Sheltering Vocabulary: Caesar & Piso Fun Facts

Fun Facts:

  • Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō, Liber V (i.e. just book 5, though there are 8 total) has 2900 unique words, and is 7400 total words in length.
  • All 4 current “Pisoverse” novellas combined have 233 unique words, and are 8445 total words in length.


  • Regardless of any definition of “reading” that could possibly exist, successfully reading one of the above is an impossible task for nearly all high school students, and extremely unlikely for the remaining handful.
  • The unique word count of 108 in Pīsō Ille Poētulus—the highest of my novellas—is too high for some students to read easily. That’s with just 108 words, let alone 200, let alone 400, let alone 800, 1600, or the 2900 in Caesar.
  • Most students will fail to read anything close to this excerpt of just one ancient author (traditionally considered “easy Latin!”) that has 26x the vocabulary of a novella some students can’t yet read easily.
  • At most, high school students receive 4 years of input (5-6 if middle school Latin?). Given that some students in years 1 and 2 might not be able to read Pīsō Ille Poētulus easily, it’s clear that realistic expectations for reading are much, much lower than we think.
  • Students will be more successful reading copious amounts of Latin containing words they are familiar with.
  • Sheltering vocabulary has the greatest impact on providing contexts with more familiar words.
  • Students would benefit from reading more novellas under 100 unique words.


Why novellas? Read more, here.

4 thoughts on “Sheltering Vocabulary: Caesar & Piso Fun Facts

  1. Magister P
    I very much admire your work to bring young students into a productive encounter with Latin. It works for the young, but I have found much resistance to your approach among mature students – they seem to need the crutch of formal grammar to help them get a hold on the shape of the language. I came to late to Latin myself – in my early 50s in fact. I think what is missing for adult students of Latin is access to books like the ones you have written for youngsters, but with content of interest to adults.

    I have begun writing such a book: it concerns a Roman sea captain who has, among his cargo of slaves, a man who will become a gladiator – one who will find himself embroiled in Spartacus’ rebellion. It was to have a love sub-plot, too. However, my Latin simply not up to it. I have all the self-doubts that come with learning a language very late in life.

    I hope someone reading your blog, and following your example of using sheltered vocabulary, will one day write a compelling novella that I can share with my Latin self-help group.
    I wish you good luck in your endeavours.

    Discipulus et magister M,

    • Magister M,

      Your experience illustrates the difference between our students, and what might or might not be compelling to each and every person (another reason we just need more and more and more novellas!). I, personally, found Oerberg’s Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata incredibly compelling (mostly because I felt that I finally could read Latin), yet nearly all high school students I’ve ever taught weren’t excited about the narrative. Even then, there are some teachers whose students love LLPSI right now. Compelling is key, and that’s gonna vary. Know thy students, right?

      Adults out there enjoy the content of my novellas just the same, so I would be interested in the kinds of students you have who resist the novellas. It seems that their previous experience studying languages is contributing to the idea that grammar is safe and comforting. Most humans I know don’t feel that way.

      In fact, I’m not sure there’s an appropriate comparison being made. It seems that your adult students are more interested in grammar-as-content, than any narrative itself. Your book wouldn’t even have “formal” grammar explanations in it, would it? I’m not sure any book would quench their grammar thirst, per se, but good luck!

  2. Pingback: Preparing Our Students For…Latin 100?! | Magister P.

  3. Pingback: HQ (High-Quantity) Reading & Pisoverse Vocab | Magister P.

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