Introduction to Latin Prose Composition

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9780865166721: Introduction to Latin Prose Composition

A new approach to Latin prose composition, this book is concisely organized, giving easy and efficient reference. The ten chapters deal with conveying messages in simple sentences, connecting independent sentences to create a text, expressing relationships within a clause, use of word order, vocabulary, what vocabulary to choose, and subordination. Practical exercises guide students in reworking ancient texts and creating their own.

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About the Author:

Milena Minkova is at Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, and was formerly at the Gregorian University in Rome.

Review:

Introduction to Latin Prose Composition, offers timely help to neophytes who have gone through elementary Latin and are ready for a serious grammar review together with hints for extended prose composition. It may also be useful for veterans who have taught and read Latin for years but may nevertheless want to be reminded of the basic rules and tools to begin writing in the language.

The book may be divided into three parts: grammatical review (Chaps. I-VI, VIII), vocabulary guide (VII), and suggestions for composition exercises (IX-X).

The grammatical review is mostly concerned with syntax and excludes accidence, with which users of this book are presumably quite comfortable. The grammar is prescriptive rather than descriptive; Minkova's aim is clearly to teach the reader how to write correct, classical or rather classicizing (for more on my use of this term see below) Latin prose, without distracting them with diachronic, generic or socio-linguistic variations. The manner and order of presentation are similar to those of traditional composition textbooks like Bradley's Arnold, but Minkova tends to be more concise. The language is thoroughly up-to-date (Minkova's English is impeccable and accessible throughout, and readers would never notice that it is not her native language), a boon to those who are not fond of Victorian archaisms. An example or two are provided for every grammatical point. Most of these seem to have been taken from the familiar classics. Perhaps it is to be wished that the existing sources were always cited, although many of the quotations will be familiar to experienced teachers. A major difference from traditional Anglo-American textbooks is that there are no exercises to accompany the grammatical precepts. Those who feel they need reinforcement need to turn back to their elementary grammar books or to Bradley's Arnold vel sim. A short chapter on punctuation and orthography (VIII), again not found in many traditional textbooks, may come in handy for those revising a Latin text for publication.

Chapter VII, 'The Use of Vocabulary in Latin Composition,' will likely prove extremely helpful to those wishing to explore this art. Minkova not only chooses the reference works judiciously but also provides good and concise explanation of their individual worth making this section infinitely more useful than the simple bibliography one finds in other guides to composition (and many of them do not even have one). This chapter, which also includes a short but intelligent reflection on lexical innovation in Latin since antiquity, should be required reading for teachers (including autodidacts) of composition.

The final two chapters give guidelines and examples of composition exercises based on passages from classical and post-classical Latin. Minkova's own sample compositions such as a character sketch of Albert Einstein in the style of Livy, or the description of an earthquake after the manner of St. Augustine, are delightful and would make good subjects for stylistic analysis in class.

Minkova's book, if carefully followed, can equip the reader to begin writing Latin with good grammar and mostly classical vocabulary and idiom. The Latin that Minkova writes and wants to teach, to be sure, is not the nervously circumscribed, 'pure' classical Latin à la Menge but the richer and more eclectic variety cultivated by Erasmus and others who, like Seneca's bee, feel free to hop around in the whole variegated range of Latin literature, from Plautus to Caesar to St. Jerome and Lorenzo Valla. By acquiring facility in this kind of classicizing Latin,1 the student may be enabled to read rapidly and with enjoyment not only the classical authors but also the copus of post-classical (but still classicizing) Latin literature which has continued to accumulate without a break to this day. --Akihiko Watanabe, Western Washington University, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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