By authors: Marcelo Epstein, Ruth Spivak
Product Code: 8601
ISBN: 978-0-86516-860-2
Availability: In stock
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This unique text provides a firsthand experience of what was for centuries the universal language of science—Latin. A historical survey sets the context for Latin selections from seventeen authors who wrote in Latin and three whose works were translated into Latin. The anthology of twenty-two science readings in Latin covers eight subject areas from general knowledge selections from scholars like Pliny the Elder and Isidore of Seville to writings on optics from Alhazen and Newton. A brief essay introduces each author while vocabulary, syntax, and contextual notes facilitate reading the Latin passages. Images present the Latin selections as their original readers would have experienced them.

  • Authors: Agricola, Alberti, Alhazen, Bacon, Copernicus, de Soto, Euclid, Faventinus, Galvani, Harvey, Isidore of Seville, Kepler, Leibniz, Libavius, Maimonides, Newton, Oresme, Pliny the Elder, Seneca, Vitruvius
  • Subject Areas: Architecture and Engineering, Astronomy and Rational Mechanics, Chemistry, Economics, General Knowledge, Mathematics, Medicine, and Optics

Special Features

  • Historical survey of science texts in Latin and essays for each author
  • Images drawn from original manuscripts, incunabula, and first print editions accompany each selection
  • Vocabulary, syntax, and context notes
  • Three appendices: The Pronunciation of Latin, A Compendium of Latin Grammar, Manuscript and Original Source Quirks
  • Complete Latin-English Glossary


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Review by: Christopher Trinacty, Oberlin College - February 4, 2020

This innovative work is based on a class taught for over twenty years at the University of Calgary and offers a selection of scientific texts (with facsimiles of incunabulae of the passages), commentaries aimed at an introductory/intermediate Latin student and a Latin grammar and glossary. The course itself pairs a semester-long introduction to the grammar and syntax of Latin with a semester of Latin scientific readings covering topics such as optics, astronomy and mathematics from a diverse group of authors (e.g. Seneca, Alhazen, Oresme, Newton). For Latin students interested in STEM fields or for professors who want to introduce such material to their introductory and intermediate level students, this book has much to recommend it. I certainly was unfamiliar with the psychological depth of Maimonides, who analyzes depression with the same complexity and descriptive power as Seneca in his de Ira, and the careful observation of prisms found in Newton's Lectiones Opticae. The concise historical survey of scientific authors that opens the work provides a wealth of information, and Epstein and Spivak's introductions to each author are strong. The excerpts are generally interesting, and, at times, quite gripping; I especially enjoyed Vitruvius' explanations of Caryatids, Harvey's excitement about the workings of the heart and Galvani's Frankenstein-esque description of muscular movements via electricity. But, while I appreciated the texts themselves and much of the commentary, I believe the work is stuck between two disparate genres - textbook and commentary - and it sits uneasily in this position.

The authors begin with a note on "How to Use This Book" and it immediately shows the problems with this hybrid text. While noting that certain authors are easier than others, and thus spurring the student to begin with Isidore of Seville or Leibniz, it is surely the case that the student will need substantial Latin to get through the opening sentence of Book 4 of Isidore (Medicina est quae corporis vel tuetur vel restaurat salutem cuius materia versatur in morbis et vulneribus).1 The authors continue with some "Helpful Hints for Translation" including advice like, "Do not panic!...Do not start translating words sequentially...Pay great attention to cases" (xviii), before brief comments on the subjunctive mood and indirect speech. This would seem to indicate some familiarity with Latin but, if students should read the grammar first, then why not place it first in the text instead of after the readings? Indeed, the model reader for this text is rather hard to discern. If it is an introductory student, problems arise immediately: the lemmata are not keyed to the 80-page grammar, so it is difficult to know how students would use it efficiently and effectively when they find stumbling blocks in the texts (nor is there an index that could help point a student to their explanations of concepts such as the passive periphrastic or the ablative absolute). While the authors encourage students to read the facsimiles of early editions provided with each reading, at times their legibility and size make it difficult, and one finds some odd forms that make it into the transcriptions (e.g. navigij for navigii and caussa for causa are both found in the first reading). In my opinion, it would have been preferable to key the commentary to an accepted grammar such as Allen and Greenough and excise the grammar section of the text. Because the grammar "covers most, if not all, of the fundamental tools necessary to analyze and translate a text" (xii, my emphasis), why not simply beef up the grammatical/syntactical aspects of the commentary that speak to neo-Latin or scientific terminology, but suggest a traditional textbook?2 The commentary itself is uneven in its help and explanations. For example, a passage of Francis Bacon references Heraclitus, but Heraclitus is given no note,3 whereas a line of Vitruvius (umbram non rem persecuti videntur) leads to comparanda from Ben Jonson, Wordsworth, Burke, Shakespeare, Psalm 102:11 and more! Most grammatical and syntactical difficulties are well noted, although the explanations are sometimes short (e.g. they often note if a word is ablative but do not describe the use of the ablative), and at times they betray their origins as a teaching-text (e.g. a note on page 170 reads "generet: subjunctive. Why?" and on page 220 we find "indivisibili: Recall that adjectives of the third declension form the ablative in -i"). While they give sporadic references to further reading, it would benefit the reader to know that there have been a bevy of recent books on ancient science in the last couple of years that cover many of the same topics.4 The website does offer additional exercises, electronic versions of the images, and an answer key to the exercises to aid the reader's progress (the publisher informed me that a companion volume is also in the works). Might I suggest that Bolchazy-Carducci add further links on the website to the scientific content and contexts?

