Building a Story, Part III

salvēte, amīcī! In this post we’ll actually start to build the new story … or at least you’ll get to watch me build it. First, for the record, here’s the plot outline for Lectiō XI:

Setting: all three homes. Sisters make fun of boys for getting in trouble, with predictable results. Pets and (in Cnaeus’ case) farm animals are extremely amused. Valerius gives a dinner party to which Lollius and other clientēs are invited. It’s interrupted when Rīdiculus mūs, who lives prope culīnam, ventures per triclīnium, chased by Sabīna mustēla, pet of Valerius’ neighbors the Flaviī.

And, just so you know,

  • Cnaeus got in trouble at school: he tried to show off how much he knew, but he actually knew nothing. Fabius the teacher doesn’t normally beat students (he’s influenced by the theories of his cousin Fabius Quīntiliānus), but he might make an exception in this case. His paedagōgus, Nestor, was delighted to tell Cnaeus’ father Caelius exactly what happened … and this time, the punishment was not a visit from Fortunāta, bōs placida!
  • Caius did know the right answers, but was rude to Cnaeus. No one really minded this, but still! It wasn’t very respectful.
  • Lucius did not get in trouble at school, but he was hungry on the way home and went into a popīna, by himself, to get a snack. His paedagōgus, Odysseus, told Lucius’ father Valerius … and since Caius is too poor to have a paedagōgus, he also was sent, iussū Valeriī, to tell Caius’ father Lollius about Caius’ misbehavior at school.

Meanwhile, Valerius and Caelia are getting ready for a long-planned dinner party. They’ve invited some clientēs, including Lollius, and their neighbor Mānius Flavius Caesō, vir maximae dignitātis, who is distantly related to the Emperor (or perhaps to a lībertus Augustī; no one in town is exactly sure). In any case, their coquus, Gallicus, has been working all day on a very elaborate menu. It’s dinner time, and the delicious smells have reached the small hole where Rīdiculus mūs lives with his familia. They’ve also reached domus Flavia nearby, where Sabīna mustēla in peristyliō dormit….

As I started,

prope culīnam est …

And I have a problem. Is there a Latin word for a mouse-hole? If so, do I really want to

  • find it;
  • introduce it;
  • have students learn it; and then
  • never use it again?

If not, what other word might I use for the idea? How about cēnāculum? After all, we already know the word (having used it since Lectiō I), and to Rīdiculus and his familia, that’s what a mouse-hole would be. OK, then….

prope culīnam est cēnāculum minimum, ubi Rīdiculus mūs cum familiā habitat. Rīdiculus est mūs maximae calliditātis. cotīdiē ē cēnāculō suō audāx ambulat; cotīdiē cibum quaerit et invenit; cotīdiē incolumis revenit. Ferōx enim, canis Valeriī, est amīcus Rīdiculī; Ferōx Rīdiculum capere nōn vult.

(I paused a moment over incolumis, which may have to be formally introduced before this story can be read. On the other hand, it may show up in Lectiō X if one of the boys – Caius? – nōn vapulat. It can definitely stay here if it’s introduced there.  So, to continue, …)

in vīllā tamen proximā, ubit Flavius Caesō habitat, quoque habitat Sabīna mustēla. Sabīna Rīdiculum capere et ēsse valde vult. cotīdiē, ubi Rīdiculus cibum ad cēnāculum suum refert, Sabīna īrātissima susurrat, “istum mūrem necāre volō! istum mūrem caedere volō! istum mūrem cōnsūmere volō! istīus mūris ossa ….

(What does she want to do with the bones? Spit them out? Would that be exspuere? A quick visit to Glossa reveals that exspuo can, in fact, be used both transitively and intransitively. So…)

istīus mūris ossa exspuere volō! nōnne hic est diēs optimus?  nam dominus meus, ille Flavius Caesō, ipse in domō Valeriī hodiē cēnat.  nōnne iste mūs cibum capere vult?  et nōnne ego quoque cēnāre possum?”

(On re-reading, I realized we needed more character development for Sabīna, so I added the part from nōnne hic through cēnāre possum.)

Sabīna igitur ē vīllā Flaviī …

(What’s the appropriate motion word? ambulat doesn’t quite describe how weasels move. currit? But she’s probably more deliberate than that. contendit? She is deliberate, more so than she would be if she festīnat. rēpit? According to Glossa, it’s used of animals (including elephants, by Pliny, and “cranes slowly stalking,” by Ennius) … so, yes, rēpit would do nicely. Besides, she needs to move differently at different points in her journey.)

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit et per ….

(I doubt she’d go through the main street and come in the front door! Are there alleys in Herculaneum? If so, what’s the best word? Unfortunately Glossa doesn’t have an English-to-Latin lookup feature. Should it disturb me that, after nearly 30 years of learning Latin and almost 20 of teaching it, I don’t know the Latin word for alley? Even for Classicists who would restrict their Latin vocabulary to “words used by major authors,” there are some narrow streets in Book II of the Aeneid, not to mention Tacitus, so I’m sure I’ve seen the word for alley … if there is one. Should it disturb me that my vocabulary has such significant gaps? There’s a fascinating article about Roman roads … including types I never knew about … at but it doesn’t talk about city streets at all. Evidently there were alleys in Rome and Pompeii according to and which mentions the alleys in Subura. Bingo! Thanks to a message that our good friend Laura G sent to the Latinteach listserv a few days ago, I was reminded of the Lewis & Short dictionary at which turns up angiportus, used by Cicero and Plautus among others. What a logical and lovely word! And Glossa reminds me that postīcus or postīcum can be a backdoor as well as a back outbuilding. So….)

