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Reading Other People’s Mail: Putting Together an Intermediate-Level Latin Reader

One of the papers from the Eta Sigma Phi panel at the 2011 APA

Rhiannon Gladys Ellington Knol and
Eric B. Struble
Randolph College

The jump between elementary and
intermediate Latin is one of the most
difficult challenges of Latin instruction:
the students have basic linguistic tools but
lack the experience to read easily. They are
hardy folk; they take pleasure in “breaking
the code” and wresting meaning from
Latin sentences. Our new Latin reader,
Other People’s Mail, is for them: our goal is
to cloak the immense effort of translation
in the guilty pleasure of eavesdropping on
fragments of conversation between people
like us. We selected letters by men and
women of different times, social classes,
religions, and philosophies who lived in
the Latin-speaking world. Each wrote
about their own concerns with distinctive
style and purpose. We were determined to
make their ideas accessible to intermediate
students through introductory essays, copious
notes on the text, generous vocabulary,
and macrons for ease of pronunciation.
Despite the breadth of time and varied
topics of the letters, there is remarkable
common ground between them, and
indeed between us and them. From Cicero
in the late Roman Republic to Heloise in
the twelfth century, the same themes and
threads appear: complaints and apologies
for delinquent replies, the ability of letters
to conjure something of the presence of the
missing friend, and frequent discussions
of the nature and value of friendship and
letters’ role in its upkeep.

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