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.

I devoted last year to my “Adler + Millner + Ørberg” curriculum for resurrecting my Latin (see my first post, Teaching Yourself Latin and Greek). 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 by reading 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 [January 2021: This is now a dead link]. (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. [January 2021. The links here are dead or irrelevant. So is the advice. For an online dictionary of Latin and Greek, use the University of Chicago’s logeion.]

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:

  1. The relevant writings are hard to find and, with one significant exception, without an available English translation
  2. You can waste a whole lot of time, I mean A WHOLE LOT OF TIME, establishing a personal “Comenius curriculum”
  3. 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 is 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 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 yet finished with 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 chapter.)

(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 for free, 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.

Table 1. Lissa is the old German name for the modern-day town of Leszno in Poland. Pars I of the ODO collects the didactic works from the “Lissa period,” 1627 – 1642.

WorkTitleDescriptionOther ScansLATINUM
JanuaJanua Linguarum Reserata. Sive Seminarium Linguarum et Scientiarum Omnium.~ 8000 of the most common Latin words written out in 1000 sentences grouped into 100 topics of universal knowledge. By design, none of the words (particles excepted) are repeated.Several bi- and multi-lingual editions (sometimes with the title Janua aurea reserata) but none in English yet. If you’re also studying ancient Greek, you may want to check out the Latin-Greek and Latin-Greek-French editions of Theodor Simon.
VestibulumJanuae Linguarum Reseratae Vestibulum, quo Primus ad Latinam Linguam aditus Tironibus paratur.427 elementary sentences using the 1,000 most common wordsOn you will find several scans of a Latin-Hungarian edition. Millner uses this for the Latin text. The text varies slightly from that in ODO.08/2011 re-recorded in its entirety, first in Latin and English, then Latin only
(Proplasma)De Astruendo Comenianae Januae Latinitatis Templo, Epistola: Cum Proplasmate Liminis, Atrii, Odei, Adyti, In Titulo De Igne EfformatiA David Bechner had been working on a Viridarium Linguae Latinae, an expanded version of the Janua. Beating the architectural metaphor to death, his plan was to add on a Threshold before, and an Atrium, Grand Hall, and Innermost Sanctuary after each topic in the Janua. The ODO prints Bechner’s letter to Comenius explaining his scheme, why he had not been able to realize it yet, but with a blueprint (proplasma) using the De Igne topic in the Janua as his example. The proplasma makes for amusing reading.
ODO Pars I (Lissa period, 1627-1642)

(Note: In 02/2008, Millner recorded from an available scan a 1717 Leipzig variation on the Vestibulum called the Vestibulum Maius.)

Table 2. Elbing is the German-Prussian name for the modern-day town of Elblag in modern-day Poland. Pars II of the ODO collects the didactic works from the “Elbing period,” 1642 – 1650. In this period, Comenius lived in Elbing while revising his textbooks for a Swedish patron, hence the “Elbing period” is also called the “Swedish period.”

