Tuesday, March 31, 2015

App Review: Three More Classics Apps

I. Latin Scansion

Latin Scansion is a perfect companion for the student learning to parse the Latin hexameter or for old pros looking. . . to scan Latin hexameters for fun. As small as either group might be, this app is a boon to both, foremost because it provides feedback to your work. One of the common struggles for practicing students is the inability to find correctly scanned lines against which to check their work. This lacuna is also a product of the teacher's difficulty not only of distributing a large quantity of such material, but also of ensuring students don't simply copy the correct answers. Latin Scansion helps fill the gap.

Set up as a game, you tap either the "long" or "short" button to indicate the length of the next syllable, scanning the hexameter from left to right.

The simple interface makes rather addictive the task of scansion, and if the thrill of metrical pyrotechnics is simply not enough for you, the game spurs you on with motivations like achievements, timed games and a record of your winning streak. The game is good fun and practice, but there's room for improvement which would make a stellar app.

First, the selections are limited to Vergil, specifically to Aeneid I, II, IV, and VI. They are predictably the selections scattered throughout the AP Test and total about 800 lines. Some longer, and more importantly contiguous selections, would encourage everyone to read as he scans, and to read Vergil not to pass a test, but for the value of the literature. Second, it would be helpful to include the option of marking the caesura, diaeresis, and feet, as well as toggling the natural long marks. Third, students would benefit from the ability to choose lines matching particular criteria, such as those with a spondaic fifth foot, elisions, hiatus, and so on. Fourth, independent students would likely welcome a summary of scansion rules. Finally and most obviously, it seems a gap for an app called Latin Scansion to leave out meters besides the hexameter.

Overall, although these are suggestions for major additions, they're but minor complaints about an app which gives a fun, digital twist to an ancient tradition.


II. Logeion

Who doesn't want a slick Greek and Latin lexicon? Beyond the convenience of having a combined reference for both languages, Logeion offers two features which I think commend it to students. First, it offers entries in multiple references. For Greek it offers the LSJ, DGE, Autenrieth, Middle Liddell, and Slater entries, and for Latin the BWL, Lewis and Short, Lewis' Elementary, and DuCange. Second, it does not allow the entry of inflected forms, which comes as a relief to teachers who recommend online resources like Whitaker's Words and The Perseus Project with reservations, finding them often all too helpful.

One feature beyond the entries which I like is the inclusion of extended examples from the corpus, which allows you to look at a word used in fuller context, not just surrounded by the bare minimum required for sense.

The most useful feature which recommends it to educators in particular is the section of each entry that tells you in which chapter the word is introduced in the most common text books. Every teacher who has juggled multiple books, years of students, and curricula, has struggled to remember which students have been taught which words at which point. Logeion contains such data for Hansen and Quinn, Reading Greek, Learn to Read Greek, Learn to Read Latin, Mastronarde, and Wheelock.

A a most useful, but not too useful, tool.


III. Barrington Atlas

Alas, the app for which I was most excited and which is the most expensive, fails to deliver. To start with the good, the maps are quite fine. In particular, the relief of the topography is crystal clear, a detail is often lacking in maps of the classical world. Too the shading of the landscape, indicating desert, sea, and so forth, is subtle. The ancient Latin names are also retained, as are the Greek, although the latter are transliterated. Speaking of text, the authors very kindly drew the black text with a thin white border around it, making it exceptionally legible and easy on the eyes.

Beyond the minutiae, there are 102 maps of more specific places and eras of antiquity than you're likely to find in general interest atlases and they are of a higher quality than the skimpy black and white versions which we're accustomed to find thrown into texts.

The downside is that you can't zoom in nearly as far as you would hope, that is, as far as we've come to expect when looking at high resolution files. You can zoom in rather far, but the zoom won't lock at the deepest level, making viewing at that level a chore. Besides this disappointment, and other minor ones like the fact that opening the key covers most of the map, there is a nearly-debilitating bug in which zooming back out to the highest level whites out the screen. You can only recover by exiting the app or swiping left or right to the next map.

I can forgive a bug, though, more than the fact that the app, in 2015, seems a mere passable digitization rather than a program designed from the ground up. As such, it's neither the definitive classics atlas everyone wants nor a fine presentation of the Barrington Atlas. Still, I'm glad I have these maps.


If you liked this list, please take a look at our first Classics App Roundup.

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