0 responses

  1. While the author of the original piece made a nice attempt at scholarship, he received the response of a true scholar and pedagogue in Dr. Owens. I am not a scholar, rather a “philosopher” in its ancient acceptation i.e. a seeker of wisdom, and the original piece struck the tone of another (very) modern attempt hell bent at political correctness with no truly academic attempt at nuance, distinction and historical understanding. Sophos Owens, Bravo!

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  3. Hans Ørberg bowed to convention in how he wrote his book, as we all do to a greater or lesser extent. By convention, I do not mean “prejudice” – I will try to make this clear. One small example is the treatment of foundlings in high Imperial Rome. If not left to die, they were destined “ad servitutem aut ad lupanar” – to servitude or to the stews. This isn’t some late decadence – on the contrary, the practice was only abolished in the 4th century. You will not find this in Ørberg, who wanted to immerse the student in Romanitas, but who had to accommodate this laudatory aim to the mores of mid-century Scandinavia. It was not so much that Denmark was prejudiced against the “farming” of girls to become prostitutes, as that the matter could only have been introduced as a _moral_ teaching, rather than an anthropological one. Nor was Ørberg free to ignore convention. He was, after all, writing in order to educate the youth… And you too, who wish to acquaint the student with Rome, that ancient and rather alien culture, will have to square that culture’s mores with those of your own culture – that of the Young Adult sensitivity reader, among other things. So you will problematise the problematic, even if it’s problematic ipso facto , because even though – of course! of course! – it’s bad, nevertheless, convention requires that this clearly be signposted throughout, lest the youth be corrupted.

    • It behooves us to read LLPSI with three cultural horizons in view, at a minimum. That of 2nd century CE Rome, that of mid-20th century Denmark, and that of us as readers. All textbooks invite us to at least that conversation – how do we read LLPSI as a cultural product of Ørberg’s time and place, and how do evaluate Ørberg’s work as a work.

      Similarly, practically every ancient language textbook I have read contains considerable ‘omissions’, mostly because they tailor to young adult learners. The story of the Minotaurus, for instance, is a common enough episode, but scant mention of Pasiphae and the Minotaur’s conception. Nor of the widespread practices of slave taking and slave making, nor of sexual exploitation, and so on and on. Do all textbooks need to include all such things? By no means. But we should note when and why they omit them.

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  6. I am honored that this blog saw it fit to respond to my comment at all, let alone at a length greater than that of the other posts in the series.

    The writer makes some very good points in his response; others, however, are not so very good. At the start of a new academic semester, I regret that I don’t have the time to litigate every errant point in a blog post. Nevertheless, some of the assertions do require a response.

    In the post he claims that I was mistaken about the version of the Bible used in LLPSI and continued, “While it is true that the 4th century Vulgate of Saint Jerome did not yet exist at the time the stories take place, there exists no one set text of the Vetus Latina and the text LLPSI uses is, in fact, a slightly modified version of the Vulgate text (as Ørberg himself states in his LLPSI companion volume Latine Disco, p. 40)” — I was not mistaken about the version of the Bible used in LLPSI. The writer is correct that Ørberg mentions the quotation on p.40 of Latine Disco. It is worth reading exactly what Ørberg says there: “Lydia shows Medus the little book that she has brought with her and reads aloud from it, and in this way you become acquainted with **the oldest Latin translation of the New Testament, used by St. Jerome in the 4th century in his Latin version of the Bible** (the so-called Vulgate, Vulgāta, the ‘popular’ version).” (p.40 Hans Ørberg, Latine Disco. 2005, emphasis ** added). Ørberg makes it clear here that the reading present in the text is taken from the Vetus Latina. In fact, I checked the readings in the VL and vindicated my assertion (and that of Hans Ørberg). In case anyone is interested, I will list the relevant VL codices at the foot of this comment.

    The writer also contradicted my assertion that “There are not ‘repeated appearances’ of Christian overtones in the book.” He writes, “Dr. Owens is mistaken here. There are, in fact, repeated appearances of Christian overtones in the book beyond just the one chapter. Christianity is directly referenced in the following places: […]” And he lists four or five places where Christ or Christianity is mentioned. Alas, I’m reluctant to point out that the writer has created a false equivalency between the words “overtones” and “references”. By his thinking, the writer might also make the bizarre statement that Mein Kampf has “Jewish overtones” or The Gulag Archipelago has “Communist overtones”.

