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A Horace Workbook

Book Review:
A Horace Workbook

David J. Murphy and Ronnie Ancona
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers

After fading from the general consciousness and disappearing from the standard curriculum, Latin is starting to make a comeback. However, for Latin to catch up, it's not enough to brush off the old grammar-translation textbooks from the days of old. At the same time, T(otal) P(hysical) R(esponse) is probably not going to become the mainstay of Latin instruction either. What will?

For introductory prose, there is some fairly good stuff on the market, notably the Oxford and Cambridge series. And if you're just looking for fun with Latin, the adventures of Paulus and Lucia in Teach Yourself Beginner's Latin are a delight. But...

The place where Latin has always gotten difficult is the poetry. Horace, Ovid and Vergil thought with declensions and even they, we presume, sometimes must have wondered where the phrase they were working on was going to end and whether it would fit together. With its theoretically flexible word order, Latin allowed the Roman poet to do wondrous things to pair concepts and make it work with the meter. But for the non-Roman Latin student, this makes life very difficult. Until now.

A Horace Workbook is exactly the sort of book I wish I had had when I was first starting to decipher Latin poetry. And again, when I was reading Horace in graduate school seminars. In the middle? I found the whole thing rather difficult and stuck to Catullus and Ovid's Metamorphoses, which are at least a little more transparent to the modern American reader. A Horace Workbook, however, has just about the right touch: it uses grammar and other exercises to help you understand the poem, not to test your mastery of minutia.

In a typical A Horace Workbook presentation, you are given the poem, followed by leading questions that make it easier to see how it fits together, as well as prompting the occasional a-ha where you might have otherwise missed what was going on. The whole thing is very user-friendly, taking you by the hand and leading you through the things you ought to notice before you start getting quizzed on them.

After the first exercise for each poem, there are a few activities meant to dovetail with what students need to be able to do for the AP exam or, in real life, to more fully appreciate Latin poetry at a time when the knowledge is there but the feeling isn't.

Finally, there is a section on scansion (for each poem) where the student can work on developing a Latin ear to go with the Latin brain. This may seem tedious to some, but we could rearrange word order to the language of choice for reading these poems if we were indifferent to the sound, to the voice, that brought them alive for their first readers and hearers. Scanning the poems lays the groundwork for bringing them alive and for understanding just what it is that makes the intricate part come together in sound, however jumbled it may look when diagrammed or parsed.

There are, of course, great books for capturing all the subtleties, all the nuances, that went with the glory that was Roman poetry. But they're above most of our heads. Unless you spend a lot of time wondering if there weren't more exciting ways to employ the ablative absolute or deeper, darker unheard implications in the use of future passive participles. In A Horace Workbook, we have a Latin poetry reader for the rest of us, helping to bring the Latin alive in an understandable and meaningful form. Anyone struggling in AP Latin, and, indeed, anybody who has struggled through Latin verse and wished they'd gotten more out of it, should give this workbook a look.