WorkTitleDescriptionOther ScansLATINUM
(Methodus)Novissima Linguarum MethodusAs a theoretical foundation for the new versions of his Latin textbooks that Comenius wrote for his Swedish patron, he wrote a lengthy “brand new method.” You can see this reflected in the full name of the textbooks. Chapters 14 – 17 of the method delineate the Vestibulum, Janua, Atrium, and Thesaurus as they should be in conformance to this new method.  
(Vestibulum)Vestibulum Latinae Linguae Rerum et Linguae cardines exhibens (ad leges Methodi Linguarum Novissimae concinnatum). Vor-Tür der Lateinischen Sprache.In the ODO, Comenius only provides a preface and the first chapter, in Latin and German, to this version of the Vestibulum, referring the reader to the third and in his estimation improved “Hungary” version published in Part III of the ODO.  
(Janua)Latinae Linguae Janua Reserata, Rerum et Linguae Structuram exhibens ordine nativo. (ad leges Methodi Linguarum novissimae). Die offene Tür der Lateinishen Sprach.Same as for Vestibulum.  
GrammaticaJanuae Linguarum novissimae Clavis, Grammatica, Latino-Vernacula.Comenius had concluded this Grammar was over the heads of students and so had created a more concise student grammar for the “Hungary” textbooks, but he still included this fuller grammar here in the ODO as of interest to teachers. Appended to the Grammar are an extensive set of footnotes (Annotationes). 04/2009 Leaves off at the fourth declension within chapter 24, out of 76 chapters
(Lexicon Januale)(De Lexico Januali Latino-Germanico.)Comenius doesn’t reproduce the Lexicon Januale here, since it had been published in Frankfurt the year prior and is quite lengthy. (He also came to believe it was too prolix for students, and he rewrote a more concise version for the Hungary textbooks.) But believing it to be of interest, he does publish in the ODO the ‘Postfatio’ to the Lexicon.  
(Atrium) Comenius had also produced an Atrium for the Swedish textbooks, but events in his life had retarded its publication, so it is also deferred to Part III of the ODO.  
ODO Pars II (Elbing period, 1642-1650)

Table 3. Comenius spent the years 1650-1654 in Sarospatak in Hungary, setting up a new school for a patron there and producing yet another version of the Latin textbooks. This is the “Hungary period,” aka the “Sarospatak period.”

WorkTitleDescriptionOther ScansLATINUM
VestibulumEruditionis Scholasticae Pars Prima, Vestibulum, Rerum et Linguarum fundamenta exhibens.Really a completely different work from the original Vestibulum. It is essentially just a list of all the words in the Janua, and hence is also much lengthier than the original Vestibulum. It follows the taxonomic order of the Janua and will look very familiar to someone who has studied the Orbis Pictus.
+Rudimenta GrammaticaeRudimenta Grammaticae.A short, elementary grammar appended to the Vestibulum.02/2010 In its entirety (except the final chapter XII, which wouldn’t make much sense to record)
+Word index to the VestibulumReportorium Vestibulare. Sive Lexici Latini Rudimentum.A word index to the Vestibulum, which the young student could use to practice vocabulary (and locate the word in the text if he didn’t know it) and to behold the foundation for a more complete lexicon.
(+associated writings)Associated writings that give Comenius’s advice on, for example, the creation of student exercises to be used in conjunction with teaching the Vestibulum, and on the proper
formation of the vernacular counterpart to the Latin of the Vestibulum.
JanuaEruditionis Scholasticae Pars II. Rerum et Linguarum Structuram externam exhibens.What Keatinge pejoratively calls Comenius’s “extraordinary proposal” was for the student entering the Janual class to read and absorb the Lexicon Januale first, then the Grammatica Janualis, and only then the Janua itself. Hence they are printed in that order in the ODO.
Lexicon JanualeSylva Latinae Linguae, Vocum derivatarum copiam explicens: Sive Lexicon Januale.In the original publication there were corresponding definitions in Hungarian, but they are not printed in the ODO. See below on the Comenius Lexicon Project.
+Grammatica JanualisGrammatica Janualis. Continens Residuum Grammaticae Vestibularis.Comenius believed this version, considerably trimmed down from the original Grammar, much better for students.11/2010 The first five of fifteen chapters. (The grammar is arranged by seven elements of speech. The first five chapters cover letters, syllables, words in general, and nouns.)
+Janua (text)Janualis Rerum et Verborum Contextus, Historiolam rerum continens.The text of the Janua. Still 1,000 sentences distributed across 100 themes, but much lengthier than the original Janua. Unlike the original Janua, Comenius allowed words to repeat, in different contexts.03/2010 Lesson 3 (“Aether cum Astris”), English and Latin

