Latin For You

Teaching and translating ancient Latin since 1986

Books on Latin - learn the Latin language

The following is select list of Latin text-books with a brief description and personal opinion.  There are some very Latin texts and courses out there, but they aren't all brilliant.  Hopefully this will be of some use.  I have included links to reviews, preferably independent or academic ones.  Otherwise, Caveat Lector!

I should add that there are two types of books included in this first list: traditional grammar text-books whose sole purpose it to teach the morphology and syntax of the Latin language and collections of short passages.  These Latin 'readers' have passages which have been written primarily to provide practice in translating Latin into English.  If they hve been well done, they are also enjoyable to read as any book tries to be, but that is not their primary causa essendi.

I would also like to add a few links to some very useful and readable on-line Latin material.

1.)  Mille Fabulae et Una:  Aesop's fables in Latin.  Very short and manageable.  Every Latin teacher should have this link at hand.

Cambridge Latin Course 

The course is set out in 4 books [called stages], divided into 40 chapters [called units].  This course, which is geared toward high school students, is extremely well executed with a user-friendly learning curve.  The readings are based on events in the '80's AD.

The readings in Book 1 describe the lives of Caecilius, a banker in Pompeii who dies in the eruption of Vesuvius and his household, some of whom survive.  Book 2 starts in Britain with the nasty Salvius who is visited by Caecilius' son, Quintus.  The rest of the book is Quintus's account of how he got to Britain from Pompeii, via Alexandria.  Book 3 continues the story in Britain, following the machinations of Salvius against King Cogidubnus.  The action then moves to Rome, along with Salvius and we are plunged into the world of Domitian, which will carry on through the rest of the course.  Book 4 begins to focus more on ancient Latin, reading the likes of Martial and Pliny as the action shifts to Rome and the court of Domitian.  The main characters; Caecilius, Salvius, Dumnorix, etc. are based on real people we know existed on the basis of inscriptions.  Their position, career, etc. are historical fact, while their personalities are fiction.

Each Unit in the series begins with readings which are followed by one or two grammar lessons.  There are also exercises and some material on English cognates.  The unit then ends with a generous section on the aspect of Roman culture which was featured in that section's readings.  All of this is very well illustrated in the fourth edition.

 

Wheelock's Latin 

This book was originally written for students who were going to university upon returning from World War II, as opposed to entering university from high school.  It was felt that G.I.'s returing from the war had experiences that far exceeded the typical high school or university student and so required a more 'sophisticated' textbook.  The passages match the approach to life that many North Americans had in the post-war period.  Unfortunately, what once seemed like useful, proverbial tidbits now seem more like ponderous philosophical advice.  There are, however, a selection of readings based upon the grammar and vocabulary in Wheelock and these are almost interesting enough to make Wheelock worrthwhile.  BTW, the book does have a very good structural approach to grammar.  Here is the BMCR review of the 6th edition of Wheelock.  I don't happen to agree with this review, but I offer all opinions.

Learn Latin (from the QED Teach Yourself Latin series by Peter Jones in the Daily Telegraph)

Peter Jones' name already appears on this page for the highly recommended Reading Latin books he created with Keith Sidwell.  This might be unique in the annals of Latin pedagogy in that it was originally published in serial form in a newspaper.  This book is a great resource, intended for those not learning Latin in a 'traditional' setting (high school, university, continuing studies), but useful for students and teachers alike.  Jones takes a light approach the Latin language and Roman culture that balances well with the stereotypical heaviness of Latin.

It's paperback, it's inexpensive and it's really good.  Go out, buy it and enjoy! (Age! Eme! Gaude!)

Latin for the New Millennium

I must confess that I am not as familiar with this text as I am with Cambridge and Wheelock.  It is the text now used at UBC and instructors I know there are favouably impresssed by it.  It is produced by Bolchazy, who have created some excellent resources for teaching and enjoying classics and Latin.  It should also be noted that Terence Tunberg is one of the co-authors, so I must confess that his work with Dr. Seuss is not such that I filled with confidence.  Still, children's literature and language texts are two completely different genres and ability (or lack thereof) in one genre does not automatcially mean the same will occur in another genre.  I will have to have a good look and see.  Here is the review of this book in BMCR.

