Introducing Aspect, IV, Another Story

salvēte iterum, amīcī et sodālēs – et inimīcī novī iam legentēs! I hope there aren’t too many inimīcī as a result of the last post, but I want to be very clear: Tres Columnae is not, at its heart, “about” translating Latin into English. We’re not opposed to translation; it’s just not our primary focus.  Here’s our perspective in a nutshell:

  • Translation is a reasonable tool, but one that has been significantly overused in our profession for a very long time, along with English (or other L1) discussions of Latin grammar and the use of nineteenth-century English (or other L1) “grammar” terminology to analyze the construction of a Latin passage.
  • We think of the old saying, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” There’s nothing wrong with the hammer, per se, but it isn’t the only tool you need!
  • In the same way, translation, L1 discussion, and L1 terminology have their place, but they aren’t the only tools you need, either.
  • Since “everybody” (by which I mean the vast majority of the Latin and Classics community) already knows how to use those tools, we aim to show you how to use some other tools, too. And we think you’ll find it a lot easier to cut things with a saw, for example, than with that hammer of yours. 🙂 But we don’t want you to start driving nails with your new saw … depending on how you hold it, that could be extremely painful for you!

Anyway, in today’s post, we’ll be looking at our first real story that uses present, imperfect, and perfect tense verbs together. If you’re reading this “live,” you know that I wrote it in late winter or early spring, “real world” time. In narrative time, though, today’s story takes place a bit earlier in the year, during the feast of Parentālia in mid-February. As the Wikipedia article reminds us, this is the festival during which Romans commemorate (and celebrate, and proptiate) the spirits of their ancestors, the Larēs and the dī parentēs.

By contrast, later in the year, in mid May, Valerius and his family will celebrate the Lemurālia or Lemuria, casting black beans over their shoulders at midnight and clanging bronze pots together in order to feed – and scare away – the “restless” or unfriendly spirits of the unknown, unhonored, and unburied dead. We plan to have a story about that, too, and about the other major (and not-so-major) Roman festivals. There will obviously be a lot for our participants to say in the Continuing Virtual Seminar about burial customs – and about views of the afterlife!

Anyway, some time has passed since everyone returned home from the races (and the negotiations) in Milan. Plans are underway for the wedding of Valeria and Vipsanius, which will take place later in the year, much to the continuing disgust of her little brother Lucius. Valerius, the paterfamiliās, is a sentimental soul and will be telling a lot of old family stories; hence the need for the additional tenses. Of course, as for all Tres Columnae stories, there will be at least one illustration per paragraph, and there will be an audio version for you to listen to as many times as you’d like.

So, if you will, imagine the audio and illustrations for this story:

diēs Parentālia adest. hodiē omnēs Rōmānī sacrificia et vōta dīs parentibus offerunt. “dī parentēs,” inquiunt, “sī nihil laudis, nihil precum, nihil cibī accipiunt, saepe īrāscuntur et neglegentēs pūniunt. necesse est nōbīs poenās deum parentum vītāre!”

proximā igitur nocte Valerius ipse multās horās vigilābat, quod sacrificia parābat. hodiē māne, ante hōram prīmam, Valerius ē lectō surrēxit et ad ātrium festīnāvit. Caelia quoque per tōtam noctem vigilābat, quod precēs dīs parentibus offerēbat. nunc hora prīma est. Caelia in cubiculō dormit, quod fessissima est. Valerius nunc in ātriō stat.

imāginēs māiōrum in ātriō pendent. prope imāginēs stat larārium, ubi Valerius et Caelia larēs adōrāre solent. Valerius prope larārium stat et imāginēs māiōrum spectat. Valerius imaginem patris suī spectat et precēs lacrimāsque effundit.

Valeria et Lūcius, postquam vōcem patris audīvērunt, sollicitī ē cubiculīs exeunt et ad ātrium celeriter festīnant. Caeliōla, ubi pater lacrimāre coepit, in cubiculō suō cum Medūsā lūdēbat. puella attonita canem in cubiculō relinquit et ad ātrium celeriter festīnat. līberī ātrium ūnā intrant et, “pater cārissime, quid agis?” rogant. Valeria patrem amplectitur et “ō mī pater, nōlī lacrimāre,” inquit. “num trīstis es? num tē offendimus?”

Valerius, quī vehementer lacrimābat, adventum līberōrum haud cognōvit. nunc tamen, postquam vōcem fīliae audīvit, lacrimās retinet et “ō Valeria dulcissima, nōlī timēre,” respondet. “lacrimō quod memor patris meī cārissimī sum. nōnne vōbīs saepe dē patre meō, illō Mārcō Valeriō, anteā fābulās nārrāvī? nōnne pater meus hōs quīnque annōs cum dīs mānibus est? nōnne decōrum est mihi patrem commemorāre et flēre? et nōnne mē decet mātrem aliōsque māiōrēs commemorāre?”

Lūcius nihil respondet, quod ipse lacrimat. Valeria quoque tacet et lacrimat. Lūcius enim, ubi avus periit, trēs annōs nātus est, Valeria septem. avus Valeriam et Lūcium saepe laudābat, rārō pūniēbat. avum vīvum Valeria et Lūcius valdē dīligēbant; mortuum iam meminērunt. ab omnibus lacrimātur et flētur. Caeliōla quoque, etiamsī nāta nōn erat ubi periit avus, lacrimās piās cum vōtīs effundit.

tandem omnēs lacrimāre cessant et precēs dīs pārentibus adhibent. Valeria flōrēs in hortō quaerit. Lūcius panem cum vīnō et sale ē culīnā fert. Caeliōla patrem amplectitur et ad cubiculum revenit. Valerius, postquam līberōs suōs laudāvit et omnia sūmpsit, ad sepulcra parentum ambulat.