In conclusion, The Latin of Science sheds light on the importance of Latin as the very language of science from antiquity to the 19th century. This volume provides readings that are seldom seen in Latin language syllabi, and the authors make a strong case for their future inclusion. Although some aspects of this textbook are problematic, The Latin of Science certainly made this reader want to include selections of Latin scientific literature in my future classes as a way to speak to those students who are more interested in the vascular system than Vergil.

1 The only note on this line in their commentary is "tuetur: tueor, tueri, tutus sum to look at, to look after, to protect." One could imagine an introductory student wondering about the antecedent of cuius, for instance. In a similar vein, while the Latin of Leibniz' passage may be relatively "simple," the infinitesimal calculus undergirding it is rather difficult (a note speaks how "the differential of a product of two objects x and y abides by what we now call Leibniz' rule, namely, d(xy) = x(dy) + (dx)y. He remarks that the symbols x, y are themselves immaterial").

2 Their "Compendium of Latin Grammar" is in itself a fine overview, but it simply does not have the depth and detail of an introductory textbook. Some sections, such as "Building Latin Vocabulary for Free!" (270 about the derivation of English nouns from Latin nouns) and their summary of the indicative active mood (284–85), are very helpful and handy for students.

3Especially shocking considering the general penchant for science of Heraclitus and many of his fellow pre-Socratic philosophers.

4E.g. The Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World (eds. P.T. Keyser and J. Scarborough, 2018), A Companion to Science, Technology, and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome (ed. G.L. Irby, 2016), The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 1, Ancient Science (eds. A. Jones and L. Taub, 2018).

CJ-Online, 2020.02.04

Review by: Maria Americo, Saint Peter's University - February 1, 2020

Marcelo Epstein and Ruth Spivak's The Latin of Science fills an immense gap in the corpus of Latin textbooks: it is the only anthology of which I am aware devoted to the presentation of selections from the twenty centuries during which Latin was a major language of scientific writing.

Epstein and Spivak's Preface provides some context essential to understanding how they envision this unique textbook might be used. They have taught, at the University of Calgary, a two-semester course geared towards science majors (not Classics majors!) whose purpose is to make students aware of the legacy of two thousand years of science composed in the Latin language. In the first semester, students receive an introduction to Latin grammar. In the second, they dive straight into reading scientific texts in the original language, during which "some of the minutiae of Latin grammar can happily be avoided without detriment to the original aim," a strategy which the authors recognize as a "non-standard route of presentation" (xi).

Because of the enormous length of history that the anthology's texts span, the authors' introduction has much work to do. In only 10 pages, the introduction aims to orient the students within the historical periods from which the texts in the anthology come: the Classical Period (from "the beginnings" until 476 CE), the Middle Ages, and the Modern Era (from 1300 until today).

The order of the texts' presentation is "non-standard." A "standard" Latin textbook strategy might be to build from simple to complex in a cumulative fashion, presenting "easier" grammatical concepts and shorter, more heavily adapted Latin passages in the beginning and progressing gradually to more difficult concepts and longer passages closer (or identical) to their original Latin forms by the end. Instead, the passages of this book are organized according to the field of scientific study to which they belong. Each excerpt includes a short introduction to the author's life and works, the passage itself (most are around 1–2 pages) , and the textbook authors' notes to aid in comprehension. In addition, a facsimile of a manuscript of each text is provided. While an interesting idea, and one that may spark a student's hidden interest in paleography, the reproductions are not always clear and may be a distraction.

All the passages are un-adapted. Many passages come from eras of the Latin language rarely taught to undergraduates, and the scientific concepts introduced may be difficult or unfamiliar. Therefore, the notes also have much work to do in addressing both the Latin and the scientific concepts. Some are historical, shedding light on a figure of ancient science named by the text's author. Some are grammatical; and many of those highlight the instances in which "later" Latin differs from the Classical Latin that students with some exposure to the language would most likely be familiar with; for example, in their notes to Nicole Oresme's Tractatus de Origine, jure et Mutationibus Monetarum, a treatise on the origins, legal status, and variations of coinage, Epstein and Spivak write that "in typical Renaissance Latin, the indirect statement/oratio obliqua is avoided and replaced by quod" (207). Finally, some notes aid in elements of the translation process, such as word order or word choice, which is, of course, both important and difficult when scientific terminology from eight different fields of study is being presented in one book.