10/2010 Lesson 1 (“Introitus”), English and Latin, and Latin only
AtriumEruditionis Scholasticae Pars III. Rerum et Linguarum Ornamenta exhibens.The student is now in Latin-only mode. The Atrium introduces the element of style.
+Grammatica elegansArs Oratoria, Sive Grammatica elegans.Instruction on expressing the same thought variously, applying the nine stylistic devices of oratory. Examples are given of how the Introitus to the Janua can be rewritten in the different styles.
+Atrium (text)Latinae Linguae Atrium, Rerum Historiam elegantiori exornatam stylo exhibens.The Janua rewritten, elegantly.
+(Lexicon atriale)Lexicon Januale Latino-Latinum, Simplices et nativas rerum nomenclationes, è Janua Linguae Latinae iam notas, in elegantes varie commutare docens.The Atrial lexicon is Latin to Latin. This Lexicon was not published in Hungary nor in the ODO, but separately (like the ODO, in Amsterdam in 1657). See below on the Comenius Lexicon Project.The Ams-terdam edition is available from Google Books
(Orbis Pictus)Orbis Sensualium Pictus. Hoc est, Omnium fundamentalium in Mundo rerum, et in Vita actionum, Nomenclatura, ad ocularem Demonstrationem deducta. Ut sit Vestibuli et Januae Linguarum Lucidarium.In the ODO, Comenius explains what the Orbis Sensualium Pictus is, but that he hadn’t been able to get it published yet due to the difficulty of finding a properly skilled engraver. It was not printed while Comenius was in Hungary or before the ODO, but a year later (1658).
ODO Pars III (Hungary period, 1650-1654)

Part IV of the ODO contains writings from Amsterdam from 1654-1657, when the ODO was published. Part IV contains no works of interest for our purposes.

In conclusion, once you’ve mastered the Orbis Pictus, a personal Comenius curriculum might be something like this:

  • Read the Lissa period (ODO Pars I) Vestibulum and listen to Millner’s new recording of it.
  • Read the Hungary (Sarospatak) period (ODO Pars III) Vestibulum. You won’t find much you don’t already know from the Orbis, but you can use it as a way to gauge how well you learned the Orbis vocabulary.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Comenius Lexicon Project (see below) and incorporate the lexica into your studies of the Janua and Atrium.
  • Study the Janua, the Lissa and/or Hungary versions. If Millner were to record a substantial portion of either (which would be quite an undertaking), I’d certainly go with that version. Until then, I’ve been working with the first, Lissa version simply because of Keatinge’s judgment that “The [Hungary] classbooks, with the exception of the grammars for the Vestibulum and the Janua, were all inferior to the previous editions published in Lissa. In his effort to be scientific Comenius fell into the very trap that he wished to avoid, and became complicated and tedious.”
  • Read and listen to Millner’s recording of the Hungary Rudimenta Grammaticae, which is brief and easy and a good way to start thinking about Latin grammar in Latin.
  • Follow up by reading the Hungary Grammatica Janualis. Keatinge’s judgment: “The grammar, if not quite a model, from the modern standpoint, is yet extremely good. It is far shorter than that written in Elbing, and the rules are terse and to the point.”
  • If you’re not screaming “no màs no màs” by now, try your hand at the Hungary Atrium. Read the Grammatica elegans and the examples applied to the Introitus of the Janua sufficiently to get the idea of the nine devices for stylistic variation, then read the more stylized Janua that is the Atrium.

The Comenius Lexicon Project

You saw in Table 3 that the Hungary Lexicon Januale is printed in the ODO and available on the CAMENA site both in the book scan and in the transcribed HTML text. You also saw that the Lexicon Atriale Latino-Latinum, while produced during the Hungary period, was not published in the ODO but in a separate publication that is available on Google Books.

