Introducing the Paideia Dolphin Editions

Jason Pedicone |

Introducing the Paideia Dolphin Editions

 The cover of the first Paideia Dolphin Edition of Book 1 of Homer’s Iliad
The cover of the first Paideia Dolphin Edition of Book 1 of Homer’s Iliad

The Ad Usum Delphini editions of Latin authors constitute one of the landmarks of Latin pedagogy. Most people can agree that reading Latin authors is hard. Good pedagogical research suggests that toggling back and forth between multiple languages while reading — translating — makes reading harder. This was the bedrock principle of the Ad Usum Delphini editions, texts of Latin authors with notes in Latin and (for poets and the more challenging prose authors) simplified prose translations to help readers along. Unfortunately, the Ad Usum Delphini editions are no longer in print, and while old copies are sometimes available, they are expensive and sometimes include content that is dated or irrelevant for modern students. We are therefore excited to announce a new initiative: the Paideia Dolphin Editions, a series of new, updated, original-language-only editions of Latin and Greek authors based on the Ad Usum Delphini model.

I first became aware of the Ad Usum Delphini editions from a page that Reginald Foster included in his famous “sheets”, large booklets of photocopied Latin texts he assembled from various sources to teach students in his Roman summer program. The name, Ad Usum Delphini, was charmingly mysterious. “For the use of a dolphin”? It humorously corresponded to one of the mock insults Reginaldus used to scream (lovingly) at his students when we struggled with difficult grammar concepts: “You know, German Shepherds and dolphins could get this stuff no problem!” In other words, Latin was so easy that a well-trained animal could learn it, and so could we, if we would just PAY ATTENTION!

But the Delphinus in question was no dolphin. The title of these editions comes from the fact that they were prepared for the crown Prince of France, also called “Le Dauphin.” The moniker dates back to a certain Guigues IV, the 12th century Count of Vienne, a town in southern France about an hour south of Lyon. Guigues was nicknamed “the dolphin” and had a dolphin on his coat of arms. Scholars are unsure why he earned this nickname. Some think it may derive from a toponym in another language, while others suggest that Guiges’s family took on the nickname because dolphins were considered fierce or powerful. Maybe old Guigues was just a good swimmer? Vienne is right on the Rhone. In any event, the title “Dauphin des Viennois” was passed down in his family until 1349, when Guigues’ descendant, Humbert II, sold his territory, the “Dauphiné,” to the French King, Philippe VI. One of the conditions of the sale was that the heir of France assume the title of “Le Dauphin.”

Fast forward three hundred years to the late 17th century. Louis XIV sits on the throne of France, and the rebirth of classical learning in Europe is in full swing. Like any responsible Renaissance king, Louis XIV endeavored to give his heir (also named Louis) a classical education. To do so, he commissioned a series of editions of the canonical Latin authors designed to make them more accessible for a young Latin student. Between 1670 and the end of the 17th century, over 64 volumes were produced covering 67 Latin authors. By that time the Dauphin had grown up to become “Le Grand Dauphin” and he and his wife, Maria Teresa of Spain, A.K.A. “La Dauphine,” had spawned a son (named… wait for it…Louis), also known as “Le Petit Dauphin.” In other words, the French court was swimming with Dauphins, and a great library of Latin texts had been produced to inculcate them with the classics.


The cetaceous double entendre was not lost on the series’ learned editors, who adorned their volumes with an enraving of Arion, the mythical Greek poet whose rescue from pirates by a dolphin is told in Book One of Herodotus’ Histories. The editor in chief of the series was the formidable French humanist Pierre Daniel Huet, who assembled a team of scholars to work on the editions. These included many luminaries of the French Baroque period, such as Anne Le Fèvre Dacier (Anna Tranquilli Fabri filia), the editor of several Ad Usum Delphini editions, who was a prolific female scholar held up by activists at the time as an example of why women should have access to education. The team also included other leading intellectuals, such as the Jesuit Charles de la Rue (Carolus Ruaeus) who edited the edition on Vergil.


Despite the huge effort that went into producing them, aside from a few exceptions, the A.U.D. editions were not intended to be authoritative critical editions of the Latin texts they published. Instead, the focus was on pedagogy. This produced the extraordinary situation in which the leading scholars of the time poured their efforts into producing texts that were directed at students. The goal of the editors of the A.U.D. series was to produce editions and commentaries that would make the ancient texts more accessible to a “modern” reader. Of course, this was the 17th century, so the contemporary language of learning was still Latin. Nevertheless, to aid the understanding of ancient texts, they included a section called the interpretatio, which provided a running Latin prose paraphrase of all Latin poetry, and what were considered at the time the difficult prose texts. Here the editors interpreted the highly compact and idiomatic ancient Latin into the limpid Latin of the Renaissance humanists, arranged it in more modern word order, and included as many synonyms as possible. Thus, when a young dolphin sat down to read his Vergil, he would have at his disposal, in addition to the text of the Aeneid, a Latin paraphrase with which to compare it, and helpful Latin notes explaining anything that wasn’t immediately obvious.


Take for example this page from Ruaeus’ 1722 edition of Vergils’ Aeneid.