38 Latin Stories (designed to accompany Wheelock's Latin; written by Anne Groton & James May; 1986)

You know you have created an iconic book, when people stop using the title but refer to the book by the author's names.  This has happened here, where 38 Latin Stories is known simply as Groton and May.  Another factor may be the fact that Wheelock is such desperate need of decent (or even half-decent) passages to support its grammar that any good effort will become hugely popular.  Either way, this text-book is good enough to almost be considered under the Books in Latin category - a collection  of Latin stories worth reading for their own sake, rather than as Latin practice.  The stories begin with Greek mythology and then move to Roman history (and a bit of philosophy) and have been useful to Latin teachers as a mine for Latin unseen tests.

I should add that there is a considerable resource which was once available on-line and which also supported Wheelock.  There were three Latin texts (subdivided into sections) which were graded and were based on Wheelock.  The first was the story of Perseus and assumed knowledge of chapters 1-27 in Wheelock.  It  was amply supported by vocab and notes.  The second was the story of Hercules.  It was also amply supported and it assumed knowledge of the entire 40 chapters of Wheelock.  The third was a brief rundown of early Roman history.  It also assumed the reader had completed Wheelock, but this time no grammar or vocab is provided.  I believe it was on the University of Victoria (Canada) website and has since been removed.  Fortunately, I grabbed it while it was available.  It is some very good work.

Balbus (written by G.M. Lyne; 1934)

Lyne begins this book with the statement "Latin is not dull, nor is it difficult."  Then he backs up this statement with a very engaging textbook which combines Latin stories he has written with grammar lessons (or cultural lessons).  So lesson 4 is a piece of Roman comedy and lesson 5 is on indirect speech.  If it weren't for the grammar lessons, I would be tempted to place this book under the "Books in Latin" category - they are that well written, both engaging and accessible.  As an example, the main character of the book, Balbus, complains to his father that learning Greek is useless and points out that the shop-keepers will think he is nuts if repeats the Greek sentences he is learning (e.g., Don't you see that sparrow?).  Even though the book is showing its years, it still has some useful text and can at least inspire us teachers and writers to something better.  This book was reviewed in the Classical Review, vol 45 (1934) p. 145.

Personae Comicae (G.M. Lyne, 1956)

Here we have another book that is play-based.  There are 8 short plays or skits, each of which features a standard comic character (Parasite, Sildier, Old Man, Virgin, Slave, Greedy Old Man, Cook, Slave Girl.  The skits get longer as you progress through the book and notes have been placed at the back of the book in a way that is similar to standard Latin readers of the 1st half of the 20th century.  The vocabulary is basic and the subjunctive rarely rears its ugly head.  This book, too, was reviewed in Classical Review, vol. 8 (1958) p. 181-84.

 

Short Latin Stories (Philip Dunlop, 1987)

This book is to the Cambridge Latin Course what 38 Latin Stories is to Wheelock.  Dunlop has written 50 short (1-3 paragraph) stories in Latin which are closely tied to the Cambridge Latin Course.  The first story, about a Roman auction and someone who accidently bids in their sleep, assumes knowledge of Latin up to Stage 8 in the CLC.  By the time you get to story #44, you need to have reached Stage 34 in the CLC.  The last 6 stories are not ties to any particular CLC level.  These stories are very good in that they are both well written and good practice.

 

A Virgil Workbook (Bradley & Boyd, 2009)

Another author in Bolchazy-Carducci's Workbook series is the Virgil Workbook.  When  they say Virgil, they really mean the Aeneid (no Georgics or Bucolics) and that's okay, since the Aeneid is really what rules the world these days in high school.  The method is the same as for the Horace Workbook and the students benefits.

 

A Horace Workbook (Murphy & Ancona, 2005)

I happen to have both used and reviewed this textbook and so include it in this list of text-books.  It is a well thought-out and executed book.  Horace's Satire 1.9 and then a selection of his Odes make up the content and all include notes, vocabulary and exercises.  This is a great introduction to Horace and his poetry.  You can read my full review in the on-line BMCR

Horace: A Legamus Reader (Murphy and Ancona, 2008)

This is another textbook that I have reviewed.  It is also a very good resource and a excdellent way for students to make the transition from Latin written by a 20th (or 21st) century English speaker to Latin written by a native Latin speaker, centuries before the development of the English language.  The text is similar to the Horace Workbook (see above) and the assistance provided is graded.  As the student progresses through the book, the amount of help is reduced.  The assistance is very well thought out.  Sentences are broken down into their constituent parts and analyzed so that unfamiliar structure can be seen and understood.  Again, this is book that I have reviewed and you can read that review here.  The publishers of this book, Bolchazy-Carducci have produced several other books in this Leganus series.  Caesar, Catullus, Cicero, Ovid and Virgil all get their turn and students benefit from being introduced to all of these authors is way that makes the learning curve so much less precipitous.

