Another Virtual Seminar, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue with our series of posts about Continuing Virtual Seminars for Lectiō Undecima, as we explore the responses our fictional subscriber John might make to the seminar he chose about slavery in the Roman world. We’ll also take a look at one of the Virtual Seminars he didn’t choose – the one about moral lessons from fables.

In an amazing example of “face to face” and online life converging, one of my Latin I students raised a very similar issue during class yesterday. I also had a short conversation with some of my Latin II students, who wish the other members of their class were more willing and able to participate in seminars. As I look at this small, definitely unscientific sample, it seems that I’m right about Tres Columnae’s real target audience, today’s Latin learners and potential Latin learners. They’re definitely interested in the bigger picture; they love to create and share all kinds of things with each other; and they deeply appreciate it when someone takes the time to look at their unique, personal learning needs. Unfortunately, they’re also suspicious of formal, organized learning environmnents like schools: so often, it seems, they’ve felt mistreated, unappreciated, or dehumanized by dreadful experiences in the institutions that should be putting them first.

Perhaps that’s why young John (if he were real) chose the seminar about slavery, and perhaps that’s why some of my face-to-face students are so fascinated by, and so eager to discuss, the lives of Roman slaves. Consciously or not, they feel demeaned and depersonalized in a factory-model school environment, so they empathize with others (servī et ancillae in our Big Three reading-method textbook or in the Tres Columnae stories) who are similarly treated. When we get to the fable seminar, we’ll find some interesting connections there, too, especially as we consider things from the perspectives of the lower-status animals in the fables.

Anyway, back to young John, who has chosen the Roman slavery seminar, reviewed a suggested list of Tres Columnae stories, and followed a couple of links to articles about slavery in the Roman world. He’s now considering the Opening question, which he’ll have to answer before he can “enter the seminar room” and participate in the Core conversation. You may recall from yesterday that the opening question says:

Slavery, by its nature, is a horrible system; it dehumanizes both the slave and the slave-owners. But are there degrees of horror? On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is “just a bit horrible” and 10 is “unbelievably horrible,” where would you rank the Roman system of slavery?  Or would you say that “degrees of horrible” aren’t actually possible?

As John considers his answer, he realizes that this deceptively simple question is, in fact, fraught with peril. In fact, he wishes he didn’t have to respond to it at all! After all, how on earth can you possibly rate any thing horrible on a “degrees of horrible” scale? Things are either horrible or not – how could you possibly claim something was more or less horrible than something else? His first thought had been “4 or 5, because it’s not race-based like slavery in the U.S. Before the Civil War, and because it’s possible for slaves to get set free and even become wealthy sometimes.” But as he thinks about it, he imagines all the “unlucky” servī who didn’t get set free … the ones who died in the mines, or who were sold by their family to pay a debt. John is still thinking that, in some ways, Roman slavery was “less horrible,” but he’s starting to realize that “less horrible” is still pretty horrible.

After a lot of thought, John goes ahead with his response but adds one point: “I’m not sure if there are degrees of horrible.” He enters the Virtual Seminar and finds that this issue – degrees of horrible – is actually one of the key questions on which participants have been focusing.

Meanwhile, here’s an outline of the Virtual Seminar that John did not choose – the one about moral lessons in fables.

Opening: Why do you suppose Fabius might have chosen asinus in pelle leonis as the fable of the day?


  1. What are some other appropriate fables with similar morals?
  2. Do you think Quintus Flavius would have been able to hear those morals more easily?
  3. Some scholars of folklore say that fables have two different morals – or different levels of morals – one for the privileged classes and one for the oppressed, perhaps depending on which character in the fable you most identify with. So, which character in asinus in pelle leōnis do you find most appealing – the master or the donkey? Why?
  4. What character traits (or details of the situation) caused you to identify more with the character you chose?
  5. What are some conclusions you might draw about yourself from the character you identified with?
  6. What moral did you derive from the story?
  7. What are some possible morals that a person might derive if they identified with the other character – the one that you did not find appealing?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • We haven’t had a lot of comments recently, and I’m not sure if that’s because you’re all exhausted at this difficult time of year, or if you find Virtual Seminars unappealing, or if they’re just foreign to your experience. Please let me know … if you, the Tres Columnae community, don’t want Virtual Seminars as an option, we certainly don’t have to offer them.
  • Do you want more stories, more sample exercises, more theoretical posts? Just let me know and I’ll be glad to focus on what you’re most interested in.

As I looked over the recent posts, I noticed that we’ve had a lot of stories and situations that focused on male characters recently. Of course, our female characters – and the issues about women’s roles in Roman society – are also very important to us. So next week’s posts will focus on them, and yes, there will be at least one new story. 🙂

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus! Please keep those comments and emails coming.

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