Cultures in Another Story, or Columns of Culture(s), Part VI

salvēte iterum, amīcī! alia fābula nōbīs legenda est. Today we’ll look at the one from Cursus Secundus, where young Caius Lollius is trying to decide how to take care of his mother now that Vesuvius has erupted, his father has died, and he has suddenly gained patria potestās at age 17. We saw the story in this post from early January:

Let’s take a paragraph or so at a time and consider the cultural implications:

Cāius Lollius, paucīs ante diēbus quam sacrāmentum dīceret, cum mātre in cēnāculō Vipsāniī Lolliaeque sollicitus sedēbat. anxius enim erat Cāius quod sibi nihil pecūniae erat. “quō modō,” sē rogābat, “mātrem cūrāre possum? ō dī magnī, quaesō, mihi auxilium date!”

We might ask questions like these:

  • Why are Caius and his mom staying with his sister and her husband anyway?
  • What is a cēnāculum like?
    • How is it different from, say, a domus or a vīlla rūstica?
    • How rich can you be and still live in a cēnāculum?
    • Since cēnācula are found in īnsulae, how do the various residents of such a building interact with each other?
      • Is it like the relationships among same-building residents in a large American city?
      • For that matter, in a world without electricity, is it better to have a cēnāculum on a lower floor, or on a higher floor?
    • How do you get stuff (like furniture) up the stairs, and how do you dispose of waste?
  • Is it culturally authentic to say cēnāculō Vipsāniī Lolliaeque in any case?
    • Would a Roman think cēnāculō Vipsāniī, since Lollia is (legally) part of Vipsanius’ property like the table and the servants?
    • Or was Lollia married to Vipsanius sine manū?  If so, she’s still part of the Lollius familia.
  • Why is it Caius’ job to mātrem cūrāre? Can’t she cūrāre herself? Or can’t Lollia do it?
  • Why does Caius pray as he does?
    • What specific does he have in mind, and what types of auxilium might he be looking for?
    • Does he expect the just to give him auxilium, or does he expect a quid-pro-quo exchange?
    • If the latter, what would he need to give them?

Now let’s examine the next bit:

“mī fīlī,” rogāvit māter anxia, “cūr tam sollicitus es?”

“ō māter,” respondit ille trīstis, “quid facere dēbeō? quō modō ego, quī nihil pecūniae habeō, tē cūrāre possum?”

quae, verbīs fīliī audītīs, respondit, “nesciō, mī fīlī. tibi suādēre nōn possum. fortasse autem ille Lucius Valerius, amīcus tuus –”

“minimē, māter, nōlī plūra dīcere! mē pudet hanc rem Luciō meō patefacere! cīvis enim Rōmānus sum, et patre meō mortuō, patria potestās mihi est. mē nōn decet sportulās beneficiave ita quaerere!”

We might ask questions like these:

  • In this part, why does Caius’ mood change so suddenly?
  • Why does he, in essence, tell his mom to shut up? Is that appropriate?
  • Why does he make such a big deal about patria potestās?
  • Why does he use such a loaded – and untranslatably Roman – concept as nōn decet or pudet in response to a simple (and perfectly reasonable) suggestion to ask his friend for help?
  • Why do Romans use ille and other demonstratives to refer to people this way? After all, English speakers don’t normally say “that George Washington” or “that Aunt Sadie” in similar contexts?

And now let’s look at the next bit:

“mī Caī,” molliter respondit māter, “cūr tam īrātus es? ōlim pater tuus ē cēnāculō nostrō exiit ut sportulam quaereret. ōlim patrōnus eius, ille Mānius Valerius, quī tē tamquam filium dīligēbat, pecūniam lūdī magistrō dedit ut tē in ludō acciperet. ōlim –”

“haec omnia bene cognōvī, māter cārissima,” respondit Cāius trīstis, “sed dignitās patrī meō cūrae minimae erat, mihi tamen cūrae maximae. nōn pudēbat patrem sportulās quaerere, sed mē maximē pudet. perīre mālō quam sportulās accipere, praesertim ab amīcō veterrimō.”

