Review of Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer (Longman)

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The current (Longman) edition of Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer, edited and further revised by Sir James Mountford in 1930, has been continuously in print since 1962. This gives some indication as to the popularity and usefulness of this volume, which is still the standard reference not only for pupils in the upper years of schools, but also for undergraduates. Its accuracy and reliability are impeccable, although as a primer, its coverage is not always comprehensive.

The accidence is laid out in a logical and accessible manner. The tables are consistently clear, and detailed notes immediately follow each table whenever important exceptions to a general rules must be pointed out. It is eminently suitable for both rote-learning and quick reference.

The syntax section, however, is rather less accessible. Explanations are invariably extremely concise, and can often be understood only through a careful examination of the examples provided. A certain level of proficiency is of course needed to understand these examples in the first place. Furthermore, technical terms are used frequently, often without explanation, and only a very limited glossary is provided, under the title ‘Figures of Speech’. However, Kennedy’s syntax is not designed as a textbook – it is designed as a quick reference for students who have already studied Latin syntax within the framework of a formal prose composition textbook (e.g. North and Hillard or Bradley’s Arnold).

Kennedy’s primer also includes a discussion of prosody: of the quantity of syllables and the laws of metre. Appendices include a listing of the main Roman units of money, weight, length, surface, capacity, and time; and a useful listing of notable derived and compound words.

Pupils and teachers alike may gain some amusement from Kennedy’s infamously awful ‘memorial lines on the gender of Latin substantives.’ For example: “Many nouns in is we find / to the masculine assigned” – consistently cringe-inducing stuff!