The definitions in these lexicons are in Latin only. That is by design in the case of the Lexicon Atriale Latino-Latinum. The original publication of the Lexicon Januale was in both Hungarian and Latin, but the Hungarian is omitted in the ODO. The “definitions” are also not dictionary definitions as we think of them (though they are in alphabetical order). Lexicon Januale is organized by Latin roots. For each root, given in upper case, the lexical entry typically gives various words in different parts of speech derived from this root, and an example or two illustrating the the primary sense or usage. For example, the definition of acervus (“heap”):

ACERV -us est, ubi res variae -antur -atim: praesertim -us frumenti. Sed disputator co-at argumenta in -alem Syllogismum.

The purpose of the Atrium is to demonstrate the application of style and variation to the plain expressions of the Janua. Accordingly, the purpose of the Lexicon Atriale is to give the student, for a given Latin word, similar or analogous phrases from actual authors (not always classical), to help keep the student within the bounds of demonstrated usage and taste, as he tries his hand at eloquence. The definition of acervus in the atrial lexicon is:

Acervus] Turba voluminum: Chorus virtutum, Cic. Strues lignorum, Liv. Strues malorum. Nav. apud Serv. Silva rerum. Quint. Agmen aquarum, Virg. Glomeramen. Lucr. Torus graminis, Apul. Quis fons? Quis torrens verborum? Eras.

(Note: The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries produced some very worthwhile compilations of Latin synonyms, many available on Google Books and in print on Amazon. Most seem to go back to two sources: (1) M. Gardin Dumesnil’s 1777 Synonymes Latin, et leur différentes significations, avec des Exemples tirés des meilleurs Auteurs. You can find the original and several editions of an English translation by J. M. Gosset. (2) Ludwig Döderlein’s Handbuch der lateinischen Synonymik, first ed. 1839, second 1849. You can find the originals and several editions of an English translation by Henry Hamilton Arnold. As an example, check their entries for acervus.)

Because the definitions in Comenius’s lexicons are in Latin, they can be instructive, reinforcing, and sometimes quite clever and amusing, even when you already know the English definition of the word. They are a useful read unto themselves. But in any case if you are unsure of a word when reading the Janua or Atrium, in theory you should consult the Comenian lexica first. However, this could be slow to the point of being impractical.

The Comenius Lexicon Project is an effort to digitize these two lexicons, in order to make them easier to search and to manipulate with software tools. I believe the project is the inspiration of Laura Gibbs collaborating with Evan Millner, but I am not a participant in the project and only know what I can infer from scrutinizing the site.

The site has digitized the janua lexicon by simply pasting in the previously transcribed HTML from the CAMENA site. However, they have one remaining task. The CAMENA transcription preserves Comenius’s format, which uses dashes that must be mentally replaced by the reader (or written out as a student exercise) with the upper case root. Because of the dashes, you won’t find a hit searching the transcribed text on “acervus”. So the remaining task is to reformat the entries. Millner did this for the first several ‘A’ entries, by way of example:

ACERVus est, ubi res variae ACERVantur ACERVatim: praesertim ACERVus frumenti. Sed disputator coACERVat argumenta in ACERValem Syllogismum.

The digitization of the Lexicon Atriale Latino-Latinum begins with the much more tedious process of first doing the manual transcription, then formatting, an obviously error-prone process that then requires meticulous proofreading to guarantee the integrity of the result. The end result is simply a digitized version of, for example, the book’s entry for acervus shown above.

These transcribing, formatting, and proofreading tasks are being done by qualified volunteers. For the atrial lexicon they are up to the letter ‘I,’ and it looks like the process may have stalled, and if so, understandably.

In any case, this should suggest how you might incorporate the two lexica (three, if you count the word index to the Hungary Vestibulum) into your personal Comenius curriculum.

Good luck, hope this helped.


Published by Randy Gibbons

I am retired. I have several strong interests, in particular classical studies (Greek and Latin); a lifelong passion for music, especially jazz; and more recently, dabbling in philosophy. For more information about me, click on About Me.

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  1. Randy, you have done some solid work in digging out and identifying all these things, and thanks to your guidance I am tackling Comenius with renewed vigour, as well as a straightforward guide to what and where. multas gratias tibi ago!


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