Here we might ask questions like these:

  • Why does Maccia bring up the relationship between pater tuus and patrōnus eius, ille Mānius Valerius?
  • Why does she mention that Valerius loved Caius tamquam fīlium?
  • Why does she mention the money Valerius paid the teacher?
  • Why does Caius talk about dignitās in response to this?
    • For that matter, why does he feel that his father didn’t care about dignitās?
    • Is he right?
    • If so, why didn’t Lollius care about dignitās?
    • Is dignitās important to Romans from all social classes, or is it more important to the wealthy?
  • Why does pudet show up again? It’s obviously really important to Caius!
  • Why does Caius include that phrase, praesertim ab amīcō veterrimō?
    • Is this a typically Roman attitude?
    • And if so, how can it be reconciled with the bonds of friendship that, we believe, often existed between patrōnus and cliēns?
  • Does Caius really mean he’d rather die than take a handout? Or is he being hyperbolic?
    • In either case, why is this prideful self-sufficiency so important to him?
    • And how would another Roman man (say, for example, Lucius or Cnaeus) react to this series of statements?
    • Would he be sympathetic with Caius, or irritated by him?
    • Would it make a difference if the other Roman man was also relatively poor, like Caius?

And now let’s look at the last bit:

subitō tamen Cāius cōnsilium optimum cēpit. “dī immortālēs!” laetus exclāmāvit, “mea māter, nōlī timēre! etiamsī mē pudet sportulās petere, mē haud pudet mīlitāre! nōnne mīlitēs Rōmānī sunt virī maximae dignitātis? nōnne mīlitibus semper est sat pecūniae cibīque?”

“ō mī fīlī, num mīles fierī vīs? nōnne perīculōsissimum est mīlitāre? quaesō, mī fīlī –”

“tacē, māter,” respondit ille. “dī enim ipsī, audītīs precibus meīs acceptīsque vōtīs, hoc cōnsilium mihi dedērunt! ex hōc cēnāculō discēdō, centūriōnem quaesītum!”

quibus verbīs dictīs, Cāius ex īnsulā celeriter discessit ut centūriōnem quaereret. māter tamen, lacrimāns rīdēnsque, in cēnāculō sōla manēbat. multīs lacrimīs effūsīs multīsque precibus adhibitīs, deōs ōrābat ut fīliō suō parcerent.

Here we might ask questions like these:

  • Why does Caius make the connection between dignitās and being a soldier? Is that a typically Roman connection, or typical for a young man from his (relatively low) social status?
  • How might Caius’ military experience, as a common mīles, be different from that of his friend Lucius, who will become a tribūnus mīlitum?
    • To what extent are these differences in experience parallel to the different experiences of enlisted soldiers and officers in today’s armies?
    • The American army, for example, has the whole procedure of Officer Candidate School for promising NCO’s; is there a similar system in the Roman army?
    • If not, what does that say about the Roman attitudes regarding leadership and social class, as compared with American attitudes?
  • Is Maccia’s fear for Caius’ safety typical or atypical for a Roman mother in this situation?
  • To what extent would any parent in any society be apprehensive about a child joining the military?
    • Does it make a difference that the Roman world in A.D. 80 is relatively peaceful?
    • Might Maccia know about the recent unrest in Judea and Syria?
    • And if so, might that make a difference in her response?
  • Why does Caius suddenly make reference to precibus and vōtīs? What’s the difference, in any case?
  • Why does he give credit to the gods for his sudden cōnsilium optimum? And how do these precibus and vōtīs relate to the big, untranslatable concepts of pietās and dignitās that we’ve been exploring since the beginning of Cursus Primus?
  • Who is this mysterious centurion anyway, and why is he in Naples?
    • Do centurions normally get to go to Italy on leave?  What about common mīlifēs?
    • Is it usual or unusual for Roman citizens from Italy to be recruited as a mīles at this time period?
    • How did the Roman army change its recruitment procedures over time?
    • And how do these procedures compare with those of the American army today (or the army of a Tres Columnae participant’s native country)?
  • Why is Maccia described as lacrimāns rīdēnsque at the end of the story?
    • Is her response typical for a Roman, or for a Roman woman?
    • Is it “universally” typical for mothers of young men who have decided to become soldiers?
  • What gods might she be praying to, and what vōta might she be offering?

