look forward to the narration of the aftermath of the battle of Pharsalus in Sections 34-40, including Pompey’s flight to Egypt and assassination at the hands of the young Ptolemy. There is more than enough Latin text in the book to last for a college semester. I had opportunity to use the first edition of the book in a third semester college Latin course, and in two semesters of teaching the course we did not get to all the readings. The addition of new texts in the Workbook lessens even more the likelihood of running out of material. Moreover, the numismatic and epigraphical materials in the workbook give the opportunity to explore two lesser-known disciplines, introducing students to the variety of fields within the Classics.

For the most part, the passages chosen for FRP are appropriate for a third level course. The sections are organized by chronology rather than by difficulty, beginning with Velleius Paterculus’ introduction of the opposing factions and Aulus Hirtius’ setting of the stage for the conflict. Unfortunately, this organizational rubric places many of the more difficult sentences in the book in the first ten sections, which may discourage some students. For example, Paterculus’ introduction in Section One features at least eight subjunctive verbs and several omissions of the verb esse. The notes are helpful here, but the student looking for a comfortable start will be disappointed. Only a few pages later, Section Three features perhaps the longest single sentence in the entire textbook, featuring ten individual clauses and an additional four infinitives. One must wait until Section Twelve to get to Caesar’s de Bello Civili. While these passages offer a variety of grammatical complexity, the more complicated sentences generally feature Caesar’s predictable syntax and should be comfortably approached by intermediate students. The Latin texts are commendably free of typos. I found only two textual typos, one an inclusion of extra characters on p. 49: “[:”; the other is “simulatque” on p. 81, which should read “simul atque.”

Each passage in the textbook is accompanied by notes and vocabulary glosses on the same page. In a handful of Sections the authors have also provided translation hints in a separate section on the page, creating a very full page, and requiring the student to look in three places for help. Historical background and geographical references comprise the majority of the notes, although there are some aids to translation and occasional literary commentary. In practical terms, this means that students needing thorough support in the construing of the Latin text will need external support to get through the text. When I used the book, the great majority of class time was devoted to explicating the text, leaving very little time for discussion. Most of the additional texts in the Workbook have no notes. Only the Periochae of Livy have any notes at all, and these are primarily vocabulary glosses. The vocabulary glosses in the text are perhaps the least satisfying feature of the book. First, there is considerable unevenness in the choice of words glossed. In Section 26, for example, more than halfway through the book, ubi, miser, and tuus are glossed, words that most first level Latin students know. In other places, words were not glossed that I would consider quite rare. In Section 18 the word paludatus, “wearing a paludamentum,” is not glossed, nor is vituperare in Section 11, although the adjective malus is glossed. Second, there is no sequence of vocabulary students are asked to know, and the teacher wishing to quiz his students on vocabulary will have to create his own lists. Another source of frustration for my students was that the glossary in the back of the textbook lists only words glossed in the text, rather than all words appearing, requiring the additional use of a Latin dictionary. I would recommend for the third edition not only a glossary of all words appearing in the text but all words appearing in the Workbook as well. Such a resource would make those passages even more valuable and approachable. Unfortunately, the vocabularies and notes do not share the largely typo-free status of the Latin text. I found typos or other inconsistencies in format on almost a fourth of the pages in the textbook.4

One of the strengths of the book is its presentation of grammatical material for review. Each of the first 29 Sections has a list of suggested material for grammatical review, with references to the appropriate sections of Bennett’s and Allen and Greenough’s Latin grammars. While there are few forms or paradigms in the text, almost all the important syntactical structures are presented at some point, including summaries of all cases, infinitives, ablatives absolute, and almost all uses of the subjunctive. These presentations include examples of the grammatical principle in question. The authors have also included helpful synopses of some of the more confusing syntactical elements, such as separate charts of all the uses of quod and ut. Most of the grammatical presentations fit onto one or two pages, making for easy review and later reference. In terms of organization, however, I find that the grammatical material is too spread out. For example, one has to wait until Sections 20-23 for presentation of the ablative, dative, and accusative cases. In practice I found it more profitable for the students to skip to specific grammatical material as it was needed rather than to wait for it as presented in the text. Luckily, there is also an index of grammatical material among the appendices of the book, making grammatical instruction easy to find. Each of the first 29 Sections of the book is accompanied by an exercise or two in the Workbook intended to reinforce the grammatical material presented. The exercises include both parsing exercises and sentences for composition in Latin. Sentences for composition appear in the exercises as early as Section 2, so many grammatical structures necessary for composition will not have been reviewed yet. It is likely that only students with some background in Latin composition will be well served by the composition sentences, unless the instructor wishes to devote a good deal of time to teaching the principles of Latin composition.