    In my initial reply I said, “we don’t have as much evidence for the attitudes of the lower classes.” To which the writer makes a lengthy retort regarding some legitimate sources for such information, but he then includes the literature of “Plautus, the fables of Phaedrus, the works of Apuleius and Petronius, the satires of Juvenal and the epigrams of Martial, the letters of Cicero and Pliny, and the Christian Bible” — I suspect that the average reader of this blog will not need me to point out that I did not deny that we have “evidence for the lives, practices, and beliefs, and attitudes of the lower classes”, so this entire retort is a strawman. Furthermore, a comment on a blogpost is hardly the place to explain why Plautus and Phaedrus are unreliable sources for the mores of the Roman lower classes, except to point out that they are primarily interpreters of (often lost) Greek literature. Similarly, it should surprise no one that the literary elites’ (e.g., Cicero, Pliny, Apuleius, etc.) perception of the lower classes are not reliable indicators of the actual attitudes of the lower classes. So, I stand by my rather moderate (and near universally accepted) statement that we don’t have as much evidence for the attitudes of the lower classes.

    In regard to the depiction of women in LLPSI, the writer makes the following observation, “the portrayal of women in the book does indeed seem to reflect elite male Roman attitudes similar to those expressed in canonical authors such as Ovid or Martial. And also, those attitudes were and are sexist. Both are true. I can’t imagine that Dr. Owens would attempt to argue that Romans were not sexist, so I must have missed something here.” — To judge previous ages by anachronistic ideologies is presentism. For my part, I would no more call Romans “capitalists” or “racists” or “homophobes”. The current zeitgeist, whereby one must assert judgement over others – past and present – for their perceived wrongheadedness, allows for much moral posturing but very little room for actual intellectual discourse. Be that as it may, the retrofitting of such ideologies onto the interpretation of the remote past is not a useful hermeneutic for discovering Truth or cultivating young minds.

    The writer then takes aim at my last paragraph, “Dr. Owens has decided that I suggested that it is ‘verboten’ to teach Christianity in an academic fashion in American schools, when in fact I said nothing of the kind. […] This is pure fantasy and I have no idea how he came away with this from anything I wrote.” — No, I never wrote that. Rather, I posited rhetorical and hypothetical questions based on what the writer had said. As a bookend, I added that I suspected that there was some confusion and that perhaps the writer did not actually believe what he seemed to be suggesting. From the other comments to his two blog posts, it appears that I was hardly the only reader left with such an impression. So, does it not appear more reasonable for the writer to offer a simple clarification of his position in light of readers’ comments rather than ridicule his readers? I am, nevertheless, encouraged that the writer has disavowed the position that I deservedly lampooned.

    Finally, the writer issues his Parthian shot, “It is regrettable that Dr. Owens felt he had to resort to distortion, insinuation, and name calling to attempt to make his points over the reception of a textbook, but so be it.” — This is a fantastic calumny, which, any writer truly ‘willing to acknowledge when he is wrong’, would rescind immediately. I certainly didn’t engage in name calling of any kind. And if I distorted anything, I did so in good faith and by accident. But perhaps the writer means something quite different by his words – in fact, it is conceivable that he means the exact opposite of them.

    The Vetus Latina codices that represent the selections referenced in LLPSI Ch.28:
    Codex k (Wordsworth, 1886)
    Codex a (Belsheim, 1984)
    Codex c (Belsheim, 1888)
    Codex b (Belsheim 1904)
    Codex q (White, 1888) p.118-
    cf. etiam Hetzenauer, 1906. p.901-

  7. I’ve noticed that there’s a weird discomfort among historical language teachers, even CI-based, who engage with these types of issues empirically. That is, in the discussions I’ve seen, one side says “hey the overwhelming consensus of research is…” while the response usually involves accusations of (to quote a prominent Twitter account) “zealotry” or (to quote a particularly offensive account I saw this morning) “Krashenfellatores.”