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit. Sabīna per postīcum ambulat et angiportum intrat. mustēla per angiportum ad domum Valeriī rēpit. Sabīna callida et …

(I want to say sneakily, perhaps using an adjective as a Roman would. Is there a word for that? Lewis & Short turns up dīrectārius, a sneak-thief, but it’s very rare. furtīvus can mean secretly or clandestinely, but the root meaning is stolen. Oh, of course … clam! But then we don’t need the et. So…)

Sabīna callida domum clam intrat et ad triclīnium tacitē rēpit.

intereā Valerius et Flavius triclinium intrant. Lollius et aliī clientēs quoque intrant. omnēs in lectīs recumbunt …

(Is lectus the right word for a dining couch? Yes, according to Glossa, citing Cicero, Horace, and Suetonius)

omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant. Milphiō et Gallicus ē culīnā …

(I started to say prōcēdunt, but that seems unnecessary. What’s the word, again, for the appetizer course at a Roman meal like this? reminds me that it’s gustātiō. Whatever did we do before there was the Internet? 🙂 And, anyway, I need to get the women and children in position before Milphio and Gallicus come in. They would not, presumably, be reclining, but sitting in chairs … if the children were there at all. Actually, by this time, I guess the women might be reclining with their husbands … but maybe not all of the women!)

omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant. Caelia, uxor Valeriī, et Maccia, uxor Lolliī, cum Ausōniā, Flaviī uxōre, quoque triclinium intrant. Caelia in sellā sedet. Maccia in sellā sedet. Ausōnia tamen iuxtā marītum in lectō recumbit. “heus!” susurrat Maccia. “quid facit ista fēmina?” “nōlī tē vexāre, mea Maccia,” respondet Caelia. “nam in urbe Romā fēminae iuxtā marītōs in lectīs recumbere solent.”

“fortasse tālēs rēs in urbe Romā accidunt,” respondit Maccia attonita, “sed in hāc urbe nōn decet –”

(I really want an opportunity to explore gender roles here, and I thought it would be a nice touch to include a conservative, working-class voice in contrast to the aristocratic and innovative Flavius and Ausonia. Imagine how scandalized “respectable” Roman women must have been when other women started reclining for meals! With their husbands! In front of other men!)

We’re close to the climax now, but we’re also close to my self-imposed word limit. So the climax and denouement will have to wait for our next post. Tune in soon for that!


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Justin, as a connoisseur of things animalesque, I can tell you that a mouse has a cavus or an antrum. I know this instantly from one of my very favorite proverbs, which you can find in various forms:

    Miser est mus antro qui clauditur uno.
    Muri nulla salus cui pervius est cavus unus.

    You can also find the use latebra used (although that has some different connotations) or latibulum. You’ll also find foramen, or mice living in rimae. But I would guess that a word like “cavus” could actually be useful vocabulary, right? It’s the one I would pick for vocabulary usefulness.

    For incolumis, salvus would work great, too! It’s a word that might be easier, because of the English cognate.

    I’m not much of a proofreader, but I did notice one typo: ubi(t) Flavius Caeso habitat

    You are braver than I am about esse – I almost always say devorare or something like that, to avoid the dreaded confusion of esse and esse! 🙂

    The personality of the mustela seems perfect: her obsessive hissing fits in perfectly with the crazy weasel in Aesop who licks the file until her tongue bleeds, and then tasting the blood, keeps on licking. OUCH. Anyway, that amplification of her thoughts is such a great way to develop her character AND to explore vocabulary in a very safe way, as the thoughts echo one another very clearly.

    I could barely restrain myself here – if the climax is going to involve the weasel’s advent in the dining room, that is the perfect occasion to tell the story of mustela in feminam mutata, because the climax of that story is exactly a weasel chasing a mouse at a party – a wedding party, to be precise… but I think it will work!

    • In future editions of the story, and in other stories where he appears, I think Ridiculus Mus will (rather pompously) refer to his antrum / cavus as a cenaculum – and everyone around him will laugh appropriately. You may have noticed that he’s a bit vain! You’re right, cavus is easier etymologically, but antrum has the nice Vergilian connections.

      I’m fond of incolumis, but you’re right, salvus would also be great. We could, of course, use both, and have an exercise where learners explored the different connotations.

      Yes, I found that typo too … and another one where I mistakenly gave Ridiculus his original name of Rapidus. In that case, though, it may make sense to keep the Rapidus (in lower-case) as one of those adjectives-that-you-can’t-translate-that-way that Romans loved so much.

      I thought about devorare, but I think it’s important to go ahead and deal with the esse / ēsse distinction early on.

      Glad you liked Sabina’s personality; the more I thought about her, the more it seemed right. And yes, as you now know, you’ve correctly predicted the climax. I think it’s funny in that regard that there is such a fable, since one comment on a subsequent post complains that a weasel chasing a mouse into a dining room is totally unrealistic! It may be unrealistic, but at least it’s fabulous! 🙂

  2. […] the process in detail in a series of posts beginning with this one, continuing with this one and this one, and ending with this one,  and then analyzed the story extensively, with a lot of feedback from […]

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