The word “Covid” looks like a personal name to me. Perhaps we should start promoting it as one – “here are my sons, Ovid and Covid, and my daughter Covidia.” But the mention of Ovid reminds me of the real purpose of this post. Among the many books I’ve been reading recently is Familia Romana, the first volume (Pars I) of the Latin course written by the Danish classicist Hans Ørberg under the title Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. The immediate reason for doing this was to firm up my spotty knowledge of Latin; but another reason to grapple with Familia Romana is to appreciate just how well the course is put together.
Hans Ørberg uses the “natural method.” All of the text is in Latin, including the explanations of the grammar at the ends of chapters. One’s knowledge and comprehension of the text therefore comes mostly from the Latin text itself. I said mostly, because Ørberg avails himself of a couple of other methods of instruction.
The first is illustration. The very first thing you see when you turn to Capitulum I is a map of the Roman Empire. We use the map to learn the geography of the empire (“Roma in Italia est. Italia in Europa est … Aegyptus in Europa non est,” and so forth). A picture of an insula, an oppidum, and a fluvius gets us started on topography. These visual aids give us a physical referent for words; without them, we’d have to spend an awful lot of time puzzling out the meanings from the relationships between the words.
Most of these images are placed in the margins next to the text and are refreshingly unambiguous. Thus, next to the word lupus we have a wolf, next to panis a loaf of bread, and so forth. Even the illustrations of verbs are quite clear: we see a boy raising his hand, and the words Sextus manum tollit. Since we know manus already from the earlier section called Corpus humanum, and we know who Sextus is, the meaning of tollit is clear.
Another instructional method is provided by symbols. When Ørberg wants to introduce a synonym or near-synonym, he does it like this: semper = omni tempore. Since we know that omni tempore means “all the time,” we can conclude that semper means “always.” For antonyms, Ørberg does this: numquam <--> semper. Having learned semper, we can deduce that numquam means “never.”
Pars II of Lingua Latina per se Illustrata is called Roma Aeterna and consists of original excerpts from Latin literature, none of them simplified or revised. Reviews I’ve read indicate that it’s significantly harder than Pars I. If I ever get to it, it will be interesting to see how well Ørberg’s severely logical and simple instructional methods hold up in the face of “real,” complex language.