Texts: Required and Otherwise

Though there is an astounding range of helpful tools that can be brought to bear on the problem of learning Latin in general, and studying Latin poetry in particular, for this course, we will be relying on a single volume designed specifically to meet the demands of the AP Vergil curriculum, which is in turn based on Clyde Pharr's venerable but now outdated student edition of Aeneid I-VI. It follows Pharr’s general pedagogical methodology, and indeed preserves some of his peripheral material and helps, but its scholarship is much more up-to-date, its editorial methods are in line with current practice, and the author’s literary perceptions and good sense vastly surpass Pharr’s plodding perspectives. Like its predecessor, it encourages the student to master a moderate-sized core vocabulary, while giving the rest of the words at the bottom of the page — thus eliminating the need to look up those odd words that appear in the text only a few times; at the same time, it does include a glossary, as Pharr’s text did not. The net result is a product that should help move the student along with a minimum of fuss and maximum pedagogical benefit.

There are other tools, however, that will prove useful if you can afford them. Some of them are rather inexpensive, for that matter. Some of them are even free.


Reference Grammar

This course presumes almost nothing about how you got here, and so I have not prescribed a particular Latin grammar for you. Nevertheless, it will be important that you have some reference work to help you out with issues of grammar — and for this task, the elementary texts may not prove entirely satisfactory. Wheelock is a compromise, but look into getting something more exhaustive when you can. Vergil uses grammatical constructions from archaic Latin usage or from Greek, and neither Wheelock nor any of the other introductory courses tend to address such things. My standard has been Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar — this is still available from Caratzas Bros., but their supply has been somewhat unreliable. Part but not all of it has been rendered machine-readable, and is available on the Web at the University of Pennsylvania online. The complete volume (not the online version) has the advantage of offering a fairly complete discussion of Latin metrics and prosody — something we will be wrestling with in this course. Another close contender is Gildersleeve and Lodge. Hale and Buck is not, to my way of thinking, quite as good, but it is adequate. Buck did, however, publish a number of very useful tools in ancient comparative grammar and syntax, and things like Greek and Italic dialects.

There are others. If you have questions, let me know.


Vocabulary tools and drill notwithstanding, I strongly encourage every student to have a sound Latin dictionary available. For the purposes of this course, a moderate dictionary will suffice, but dipping into a real Latin lexicon for some background is curiously gratifying. My personal favorite among small Latin dictionaries (and this is a matter of taste, at least in part) is the Collins Latin Gem by Kidd. It's about six dollars, printed on cheap paper, bound in a garish plastic cover, and generally unpleasant to look at, but it offers concise definitions of a wider selection of words than its size would indicate, and seems to have many that won't be found in larger and more prestigious dictionaries like Cassell's. If you get this, though, let me know: it contains a couple of errors that you should correct. At the next price range, the Chambers-Murray is probably your best bet. I have not worked with it much, but it has a very good reputation. The pocket Oxford Latin, on the other hand, is considered rather poor — which is odd, given the august company it keeps.

Those with abundant resources and a firm future commitment to Latin may wish to invest in either Lewis and Short (A Latin Dictionary) or the Oxford Latin Dictionary, both from Oxford University Press. Be forewarned, however, that larger is not always better suited to your particular purpose: these massive tomes, weighing in at about $150 and $250 respectively, will often give you far more information than you really want or need, and indeed, sometimes bury what you are looking for so deep that it is hard to find. Still, used in the right way, these are prodigious tools and can tell you an enormous amount about what you are doing.

Even as we progress, the zealous team of Project Perseus (which has achieved great things for Greek) is working to put together a Roman Perseus. One of the first steps in this process is an online version of Lewis and Short. This is a good (and inexpensive) stopgap if you can't afford to spring for your own copy. The form resolution option is not very stable, but it's a good start.


A translation of the Aeneid will definitely be useful, especially if you plan to take the AP exam, since the exam expects familiarity with the whole work. While I recommend strongly against depending upon a translation to help you read the Latin text, it can be useful in solving knotty problems, and it will also allow you to read the parts we won't be covering in Latin. For my Western Literature to Dante class, I have recommended a prose translation in the Penguin Classics series:

I also strongly believe that everyone should have read both the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer before taking on the Aeneid. Again, drawing from my selection for Western Literature to Dante, I can recommend:

Any reasonable modern translation, however, will suffice for our purposes here. Those who are willing to put up with a slightly more stilted style may prefer, for example, Richmond Lattimore’s venerable but extremely accurate translations.

Commentaries and Critical Works

I expect to add to this section somewhat as the course proceeds, so you may want to check back here. For the time being, however, I cannot forebear to tell you about a splendid work in progress by the Vergil Project by the ultimate cyberclassicists at the University of Pennsylvania — when completed, it will be a fully commented online edition of the Aeneid. It is yet far from complete, but nonetheless quite useful. Do not depend on this overly, or it will become a crutch, but you should definitely have a look at it. Its readings (under the Common Text option) are almost always better than Pharr’s when they differ.

For those who have access to a good range of resources (perhaps a university library) and would like to step into the nearly bottomless pit of Vergil scholarship, I can do no better than to refer you to the excellent ongoing bibilographical project by Shirley Werner, "A Bibliographic Guide to Vergil's Aeneid." This excellent resource lists many hundreds of items in a well-classified and thoughtfully arranged layout. These include book-by-book commentaries, modern discussions of Augustan political theory, literary-critical approaches, ancient commentaries and analyses of the Aeneid, and all manner of technical explorations of particular compositional techniques. From here you can go nearly anywhere.

Contents of this page © Copyright 2002-06, Bruce A. McMenomy.