The physical layout of the textbook is somewhat idiosyncratic. Text, vocabulary, notes, translation hints, and points of grammatical review all appear on the same page, and any remaining empty space is typically filled with black and white pictures. At times this organization means that students will have to look in three different places on the page to get the information they need. I tend to prefer that all supporting material appear in the same place, or at most two places, such as the facing page or bottom of the page. The Latin text is fit into the upper left had quadrant of every page and is justified on both edges, with the result that there is some awkward typesetting on some pages. For example, in Section One, the 30 characters of Nihil relictum a Caesare, quod appear in the same span as the 44 characters of servandae pacis causa temptari posset, nihil on the following line. There is a general inconsistency throughout the textbook in the use of italics and boldface. On some pages, all Latin in notes or glosses is bold. On other pages, it appears in quotation marks, and in some cases with no special marking at all.

Almost every page of the textbook contains images in the spaces around the text and notes. Most images are line drawings, but some greyscale images appear; the print quality of these latter images is inconsistent. Among the images there are many maps: of Italy, central Italy, and the eastern Mediterranean (showing Pompey’s flight), to name a few. There are also images of coins, busts of figures mentioned in the text, illustrations of gladiators and general’s clothing, and other artifacts of political and domestic life. There are also some cartoons, which are difficult to explain to students in comparison to the ancient material. Examples of these include “Caesar as an author” on p. 55, a rather strange depiction of Caesar and Pompey with the bodies of animals on p. 101, and an illustration with the caption “Civis Romanus sum” on p. 53, in which the Roman citizen looks somewhat like a garden gnome. While in most cases the images could provide a springboard to further discussion (such as the plan of the Roman Forum on p. 15), in a few instances the images seem to have only a tangential connection to the text on the page.

Despite the idiosyncrasies of format and typos, this text can definitely be used successfully as an intermediate Latin text on the college level (indeed I have used the text successfully). The book’s narrow focus on the first few months of 49 BC and Pompey’s later flight provide a strong structure for the course when considered against an anthology of texts. Because of the relative difficulty of the readings, the teacher will need to supply some additional exercises and plenty of help understanding the Latin text, particularly in the first eleven Sections. I am less confident about the suitability of the book as the sole text in a high school class; my current third level high school students find the readings quite difficult. Also, the narrow focus is unlikely to sustain the interest of the average teen over an entire year, even with the additional material now provided in the Workbook. Nevertheless, Knapp and Vaughn clearly designed Finis Rei Publicae with students in mind, and instructors shopping for an intermediate text should see if it meets the needs of theirs.


1. The Wheelock, Oxford, and Ecce Romani textbook series all offer anthology-style readers, tailored to follow their own primary texts, but adaptable to just about any curriculum. The coming years will likely feature even more texts to choose from. Bolchazy-Carducci has just released the first in their new “Legamus” series of intermediate texts, an introduction to Vergil’s Aeneid, with the promise of more texts coming. For a reader written under organizing principles similar to Finis Rei Publicae, compare also Finn, J. K. and F. J. Groton, Res Publica Conquassata: Readings on the Fall of the Roman Republic, Wayne State UP, 1998.

2. The first edition of the book was reviewed by Prudence J. Jones in BMCR ( 2000.02.15).

3. Specifically, FRP contains selections from: Caesar BG 8.50-55; Caesar BC 1.1-33, 3.82-106; Cicero ad Att. 7.4, 8.11-12, 11.6; Cicero ad Fam. 4.14, 7.3, 16.11; Velleius Paterculus 2.49. The Workbook adds (in Latin with accompanying vocabulary) Livy’s Periochae covering 63-49 BC. Also supplied, without vocabulary, are Cicero’s Brutus 262 (on Caesar’s writing ability); ad Att. 9.7, 9.13, 9.16, 10.8.10; a short selection from the Second Philippic; Catullus 93; Vergil Aeneid 6.824-835, 8.626-731; Horace Carmina 1.37, 2.1. At the very end of the workbook is a selection of inscriptions related to figures described in the rest of the text.

4. The inconsistencies in format can be illustrated by page 35 (Section 14). The words eo and fio in the “Grammar and Syntax” section are not put into boldface, though Latin words are put into boldface in other places in the notes. In note 12 on the same page, auctoritas and consultum appear only in quotation marks. In note 13, the title Plutarch’s Caesar is put in boldface, while elsewhere in the text titles are italicized. Selected typos in the Texbook include: ” conformandam” on p. 17, ” teriam” on p. 19, ” alterio” in the forms chart on p. 20, ” discepare” on p. 21, ” loquari” on p. 24, and a mistranslation of ” docuit” on p. 29 as “he learned.” In the Workbook I found only four typos: on page 13 both appearances of ” rebus,” ” cogita” on p. 15, and ” aciter” on p. 49.