From Augustus to Nero (Fagan & Murgatroyd, 2006)

A bit more advanced text-book, From Augustus to Nero is included because it is a very good text-book whose content is right in my wheel-house - Julio Claudian history.  It is a selection of passages from Seneca, Suetonius and Tacitus, aimed at students who have had all the basics of Latin taught to them and are making their way towards studying Latin texts.  The passages chosen (well chosen) have some vocabulary and grammar notes to help us through the tricky bits and discussion by the editors about each passage, talking about the Latin and the history each desribes.  The review for this book in BMCR can be read here.

 

Two Latin Plays (written by Susan Paxson, 1911)

 I haven't had a chance to see this book yet, but it sounds really intriguing.  It is unfortunate that it contains so many errors, but something is better than nothing (most of the time).

You can read a review of this book here on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

 

Latin: Story of a World Language (written by Jurgen Leonhardt, 2009; English version by Kenneth Kronenberg, 2013)

 Here is a book that has actually been around since 2009.  For those of us (I say us, since my German is as rusty as it is laborious) for whom German is a substantial barrier, an English translation has been produced.

This book is also on my Christmas wish list and, as soon as I have had a read at, I will share some of that experience here.

Until then, for everyone's benefit, there are two BMCR reviews:

One on the original German book and

one on the English translation.

 

Latin Synonyms for Language Lovers: A Select Thesaurus (written by Christine E. Meyer, 2013)

This charming little book, which was written just over 100 years ago by a Latin teacher in Omaha, offers two short plays written in simple Latin which can be both translated and performed.  The first play is "A Roman School" and takes place in 90 BC.  The school is the attended by Cicero and his brother as well as other famous and infamous historical figures: Caesar, Pompey, Catiline.  The second play is "A Roman Wedding" and describes the wedding of Cicero's daughter, Tullia.  Thanks to its venerable age, this textbook is now available free on-line at Project Gutenberg and archive.org.

Books in Latin - proof that Latin is alive and well and being written to be read

There are a surprising number of books written in the Latin language or which feature Latin very prominently.  The following list, although striving eventually to fairly compehensive, it still in the early stages of compilation.  The books range from the ridiculous to the sublime and the standard is quite wide.  As with the above section on Latin text-books, I have provided a brief description of the book as well as some personal reflections.  Unfortunately, the books are not listed in any particular order, although I have attempted to group translations of modern works together in one section and reference books in another.

I have placed here books which are judged to be written principly to be entertaining (rather than educational - they are listed above).  The dividing line between the categories is somewhat fluid (and arbitrary), but there is a general philosophy.

Amo, Amas, Amat and More (written by Eugene Ehrlich; 1985)

Ehrlich arranges a long list of well known (or formerly well known) Latin tags in alphabetical order and then offers a tranlsation and brief comment on the meaning and/or significance of the line.  The source of the line is also given (where it is known).  This is also a good resource for Latin teachers, because it is not easy to have all of these tags at the tip of ones brain.  The only scary part of the book is that it is introduced by William F. Buckley Jr.

 

The Anchor Book of Latin Quotations (compiled by Norbert Guterman; 1966)

This book provides both the original Latin as well as facing English translations of quotes from Latin authors, both well known and more obscure.  The authors are arranged chronologically starting with Appius Claudius Caecus (355-275BC) and ending with the Corpus Iuris Civilis of Justinian (533AD).  The over 800 years of Latin quotations offer a huge range of thought and genres.  Guterman leans towards quotes which are either pithy or aphoristic.  This is great resource for teachers who want to provide students with genuine Latin in bite-sized chunks.

Asterix (written by Goscinny & Uderzo; 1959 on)

For those unfamiliar, Asterix is a cartoon about a tiny Gaulic village that is able to hold out against the Roman Empire and stay free due to a magic potion they have which makes them invincable in battle.  The stories have translated into many languages (they were first published in French in 1959), including Latin.  These are great books - lots of fun, with plenty of sight gags and word play (the village's bard is called Cacophonix).

Cattus Petastus (translated by Tunberg; 2000)

I still have to read this one.  So far I only know it by reputation.  The BMCR review is right here.

Fairy Tales in Latin (translated by Victor Barocas; 2000)

Barocas takes us back to the days of Lyne and creates fun, relatively accessible (simple) Latin translations of well known English fairy tales.  Among the titles are Tres Porcelli and Lacernella Rubra.  Fairy tales are an excellent way to introduce reading longer Latin passages to students.  They are well known and often repetitive, so the student does not have to cope with the "cultural translation" which "genuine" Latin regularly presents.  There are 12 stories as well as a word list (glossary) at the back.

