Cnaeus and the Cow, A Pluperfect Story

salvēte, amīcī! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember this post from back in January. It’s the one where young Cnaeus Caelius refuses to get out of bed until, at last, his mother (and his nurse Planesium) go to the barn to get Fortūnāta, the cow. But until today, you haven’t known exactly how they used Fortūnāta to punish Cnaeus and make him get up. Nor, for that matter, will Tres Columnae participants know! 🙂 All they’ll know is that Cnaeus shows up at school, in the next Lectiō, with slightly dirty clothes and a very bad attitude. But, with this story, you – and they – will finally learn the truth.

I deliberately saved the resolution of the “cow story” until now for several reasons. First, and probably most important, I needed to know how the story would end. Second, I did want to build interest and engagement, and postponing the resolution of a story is one way to do that. Third, I wanted the story to be retold, as a past event, and I really wanted to be able to use all four of the verb tenses we’ve learned by Lectiō XXII.

Once I realized how the story should end, it also seemed quite reasonable to have it told in the theater, and to contrast it with the comic play that our friends are about to watch. It wouldn’t be possible to enact this story in a Roman New Comedy, or in the Greek plays on which they were modeled, for several reasons … unity of time and place, for one, and the whole issue of props and costumes, for another. But the most important action in such plays often occurs offstage, and is described by other characters. Those features of New Comedy – and the Romans’ liking for physical comedy, and the tastes of our potential audience – all suggested when and how we should resolve the story. If you don’t care for slapstick, I hope you’ll forgive us! 🙂 And, in that case, you might enjoy the character development anyway.  By the end of this story, we know a lot more about the Caelius family.

So picture the illustrations, and imagine the audio:

āctōrēs in theātrō fābulam Plautī agere parant. spectātōrēs in theātrō sedent et fābulam exspectant. in orchēstrā Caelius, vir maximae pecūniae, sedet et rīdet. iuxtā Caelium Valerius cum Lūciō et Cāiō sedet. Fabius, magister puerōrum, quoque adest, quod Caelius eī dōnum optimum nūper dedit. iuxtā Fabium Cnaeus trīstis et īrātus scaenam spectat. Flavius Caesō quoque adest; Sabīna tamen mustēla domī manet.

“ubi sunt istī āctōrēs?” rogat Cnaeus īnsolēns. “cūr fābulam nōn agunt? cūr nōs ita impediunt?”

nēmō Cnaeum audit, quod Valerius et Fabius cum Flaviō Caesōne contentiōnem habent. “nōnne, mī amīce,” rogat Valerius, “haec Plautī fābula est optima? nōnne Plautus ipse optimus poētārum erat?”

Flavius Caesō tamen, “quid? Plautus?” attonitus rogat. “nōnne antīquissimus omnium poētārum, sed haudquāquam optimus est ille? fortasse, mī amīcī, urbem Romam numquam vīsitāvistis. fortasse tragoediās illīus Annaeī Senecae numquam spectāvistis. certē Seneca est optimus poētārum. etiam istum Imperātorem Nērōnem īnsānum tragoediae Senecae valdē dēlectāvērunt!”

Fabius “quid? Seneca? īnsānīs, mī amīce!” incipit. Cnaeus tamen īnsolentissimus interpellat, “heu! vae! mē taedet fābulārum et contentiōnum!”

Caelius attonitus fīlium neque castīgat neque verberat. “ō mī fīlī,” respondet, “nōnne rēs gestae tuae sunt fābulae optimae? nōnne tū semper contentiōnēs habēs? cūr tē taedet tālium rērum?”

Cnaeus attonitus tacet. tum Lūcius, “ō mī avuncule,” inquit, “fortasse hanc rem explicāre potes. nōnne, ubi ad urbem prīmā lūdī diē advēnerat Cnaeus, togam sordidam gerēbat? nōnne lacrimābat et paedagōgum vituperābat? quid eī acciderat?” “tē crūciāre possum, Lūcī,” susurrat Cnaeus īrātissimus. “nōlī istam diem commemorāre!”

Caelius tamen, “ō mī Lūcī, fābulam optimam quaeris. iste consōbrīnus tuus in lectō manēbat, quamquam māter nūrusque eum identidem vocāverant. tandem uxor mihi rem nārrāvit. ego, quod vir benignus sum, fīlium verberāre, nōn necāre volēbam. māter tamen poenās multō meliōrēs in animō habēbat.”

