More Thoughts on Latin-learning Resources (Intermediate Edition)

Correction: this post misidentified the editor of the Dickinson College Commentaries edition of Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St Martin of Tours. The edition was produced by Christopher Francese. The error is corrected below.

I was delighted to see so many people check out the previous post on introductory Latin resources a couple weeks ago. Today’s post rounds up some resources for intermediate learners and those wishing to consolidate skills through extensive reading.

Intermediate learners can still gain a lot from introductory resources. Learning isn’t a linear process in any domain. As with learning an instrument or a sport, it pays to revisit the basics of a language repeatedly. A musician might practice scales and an athlete might apply themselves to passing drills. An intermediate Latinist can likewise go back and read a bunch of easy Latin to consolidate vocabulary, recognition of morphology, or comprehension of syntax.

In this round-up I have again prioritized resources I have used with students or have enough experience with to judge likely to be of use to some teachers or independent learners.

My focus, as usual, is on extensive reading of engaging input. I’m thrilled when former pupils become teachers, historians, archaeologists, classical philologists, medievalists, or comparative literature scholars, but it’s also important to recognize that most students won’t follow those paths. I still try to send as many young people as possible out into the world with an appreciation of the Latin language and the social and cultural history of the times and places in which it has been used (though not for all the ideologies it has served). When our programs are under threat, as they are now and will probably be for the foreseeable, I want the future coders I teach, and the entrepreneurs, roboticists, doctors, and economists to have good reason to join in our defense. The future philologists will find their way, and I’ll be there for them, too. If a student is likely not to make much direct use of a language they study in school, it seems only right that they at least enjoy the time they put into it and make meaningful progress.

The resources in this post are sorted into four basic categories. The first three are published resources you could theoretically put to use immediately. The fourth is more a realm of possibilities. Mysterious, no? Read on (or be like my mom reading Agatha Christie and skip to the end if you’re super intrigued).

Books with Adapted Texts

Adaptations of original Latin texts can be valuable resources for the intermediate student. These often reproduce the structure or plot of the original work, while simplifying its syntax and restricting its range of vocabulary. Ideally such adaptations provide students with practice reading and a reasonable approximation of experiencing an original text that might be beyond their current capacity. I have used a few of these with some success. Two Oxford University Press offerings are Cupid and Psyche (Balme and Morwood) and  The Millionaire’s Dinner Party (Balme). These present episodes from Apuleius and Petronius respectively, adapting the text to introduce or review specific grammar. Either or both can be used to make a transition from “textbook” Latin to unadapted texts. One could even use each chapter as part of a tiered reading approach to prepare students for the equivalent passages in Metamorphoses or Satyrica. Unfortunately, the current price of the books directly from the publisher is likely prohibitive for most individuals or classes. I have bought used copies individually or new copies in sufficient quantities for small (under 15 students) classes through secondary sellers like Book Depository.

Reading Livy’s Rome (Bolchazy-Carducci) Milena Minkova and Tunberg’s selections from Livy Ab Urbe Condita I-VI while not technically an adaptation, includes Latin paraphrases of each passage in the first few chapters. I am a huge fan of target-language paraphrases and tiered readings to scaffold student’s approach to unadapted Latin texts. Tunberg and Minkova’s paraphrases do a solid job of untangling some of the snares in which readers new to unadapted Classical Latin might find themselves caught.

Student Editions of Unadapted Latin Works

There are also many editions of suitable texts whose Latin is unadapted (if perhaps strategically excerpted) but which are annotated to provide appropriate support to intermediate readers. Bolchazy-Carducci, the publisher of Reading Livy’s Rome, offers one of the wider ranges to be found among traditional print publishers. Some that I’ve enjoyed working with or think are promising include

