Latin IV: Caesar and Vergil

Latin IV: Caesar and Vergil

Dr. Bruce McMenomy for Scholars Online
2023-24: Mondays and Thursdays, 11:00 AM-12:30 PM Eastern

Goals and Methods

An AP course is, in substance and intent, a college course offered to high school students. As such, it presumes a level of preparation and commitment beyond what is normal at the high school level. I take that mandate seriously, and hence I expect from the students:

I have prepared this course to correspond with the College Board’s curriculum definition for AP Latin, but they have proven themselves sufficiently capricious that I’m no longer interested in securing their recognition. In the past they have insisted on “improvements” to the previous versions that I didn’t find acceptable; they have also approved the same curriculum for one person and denied it for another. Their cachet is not worth the frustration, from my point of view. Accordingly, I cannot advertise it as an AP class or claim that it is one. I can claim that it should prepare you as well as any AP class. Students may take the AP Exam irrespective of whether the syllabus is officially recognized. Our Latin IV (Vergil) and Latin V (Latin Literature) courses in the past seem to have done a reasonable job of preparing students, most of whom emerged with scores of 4 or 5. Those who have taken the Caesar and Vergil exam have similarly done quite well. Whether you choose to take the exam is up to you.

There is no way to make Latin simple; it’s hard, and though it offers real rewards commensurate with the investment of time and effort, there’s no way to learn it painlessly. Caesar is (or should be) reasonably accessible to students who have been through an intermediate course, but we will be covering his material at a pretty brisk clip. On the other hand, even for very competent Latinists, Vergil is not an easy author. He is the complex product of an allusive and self-conscious poetic culture, still somewhat embarrassed about not being Greek. The Aeneid is a political poem in ways that Homeric epic is not, and politics was still a dangerous game in a state just emerging from a cascade of brutal civil wars. Some degree of obscurantism could save a poet’s life: Vergil is not given to obvious exposition. It’s not always clear that even he knew exactly what he was driving at; at spots he’s clearly struggling toward what he wants to say. On that basis, therefore, it isn’t surprising that we have to dig pretty deeply to follow him. Most of the time, he gives you the tools you need. The payoff is that he’s one of the greatest wordsmiths ever to grace any language, and once you attune your ear to the magic of his verse, it will change your perception, and you will see and hear things there that you can never pick up from translations, no matter how attentively you read them.

In short, it’s going to be a challenging course with difficult material. But it is possible, and it is worth the effort. But do yourselves and your fellow students a favor: don’t let yourself fall behind. The assignments for this course have been laid out rather precisely. I’ve tried to allow plenty of time to complete the required passages well prior to the AP Exam to allow time for review; the translation assignments start out relatively small, but get larger toward the end of each section of the course. Altogether, there are (in the texts we’re using) a total of 1671 lines of prose and poetry combined — down from the Vergil-only curriculum that required 1856 lines of poetry. The increasing pace is not due to my own inability to plan ahead, but reflects the expectation that your command of Latin will mature. That will only happen if you keep up, however.

In particular, I expect all your assigned passages to be translated into the most accurate English you can produce; I will expect you to have the text available in a disk file so that you can cut and paste any pieces of it that may be required for class. We simply do not have time to wait for students to type up translations from paper on the fly. Making other students wait for your lack of preparation discourteous and won’t; be tolerated. I may or may not require you to submit the translations for review: it depends on how things go.

In addition to translation assignments, you will be expected to:

Along the way, we usually have a good deal of fun with the material.