A Story with Impersonals

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs! As promised, today we’ll look at the first real story, in Lectiō XI of Cursus Prīmus of Tres Columnae, where verba modī inpersōnālis are used.  Please keep in mind that by the time you reach Lectiō XI, as a Tres Columnae participant, you will “know about”

  • Most noun forms (other than datives), singular and plural, of all 5 declension patterns;
  • Present indicative active verbs (all persons and numbers) of what Romans would call the genera actīva, neutra, et dēpōnentia (we would say active voice – transitive and intransitive – and deponents); and
  • A bit about adjectives and demonstratives.

At the beginning of the Lectiō, we learn that Lucius’ family is planning a trip to Pompeii to see a gladiator fight in honor of Emperor Vespasian’s dead wife Domitilla.  Lucius invites his friend Caius, and his sister invites Caius’ sister Lollia.  Caius’ bratty cousin Cnaeus will not be allowed to attend (he did something unspeakable, as usual), although his parents and two sisters are planning to go.  The children are excited, as you might expect, but Caius is a bit apprehensive … and he’s a very serious young student.

Fabius puerōs dīmittit. “valēte, discipulī meī,” inquit lūdī magister. “mementōte, discipulī: trēs iam diēs sine ludō sunt.”

ā puerīs vehementer clāmātur. “eugepae! eugepae! trēs diēs!” Cāius tamen, “mī Fabī,” inquit, “cūr trēs diēs?”

“mī Cāī,” respondet Fabius, “nōnne rem memoriā tenēs? trēs diēs omnēs cīvēs Rōmānī mortem Domitillae, uxōris Imperātōris Vespāsiānī nostrī, commemorant. nōnne ad urbem Pompēiōs hodiē venītur? nōnne spectāculum vidēre vīs? nōnne in amphitheātrō sedēre vīs?”

“certē, mī Fabī,” respondet Cāius. Lūcius Cāium manū prēnsat et “ō mī amīcissime Cāī,” exclāmat, “ad urbem Pompēiōs mēcum venītur! quam laetus et fortūnātus sum, quod cum amīcō meō celebrātur et spectātur!”

Cnaeus tamen īnsolēns, “Cāī pauperrime,” susurrat, “nōnne fortūnātus es quod spectācula grātīs vidēre potes?”

ā Cāiō ērūbēscitur, sed nōn respondētur. Lūcius tamen nihil audit, quod laetē garrītur. “et, mī Cāī, in urbe Pompēiīs cum avunculō meō manētur! in urbe Pompēiīs optimē cēnātur! in urbe Pompēiīs sunt tabernae optimae, et forum maximum, et templa pulcherrima.” Lūcius et Cāius ē ludō ēgrediuntur. per viās ad domum Valēriī festīnātur. Odysseus paedagōgus puerōs comitātur.

Cnaeus tamen trīstis et īrātus per viās lentē prōcēdit. “heus! Nestōr!” exclāmat īnsolēns. Nestor paedagōgus celeriter, “quid vīs, domine?” respondet. “cūr ā nōbīs ad urbem Pompēiōs nōn venītur?” rogat ille. “cūr in istā vīllā rūsticā manētur?”

“mī domine,” respondet Nestōr sollicitus, “nōnne rem memōriā tenēs? nonne pater tuus īrātus est quod tū saepe –”

“ō servum īnsolentissimum!” exclāmat Cnaeus īrātus, “cūr audāx mē vituperās? cūr istam rem commemorās? nōnne tē vehementer verberāre dēbeō? tacē, pessime et īnsolentissime serve, tacē!”

Nestōr attonitus statim tacet. per viās urbis prōgreditur; ā Cnaeō tacitē lacrimātur.   “cūr nēmō mē amat?  cūr nēmō mē invītat?” sēcum susurrat.  Nestōr tamen, quamquam rem perītē intellegit, nihil respondet.  “ō puerum īnsolentem!” sēcum susurrat.  “nēmō Cnaeum amat, quod Cnaeus pestis pessimus est!”

You can probably imagine the comprehension questions … and the forms-analysis questions … and the transformation exercises … and the writing prompts. You’ll see them in a few weeks when these Lectiōnēs are up and running at www.trescolumnae.com/wiki in any case.

quid tamen respondētis, amīcissimī?

  • What do you think of the story, first of all?
  • What do you suppose Cnaeus did?!! It must have been pretty terrible, since
    • he doesn’t want to talk about it;
    • he screams at Nestor for bringing it up; and
    • he’s not allowed to go to the gladiator fight – evidently as punishment for whatever-it-was!  Could his father still be angry about the cow incident? 🙂
  • What do you think of the characterization of the three boys, and of the other minor characters? (Yes, there are stories about the girls in this Lectiō, too … and about the animals, of course.)
  • And what do you think of the incorporation of the inpersōnālis?

I used to think they were “relatively rare” in surviving Latin, probably because they were introduced so late (if at all) in “traditional” grammar-translation textbooks and in reading-method textbooks. But then I started reading some Roman history … and there they were! All over the place!

I’m reminded of other “fairly rare” forms – things that are “hard to translate,” so “saved for later,” like the future passive infinitive or the supine. Again, when you actually read any amount of Latin, there they are! All over the place!

I don’t want to say too much about the recent distressing thread on the Latinteach listserv about the amount of Latin that many Classicists read regularly … I can only speak for myself, and have to say that it’s really difficult to find time, especially during the school year. But, on the other hand, our learners are constantly reading Latin texts that are new to them. So shouldn’t we be models for them? I’m reminded, again, of my colleague the math teacher and her comment: “How often do we solve unfamiliar problems in front of our students? But we expect them to solve unfamiliar problems all the time!”

Anyway, please tune in next time for more about passives … and then, later in the week, we’ll look at subjunctives, supines, and other “hard” or “uncommon” things. Of course, they actually show up all the time, too, and they’re not very hard as long as

  • the focus is on the Latin rather than the terminology
  • the focus is on understanding rather than “translating to understand.”

And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming!


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