  • Quintus Curtius Rufus Alexander: very readable text, fairly engaging, not at all intimidating Latin
  • Apuleius Metamorphoses I: The opening chapter of Apuleius’ novel is entertaining and relatively easy to follow, especially with the aid of the helpful notes and vocabulary in this edition.
  • Bede Historia Ecclesiastica (selections): This edition gives supplemental information on Medieval and Ecclesiastical Latin syntax and a glossary at the back. The notes are geared toward reading comprehension and avoid pedantry. English introductions to each section provide the reader useful context. This works as a stand-alone text or could be a good companion to the DCC edition (see below)
  • Carmina Burana: While I’m not crazy about the parallel ‘translations’ of the poems, this book helped get me hooked on Medieval Latin. The poems are short, relatively simple, and provide a lot of fodder for discussion. It’s worth listening along to Orff’s musical setting of these works and to other recordings of the same pieces using period instruments and a historically informed performance approach.
  • Petronius Selections from the Satyricon: I loved using this edition for teaching Petronius. The facing page vocabulary and under-text reading notes are very helpful, as are the list of assumed vocabulary in the introduction and the short grammar and syntax reference at the back.
  • Vulgate of Mark with Synoptic Parallels: I haven’t used this book specifically, but I have taught Mark and I generally love narrative Vulgate Latin for building reading skill. The gospels and other historical/narrative Vulgate texts use relatively simple Latin with quite a bit of repeated vocabulary. Luke/Acts is my go-to for an extended, novel-like prose narrative but the Vulgate is a mine with several rich seams in it. Esther and 1 Maccabees are also productive books to draw from. I teach biblical and parabiblical texts in a secular context, but they are part of many of my students’ religious traditions. Many such students come to these texts with some amount of prior knowledge, which facilitates extensive reading and comprehension.
  • Res Gestae Divi Augusti: OK, this is not a narratively compelling text, but it is a relatively easily comprehensible primary source for a historical period that is usually central to secondary Latin curricula. It is also a text that provides great opportunities to read between the lines or even against the text – excellent skills to develop in historical inquiry. I haven’t used this edition myself. For more on one I know better see below.

Bolchazy-Carducci also has a series of Readers that highlight a genre, a cultural topic, or the work of a single author. Craig Williams’ Martial reader in this series was the main text at Dickinson Summer Latin Workshop a few years ago and I found it excellent. Like Griggs’ Ars Amatoria selections the notes were reader-focused without omitting important cultural information. I have only used the Martial but encourage anyone interested to explore this promising series.

The Classical Association of New England (CANE) has several titles available economically (some as free downloads). I have used their selections from Navigatio Sancti Brendani both as a student and as a teacher. It provides an engaging connective narrative full of wonders, miracles, and adventure. The notes and supporting material are very helpful. It’s perfect as a first unadapted Latin text for students who have worked through the intermediate stages of a textbook or textbook series.

Bryn Mawr Commentaries offers a range of very affordable commentaries on Greek and Latin texts. This is where I got Konstan and Roberts’ Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri, which I read through in a couple evenings for fun and subsequently introduced to my students. BMC editions seem to be pitched more to undergraduates than secondary students, but I have used the Historia Apollonii in high school classrooms successfully. The variety of Late Antique and Medieval Latin texts is refreshing, but there are Classical options as well, and the low cost makes it a relatively small risk to read a new author or genre.

Some older print editions I’ve found helpful include Griggs’ selection from Ovid’s  Ars Amatoria and Brunt ant Moore’s Res Gestae Divi Augusti. I can’t now find a copy of the former online for less than $100.00 USD, but I picked mine up for $4.00 secondhand not so many years ago. The selections prioritize the directly “didactic” material which, while leaving out some interesting set pieces, makes the text easier for an intermediate student to read without requiring adaptation of the text itself. Brunt and Moore’s Res Gestae is still available in paperback and online. The Latin text is paired with a facing-page English translation, which may or may not be desirable depending on your goals. The Bolchazy-Carducci or BMC editions might be good alternatives if you don’t wish to have the translation immediately accessible.

Editions Available Free Online (some also in Print-on-Demand)

There is an ever-increasing number of texts aimed at intermediate readers available freely online (sometimes with the option to purchase a paper copy at a reasonable price). I have the most experience with the Dickinson College Commentaries editions. All provide running vocabulary and notes on each page. Many pages contain supplementary audiovisual material to help contextualize the content (maps, diagrams) or deepen engagement with it (audio recordings of beautifully read passages in some editions). Some texts are available in print form as well. The DCC Latin texts I would recommend most heartily to an intermediate reader are

  • Bede, selections from the Historia Ecclesiastica: Straightforward Latin, fascinating windows into post-Roman Britain and what its inhabitants made of the remains of the Roman occupation; miracles, saints, murders – good stuff.
  • Nepos Hannibal: I haven’t used this edition of Nepos, but his Latin is quite straightforward and with the well-keyed support of a DCC edition should be relatively smooth sailing
  • Jerome: Malchus the Captive Monk: A short, but exciting prose narrative edited by William Turpin (whose other work appears below) that – apart from some Late Latin quirks – should be accessible to a second- or third-year high school student or a second or third semester undergraduate
  • Severus Life of St. Martin of Tours: edited by Christopher Francese; the Latin is a bit more challenging than that of Jerome’s Malchus but offers similar value.