Grunt: Pigorian Chant (written by Sandra Boynton; 1996)

Sandra Boynton has written a number of excellen.t children's books which my daughters have heard dozens of times to their great delight.  This book and accompanying CD are the product of a truly playful mind and were doubtless allowed to be published due to her other great successes.  It may not be the highest form of Latin, but it is great fun.

 

Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis (translated by Peter Needham; 2003)

I am happy to say that I must change my review of this Latin translation.  I confess that it was something of a sight unseen reaction (and I still disagree with the Latin chosen for the name), but I had a chance to read a bit of the text and it is quite accessible - not nearly as difficult as Winnie Ille Pooh.  The Latin is much more readable thanks to Peter N's willingness to treat Latin as a living language which can adapt to new concepts and foreign names (thank you for not locking it away in a museum!).

Since I wrote my first review, some interesting and useful material has come online, particularly John Porter's glossary and commentary on chapter 1.

I want to thank Kathleen Hansen, a true Latinist, for politely and persuasively showing me the error of my ways.  She has been reading this book with her group.  Great stuff!

Latin for Gardeners (Lorraine Harrrison, 2012)

This book contains over 3,000 plants names decorated with lovely illustrations.  A botanist's and etymologisit's dream.

 

Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum (translated by Peter Needham; 2006)

A second Harry Potter rendered into Latin is more a testament to the intestinal fortitude of Peter Needham than to any great demand to read full length novels in Latin.  Otherwise, see above.

You can preview a sample couple of pages which have facing Latin and French versions:

Check it out!

 

Liberated Latin (collected & translated by Dick Shaw, 1951)

Written by Dick Shaw, who also gave us Fractured French, Liberated Latin is a colleciton of Latin tags which become Latin gags when they are translated by Shaw and illustrated by Otto Soglow who did cartoons for the New Yorker, inter alia.  A lot of the jokes depend on how Latin was pronounced in schools in the '40's and '50's.  For example, hoc loco means pawn-shop crazy and a guys with a manic grin on his face and arm loads of stuff is shown running to a pawn shop.  It's still good fun and may inspire some modern exempla, if anyone would like to try.

Latin for All Occasions (written by Henry Beard; 1990) and Latin for Even More Occasions (written by Henry Beard; 1991)
Latin for All Occasions

Henry Beard takes the Latin language on a fun ride as he offers Latin renderings for such English words/phrases as NFL team names and common bumper stcikers.  The book was successful enough (and Beard had enough crazy Latin left for a sequel; Latin for Even More Occasions.  The Latin is solid, even if it isn't classical, but then, if Latin were still being spoken today, it would not be much like the language of Cicero.  After all, everything evolves and changes.  Although Henry Beard studied Latin at Harvard for 8 years, he stills calls upon some expert help from Mark Sugars (prof at CSU, Long Beach) and Winifred Lewellen.

Maria Poppina ab A - Z (translated by G.M. Lyne, 1962)

Another of a number of children's books whch has been translated into Latin.  Mary Poppins from A-Z is not an especially well known work even in English, but the main character is certainly well established in the culture and this book lends itself very nicely to translation into English.  Fortunately, the translation is done by G.M. Lyne who had a real feel for rendering English into a Latin that was correct and yet quite manageable for students, which is surely the purpose of the exercise (Tunbergs, take note!).  The trickiest part is the all the proper names.  If you don't know them from the English version of the story, you may have trouble with them in the Latin.  Still, Lyne does such a good job of creating children's literature in Latin, that the book is a gem.

O Loca tu ibis! (Oh, the Places You'll Go) (translated by Leone Roselle, 1994)

I didn't even know this book existed until I started trolling through BMCR to find reviews of books that are listed here.  So, here is the BMCR review, which is very short.

 

Olivia: the Essential Latin edition (Ian Falconer, 2000, translated by Amy High, 2007)

Olivia is a children's book (aimed at the very young) which is very simple in English.  Fortunately, Amy High understands that children's stories should be written simply for early readers, regardless of the language.  The first line of the story shows the whole method.  "Haec est Olivia.  Perita est multarum res."  "This is Olivia.  She is good at a lot of things."  Great rendition.  This is the kind of book that can really encourage an interest in Latin.

