John Amos Comenius ( March 28, 1592 – November 15, 1670) was a European Educator from Moravia, who wrote an important series of school textbooks for learning Latin. These were textbooks covering the complete curriculum, as he devised it.
The textbooks were written in Latin, and come in a gradated series. The aim of these textbooks was to get the students to become fluent in Latin, as school was taught in Latin - but the textbooks were not all 'Latin' textbooks, but general schoolbooks,covering the subjects we now recognise as history, politics, the sciences, &c.
The goal of learning Latin was combined with general scholarship, so the reader was not just learning the language, but useful information about the world as well, at the same time.
As such, these books are of enormous utility to the student of Latin, as they cover areas of knowledge with which we are somewhat familiar, and they provide a wealth of vocabulary, and knowledge about real things in the world – while at the same time giving us an insight into the mindset of the Renaissance, in a manner that no amount of academic study can give us – for by studying the course outlined by these textbooks, we become one of Comenius’ students, and are transported back in time. At the same time, we build up and strengthen our Latin.
Comenius' textbooks were very famous, and some editions remained in active classroom use until the early 1800's.
Most editions are bilingual (Latin plus some other European language,including Hebrew and Classical Greek), some are trilingual or more,with the text running in parallel columns - such a text is a veritable Rosetta Stone for learning Latin. One of the online texts you can access has parallel translations in German, Polish, French, and Czech.
Latinum offers a number of teaching aides in Latin audio, based on Comenius' works.
- The Vestibulum, presented in Latin-English-Latin
- The Orbis Sensualium Pictus, presented in Latin-English-Latin
- Kleiner Lateiner - an all-Latin audio presentation for revision of the Orbis.
- Rudimenta Grammaticae (Latin Audio only)
In Depth Essay on Comenius and Learning Latin, by Randy Gibbons:
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Beefing up your Latin Vocabulary, and How I Learned to Love Comenius
I am grateful in these times to have a job. But in whatever spare time I've had the last two years, I've done my best to resurrect my Latin and Greek, strictly on my own. Drawing on my experience, I have been using this blog to pass on some hopefully helpful information to other aspiring autodidacts.
Last year I devoted to my "Adler + Millner + Ørberg" curriculum (see my first post, Teaching Yourself Latin and Greek) for resurrecting my Latin. Because this year is my "Greek year," for the most part I just haven't had time to follow up on last year's Latin curriculum and read Latin authors. But lest my Latin lie completely fallow, I am at least trying this year to beef up my Latin vocabulary. In this post I will pass on some resources I have found effective for doing this.
I have had a very helpful friend in this endeavor: Mr. John Amos Comenius. But it took me a while to warm up to Mr. Comenius, and that story will be the bulk of this post. But first a few other excellent resources.
Word Frequency and Topical Vocabulary Lists
Carolus Raeticus has created a number of valuable vocabulary aides on his hiberna. For example, in 1939 Paul B. Diederich created a "basic vocabulary" based on a word count from three Latin anthologies. The basic vocabulary is divided into parts of speech and then subdivided by topics such as God, Time, and Food for nouns, "Verbs which express or affect the location of the subject," Constructive Activities, and Destructive Activities for verbs. Raeticus has created two .pdf's of the Diederich basic vocabulary (varying only in the English translation).
In 1930, Walter Ripman published "A Handbook of the Latin Language - Being a Dictionary, Classified Vocabulary, and Grammar." The book is not yet available online, but the Classified Vocabulary is a copious list neatly arranged under fifty topics, and Evan Millner previously recorded all fifty sections on LATINUM. (You can also purchase the readings on CD from the LATINUM store under the telling title Swallowing the Dictionary.) Raeticus has created two .pdf's of the Classified Vocabulary; the second conforms to the order of Millner's reading. The second also has an appendix itemizing a number of mistakes Raeticus detected in Millner's readings. Like Raeticus, I had had some difficulty "swallowing" Millner's readings before being able to see a printed list of the words. Raeticus's .pdf and the aural reinforcement provided by Millner's recordings are a fantastic vocabulary builder.
Of course, LATINUM is the source of many other valuable readings I take full advantage of, including Comenius, but hold that thought.
A Fable a Day
Since I spend most of my day online, I try to find a few minutes each day to read the day's Aesop's fable (and also here) from Laura Gibbs. This gives me at least a little chance to test my vocabulary and to exercise my Latin with a complete, albeit brief, unit of prose, and have some fun at the same time. Check out her web sites and blogs for Latin proverbs, anecdotes, and other fun stuff.