    Which, in my observation, leads the conversation to take the form of arguments with climate change deniers or flat earthers. Am I a zealot for insisting that the earth is round? Am I a Newtonfellator for saying that engineers should take into account the three laws of motion?

    If the accusation is “zealotry” how do you compromise with someone who’s incorrect? “Yes,” you must say, “I am sorry for being disrespectful. Perhaps the earth is both flat and round!”

    I’ll admit that it’s not the reading that I like to do, but I recommend to CI teachers, who encounter these frustrating complaints, to be armed with some of the latest research. Like, literally copy and paste the link to the latest article (Krashen or otherwise, since, shock and awe!, there is more than one person out there studying about this) and say “I understand where you are coming from, but my approach is based on the latest research.”

    (Incidentally, as I’ve become more aware, it’s also the way language had been taught prior to the 18th century, as well)

    Bringing it back around, what I’m trying to say is we gotta stop treating this like a discussion about literature or philosophy. Most of us love our books and our humanities discussions, but education (and indeed language acquisition) is a science now! (and no philology does not count) We really need to start treating it like that.

    Thank you, Seumas, as always, for being far more polite than I want to be.

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  9. I am pleased to read here a moderate and reasoned debate on difficult issues and nothing of the hysteria of ‘cancel culture’ etc.

    Nevertheless I find many of your comments, while understandable, to be revisionist. We cannot change the past. Orberg was a man of another age and the Romans he wrote about of a much earlier time. While we have our own viewpoints, it is arrogant to assume we are superior to people coming before us and can look down god-like on what we perceive as their weaknesses. How will we be viewed in a hundred years, a thousand?

    When I was at school corporal punishment was as common as in FR. Yet I would hesitate to say we are now morally superior to the generation that went through WW2. There have been changes but not all are improvements (cf. the obesity crisis).

    Yes there are challenging aspects of Roman life, e.g in the ‘marriage scene’ in the beginning (as we have it) of Petronius or the fact that someone like little Iulia would probably be married off at twelve. But in this context, rather than getting upset about the past, we could rather reference the present facts that many girls get married at eight in Yemen, and the legal age for marriage in Iran and Nigeria is nine.

    We can express our disagreement with Orberg or ‘Iulius’ just as we can with say Athens had a very limited democracy but like all societies, and our own, it’s a case of work-in-progress.

    • I am not entirely sure what sense of ‘revisionist’ you intend to mean here. In any case, all work of historiography involves some element of historical revisionism – not that we are rewriting the past itself, but we are reinterpreting our evidences for the past to construct what we always hope to be a more accurate depiction of that past, insofar as it is accessible to us. Neither Gregory nor I are interested in pretending untrue things about ancient Romans, nor about Ørberg and his historical context. We instead seek to present historical data in ways that elicit critical reflection and discussion, not unquestioned and unquestioning face-value.

      As for the questions of morality, I think in part this can only be argued with some consideration of one’s broader position on ethics. For myself, I am not convinced that humans of this present age are in some way morally superior to those of the past. However, there are aspects of the past that I think we ought to find morally repugnant. One of the clearest cases of this is slavery. While we ought to go to lengths to understand how ancient Romans, and others, thought about enslaving humans, and how slavery operated in their society, this does not mean we need to suspend all judgment and simply say, “well, times were different”. Society and its practices were different, yes, but only some form of moral relativism can consider that a justification for saying it wasn’t morally bad for Romans to practice slavery as they did.

      Our particular concern, in terms of LLPSI, is to recognise and highlight the difficulties with what is often implicit, unchallenged, and uncritically presented in the book. For any particular teacher, learner, or learning context, different aspects of these may be points of contention. Some of them, we would posit, ought to be points of contention. All of which a skilled instructor can use as teaching points, to enhance our learners apprehension of the historical context of Latin in the Roman eras, beyond the presentation of the textbook itself.

      • There’s certainly a difference between critically examining the past and simply judging it by modern standards, which may or may not be superior. Maybe marrying off women at 14 is repugnant, or maybe encouraging them to slave away under florescent lights until they’re 35 before starting a family is repugnant. Maybe our system of democracy is better than Athenian democracy, or maybe democracy itself is evil, as Plato thought, and we are worse off for implementing it more thoroughly. If you think the answer is just obvious and that anyone who doesn’t see it is a monster, then it is you (the general ‘you’) that is the moral relativist.

