by R.A. LafleurThis review is for Peter.
This is both a review and a very short guide for those interested in jumping off the Latin cliff without a teacher. This is my first review on Goodreads, so please be gentle.
First off, Wheelock is THE text for learning Latin. I have never come across a text that is even remotely close to competing with his.
Latin is a middling-hard language to learn. A lot of Latin textbook writers realize this and reduce their entire text to phrasework: “The boy is Flavius,” “The sailor speaks,” “The girl loves the dog,” etc. etc. etc. Which leaves a person discouraged after having to memorize a whole slew of phrases without any supportive structure to help them remember all that gibberish, and, more importantly, leaves them unable to read a single passage in an actual Latin work.
Wheelock does not do this. He takes an extremely orderly, sequential approach to teaching the grammar and structure of the language, which is what is really needed in order to be able to read actual Latin works in future. He also keeps things as straightforward as possible, without getting caught up in all the ins and outs of the language and devolving into dozens upon dozens of grammar charts to memorize, which is what happens in a scary number of textbooks trying to teach a highly inflected language.
However, this might be a difficult text for someone who has never studied a highly inflected language before. Anyone who doesn’t know the difference between the dative and ablative, or what a gerund or the subjunctive tense is, will likely be confused and frustrated by Wheelock’s fleeting explanations. If this is the case I would recommend studying how inflected languages work before even opening Wheelock, or starting off with an easier inflected language, such as German.
On the upside for those struggling through an inflected language for the first time, after learning Latin learning all descendant Romance languages will be a walk in the park.
On the other hand, anyone who has studied an even more inflected language, such as Ancient Greek or Sanskrit, will find this textbook just a matter of course for getting through, and should come out the other end with no trauma and a competent enough grasp of the language to begin reading.
Wheelock does not go into much detail about pronunciation, for which a teacher will probably be necessary unless you have already studied other dead languages.
Please note that this text teaches classical Latin. Those looking to learn medieval Latin will have to do some additional study after completing this text. Even if you are intending to learn medieval Latin, I would still recommend Wheelock as the starting point.
Once finished with this text, it will be time to reap the fruits of your labor and actually start reading the Latin works, for which you should be well prepared after finishing Wheelock. I would recommend starting with Nepos, whose sense of eloquence is limping at the best of times but who writes simply and gives the beginner a more refined sense of “good” and “bad” in terms of Latin style (Nepos being an example of the “bad” end of the spectrum). This is a good edition for beginners: Cornelius Nepos: Three Lives: Alcibiades, Dion, Atticus
Cicero is also an excellent starting point, because he is as good as it gets in terms of Latin prose, and yet his writing is not overly difficult for the beginner. These is a very good beginner's edition of one of his most brilliant speeches: Cicero's First Catilinarian Oration
Livy is often recommended as another good starting point for prose. I found his style irritating when I was first starting out, but perhaps that was just me. This would probably be the best edition to use: Livy: Book I (Livy)
Sallust is a good starting point for becoming familiar with old Latin. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with a good edition of his works for beginners.
Pliny is a good starting point for becoming familiar with silver-age Latin. I particularly liked this edition: Fifty Letters of Pliny
For poetry, Catullus is an excellent jumping-off point. This is a good beginner's edition: The Student's Catullus
The end goal for short poetry will probably be Horace, but (at least for me) Horace was really hard. I would recommend waiting on him until you are competent enough to read without extensive commentary.
For the first work without needing extensive commentary from an editor, I would begin with Cicero’s De Senectute (On Old Age) and De Amicitia (On Friendship). I would recommend the Loeb text (the Red Books), so that you can check your reading against the English translation on the page opposite when you get stuck: On Old Age, On Friendship & On Divination
Probably the ultimate goal for those learning Latin will be Vergil. Vergil's Aeneid: Books I-VI is an excellent text for reading the first six books, after which you’ll probably be competent enough to read without the hand-holding of an editor.
At which point it will be time to move on to the Holy Grail of editions of Latin texts, the Oxford Classical Texts (i.e., OCTs or the Green Books). They have no commentary except for an introduction by the editor (written in Latin; these people are serious), and an apparatus criticus, which you will probably be interested in by this point. Here's an example of an OCT: de Republica, de Legibus, Cato Maior de Senectute, Laelius de Amicitia
An excellent website is Project Perseus, suitable for all your Latin-reading needs once you are competent at reading and when you are just reading for leisure rather than for a serious study of the work. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/c...
And yes, I just completely ignored Ovid. Can you tell I learnt golden-age Latin?
Latin is a pretty hard language and shouldn’t be attempted for some flash-in-the-pan reason, such as learning the roots of English words to be better at spelling, or in order to know the literal meanings of scientific names. If that is the case you will be better served by memorizing etymologies out of a dictionary. You must plan on devoting a lot of time and effort to learning this language and then to becoming better acquainted with it by reading in it. Latin is no French or Spanish. You’ll also need to develop a serious interest in Roman culture for the all the WTF? moments you are going to encounter in your reading.
But in my opinion all the effort of learning Latin is completely worth it. Who is the greatest writer who ever lived? To anyone who said Shakespeare: them’s fightin’ words. The greatest writer who ever lived (in my humble opinion) is Vergil. The man has no equal, in any language I’ve ever read. And his works transfer awfully into English. Every beautiful, brilliant, perfect thing he does is lost in translation. In order to read Vergil, you need to know Latin.
So. Yes. Study Wheelock, learn Latin, read Vergil. That’s basically the whole plan.
And for those of you who are newbies to serious language-learning and still considering tackling Latin: I think (I hope) you will find there is something really remarkable about knowing a second language. Especially a language so different from English, spoken by a people whose culture is so far removed from ours. It’s as if you’ve been looking at the world from one perspective your entire life, like looking in a mirror, and then suddenly you see everything from a different angle. The 2D world becomes 3D. And the more different the language is, the more radical a change in perspective you get, and the more languages you learn the more facets you get in the picture. (It can be rather addicting.)
So, good luck. I hope if Wheelock opens the door for you, it’s onto a strange new world filled with wonderful things.
It’s something very special to laugh at someone’s bad joke, which is just as lame now as it was 2,000 years ago. Or to read something in Cicero and then turn around and read somebody saying the exact same thing in a modern book. Or to be crying over Vergil when you finally realize what Shakespeare meant when he said, “What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba, that he should weep for her?"
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|Book rating||4.07 (802 votes)