When reading Latin online in snippets of time, I need a quick way to look up words and get a no-frills definition. For this I use Whitaker's Words. You can run this as a free Windows/Mac/Linux local application, called WORDS (on a PC it runs like a DOS program), access it online, or use the interface to it that is part of Thomas McCarthy's Legible Latin (also free). Whitaker's Words is both Latin-to-English and English-to-Latin, it operates on any form of the word you enter (such as a particular declension or conjugation), and it compiles its ~39,000 words from medieval as well as classical sources.
But the Mother Lode of vocabulary for me has been Comenius.
How I Learned to Love Comenius
Possibly you've heard of Comenius, especially if you've explored the LATINUM podcast. Possibly not, since Comenius was a native Moravian from the first half of the seventeenth century, known mostly for his "didactic" works on education, so why would you have?
"Comenius": Fun (like my daily Aesop's fable)? Hardly. Easy? Hardly. Profitable? Quite ... with some caveats. Let me start with the caveats:
The relevant writings are hard to find and, with one significant exception, without an available English translation
You can waste a whole lot of time, I mean A WHOLE LOT OF TIME, establishing a personal "Comenius curriculum"
The writings are dull - at least that will be the judgment of many
For those who are not already scared off, my purpose in what follows is to leverage my experience in order to minimize these obstacles for you and help you leverage Comenius to beef up your Latin vocabulary.
I won't say much about Comenius himself. There's of course a Wikipedia article. One of Comenius's best known works (though not one of the works of interest here for vocabulary building) is the Didactica Magna, or "Great Didactic." You can find on Google Books an 1896 English translation by M. W. Keatinge that has an excellent, contemporary sounding, sympathetic but also critical biographical introduction that puts all of Comenius's writings in chronological and historical perspective. In fact later I will quote some of Keatinge's judgments.
Comenius was an educational theorist. Latin still played a major role in the European schooling of his time, and sound training in Latin as well as in one's native language were critically important in Comenius's educational theories. However, according to Comenius, the way Latin was taught to young students amounted to a form of torture. To enable the practical implementation of his theories, as well as to earn a living while in exile, and to make learning Latin effective and fun (he thought), Comenius wrote a number of Latin textbooks over the years, beginning in 1631 with the Janua Linguarum Reserata ('The door, or gateway, to languages, unlocked"), which catapulted him to fame throughout Europe, and culminating in 1658 with the Orbis Sensualium Pictus ("The world of things perceived by the senses, illustrated"), which instantly and for several centuries, into the beginning of the nineteenth century, remained an enormously popular textbook.
All this would undoubtedly be of no interest if Millner hadn't beginning in 2008 started reading some of Comenius's Latin texts on LATINUM, astutely seizing on Google Books' and and others' incipient digitization of non-copyrighted books from previous centuries.
Orbis Sensualium Pictus
So let me stop here and make a recommendation: Start with Orbis Sensualium Pictus. This can be a long slog - see further below - and one I'm not finished with yet myself. But as I said, for me it's been the Mother Lode of object vocabulary (the vocabulary of interest definitely includes verbs but is mostly the names of things, that is, nouns). Get somewhere with Orbis, then see how you can build on it with the rest of Comenius. Let me help, beginning with a brief description of the Orbis Sensualium Pictus.
As I wrote above, Janua Linguarum Reserata catapulted Comenius to fame. After some experience with it, Comenius concluded Janua was too difficult a starting point for beginning students, so he wrote a number of preparatory textbooks, culminating in Orbis. Depending on whom you listen to, Orbis was either the very first illustrated children's textbook or one of the first. The Janua had attempted to present students virtually all human knowledge of the time, in a condensed form, in both the vernacular and in Latin. The subject matter was arranged in a sort of taxonomic sequence over 100 chapters, each chapter being a brief essay standalone object lesson - God, the world, the four elements, the human body, botany, animals, agriculture, trades, societal institutions, religions, etc. As for the Orbis: "Imagine the Janua Linguarum considerably shortened, simplified, and illustrated, and you have before you the Orbis Pictus" (Keatinge). Nouns in the text and objects in the illustration are cross-referenced with a number. As intended, editions of Orbis were published in many different vernaculars, including English.
A year after its inaugural publication in 1658, Orbis was translated into English by Charles Hoole. The first edition with two-column, side-by-side English and Latin was 1727. The twelfth and last English edition with the Hoole translation was in 1777: twelfth Hoole English edition on Google Books, and twelfth Hoole English edition in print on Amazon. The twelfth English edition was reprinted in America in 1810: American printing of twelfth Hoole edition on Google Books. I bought the 1810 American edition in print on Amazon over a year ago but no longer find it on Amazon or elsewhere. There are also other editions out there, but Millner reads from the 1810 Hoole, and I'm assuming (and recommending) one of your methods for memorizing the vocabulary will be repeated listening to Millner's reading. Millner's second and most recent reading of the entire Orbis, Latin only, is August, 2011.