And you can probably imagine the types of questions (both for comprehension and for cultural connections and comparisons) that will follow this story. As for grammatical analysis, picture some questions like these:

(for the second paragraph)

utrum Valerius semel an identidem vigilat?

You, as a learner, answer identidem. If you choose the wrong answer, you get an explanation like this one:

Look more closely at the sentence. There are actually two clues that should have led you to choose identidem. Can you see them?

If you choose “no,” there follows a sequence where we highlight

  • multās horās – this obviously took a while
  • vigilābat – this is a verbum temporis praeteritī inperfectī. It also shows that Valerius’ lack of sleep was continuing or ongoing.

Then, of course, there’s a similar question:

utrum Caelia precēs semel an indentidem offert?

And there’s a similar path of explanations for wrong answers. And then there are questions like

utrum Valerius semel an identidem ē lectō surgit?

In this case, if you don’t choose semel, the explanation looks like this:

Look more closely at the sentence. There are actually two clues that should have led you to choose semel. Can you see them?

If you choose “no,” there follows a sequence where we highlight

  • hodiē māne, ante prīmam hōram – this is a single point in time
  • surrēxit – this is our old friend, a verbum temporis praeteritī perfectī. It shows that the action was completed in the past.

And, of course, there will also be some questions where you just have to identify the tempus of the verb, or change a verb from one tempus to another.

quid respondētis, amīcī – et inimīcī iam legentēs, sī adestis?

  • First, what do you think of the story itself? We’re aiming to highlight a couple of things that make Romans very different from many twenty-first century readers: the open expression of emotion and the views and beliefs about the afterlife. How did we do?
  • Do you think that readers would be sympathetic with all this emotion, or do you think they’d be annoyed by it?
  • Second, what do you think of the shifting verb tenses? Do they “work” in the context of the story? Do they make sense to you? And, more important, do you think they’ll make sense to the learners?
  • Finally, what do you think of the morphology-focused exercises – especially the questions with semel and identidem, which will both be familiar vocabulary items by the time of this Lectiō?
    • If you’ve always thought that “translation is essential,” are you starting to see some ways that translation can be postponed, but understanding – and even grammatical analysis – can still happen?
    • And, if you do want your learners to translate at some point (which is perfectly fine with me if you do!), can you see how translations would actually be improved if they’re postponed until after the learner has good comprehension and good analysis of the passage?
  • In other words, am I beginning to “sell” translation fans on the idea that, if used, translation might be better as a summative rather than a preliminary task? Of course, Dexter Hoyos, in his rules for reading Latin, says much the same thing … and more eloquently than I ever could. But sometimes it’s helpful to see for yourself as well as to hear from the experts.
  • As for you “no-translation” fans, what do you think of our approach to tense and aspect … and to comprehension?

Tune in next time for your responses, and for a sequence where we’ll introduce the pluperfect tense. And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting reading, as ever!

    Is the contrast between semel and identidem exactly what you want to convey here? If you are asking whether Valerius “was awake” just once or over and over, it seems that he was awake once, but for a long time! He didn’t keep waking up. Could you have a contrast between “breviter” and “diu”? Or “tunc” and “diu”? (Can you use TUNC for “at that point”?) The semel/identidem contrast works better for praying … whether Caelia prayed just once or over and over makes sense. Somehow we want to convey the question “Are we thinking of him/her doing this at a point or as an ongoing activity?” I’ve recently read it described as the difference between (say) “tertia hora” [tertia hora vigilavit?] and “tres horas” [tres horas vigilabat]. How to put that into a test question? quando as opposed to quam diu … ??

    I was really startled by the arrangement of aspects/tenses in the verbs and had to reread several times to get the sense. I don’t remember ever reading a Latin text with this kind of sequencing. To me “postquam” with a perfect, followed by a present, sounds unnatural; I would expect both to be present. But I can’t cite chapter and verse either way.

    On the emotional issue, I think my 6th graders won’t like it, but they might well be stirred to discussion by it. And they will like the kindly grandfather.

    • Ann,
      Grātiās maximās, ut semper! I think you’re right about Valerius’ sleepless night: breviter vs. diū is a better contrast than semel and identidem (he probably only woke up one time, but just couldn’t get back to sleep, so semel vs. identidem is quite ambiguous). I’ll take another look at that problematic postquam and see if we can make it sound more natural. The issue may be that we’re still using narrative presents for “stuff” that (for our purposes) is happening “now,” in real time, as we watch it.

      I don’t think my high-school students will like this story, either … especially if they’ve lost loved ones. But I do hope to stir some discussion of the differences between Roman and “modern” attitudes toward mourning … and I also hope my rather diverse students will find that “modern” attitudes about grieving aren’t monolithic, either. We may just meet the ghost of the kindly grandfather in a later story, and we’ll certainly hear some more stories about him along the way.

  2. […] haven’t featured until now except in a few posts, like this one from February and this one from early March, about the grammatical elements. As I mentioned then, I deliberately postponed the introduction of […]

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