BMCR 2017.10.14

Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733. Latin Text with Introduction, Commentary, Glossary of Terms, Vocabulary Aid and Study Questions. Classics textbooks, 5

, , Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3.511-733. Latin Text with Introduction, Commentary, Glossary of Terms, Vocabulary Aid and Study Questions. Classics textbooks, 5. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2016. 260. ISBN 9781783740826. £ 19.95 (pb).

Ebook (pdf)

This intermediate Latin textbook, available in a print edition or as a free ebook, covers the Pentheus episode of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (3.511-733).

A key to abbreviations and a substantial introduction precede the Latin text and commentary. The introduction, which is divided into sections such as ‘Ovid and His Times,’ ‘Ovid’s Theban Narrative’ and ‘The Bacchanalia and Roman Culture,’ touches on many topics relevant to the text but pays special attention to questions of genre. Two appendices follow the text and commentary: a ten-page overview of the principles of Versification and a Glossary of Rhetorical and Syntactic Figures. The latter of these provides the etymology of each term, which will be particularly useful for students who are familiar with Greek; examples are drawn exclusively from the Shakespearean corpus.

The authors have divided the set text into passages averaging about ten lines each. Each passage is accompanied by a dozen or so Study Questions that encourage the reader to parse certain words from the text and pay attention to grammatical issues. The questions are geared to help students identify and resolve potential points of confusion in the text. Three additional study aids accompany each passage: a Stylistic Appreciation section that asks the reader to consider rhetorical devices and other issues of style, a set of Discussion Points that pose broader questions concerning genre, social dynamics, the psychology of characters, themes and imagery, and a selective glossary of vocabulary. Some students at the intermediate level will benefit from additional vocabulary assistance (the authors did not include a comprehensive vocabulary in the back of the book).

The commentary provides the answers to the study questions and other prompts that accompany each passage, but students will have to hunt for some of them (and likely absorb additional information while they do so). Terms that appear in the Glossary of Rhetorical and Syntactic Figures are marked with an asterisk when they appear in the commentary; the authors assume prior knowledge of some terms such as metonymy (p.142), enjambment (p.142), and gemination (p.146). Intermediate students may struggle with some rather dense and technical portions of the commentary, though it is pleasantly conversational at times. The authors also provide several useful visual aids in the commentary, including illustrations of musical instruments mentioned in the text (p.142) and a diagram of a ship with various nautical terms labeled (p.203). The commentary has a broad scope, addressing not only grammatical issues but also thematic connections to other portions of the Metamorphoses, the historical and religious context of the poem (e.g. in a discussion of the terms augur and vates on pp.120-22), and Ovid’s artistic expression. Occasional Greek terms used in discussions of etymology are not transliterated (e.g. πένθος on p.49 and βρέμειν on p.136).

This book is well suited to intermediate Latin classes or as a short unit for the advanced level. I would also recommend this text to students at the intermediate or advanced level who wish to practice the language on their own, since the commentary is detailed enough to answer most questions that students at these levels would have. The free online edition (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0) lends itself well to this use, and will be appreciated by students and instructors trying to keep a book budget within bounds.