Faenum press produces student-friendly editions of Greek and Latin texts that might not be high on the agenda of educational publishers. They are freely accessible online and available in low-cost print-on-demand copies. Faenum’s edition of Apuleius’ Cupid and Psyche tale from Metamorphoses is a welcome option for readers looking to engage with the original, unadapted text. The text, vocabulary, and commentary are laid out in a style similar to Clyde Pharr’s Aeneid I-VI and prioritize supporting reader comprehension. The production quality of the PDF edition is on a par with readers from more established, traditional publishers (and considerably higher than that of some recent reprints of older readers released by big educational publishers).

A newer free-online (with paperback-purchase option), the Passion of Perpetua is very similar in quality and format to Faenum’s Cupid and Psyche. It is the first installment in the Experrecta series, which is dedicated to producing open access editions of Latin texts written by women. While there is no shortage of Latin written by women, there is a depressing lack of student editions of their texts. This series aims to be a part of fixing that serious problem.

Thomas Hendry has produced several useful editions of Latin texts, available at his Curculio site. My favorite is his Seventy-Two Epigrams of Martial, which I have used with third year high school students. Martial’s epigrams are short, sweet (or stinging), and aimed with terrifying precision at their subjects. Hendry’s reading notes are comparably and well-targeted.

Editions used in summer Medieval Latin sessions run by William Turpin (see DCC section above) also make useful intermediate reading texts. Of these my favorites are the Navigatio Sancti Brendani (a complete text, rather than excerpts as in the CANE edition above) and the firsthand account of the First Crusade known as the Gesta Francorum. These two texts are available with or without annotation, though the annotations are very helpful. Both represent continuous narratives told in Latin relatively accessible to a second or third year/semester student. The notes help with peculiarities of Medieval orthography and syntax. I’ve enjoyed teaching with both.

Finally, Laura Gibbs’ Bestiaria Latina has a wealth of animal fables in Latin along with a dizzying array of other resources. While the texts tend to be shorter, they are quite accessible and can be selected to highlight particular vocabulary and syntax. There’s more here than I can practically describe, but it’s well worth a look around.

Mystery Category: DIY

The final mystery category is editions you make yourself. Online lemmatizers like the Bridge make generating vocabulary lists much less onerous than doing it by hand (or you can choose a text whose vocabulary is already in the Bridge’s library and customize the vocabulary lists based on your past reading). Johan Winge’s Latin Macronizer similarly speeds up the marking of vowel quantities. Texts can be sourced from the Latin Library, Bibliotheca Augustana, or other online sources. You can take a text from scanned PDF (from, e.g., Google Books or the Internet Archive) to student edition using the tools mentioned above by first converting the PDF to editable text with a dedicated OCR tool like Rescribe.

These tools allow us to make student-friendly editions of Latin texts that more fully represent the geographical, social, and temporal scope of the Latin language. Whether, like the editors of the Experrecta series we focus on bringing underrepresented authorial voices into the curriculum, or we look at Medieval Iberian views on race and religion, this is a worthy endeavor. It is promising not only pedagogically, but also for the health of the many interconnected fields that touch on or inhabit the realm of the Latin language.

But Wait, you Left Out x….

Yes, I did. For example, some things I didn’t touch on are the various supplementary resources that accompany Ørberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata or the numerous children’s books and modern novels translated into Latin. I own a bunch of both types of book but haven’t used them enough professionally or personally to have much to say. Drop your favorite intermediate resources into the comments or get in touch if you’d like to extend the conversation!

Shameless Self-Promotion Alert: It’s not too Late to Close this Tab

I’ve been using the tools mentioned in the DIY section to create texts for my own students and courses. You can see some of that work on the Projects page. If there is a text you’d like a student edition of but you don’t have the time or bandwidth to learn new tools, I also offer this as a service.

I am considering putting together a workshop or course on creating student editions using online tools. If you are interested in learning how to make customized editions of Latin texts yourself, please fill out this poll.

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