Listening to Marginalized Voices

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take a closer, more analytic look at the story we developed over the past few days, in which we learn a lot more about two primary female characters:

  • Vipsānia Caeliī, mother of Prīma, Secunda, and bratty little Cnaeus, and
  • Caelia Valeriī, her sister-in-law, mother of Valeria, well-behaved Lūcius, and little Caeliōla.

We also get a hint or two about the characters of Vipsānia’s two ancillae, Dulcissima and Fēlīcissima, though they don’t play hugely important roles in this story. We’ll learn more about them later.

If you haven’t been following the story, you might want to look at

  • Tuesday’s blog post for Part I of the story, and Wednesday’s post for Part II, in which Vipsānia impulsively visits her sister-in-law (unannounced and uninvited!) to ask for her advice
  • Thursday’s post for Part III, Version A, in which Vipsānia almost understands Caelia’s advice about training children with patience rather than screams or threats; and
  • Friday’s post for Part III, Version B, in which Vipsānia definitely misunderstands Caelia’s advice … and frustrated Caelia plays a practical joke on her.

Or if you’d prefer, you can see Part I here, Part II here, Part III A here, and Part III B here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki. As always, we’d love to have your feedback about plot, vocabulary, syntax, or any other elements of the story that interest you.

Today, though, we’ll focus specifically.on the characters of Vipsānia and Caelia, and we’ll see whether we can use them as a window to greater understanding of the often-margnialized world of Roman women. In Monday’s post, at the beginning of this sequence, I noted (to my surprise!) how few stories so far had focused on the lives of Roman citizen women characters. We’ve had lots of stories about the men, the children, the animals, the servī, and even the ancillae, but not so many about the matrōnae. Since Mother’s Day is this weekend in the U.S. (tomorrow, in fact, as I write this post), it seemed like a good time to rectify the lack of attention we’d paid to matrōnae et mātrēs. Given what we know about the children of these two families, it seemed reasonable that Vipsānia and Caelia would be quite different; in fact, if you take a look at their pictures, as developed by our extremely talented illustrator Lucy M, you can probably see that she grasped their essential differences even before I did! I have to admit that Vipsānia was a tabula rasa to me for a long time; in fact, I hadn’t even decided on her name in some early drafts of the Tres Columnae metastory. Poor Vipsānia! Maybe she is the way she is because everybody, not just her author, treats her that way! 😦

The last time we took a story apart, looking to see how we might use it to explore aspects of Roman culture, several readers objected to the whole enterprise. Their point was that the story (about Rīdiculus the mouse and Sabīna the weasel) was a comedy (which it certainly is) and that, as a result, you couldn’t do serious analytical work with it. I obviously disagree with this conclusion – mostly because I’ve always been fascinated by the social messages implicit in comedies. I remember, as a child, watching reruns of I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, and the like in the afternoons and thinking how different their assumed social norms were (though I obviously didn’t have that terminology) from those of the era in which I lived. By contrast, I wasn’t all that interested in The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch at the time – they just reflected the world I did live in. It wasn’t until that world had changed, and I saw those shows again in a changed world, that I found them interesting. I had a similar response to “higher-quality” things like children’s books … the ones that were set in, or written in, another time were always more interesting than the ones about “here and now.” And the interest stayed with me as I studied the social roles in Plautine comedy (the subject of my undergraduate “integrative exercise” paper) … and even today, as I sometimes watch children’s comic shows on The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon with my favorite-and-only children, now 12 and 8. (Those shows are often set in a version of “here and now,” but it’s a youth-culture here-and-now and I no longer qualify as a youth!)

So, with this interest in the sociocultural implications of comedy, I set out to develop funny stories for the Tres Columnae project that could also be used as jumping-off points for more serious cultural analysis if you, the participant, want to go in that direction. Of course you don’t have to go in that direction, any more than you have to analyze the social-class dynamics at work in The Beverly Hillbillies. But if you do want to go in that direction, I wanted some interesting material to work with.

Specifically, in developing our current sequence of stories, I hope I’ve provided

  • two very different Roman women, each of whom may or may not be stereotypical in certain ways
  • two very different families, with obvious questions to consider about the relationship between the children’s characters and their parental models
  • complex and ambiguous characters who can’t be easily classified as good or bad even by the most black-and-white, concrete-operational preteen subscriber.

I’m curious to know what you think, both about these aims and about how well I’ve met them in this sequence of stories. quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • To what extent do Vipsānia and Caelia conform to stereotypic images of Roman womanhood?
  • To what extent do they challenge or subvert those images?
  • What patterns of influence can you see between the women and their children’s conduct and character?
  • To what extent have I succeeded at making Vipsānia and Caelia multidimensional and complex characterss? Or are they just inconsistent … or completely consistent and unsurprising?
  • And to what extent do you think that my goals of inverting stereotypes, exploring family dynamics, and dealing with complexity are appropriate for the Tres Columnae system?

Tune in on Monday for your answers and some more questions. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll continue our exploration of marginalized voices with more stories about servī et ancillae. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!


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  1. […] seems to be coming up empty.  Apparently there’s a reference to Piaget somewhere in this post from 2010, though.)  And yet I hadn’t made the connection between conventional moral reasoning and […]

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