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The work (more fully Viri Romae illustres) is alternately known as De viris illustribus. As its name implies it deals with those men in Roman history (and myth) whom posterity has honored, from Romulus through Augustus. Lhomond constructed the work as a cento, compiling his narratives from the works of a vast array of Roman writers: poets such as Vergil and Ovid were employed alongside Cicero, Livy, and even the likes of Eutropius (who wrote during the reigns of Julian and Valens).
I suspect that many will think the book somehow ‘outdated,’ but it was designed by a man dedicated to teaching Latin at the secondary level (he purportedly turned down several university posts) and published just three years after Darwin’s Origin of Species and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Each is still a classic. And isn’t Caesar, who died more than 20 centuries ago?
The text is available at the Latin Library, but a very nice student edition can be obtained through Google Books. I’ve just begun using this with one of my classes. Here’s a sampling of the opening lines:
Proca, rex Albanorum, duos filios, Numitorem et Amulium habuit. Numitori, qui natu major erat, regnum reliquit; sed Amulius, pulso fratre, regnavit, et ut eum sobole privaret, Rheam Sylviam ejus filiam Vestae sacerdotem fecit, quae tamen Romulum et Remum uno partu edidit.
As well as being a fascinating chapter in the history of Latin pedagogy, I’ve found the text itself readable and interesting. Here’s hoping the students do as well.