The eight fields Epstein and Spivak have chosen are General Knowledge (headed off by a passage from Pliny's Quaestiones Naturales), Architecture and Engineering, Medicine, Mathematics, Astronomy and Ra­ tional Mechanics, Optics, Economics, and Chemistry. Economics seems an odd choice for an anthology of science—the texts included are from Oresme's (1320–1382) Tractatus (mentioned above) and Domingo de Sow's (1494–1560) De Justitia et lure—but their inclusion would interest any economics majors who may have found their way into the class. The sixteenth-century texts from the Chemistry chapter come from a fascinating period of the changing field, when this science straddled ancient alchemical practice, metallurgy, and modern chemistry. One of the challenges and rewards of studying the history of science is understanding how, when, and why scientific fields change and develop over time, and the transition from alchemy into chemistry is a fruitful nexus for such study.

The anthology ends with three appendices. Appendix I is on the pronunciation of Latin; Appendix III is a brief guide to the "quirks" of the manuscripts and early print­ ings of the texts presented in the book. Appendix II is a compendium of Latin grammar, and, as such, takes up almost a fourth of the book. However, for an introduction to Latin grammar, especially one meant to enable students who have never encountered the language to read texts from Vitruvius' Classical Latin to a medieval Latin translation of Ibn al-Haytham's Arabic text on optics, it is slim. Many college students, even Classics, English, or other humanities majors, find themselves learning grammar in general through their study of a new language- particularly an ancient language, where instruction is often focused on, and through, grammati­ cal concepts. Though the grammatical appendix is clear and concise, it might not be sufficient as students' sole introduction to Latin grammar, despite the authors' hope that this anthology be "self-contained" (xii) as a teaching tool.

This book could be used as the authors intend: as a tasting menu for science majors with more focus on scientific concepts and history of science than the finer points of Latin grammar and would work well as such. Considering the popularity of STEM fields in today's university and workforce, it seems profitable to wel­ come science students into the Classics department, and to make them aware of the ancient origins of their fields. But for students who are interested in the gram­ mar and language of the texts and not only the content, I would recommend this anthology for intermediate or advanced Latin learners, whether on the college or the secondary school level. Students who have some command over Classical Latin grammar can adapt more eas­ ily to the changes presented by later Latin, and from there can appreciate the history, legacy, and reception of classical science, a rich and global field that spans from Late Antique Egypt to medieval Spain to Renaissance Poland and beyond.

The Classical Outlook, Vol. 94, No. 4

Review by: John Bulwer, Euroclassica - January 14, 2020

This is a book for curious persons interested in the legacy of Latin in the medieval and modern periods and in the interaction in these later periods between ancient science, Arabic science and mathematics, and the beginnings of modern scientific discovery, all in Latin. It is an anthology containing texts that would not normally be read by intermediate to advanced students of Latin. We are presented with authors such as: Isidore of Seville, Francis Bacon, Copernicus and Kepler; some are more familiar: Pliny the Elder and Seneca from the classical period but also Vitruvius from his work on architecture; others come from outside the usual western tradition: Maimonides and Ibn Al-Haytham. The book arises from the University of Calgary where a Latin of Science course has run for a number of years, as a collaboration between different science and engineering faculties and Classics, a good example of how Classics can be an interdisciplinary subject linking different areas of inquiry in an age when the strict barriers between disciplines are breaking down. The texts are grouped thematically (Architecture and Engineering, Astronomy, Medicine) rather than chronologically, each section containing a variety of authors. The texts are fairly short and are accompanied by running notes which are mainly designed to help in translation and understanding. There is a comprehensive glossary at the end of the book. It seems that this volume is not aimed principally at students of Latin as it provides a number of appendices, of which one sets out how Latin pronounced and a second gives a fairly full compendium of Latin grammar over eighty pages. Intermediate or advanced Latin students would not normally need this or would have other resources to help with basic linguistic questions.

In an extract from Euclid, translated into Latin from an Arabic translation of the original Greek by Adelard of Bath, the mathematics seems far more difficult than the Latin which would suggest that some of these extracts are aimed more at scientists than at Latinists. Images of the original books or manuscripts are included and the introductions to each section are informative and interesting in a brief space. (Who knew that the wife of President Hoover, Lou Henry Hoover, has translated with her husband On Mining by Georgius Agricola 1494-1555?) Extracts are brief and a researcher would probably not find a particular passage that they were looking for, but they are intended as an introduction and primer in the reading of original Latin scientific texts. With the generous help provided, a reader with some Latin and some experience in the history of science would, with perseverance, be able to tackle these texts in Latin with some success.

Facsimiles to read online or project for use in your class. Use this link to open the list of available images. Click on the image thumbnail to view full size.

Exercises to Accompany The Latin of Science. Use this link to download the file containing exercises coordinated with the material presented in the chapters of the Compendium of the Latin Grammar presented in Appendix II of The Latin of Science, page 249.

Answers for the Exercises. Use this link to download the file containing the answers for the exercises.

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