Vergil’s famous verses from Book 1, lines 3–4

litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram

         are interpreted by Ruaeus as

Ille multum agitatus fuit terris et mari, per potentiam Deorum, et propter iram memorem crudelis Junonis.

The interpretatio puts Vergil’s Latin into a more straightforward word order, supplies missing words that are left out in poetry (like fuit, per and propter) and provides numerous synonyms, especially for words that have special meaning in poetry like alto, which is translated as mari. The three notes to these verses explain geography — that although Lavinium is far from the sea, the shores near it are still called Lavinian — as well as matters of literary merit such as the transferred epithet irammemorem with the note: Memorem Junonis ob iram: id est, iram Junonis memoris.

To any Latin teacher, the pedagogical utility of this presentation will be obvious. The A.U.D. editions give the student the ability to read challenging ancient texts in the original without resorting to English translations or commentaries. For the student learning Latin and expanding his or her vocabulary, they provide numerous useful synonyms. Most importantly, they allow the student to read without relying on English translations or commentaries as a crutch.

One bug of the A.U.D. editions is that they are expurgated of any content that might scandalize a younger reader. The editors chose not to provide the young princeling with a detailed explanation on the action of the first few verses of Catullus 16, for instance; those verses are omitted from Philippe Dubois’ 1685 edition of Catullus and replaced with asterisks. As a result of this censorship, in many European languages the term Ad Usum Delphini still means something like “bowdlerized.”

 Asterisks replace offensive content in the Dubois’ 1685 Ad Usum Delphini edition of Catullus.
Asterisks replace offensive content in the Dubois’ 1685 Ad Usum Delphini edition of Catullus.

The Ad Usum Delphini editions were revised and republished in the 19th century under the auspices of English printer Abraham John Valpy, the son of a classics master at the storied grammar school at Reading. This new series, titled “Valpy’s Delphin Classics”, reproduced the format of the French Renaissance editions, with the text followed by an interpretatio and adnotationes, which Valpy renamed notae. However, Valpy also had the Delphin editions cleaned up, incorporating the work of more recent scholarly editions such as the Dutch Elzevir and German Bipontine editions, as well as Latin notes from various other scholars who had commented on the classical authors since the publication of the original A.U.D. editions. The recension of these editions was an enormous effort that took over a decade and is said to have caused the editor, the eccentric poet and classicist George Dyer, to go almost completely blind.

Valpy’s Delphin Classics and the original Renaissance A.U.D. editions are both available for free download at online libraries like and Google Books. But they are not ideal for use in the modern Latin classroom. In many cases, the notes seem irrelevant, pedantic, or assume too much, since the average 17th or 19th century Latin student was typically more steeped in the classics than students are today. Also, even the Valpy editions are too expensive and rare to ask a whole class of Latin students to obtain a hard copy. The goal of Paideia’s Dolphin Editions is to bring this grand tradition of monolingual commentaries to the modern Latin classroom, allowing today’s students to benefit from the experience of reading Latin in Latin.


The series currently has planned volumes on Vergil, Caesar, Horace, Catullus, and Ovid. Unlike earlier A.U.D. editions, these volumes contain only selections of the authors, with a focus on the parts of the text that are read most frequently in today’s high school and college classrooms. They include what our editors felt were the best and most interesting Latin notes from earlier editions, as well as additional Latin commentary written by the team to help make the editions more accessible to modern students. This includes, for example, notes on rhetorical figures like anaphora and litotes, which are often found on today’s standardized tests, and a glossary of Latin grammatical terms informing the student, for example, that “purpose clause” is called clausula finalis in Latin. We’ve also added macrons to the texts to help modern students learn syllable length.



The editions of Vergil and Caesar also include sections called Ars Artis Gratia, which display pieces of relevant ancient art, such as a fragment of the Tabula IIiaca in Book 2 of the Aeneid. The editions also include a few snippets of relevant ancient texts, like Donatus’ Latin comment on Vergilian hemistichs. The entire series also includes beautiful charcoal illustrations by the artist Maud Taber Thomas. All of this supplementary material is captioned extensively in Latin.

The Aeneid Dolphin Edition with an Ars Artis Gratia section featuring an ancient Greek amphora.

The Aeneid Dolphin Edition with an Ars Artis Gratia section featuring an ancient Greek amphora.

 The Dolphin Edition of Book 1 of Homer’s Iliad with a captioned illustration by Maud Taber-Thomas.
The Dolphin Edition of Book 1 of Homer’s Iliad with a captioned illustration by Maud Taber-Thomas.

The original A.U.D. editions and the Valpy Delphin Classics both published only Latin authors, but our Dolphin Editions will also include Greek. An edition of Book 1 of the Iliad, which includes Greek prose and Greek notes, is also forthcoming. I will detail that volume’s editorial process, which was extremely time-consuming but enjoyable, in another post.


The Paideia Dolphin Editions are available on the Paideia Institute Store and via online booksellers like



Jason Pedicone is the co-founder and President of the Paideia Institute.


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Jason Pedicone

Jason Pedicone is the president of the Paideia Institute.


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