(The only differences between the 1777 English and 1810 American editions I can detect are (1) the pictures are different, though not radically so, and (2) the 1777 edition treats Sphera caelestis and Planetarum Aspectus both as chapter CVI, whereas the 1810 breaks off Planetarum Aspectus into a new chapter, so from that point forward it misleadingly appears as if the 1777 edition has one fewer chapters.)
(For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that in 04/2009 Millner recorded from an available scan of a 1790 Leipzig variation on Orbis Pictus called Der Kleine Lateiner.)
You've got Orbis on Google Books and Millner's reading of it on LATINUM so give it a shot. It's got something like 5,000 words, some percentage of which you don't know, so don't kid yourself, it will take you a long time, I would say measured in months, to master its entire vocabulary. For me, the journey has had its bumps. Here's a few observations from my experience:
I like using the printed edition, so I can make notes in the margins, but see the third bullet
My approach is to read and re-read a sequence of topically related chapters, take note of the new vocabulary, make sure I understand the Latin, then start listening to Millner for those chapters
The illustrations (originally woodcuts) are not to our level of graphic sophistication and resolution. Often in the printed book I can't make out all the cross-referenced numbers. As a result, I initially dismissed the value of the illustrations. But after a duh, the light bulb goes on moment of remembering that in the .pdf version I could zoom in to any scale I needed, I started enthusiastically incorporating the illustrations into my approach. There's no doubt that associating a word with a picture is a valuable mnemonic device even for an adult. I've even taken to using my screen-capture software to take a screenshot of the picture at 300% scale in Adobe, paste it into a blank PowerPoint page, and use the picture and its numbered objects to try to reconstruct the text from memory. (My wife has a lot more taste than I do and is a devotee of English literature. She thinks the illustrations are actually quite well done and finds them a fascinating view into the life of the age, so she's also opened my mind and eyes regarding the illustrations.)
I have a stubborn compulsion to look up, in Cassell's or the Oxford Latin Dictionary, every word I don't know. I like to see the etymology, read the example quotes, gauge the frequency and period of its use, etc. With Orbis, I've had to curb this habit, as I came to realize I was otherwise never going to get through it
As a corollary to the last point, I got discouraged from time to time as a not insignificant number of words I could not even find in the OLD, which means you're not going to find them in a classical author. Comenius was using what we would call the "live Latin" of his day to teach about the world of his day, so this is inevitable. At a certain point I had to make a conscious decision to not get hung up about this and to just "shut up and learn the book"
In reading Orbis, I've had to overcome my own narrow-mindedness and ignorance and let Comenius take me to school. I am very much a mus urbanus, so by inclination I'm not very interested in the fine distinctions of different types of grain or parts of a plough. My interest in seventeenth century trades only goes so far (and these comprise a good number of the chapters), nor is my interest in antiquity first and foremost antiquarian. But then something interesting happened on the way to the forum (or I should say on my way to the Janua). I reminded myself that Comenius intended with these textbooks to teach young students first about the world itself, in its non-abstract particulars, then how to speak about them in the vernacular, then in Latin. He did not think learning words about things you don't understand was worthwhile, much less an effective way to learn the words. And I began to ask myself: Am I, a technologically sophisticated and highly specialized adult citizen of the twenty-first century, going to be outdone by a ten-year old rustic lad from the mid-seventeenth century?! Yet I'm the one who's ignorant here! And so I started veering off on some interesting internet excursions to learn something de rebus ipsis (does anyone want to see some lovely photos showing the difference between an ear of wheat with awnes and a paniculated cluster of oats?) So my approach for mastering Orbis now incorporates the printed book, the .pdf, some software tools, and a search engine
The Hoole translation, which carried through all the English-language editions, was done in 1659. So of course sometimes I have to look up the English word. Not an issue. And since I'm doing this to learn Latin, I have no issue with the, to our ears, quaint or antiquated sound of the English; to the contrary, I rather enjoy it
Finally let me say that, with repeated reading, I have come more and more to appreciate Comenius's artistry. While the 150+ object lessons as a whole are a lot to get through, each individual object lesson is a marvel in how to pack a lot of information (vocabulary) into a few words. There is exquisite judgment about what to include, what not. The sentences and grammar are extremely simple but artfully varied so as not to be monotonous. Many of these chapters are little gems
The Rest of Comenius
So again, if you think you might be interested in using Comenius to beef up your Latin vocabulary, my recommendation is, start with Orbis Pictus, then, based on your experience with that, explore what else there is. The remainder of this post is to save you some time figuring out what that rest is.
