Roman roots and Latin legacies

2008-11-12 00:00

The sub-sub-title of this book is How to Become a Latin Lover, which neatly captures the tone of the book: witty, fascinated by words, and hoping to entice people towards the Latin language and (to an extent) towards ancient Rome in general. The author read Classics at Oxford and taught Latin for some time before becoming a journalist. He has thus had a foot both in academia and in the popular media, and is well qualified to “sell” the subject.

His main goals seem to be: give Latin some much-needed publicity in attractive packaging, introduce readers to Roman civilization, and provide them with at least the basics of Latin grammar, neatly disconnected from the text by being in boxes, thus easily avoidable if one is so inclined. This third of his goals rather falls between two stools. The grammar is not quite detailed enough to be used as a textbook, as he admits, but is there in sufficient quantity to be somewhat daunting to the Latinless.

Which raises the question: could this book be used as a teaching aid by classics departments? I would think not, except as a light-hearted piece of ancillary reading for students working on a more solid textbook like the Oxford Latin Course. The author suggests that if the reader wants serious grammar he or she should go to some venerable, if indigestible, grammar-book like Kennedy’s Shorter Latin Primer. Fair enough.

On the whole, Mount achieves his main purpose, which is surely to attract people’s attention to the many intriguing features of Latin, and to arouse a desire to study the language further. The book performs another service, which is to provide numerous bits of information about the full version of abbreviations like “etc.” or “ad lib.” and to give literal translations of such phrases plus their everyday English usage.

One of his chapters is a 42-page mini-phrasebook which is totally useful, and a godsend for doers of crossword puzzles and people anxious to impress their friends. And it’s all done bona fide.

David Pike

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