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Eleanor Dickey, a professor of Classics, responded recently to a question about the works read by those learning Latin as a second language in the Greek-speaking ancient world:

[Students in the East] start on Virgil (mainly the Aeneid) and Cicero (mainly the Catilinarians) and then read Terence, Sallust, Seneca’s tragedies, and Juvenal. Caesar is conspicuous by his absence. [emphasis added]

That last sentence is intriguing, since Caesar's works play such an important role in modern Latin instruction.

When did the works of Caesar, like the Commentarii de Bello Gallico, begin to be used widely for Latin language instruction among non-native speakers?

  • Caesar is easy, but not a paragon of Latin style (imo). Vergil is hard but a much more accomplished writer. If 4th c. N. Africa is at all an example, many of these learners already spoke Latin as a second language and had no difficulty studying Vergil as schoolboys: Augustine's tragi-comical reflections on Vergil (c.f. Conf 1.44)--and griping about Homer--make this evident. – brianpck Mar 22 '16 at 21:55
  • Good question. Presumably "the East" is the Byzantine Empire? – Cerberus Mar 23 '16 at 2:27
  • @Cerberus Yes, that's how I understood it. – Nathaniel is protesting Mar 23 '16 at 14:30
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I am uncertain of the earliest, but Thomas Jefferson often wrote to younger men he mentored that it should be included in their personal reading lists (see for example a letter to Peter Carr), so presumably at least as early as the later half of the 18th century.

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  • I think the question was about using Caesar to teach Latin, not about reading Caesar for his content. – fdb Apr 4 '16 at 22:57
  • Right. At that time, Caesar was read in Latin primarily (not in translation), so it was read for both. – James Kingsbery Apr 4 '16 at 22:59
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I am not able to say “when” exactly Caesar’s De bello Gallico became the first book foisted onto juvenile learners of Latin, but I suspect it was not long ago. In the 19th century and the first part of the 20th Caesar was certainly at the top of the Latin curriculum, and Xenophon’s Anabasis was the first book on the Greek syllabus. It is surely no coincidence that both of these books are all about war and conquest. Today I think most learners of classical languages find Caesar and Xenophon much less interesting than Horace, Catullus, Ovid, Homer, Plato or Sophocles. Tastes change.

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    Can you add some sources to your answer? This seems pretty opinion-based to me. – brianpck Apr 4 '16 at 21:13

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