        The only implicit, unchallenged assumptions are the modern ones. Students are in no danger of being transformed into Romans simply because one book they happen to read did not ‘highlight its own difficulties.’ It might actually be good for them encounter a different worldview–in its own words, and without the coddling of a teacher.

        • It’s unclear to me how much of your comment is generalising and how much is pointed. I certainly agree that both the past and the present are subjects capable of critical examination and deliberation. Nor do I think that students are in any “danger of being transformed into Romans” due to reading one book. The teacher’s role, and I strongly suspect my friend Gregory would agree in this response, is not about ‘coddling’, and the perception that we are advocating that is a chronic misreading. We recognise, though, that especially younger, school-aged, students do not necessarily have developed abilities to read and engage texts critically. Facilitating the development of critical thinking and engagement is precisely one of the tasks a teacher ought to be engaged in.

          What is apparent, is that there is a long and well-established tradition within classics of implicitly and uncritically accepting certain perspectives on the past, in a way that underwrites biases towards, e.g. militarism, Great Man history, elitism, sexism, and that the reception of antiquity in the field of classics has been hand in glove with discourses of colonialism and empire, slavery and race, gender inequality, and so on, especially in the 16th century onwards. I’ve met countless students who “love Latin and love Rome” because they uncritically glorify Rome as an idealised world, in which they project white, male, elite superiority and supremacy. One textbook didn’t create that, but their own experiences of classics certainly enabled it.

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  13. I am familiar with the Chinese mini stories, I thought about translating them, there seemed to be just a few too many concepts that I wasn’t quite sure how to translate accurately. I am excited to see how people approach translating them!

    • I am familiar with the Chinese mini stories, I thought about translating them, there seemed to be just a few too many concepts that I wasn’t quite sure how to translate accurately without diverging too much from the NT subset of koine greek. I am excited to see how people approach translating them!

  14. I gave this app to my son to practice his Chinese, the non paid version, just to see how it goes. Initially he did quite enjoy the way it worked, but because of the way it encouraged payment (penalties for incorrect answers ends the study session) he quickly began to hate getting that wrong answer prompt to the point where he was scared to get the incorrect answer and within a few days he hated it.

    I am sure the experience is good a lot better if you are paying for the product, but I didn’t realise the psychological effect the free version would have on him. After I realized the impact it was having on his desire to study I stopped encouraging it.

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  16. This has been an interesting discussion. However, I think you’re closing it too quickly. What about potential theological backgrounds? If John presupposed similar theology that we see in the DSS (e.g. the War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, I Enoch, Book of Jubilees, Book of Giants, etc), then there were other “sons of God” as a contextually prior assumption.

    The NT broadly assumes the literature, but within the Johannine corpus there are several allusions to it. For instance, John 10 interacts directly with Ps 81/82. Revelation 9 refers to the captivity of the Watchers in the abyss. He uses the term “Son of Man” in a parallel manner to the Book of Parables (I realize it’s too late for him to quote it). It even offers humans the status of the other beings in 1.12, though importantly the language is changed to τέκνα Θεοῦ.

    How would you fit this literature in with your interpretation? It has been an enjoyable survey, but I think you’ll need to cover belief in the existence of other “sons of God” as part of his literary background before it’s complete.

    • I appreciate your comment, though I suspect what you propose ventures into a different kind of study – the theology of sonship in the fourth gospel. Does that have bearing on what μονογενής means? I would say yes, at an interpretive and theological level, but probably not very much at a lexical level. That is to say, I’m reasonably both satisfied and persuaded that μονογενής indicates a lack of siblings, when used of persons, and that this meaning comports with its usage within John, no search for a special sense of the word is required. What is *subsequently* means for the Son to be siblingless within the theological milieu of John is the kind of question you are getting at, which perhaps I’ll take up at another time.

      I have one more post on this series to conclude, a kind of flash-forward.

      • We definitely use different theories on language and semiology. I do not believe lexical meaning exists separate from interpretive levels.

