BMCR 2007.07.17

A Cicero Workbook

, , A Cicero workbook. Latin literature workbook series. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2006. 233 pages ; 28 cm.. ISBN 0865166439. $22.00.

Bolchazy-Carducci has inaugurated a series called the Latin Literature Workbook Series edited by LeAnn A. Osburn. Its stated intention is to provide an intensive preparation for the Advanced Placement exams in Vergil or Latin Literature. The latter exam, which includes material from Cicero, has occasioned this workbook, written by Jane Crawford and Judith Hayes. The book features two texts of Cicero already published by Bolchazy-Carducci: Cicero’s pro Archia, edited by Stephen Cerutti, and seven selections from the de Amicitia, edited by Patsy Rodden Ricks and Sheila K. Dickson.

The workbook divides the pro Archia into seventeen chapters of about 20 lines of text followed by seven chapters of 20-30 line passages from the de Amicitia. Each chapter’s Latin text is followed by one to four short answer “preparatory questions” per line of text, which lead the student to a detailed grammatical analysis of the passage. The analysis section is followed by “multiple choice questions” with a suggested time limit determined by the number of questions asked. A short excerpt from the chapter’s text, generally 6 to 10 lines long, is then presented for translation — again with a suggested time limit. This, in turn, is succeeded by another passage for which some “short analysis questions” are provided. Each chapter then concludes with a third passage and an essay question to which the students must respond, with very specific guidelines, in twenty minutes. Presumably, all of the timed elements mimic the practices of the AP exam itself.

The structure reminds one of the mantra associated with modern architecture — form follows function. The function is to prepare students for success in the year end AP exam. The workbook, therefore, demands a level of analysis and understanding which will best prepare the student to demonstrate mastery of the texts; moreover, the template or format of the questions gives the student a level of comfort and familiarity with the format of the examination itself.

The preparatory questions certainly do force a close reading of the text, and in their very wording they assume a certain level of syntactic sophistication (the use of “protasis” and “apodosis” is bold in these days). The multiple choice questions seem sometimes as maddeningly ambiguous as multiple choice questions can be; depending upon the actual AP exam, however, this may be a cautionary virtue. (There were a few occasions when we wished we had had the benefit of comparing our answers to the preparatory or multiple choice questions with those in the forthcoming “A Cicero Workbook Teacher’s Manual,” promised for September, 2007.) The translation passages appear worthy, and the short analysis questions, as well as the essay questions, are generally quite good. Inevitably the organization reappears in each lesson; presumably over the course of time and use the student will acquire a facility with the format as well as the material of the examination. The name of the game, as the series editor and authors attest, is drill and repetition. In that they have certainly succeeded.

For the high school teacher employing the text in preparation for the Latin Literature AP exam there are some matters to note. Unlike most elementary Latin textbooks, there are no macrons in the Latin text; students (and teachers) who are accustomed to them will need to add or compensate. Moreover, the AP Latin Literature examination includes one of three poets (Catullus, Horace, or Ovid) as well as Cicero. Presumably the students will need to spend some time with both authors in order to be best prepared for the examination, and that may well shorten the time that can be devoted to the Cicero workbook. Some forethought (and perhaps selection) may be required in order to insure that students get sufficient exposure to both the politician and the poet.

We estimated that each chapter of the Cicero text would require at least four class days unless a significant amount of the work was assigned (and completed) as homework. Some Latin students could doubtless move more rapidly, but most fourth year students will move through the workbook at a more measured pace. That in turn may present problems of coverage — the perennial issue of depth versus breadth: Should/must the student have read all the material in preparation for the AP examination?

Finally, the heavy emphasis on grammatical analysis may jeopardize the appreciation of Cicero’s (or any author’s) text and context. Students might be better served by including some “umbrella questions” before (and perhaps in lieu of some of) the preparatory syntactic questions so that they have at least some sense of “the big picture.” Yes, it is important that they succeed in the examination, but it is equally important that they appreciate the authors they read and Roman history/culture. This last is particularly relevant should the workbook ever be used (as is suggested) for purposes other than the AP examination.

Caveats aside, Crawford and Hayes (and Bolchazy-Carducci) have certainly seen and met a felt need. The College Entrance Examination Board was not involved in this project nor does it endorse the product, but the AP examinations certainly provoke such responses. Those teachers who are preparing AP courses for the first time can rejoice in the fact that they have been spared the necessity of creating such exercises on their own. For those dedicated instructors who did so years ago, the workbook provides a touchstone or comparandum by which to judge or revise their own efforts.