Tune in next time when we’ll actually construct a story around a rather different, more peaceful cultural topic … but one that involves some intriguing animals….

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Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can I just say at first that I love how you are using DIRECT QUOTED SPEECH in the stories. One of the biggest problems with classical Latin text is the accusative+infinitive style of reporting speech indirectly (a bit of syntax students need to learn, of course) – but I think writing narratives with direct quoted speech like this is a great idea, and it is one of the things I have always like about Aesop’s fables. Some of them fall into the literary trap of indirect speech, but plenty of them feature direct quoted speech, just as in the passage about Caius anxius which you start out with here! Super!

    I’ll confess that worrying about the social relations implied in the text is not high on my list… but with the animals, that’s not important. Indeed, the fables often fly in the face of natural history – not just because the animals talk, but because they are often doing things (in particular, eating things) that might not even be the sort of thing that animal would “really” do (or eat). But then, it’s FICTION. I’ve always been one to look at fictional worlds as having their own rules, which are related only indirectly to the worlds in which we happen to live our lives. It is in the moral appended to the story that the fable makes its connection to our world, not necessarily in the contents of the story itself.

    One connection I see immediately here from the world of fables and proverbs and their themes is in the notion of amicitia. You really will not see a lot of patronus relationships spelled out in the world of proverbs – but sayings and stories about amicitia abound, so that is one place, at least, where I could contribute something useful. For us, friendship is very much a sentimental thing and we often don’t think of it as something with many attendant duties, or as something strategic – but those dimensions of ancient friendship do come out in proverbs and in fables.

    The Latin itself is a delight to read. Thank you for all the nums and nonnes which really bring the speech to life – we are so lucky that the Romans had all these intonational words – things like num and nonne, and also the intonational effects implied by word order, along with postpositives, which are one of my favorite Latin things. Kudos also to you for using haud, which is all over the place in the kinds of Latin that I read, although often badly neglected in classical textbooks because of the preference for non in so many classical styles.

    As Caius resolves on soldiering, boy can I think of some fables that warn about the dangers of the soldier’s life. They don’t get into the details of how soldiers get their money and food, or any such details (important as they are) – instead, they focus on the terrible dangers involved. I’ll paste in a couple here that come to mind – one is with animals, and one is just a people fable:

    From Via Latin reader (this is a very popular fable, lots of Latin versions floating around):
    Asinus equum beātum praedicābat, quī tam cōpiōsē pāscerētur, cum sibi post molestissimōs labōrēs nē paleae quidem satis praebērētur. Fōrte autem bellō exortō, equus in proelium agitur, et circumventus ab hostibus, post incrēdibiles labōrēs tandem, multīs vulneribus cōnfossus, collābitur. Haec omnia asinus cōnspicātus, O mē stolidum, inquit, quī beātitūdinem ex praesentis temporis fōrtūnā aestimāverim!

    From Abstemius:
    Agricola quīdam aegrē ferēbat sē assiduē terram volvere nec perpetuīs labōribus ad magnās dīvitiās pervenīre, cum nonnullōs vidēret mīlitēs quī actīs proeliīs ita rem auxerant ut bene indūtī incēderent et lautīs epulīs nūtrītī beātam agerent vītam. Venditīs igitur ovibus, caprīs ac bōbus, equōs ēmit et arma et in mīlitiam profectus est, ubī cum ab imperātōre suō male pugnātum esset, nōn sōlum quae habēbat perdidit, sed etiam plūribus vulneribus affectus est. Quārē damnātā mīlitiā mercātūram exercēre statuit ut ubī māius lucrum et minōrem labōrem existimābat. Praediīs igitur venditīs, cum nāvem mercibus implēvisset, nāvigāre coeperat, sed cum in altō esset, tempestāte subitō coorta nāvis submersa est et ipse cum cēterīs quī in eā erant ad ūnum omnēs periēre. Haec fābula monet quemlibet suā sorte esse contentum cum ubīque fit parāta miseria.

    As you can see, these fables are not hard to read, but they don’t rank as easy Latin. Based on whatever grammar and vocabulary guidelines you supply, I think they could admirably be rewritten for use in Tres Columnae… perhaps for someone (Maccia? someone else?) to tell to young Caius as he ponders his choices.

