Jan Scholtemeijer and Paul Haase, Legal Latin: A Basic Course. Pretoria and Cape Town: Academica Press, 1990. Pp. ix + 219. ISBN 0-86874-364-X. R34.00.
Lesley A. Dickson
University of Natal, Durban
This is a traditional grammar book designed `to teach basic Latin grammar and reading skills in one year to law students who do not have school Latin’ (p. ix). It is not intended to be a course for self-study but for study under guidance, although the explanations given in many of the sections are thorough enough for students to understand by themselves.
Each of the forty-four lessons deals with specific aspects of Latin grammar, accompanied by a short vocabulary and sets of exercises. Exercises A-C concentrate on the grammar and vocabulary of the chapter concerned, while Exercise D revises earlier lessons. Exercise E, which begins from Lesson 33, consists of extracts from Gaius’s Institutes. There is a selection of longer passages from Gaius in the appendices and a list of common Latin expressions that the aspiring law student will find very useful. The remaining appendices consist of conspectuses of verb conjugations and noun declensions, a list of Latin numerals, a list of Latin prefixes and their meanings, a Latin index and a selective grammatical index. The conspectuses are rather brief and too concentrated. If the entire conjugation of each verb had been set out separately, the tables would be easier for students to decipher.
The order of grammar and constructions to be learnt is rather surprising. The important irregular verbs are only introduced well over half way through the course and the gerund and gerundive would have been better explained in the same or consecutive chapters. The imperative and vocative, two relatively simple constructions, are only explained in the final chapters after the student has already had to deal with the far more difficult concept of the subjunctive. The grammar is generally well explained and sufficient examples are given of the various constructions. An exception to this is the chapter on the ablative absolute, which shows how to recognise and translate the construction but does not explain why and when it is used. The gerundive could also have been dealt with more clearly and concisely. The course as a whole is comprehensive and thorough, if rather unstimulating. A selection of passages for translation from other legal writers or relevant passages from the historians would have provided some variety for the student. However, the work is generally well-suited to the law student. Explanations of Roman law are given where necessary and both vocabulary and examples keep to relevant legal issues.