BMCR 2007.02.47

Response: Murgatroyd on Solodow on P. Murgatroyd and G.G. Fagan, From Augustus to Nero

Response to 2007.02.42

1 Responses

Response by

J.B. Solodow’s lengthy review (BMCR 2007.02.42) of From Augustus to Nero by G.G. Fagan and myself contains high praise of our book, but also a fair bit of footling and inaccurate disparagement, to which only a brief response is necessary.

None of the outright mistakes that he claims to see is in fact a mistake, and ironically his own claims are shot through with errors. He states that obviorum on p. 79 (actually it appears on p. 78) refers not to those accompanying Caligula but to those who came to greet him; this is quite baffling as we nowhere say (nor would we in our wildest dreams suppose) that obviorum refers to people who had accompanied Caligula, and on p. 79 we speak of ‘those who met Caligula’. In connection with p. 87, he maintains that est is not understood with insecutus, which must be simply a participle since no connective joins it to reduxit; but ac (the third word after insecutus) is the elusive connective, joining insecutus to reduxit (hardly linking profugos and reprehensos). To judge from his remarks about p. 106, Solodow would appear to imagine that res plural cannot mean ‘state’ (but OLD s.v. 16 cites Virg. Aen. 3.1, and there are more examples in L & S s.v. II K) and that Tacitus’ dignitate cannot be taken as an ablative of description because of the absence of an adjective (but for the lone noun as an ablative of description see Tacitus’ own Hist. 1.8 vir facundus et pacis artibus, and also Caes. BG 6.28.1, 7.73.6, Pliny NH 8.75, 25.87, 95). Finally, with reference to p. 154, he asserts authoritatively that eo there is not the adverb but an ablative of cause or degree of difference; but is there any real distinction between the latter and an adverb meaning ‘therefore’ or ‘to such a degree’ (the OLD glosses eo the adverb with ‘abl. of IS’)?

Solodow also thinks that there are misleading, incomplete and inadequate notes, but again his claims are decidedly questionable. For example, we are castigated for saying on p. 37 that the historic infinitive is used in place of a perfect (when it can equally well represent the imperfect); but in the note there we specifically refer students to the Introduction section 13, where for those who take the trouble to look it is duly explained that such an infinitive is used in place of the imperfect or perfect indicative. We are criticized for the ‘irksome and ill-advised habit’ of offering two translations of Latin words and stubbornly ‘refusing’ to decide between them; but, of course, we only offer two translations where we judge both alternatives to be equally possible (thereby allowing students to perceive the flexibility and ambiguity of language). We are also accused of supplying help where none is needed; but as someone who has actually used these notes with three different classes I can state with assurance that help is only offered where it was seen to be needed by a significant proportion of the class. Worse still, we are taxed with the ‘grave’ failure to mark quantities in the vocabulary, and it is claimed that ‘the students will not be able to tell whether omittent is present or future’, when, of course, omittent cannot possibly be a present, regardless of quantity.

As for the extra material that Solodow wants to be included, it would have made for a much longer, dearer and (frankly) duller work. We decided that we could not cover everything, and we wanted to leave lecturers some input of their own (whereas Solodow seems to envisage From Augustus to Nero being used by students in some sort of sanitized, instructor-free zone). In this regard essentially he is objecting because we did not write a completely different book (such as the forty year old textbook that he cites approvingly) rather than evaluating the book that we did write, one that we felt filled a distinct gap (a selection for intermediate students of genuinely interesting Latin prose with lots of grammatical help to facilitate comprehension and with some critical appreciation to make it come alive).

Much more could be said in this vein, but I for one do not believe in running on and on. I also find myself in the rather curious position of being loath to go on pointing out inaccuracies and deficiencies in Solodow’s negative criticism in case I thereby undermine all his positive criticism.

[For a response to this response by J.B. Solodow, please see BMCR 2007.03.33.]