Examining the Story: culture and Culture, II

salvēte iterum, amīcī! As promised, this series of posts will include both your comments and my preliminary thoughts about the depiction of cultural and Cultural elements in the most recent story. In case you’d like to refresh your memory, it can be found here – and what do you think about a title? It certainly needs one … but I’m not coming up with anything good enough. 😦

Anyway, after I respond to your comments, we’ll look at such cultural aspects as

  • the characters (male, female, citizen, slave, human, and non-human) and the ways they relate to each other;
  • food and eating habits; and
  • geographic issues (specifically, the geography of Herculaneum as represented in the story).

Then, from the perspective of Culture, we’ll focus on

  • how the characters compare with equivalent characters in Roman literature and (in the case of the animals) in the fable and folktale tradition;
  • whether the relationships among social classes are depicted “accurately” (and what “accurately” means in this context);
  • how the characters exemplify untranslatable core Roman values like pietās and dignitās.

It looks like we’ll need to address comments, culture, and Culture in separate posts.

First, your comments.  Our faithful reader Seumas made a very good point about the danger of reverse sexual stereotyping:

While I applaud the need for strong female characters, here we run the risk of a reverse trope, and one becoming more common, in particular in advertising, that men are foolish and women in control. Not to imply anything about the rest of the stories, but if the only way to present strong female characters is at the expense of male characters, we have simply created a reverse sexism.

This was my response in case you haven’t read it:


You’re quite right about the danger of the reverse trope. I think you’ll see, as we look at additional stories, that there can be strong female characters without reverse sexism. Of course, once the Tres Columnae community begins to create its own stories, there will be a vast range of perspectives, some very pro-male, others very pro-female, and that should alleviate your concerns. But I certainly appreciate the note of caution.

I’ve now had two diametrically opposite comments about gender roles (one claiming that Tres Columnae was far too focused on male characters, and now this one). So I’d like to think that we’re on the right track in that regard. But what do you all think? quid respondētis, amīcī?

On another matter, our dear reader Randy had an important question about the historicity of these characters:

I am curious if any of these characters actually existed in Herculaneum (or nearby). My students “connect” much more if there is more “history” than “fiction” because it strikes them as more worthwhile. Even if it is only commenting on the architecture of the town, they like to construct possible scenarios that teach them about “real life” in the ancient cities.

Of course the details of individuals’ lives can rarely be pinpointed exactly, but the use of “real” people from the ancient world (regardless of how insignificant they are) helps students identify much more easily.

This was my response:


I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and I hope your students will, too.

As for the characters, these folks are fictional, but I would be glad to include some real Herculanean citizens, if only in supporting roles. Just by the nature of the site, we don’t have as many surviving names from there as we do from Pompeii. You’re right, though, the inclusion of “real” people is a big help.

On the whole, we seem to have less “stuff” (at least, “stuff” like names of citizens) from Herculaneum than from Pompeii, partly because so much of the site is under the modern-day town and partly because of how deep … and how hard … the covering is. Or is this impression erroneous? I’d love to know more about the real Herculaneum so we can incorporate more true, local flavor of the real town in the stories. I like our main characters as they are and don’t intend to replace them, but I’d be happy to rename them for actual citizens if that’s what the community wants. And in any case, I’d be glad to incorporate some real denizens of Herculaneum, or to give participants the opportunity to do so.  quid respondētis, amīcī?

One of the issues with historical fiction in general, of course, is “how historical” or “how fictional” it needs to be – a question with as many different answers as there are readers … and writers. Personally, I like stories where

  • the main characters are fictional;
  • subsidiary characters are historical; and
  • the author explains, perhaps in a foreword or afterword, how he/she mingled the fictional and historical elements.

That’s what I’ve aimed for with the drafts of the Tres Columnae stories.  But my voice shouldn’t be the only one in this conversation! 🙂

quid respondētis, amīcī et sodālēs?

  • Do you like my favorite kind of historical fiction?
  • Or do you prefer to have historical characters in major roles?
  • Should we go on an epigraphic expedition for names of real-live citizens of Herculaneum?
  • Or do you prefer fictional protagonists, with real-live characters in supporting roles?

The structure of the story need not change if you want real-live characters, but obviously the names might!

Tune in shortly for more about the cultural aspects of the story, and then for more about the Cultural ones.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. stories like this are very important in my oppinion because they make latin a speakable language.in my country unfortunatelly the text books didn t change since i finished the high school in1973.these present latin as a dead language good for knowing something of culture and art .but it is difficult to learn a language in which you have only texts from de bello gallico and other like these.i love latin and i am happy to find sites that prove the possibility to use latin as any other language.unffortunatelly now i am retired and i couldn t prove my ideas in a class.i thank you very much for your work as well as of other proffesors

    • Mimi,
      Sadly, it’s not only in your country that Latin textbooks change slowly … and teaching methods even slower! It’s so great to have your perspective. If you know any young people (or even older people) over there who would like to learn Latin as a real language, please send them our way!

      And thanks again for being part of this conversation! 🙂

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