 

Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit (translated by Guenevera Tunberg with help from Terentio Tunberg; 1999)

Dr. Seuss provides an excellent opportunity to create some meaningful Latin Kid Lit.  Something Latin students can read and understand fairly readily.  That is the purpose of Kid Lit in English (or any other modern langauge) - to facilitate the transition to more advanced reading material.  Unfortunately, the Tunbergs have decided to render Seuss into the closest approximation to Classical Latin and the result is as a bad as one would expect.

Now on to the specifics of this dreadful offering.  I know I'll sound like a Grinch for the rest of this piece, but there isn't much choice.  The Tunbergs take a playful English children's story, crush under foot like a Roman legionary in hob-nailed boots and force it into classical Latin.

Should we start with the title?  Just how difficult do we need to make the Latin?  Normally, Latin is shorter than the same sentence in English.  So why this monstrosity?  The original title simply says "The Grinch".  Seuss sees no reason to explain the name Grinch, but the Tunbergs do.  Therefore we are treated to "the envious little name by the name of Grinch".  Drop "Invidiosulus Nomine"!  Also, we could have been a bit more deft with the translation of the term Christmas.  How about Festum Christi?  After all, Christmas doesn't mean 'Christ's birth', but 'the feast of Christ'.  It's a holiday more than a birthday, so the word festum seems a much better fit.  Finally, why the verb abrogaverit, which means to cancel?  The English doesn't say cancel (or abrogate).  This is aimed at kids and so it is kept simple.  The Grinch steals Christmas, literally.  He takes away everything that has to do with the celebration of Christmas; the tree, presents, decorations, 'roast beast'.  He steals Christmas.  And putting the verb into the perfect subjunctive active (in an indirect question) is just mean.  Grammatically correct, but still mean.

The story only goes downhill from there.  The Whos become the Laetuli because for some reason the Tunbergs have figured that when Dr. Seuss made up the people called Whos he really meant 'the little happy people'.  Using 'Who' as a noun referring to a type of person, so pure Seussian imagination.  Before he wrote this book, that usage had not existed in English.  So when we're translating this concept into Latin, why not give ourselves the same licence that Seuss so successfully gave himself?  Call these people "Qui" and be done.  So much simpler and straight forward.

Rather than continue the painful litany, let's just say that classical Latin did not have children's literature. From what we can tell, there was not such thing in the ancient Greco-Roman world. So if you try to translate a children's book into classical Latin you guaranteed to fail. You need to basically create a children's level Latin and if you can't do that (or are not prepared to), then make room for someone else who will. Better still, look at the work of someone like Lyne and take notes.

Unfortunately, classicists, so desperate for any contemporary use of ancient culture, tend to uncritically praise such works.

Tres Mures Caeci (David Noe; 2005)

A charming little Latin picture was recently brought to my attention - Tres Mures Caeci.  I have now had the pleasure of reading this book (thank you, David Noe) and I am so pleased to say that it is delightful.  David Noe understands how a children's book should read and that this genre can be written in the Latin language, even if the ancient Romans did not originially write 'kid lit'.  The story is basic enough to be understood easily by someone just starting out learning Latin.  It is also interesting enough to be engaging.

I also direct readers to Vibeke Roggen's review of this book in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

Virent Ova, Viret Perna (translated by Tunberg; 2006)

The third installment in a series of Latin renderings where the purpose of the exercise would seem to crush the life of Seuss using the Latin language as the blunt instrument of choice.

I happened to have created my own translation (before I was aware of Tunberg's efforts.  On the page "Classics is Fun" you will see how I approach the pleasant task of translating Seuss into Latin.  Green Eggs and Ham was a perfect place to start since it quite simple and repetitive (it was originally written on a bet that Seuss couldn't write a children's book using only 50 different words).

As with How the Grinch Stole Christmas my first concern is with the title; The Eggs are Green, the Ham is Green.  Except that there is no verb in the title.  There are actually two ways to approach the translation of this book; either translate it word for word - keep the meaning and lose the poetry or replace most of the nouns (which provide the rhymes) with nouns in Latin that rhyme (e.g., non cum mure, non in rure).  In the section of this webpage titled "Latin is Fun" you can find both approaches as attempted by me.

Winnie Ille Pu (translated by Alexander Lenard; 1960)

Probably the most famous example of a children's book translated into Latin (at least among classicists).  Unlike Lyne, however, Lenard does not have the same feel for children's literature and so the Latin is rather more difficult (although this is in part due to A.A. Milne's not  'writing down' to his young audience.  The reader is provided with a few notes and some vocabulary at the back, but this only underscores the difficulty level of the Latin.