Due to religious conflicts, Comenius spent most of his adult life in exile in various places in Europe. In 1657, when he was sixty-five years old, all his didactic works to date (as distinct from his theological writings) were published in Amsterdam - the Opera Didactica Omnia (ODO). The four ODO volumes correspond to the different periods and locations of his exile. And among the didactic works are the Latin textbooks of interest to us here, for purposes of building Latin vocabulary (you may or may not develop a broader interest in Comenius, who was a major figure in modernizing education).
Are these writings (besides Orbis) accessible to us? First, yes, a few so far have been scanned by Google Books and similar services. But nothing yet with English translations, at least that I have seen. So there is an issue of, do I have to know Latin well enough to read Comenius in order to learn Latin. Second, the University of Mannheim's CAMENA project, which is digitizing Latin books from the early modern era, has put the ODO on the internet. Furthermore, the CAMENA site presents not just a scanned copy of the 1657 book (whose font requires a little practice) but also a transcription of the text in both HTML and XML. And from your browser you can save the HTML into a variety of formats, which you can then edit and print to your heart's delight. (NB: The HTML transcription has a fair number of spelling errors.)
You'll want to take a little time to learn to navigate the CAMENA site. Go to the ODO page whose link I provided. You'll see a Pars I, II, III, and IV corresponding to the four ODO volumes. For each Part, clicking on "Titel" takes you to the scan of the title page of that volume. On the scan rendering page are left and right arrow buttons for navigating backwards and forwards a page at a time through the scan. Back on the first page, clicking on "Conspectus operis" for each Part takes you to an HTML page giving the table of contents for that volume. For each work in the toc, there is both a link to its starting page in the scan and a link to its starting point in the HTML transcript.
To navigate the toc, it doesn't hurt to have a casual acquaintance with the titles of Comenius's works. You can get that from many places, including an appendix in the M. W. Keatinge 1896 English translation of the "Great Didactic," which I linked you to way back up there somewhere.
Once you can navigate the ODO, you have to know which works are of primary interest for vocabulary building. I will describe these and then tabulate them below. In sum, the works of interest for vocabulary building are the Vestibulum (the vestibule to the gateway of languages), the Janua (the gateway), the Atrium, and the Lexicon and Grammatica associated with each level. Once you have mastered the Atrium, you are ready for the Palatium, which is the classical authors themselves.
You also need to know that some of these works exist in multiple versions. After the runaway success of the first Janua, Comenius, realizing he needed a more elementary starting point for Latin beginners, wrote the Vestibulum. Partly self-motivated, but mostly due to the demands of his different patrons, Comenius over the years then produced other versions of the Vestibulum and the Janua as well as the Atrium and the associated lexicons and grammars.
What is the nature of these textbooks? First, the Vestibulum, Orbis Pictus, and Janua were designed to be bilingual. Unfortunately, if there ever were English-Latin versions of the Vestibulum or Janua, none of have been scanned yet to my knowledge. By the time you were qualified to be in the Atrium, you were expected to use Latin to build on your Latin.
Second, as we already indicated in describing the Orbis Pictus, the first Janua established for all the future textbooks the Comenian taxonomy or organization of universal knowledge. The Vestibulum and Orbis are more elementary versions, the Atrium a more ornate treatment, of more or less the same topics. So if you've mastered the Orbis, you can go through (literally and figuratively) the Vestibulum rather quickly (there are two very different versions of the Vestibulum - see the tables below) and then explore the expanded treatment of these topics in the Janua (also two versions) and finally the Atrium.
Millner has recorded portions of some of these works. I imagine he is constrained by the unavailability of scanned English editions and by the sheer length of most of these works. Recently he has vowed to put on LATINUM complete "audio books" only (that is, only works read in their entirety, Comenius or otherwise). As part of this resolution, in addition to his re-recording of Orbis, he has re-recorded the first Vestibulum in its entirety, in English and Latin and in Latin only (the English I believe being his own translation). Look and hope for more to come.
The following tables, arranged by the periods of exile and corresponding volumes in the ODO, tabulate the Latin textbooks of interest for vocabulary building. The full title provides additional insight into the nature and intended purpose of the work. In the first column I use parentheses to indicate works that are contextually relevant as well as works that are discussed but not printed in their entirety in the ODO itself. I've also indicated which works Millner has recorded to date.
The rest of this essay can be read here