Teaching Tools: Intermediate Latin

If you’re a classicist, it’s pretty likely that, at some stage in your career, you’ll teach intermediate Latin. This prospect is both exciting (no bad puns from Wheelock!) and terrifying (no textbook!), probably to your students as well as you. At some point in this process, you’re going to need a commentary.

We’ve got you covered.

There are, of course, hard-copy commentaries. Some of the better-known series are the Bryn Mawr Commentaries and the Cambridge (Green & Yellow) Commentaries. Both have advantages: the Bryn Mawrs are inexpensive, usually under $15 per text, and offer a lot of basic grammar help; the green & yellows are more expensive but not outrageous, and include much more in-depth cultural commentary. Both include Greek and Latin texts, as well as limited e-book options. The BMCs are generally more useful for a less-experienced class, but it is always good to check first; Cambridge offers a wider variety. (I am not taking account of ‘transitional‘ readers from Bolchazy here, not because I don’t think they’re important, but because I want to focus on commentaries that include the full text or at least a full book of ancient text.)


Most students, though, are going to want books that they can read online. And there are two major, free sites with hyperlinked commentaries that can be effectively used in the classroom: Perseus, which you probably already know about; and Dickinson College Commentaries, which you may not.


Perseus has a variety of tools, including full-word parsing, occasional notes and commentaries (depending on the text), full translations of most texts from the Loeb, and cross-references to names and places mentioned in a given work. Users can control, to a certain degree, the amount of text that they see at any given time, and what help, if any, appears in the sidebar. For well-known works, like the Aeneid, students (or their instructors) can choose among multiple textual aids; for less-popular works, like Servius’ commentary on the poem, this option does not exist.

My students really like Perseus, for the exact same reason I don’t: the parsing tool. Yes, this is a useful thing to have when you can’t figure out what excitatis means in the sentence. At the same time, it’s intellectually valuable for a student to figure out on his/her own if this is a participle or a conjugated verb. Just clicking on the words, noting what the majority of readers/users think the conjugation is in this context, and moving on doesn’t actually teach you anything.


The DCCs, on the other hand, resemble a traditional commentary, but in electronic form. Right now, they have only a limited number of texts (and only one Greek), but most are suitable for a ‘first real Latin’ audience: Caesar, the Amores, Nepos’ Hannibal, and parts of the Aeneid. The notes are next to the text and similar to what you would find in a hard-copy commentary: for Gallic War 1.1, for example, we find lemmata on the various Gallic tribes and places Caesar mentions, including links to the Pleiades site for locations; a few glosses on concepts such as cultus and idioms; and links to relevant sections of the (free, online) Allen and Greenough.

Separate tabs link to section vocabulary and an oral reading of the chapter, and each author receives his own introduction. And there’s no translation.

The main attraction of the DCC site for me as an instructor, though, are the two lists of the “most common words” in both classical languages (1000 in Latin, 500 in Greek). This resource has made it onto my ‘Required’ list for class this year. If you have ever known and loved Pharr’s Aeneid for that fold-out vocab list of core words in the back, this is the site for you. Because it’s not just for 6 books of Vergil! Not even just Vergil! But for all Latin.

The lists are downloadable in a variety of formats, including OpenOffice for students who don’t use Microsoft. They are tagged by part of speech, and further subdivided into categories (e.g., noun, 4th declension; verb, 1st conjugation; pronoun, demonstrative). You can also sort by category, like “nature words”. Students can then use these categories to sort the list for vocab-memorization purposes.


Last year, my intermediate Latin students had a textbook and a bunch of photocopied commentaries to help them read a wide variety of ancient authors in a short period of time. This year, they have a (free) list of vocabulary and (free) easy to read commentaries. They are also using a transitional reader, which I’ll come back to in another post. It’s too early in the year to know whether they like the new system better than last year’s students liked their system. But my university is increasingly trying to move materials online, and I do know that an elegant academic website beats a bunch of scanned photocopies any day.



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Teaching Tools: Intermediate Latin by https://libraryofantiquity.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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