        However, I have enjoyed the blog, even if I hadn’t commented till now. I’ll enjoy your last segment 🙂

        • I don’t think I would say that lexical meaning exists separate from other levels of interpretation, but I would say that they are interrelated and yet distinct.

  17. «Can you read and process these sentences quickly, in Greek, with a reasonably clear understanding of what’s going on?»

    More more less, yes (native Greek speaker with solid background in ancient Greek and a postgrad degree in Byzantine studies).

    It’s worth noting that Byzantine and post-Byzantine Greek speakers did exactly this – they analyzed Biblical language and discussed Greek grammar in ancient Greek, even though their spoken language is attested to have been close to modern Greek. Every self-respecting Greek scholar between the late Palaiologan period and the Greek Revolution wrote a treatise on Greek grammar, rhetoric or biblical exegeses in Attic Greek, the most prominent ones being Manuel Chrysoloras, and Theodore Gaza. Quite a few of these works, published in Venice, Iasi or Vienna, are even available online.

  18. I can’t really understand it, mostly because I don’t know grammatical terms in Ancient Greek, even after 5 years of university Greek. I reckon it has to do with us not learning Greek grammatical terms in Ancient Greek, but rather in translation.

    But I do think it has a place, especially in universities. I think that university programs could (or should) start teaching from second or third semester , after first prunings, exclusively in Ancient Greek exactly in the way you are proposing. It would be difficult at first, but students focused on Greek could dial-in quite fast if done correctly.

  19. I was just wondering whether it is still possible to sign up for this class? Thank you very much in advance! 🙂

  20. Dear Seumas,

    Do you plan to offer Latin Prose Composition again in 2022?


    Aron Holewinski

  21. Catullus 1, first sentence, second line, should I guess read “hot off the press” (not “of”)?

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  23. This could be very useful! I have a suggestion (and of course it is nothing more than a thought and a tentative suggestion!) for the LLPSI-keyed reader. A usual complaint about Familia Rómána is that it introduces too many new words per chapter. Extra reading like the Colloquia Persónárum and the Fabellae Latínae helps by reinforcing the vocabulary of the current chapter and previous ones before the next step up, but the learner is still facing the same hard ridge of 20+ new words in one story whenever they start a new chapter. So instead of just keying to FR chapters, how about setting each chapter “in the gap” between one FR chapter and the next, by seeking to introduce some, no more than about half, of the new vocabulary that appears in that next chapter of FR? Obviously choosing which words to pull forward from the next chapter could be quite tricky. Ideally they’d form a group of words which is spread fairly evenly through the next FR chapter (by first occurrence). Ideally also they’d include words which are known to cause problems for FR readers, where it seems it might be worth someone taking another go at introducing the word. But of course there would be plenty of other considerations, such as what would simply fit best into the story of that “interstitial” chapter.

    • A good suggestion, not quite sure if I’ll implement it, but what I would like to do is take vocabulary from across the range of FR chapters, and then pull them consciously through subsequent chapters for more exposure. I’m also thinking about the balance and difficulty of new vocabulary needed to tell a different story.

  24. have you finished any Greek chapters already? I would be interested in paying money for early access.

  25. Thanks – interesting as always. Perhaps I could counter with my experience of ‘forgetting’ Latin and Greek. After my BA degree in Classics (heavily linguistic-based) I read neither language at all for 14 years (pretty busy getting involved in financial regulation in London UK and singing evensong – but that is a different matter.) I then decided it was time to teach Latin and Greek. so took a year out to get a teaching qualification. I focused on Latin to start with – not much of a problem to get it back up to where it had been previously, although to be honest, it was never particularly fluent. Vocabulary came back very quickly. Greek was entirely different. I started Greek two years after Latin at school, but it was a much slower process to recover it. I had an enlightened Head of Department, so I took a second year Greek set of 14 year olds and built up my skills with them. I did find on the first two and three years that, on reading Greek, I could read through a sentences and not recognise a particular word: then a couple of seconds later I KNEW what it meant.

    Didn’t stop me from ending up teaching undergraduates full time for twelve years, but has given me an interest in what it means to learn and/or acquire languages.

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  34. What an amazing opportunity! Alas, just one of those times I can’t swing the time or $. Since you are recording the class, I’m hoping you’ll offer it either again or as a product.

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