History in Review
By Rochelle Caviness - Updated: March 3, 2003
When studying a history or culture, it is worthwhile, and often necessary to know the language or languages used during the time period under study. For students of Ancient Rome, that language is primarily Latin.
Latin is not a difficult language to learn. It is not, however, a language that you can learn in 'five easy lessons'. To truly become proficient enough to be able to read classical literature as it was meant to be - in Latin - you must be willing to devote a sufficient amount of time to its mastery.
Find Yourself a Teacher
- If you persevere, you will be rewarded in many ways. Latin will increase your understanding of the Romance Languages (i.e., those that evolved from Latin) such as Spanish, Italian, French, Roumanian and Portuguese.
- It will increase your English vocabulary as many words found in English were derived from Latin.
- You will gain access to a verdant body of literary and historical works.
- You will be able to show off by reading Latin inscriptions, mottos, and in a pinch you can usually get your point across, in Latin, to a speaker of Spanish or Italian.
- Knowledge of classical Latin will also open up the world of Medieval and ecclesiastic Latin, which is another realm of study in its own right.
The best way to learn Latin is with the aid of a teacher. Hopefully you had, or will have, the opportunity to study Latin while still in high school. If that is not possible, you can begin your study on the college level.
- If you are unable to attend actual Latin classes, consider taking a correspondence course. Most public universities offer correspondence or extended study courses. For example, the University of Iowa's Division of Continuing Education offers four courses in Latin, via their Independent Study Program. These four courses are worth a total of 14 semester credits. This is equivalent to two-year's worth of college level Latin - and it can all be completed from the comfort of your own home.
If you live in an area that does not offer Latin courses or if you prefer to work on your own, Latin lends itself very well to self-study. Based upon my own experiences studying Latin on my own, I would recommend the following books as a starting point:
- Wheelock's Latin, by Frederic M. Wheelock and Richard A. Lafleur.
This book was written especially for students of Latin who do not have any previous experience in the language. The text is easily understood and a wealth of practice and translation exercises are included, along with an answer key.
- Workbook for Wheelock's Latin, by Paul T. Comeau and Richard A. Lafleur.
This is an excellent book if you want to do more drills and exercises. The text is geared to complement Wheelock's Latin and I have found the added exercises to be well worth the effort. The repetition helps to cement the material in the mind - and they're fun. The only defect is that the workbook does not come with an answer key. However, one is available from the publisher - although it can be difficult to get if you are not a teacher.
- A Comprehensive Guide to Wheelock's Latin - Newly Revised for Wheelock's 6th Edition, by Dale A. Grote.
This a study guide for Wheelock's Latin text, and it is an essential tool for those studying Latin on their own.
- English Grammar for Students of Latin, by Norma Goldman and Ladislas Szymansk.
If you don't have an outstanding grasp of basic grammar, be sure to get this book!
- Wheelock's Latin Reader: Selections from Latin Literature, by Richard A. Lafleur and Frederic M. Wheelock.
Once you work through Wheelock's Latin, increase your knowledge of Latin with this intriguing collection of Latin Prose.
- Collins Gem Latin Dictionary: Latin-English English-Latin, by D. A. Kidd.
A decent, pocket-sized student's dictionary.
Whether you are studying Latin in a classroom situation or on your own, you will find that the Internet offers a wealth of information on Latin. Internet resources range from online access to hundreds of Latin books, software, study assistance, courses, hints, and the chance to interact with other students.
Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History, by Victoria Emma Pagán.
A literary analysis of how conspiracies and counter conspiracies were portrayed in Roman literature and historical accounts.
Julius Caesar: The Life and Times of the People's Dictator, by Luciano Canfora.
A detailed, authoritative, and vibrant biography of Julius Caesar.
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