Cnaeus īrātissimus et miserrimus, “ō pater, quaesō, istam rem nē commemorēs! quaesō, amābō tē!”  exclāmat. Caelius tamen, fīliī verbōrum neglegēns, haec addit rīdēns.

“Maccia mea cum nurū Planesiō ad stabulum contendit ubi Fortūnāta, bōs nostra, contenta et tacita stābat. nōnne illae sorōrēs Cnaeī iam ad iānuam cubiculī contenderant, rem tōtam spectātum? Maccia et Planesium, quandō Fortūnātam ē stabulō per tōtam vīllam duxerant, tandem ad cubiculum Cnaeī pervēnērunt. mūgīvit Fortūnāta, quod ē stabulō exīre nōlēbat. tōtam per vīllam Fortūnāta mūgiēbat et resistēbat.

“tum Maccia, ‘mī fīlī,’ rogāvit, ‘nōnne surgere dēbēs? nōnne etiam nunc surgis et vestīmenta induis?’

“Cnaeus tamen īnsolenter respondit et in lectō etiam tum manēbat. Maccia igitur Fortūnātam in cubiculum impulit. Fortūnāta, quod ē stabulō exīre nōluerat, identidem mūgiēbat! nōnne pavimentum erat sordidissimum, quod –

Cnaeus tandem interpellat, “hercle! num optima est fābula? nōnne pessima et foeda? sed nōnne fābulam ipse nārrāre dēbeō? ista bōs in cubiculum irrūperat et lectum meum ēverterat. ego attonitus et fessissimus in lutum cecidī. vehementer exclāmāvī quod perterritus eram. nōnne fīnis est fābulae?”

Caelius autem, “ō mī fīlī, haudquāquam fīnis est. num lutum erat in pavimentō? num lutum est nōmen vērum? vōs tamen plānē intellegitis! Cnaeus tamen, postquam surrēxit, bovem identidem percussit. subitō lacrimāvit et ad pavimentum iterum cecidit. bōs enim attonita et īrāta Cnaeō pedem trūserat.”

“et tū, pater crūdēlissime,” susurrat Cnaeus, “postquam mē verberāvistī, coēgistī mē pavimentum lavāre. nōnne lutum in tunicā et togā haeserat? nōnne ista bōs mē miserrimum reddiderat? nīmīrum lacrimābam et paedagōgum vituperābam! num mē reprehenditis? nōnne mātrem, nūrum, sorōrēs pūnīre dēbēbās?”

Lūcius tamen iterum iterumque rīdet. Cāius quoque cachinnat. tum Cnaeus, “sed cūr rīdētis?” inquit. “nōnne haec fābula est optima tragoediārum? nōnne multō melior quam Senecae?”

Valerius et Fabius adeō rīdent ut vix respondēre possint. tandem Fabius, “ō Cnaeum miserrimum! nihil intellegis! nōnne haec fabula est cōmoedia optima? nōnne pater tuus est cōmoedus optimus?”

et Valerius, “minimē, mī Fabī,” respondet, “nōnne mulier nūrusque bōsque sunt cōmoedae optimae!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • It seems that the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks have memorable stories … ones that, once read, their students never forget! And they often involve comic violence or accidents … broken statues, wrecked carts, and angry teachers with large sticks, for example! How have we done in comparison with them?
  • Of course, if you hate the story, you have a lot more power than the user of a traditional textbook.  As a Tres Columnae subscriber, if you hate a story, you can always choose to
    • rewrite it in a way that you like better;
    • write something completely different;
    • omit it;
    • write nasty comments about it; or even
    • urge us to remove it completely, and start a petition to do so, if you’d like.
  • Regardless of how you feel about the story, what do you think of its use of verb tenses? Do they “work” for you, and do they illustrate the aspectual points we made earlier this week?
  • And if you do like the story, do you want to try to illustrate it … or to make an audio version … or to film it? As a Tres Columnae participant, you’ll have that right; in fact, we’ll expect and encourage you to do so.

But how will the illustrations, audio, video, and additional stories become part of the project? And is it really true that anyone will be able to contribute? If so, how can we possibly ensure the accuracy and quality of submissions? Tune in next time, when we’ll look at these issues and the various types of subscriptions that will be available for the Tres Columnae project. And in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.


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