    • Laura,
      What a wonderful and lengthy comment! Fortunately, as I read this, I have an unexpected holiday tomorrow due to icy conditions. 🙂 So I should be able to respond appropriately.
      1. Yes, I think direct speech is important, especially for beginning and intermediate learners. By the time they get to the story of Caius’ decision, Tres Columnae learners will have been exposed to indirect discourse. In fact, one possible exercise for this story would be to transform the direct speech into accusative-plus-infinitive oratio obliqua. But I don’t think they’ll be quite ready for extended oratio obliqua just yet!
      2. Yes, I agree completely … fictional worlds are, ipso facto, fictional. But a lot of people do worry about the “realism” of fictional worlds, especially historical-fictional worlds like the Tres Columnae world. So I do want to strive for reasonable accuracy, at least with the human characters. The animals, of course, can be more fanciful, especially if they’re fable-tradition animals.
      3. Yes, amīcitia is a big hidden issue behind Caius’ quandary. I’m glad you mentioned that! He’s in an odd position as regards his friend Lucius, and particularly as regards Lucius’ cousin Cnaeus. Lucius and Caius are, in fact, close friends, and their fathers seem to be close friends – but Lucius’ father was Caius’ father’s patrōnus as well as his amīcus, and we don’t exactly know how that happened. (Well, we will know eventually, but in narrative time we still don’t know.) An exploration of the differences between amīcitia and modern friendship will be really important at some point in the Tres Columnae stories, and your fables can be very helpful in that regard.
      4. Glad you enjoyed the style! 🙂 I remember being bitterly disappointed when I did Latin Prose Comp, multōs abhinc annōs … and I had to do it as an independent study course, because it wasn’t normally offered. I was hoping for an opportunity to write in Latin, and what I got was Bradley’s Arnold! 😦
      5. Thanks for the great fables about the dangers of militia! I know the one about the Asinus and Equus, but I hadn’t seen the one from Abstemius. What a nice little Stoic touch at the end of the moral! 🙂
      I think Maccia – or some other old friend of Caius’ – might well tell him at least one of those stories. I’m not sure whether Fabius, his old teacher, will survive the eruption or not; if he does, he might well tell such a story. Of course, for purposes of the plot, Caius does have to enlist in the end … but there’s no reason his choice has to be easy!

  2. Abstemius is such a delight; he wrote two “hecatomythia” and I have spent literally years looking for the second set and finally found it over winter break!!! What a thrill that was for me!

    You’ll like this, too – the very first time that I found an online edition of the first hecatomythia was in KNOXVILLE, in a hotel room, on one of our drives from Oklahoma to NC before we moved. I’ve now found lots of online editions of the first hecatomythium, but finding the second one was not easy! I finally dug it up in one of Nevelet’s big Aesop compendia.

    Of the 200 fables, I would guess around 150 or so will end up in my Ictibus Felicibus blog because they are both short (120 words or less) and fun. A few of them went on to be very widely repeated in the Renaissance and early modern Aesop collections. I just have to share with you my very favorite Abstemius fable, which made a huge impression on me ages ago when I first read a version of it in Krasicki’s Polish fables – the sad story of the ambitious wax!

    Cēra ingemiscēbat sē mollem et cuicumque levissimō ictū penetrābilem prōcreātam. Vidēns autem laterēs ex lutō multō molliōrī factōs in tantam dūritiem ignis calōre pervēnisse ut multa perdūrārent saecula, sē ēiēcit in ignem ut eandem dūritiem cōnsequerētur. Sed statim igne liquefacta cōnsumpta est.

    • It is definitely a small world, isn’t it? Of course, if you’re driving from Oklahoma to NC, or vice versa, Knoxville is a logical place to stop. I don’t have much occasion to get over there anymore (last time was a few years ago, for a high-school class reunion), but each time I do, I’m delighted by the positive changes I see.

      I’m glad you’ve found the other Abstemius collection; what fun! I love the fable of the wax and am trying to imagine how to incorporate it in Tres Columnae. Perhaps, at some point, poor Impigra the mouse should get tired of her husband’s pretensions (“it’s an apartment, not a mouse-hole! Holes are for ….!”) and tell it to him! 🙂


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