Servi et Ancillae, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we turn from the horrible fate of Dulcissima, Fēlīcissima, Ūtilis, Planēsium, and their children to the even more horrible fate of slaves working in a fullonica. As bad as the life of a servus was in a Roman familia, imagine how much worse it would be to be a servus in an industrial or agricultural operation! Your master, if present at all, need not even know your name, and he’s even more likely to see you as “equipment with voices” (to quote a memorable translation of a bit from Cato the Elder’s dē agrī cultūrā). Yes, it would be horrible to work in the fields on a huge estate, and yes, dying in a Roman mine would be horrible. But for some reason, the idea of standing all day in, um, Roman bleach, treading on people’s clothes, seems particularly horrible to me … and I know it does to my face-to-face students as well.

I had a real struggle with this story because Gellius fullō, a new character, tried to take over as I was writing it. In the first version, no one else came into the shop, and the poor slave … but I’m getting ahead of myself. Check out the story and see what you think of this version:

in īnsulā Valeriī habitat Gellius fullō cum uxōre et quattuor līberīs. Gellius fullonicam parvam prope Forum urbis Herculāneī tenet. in fullonicā labōrant octō servī. necesse est illīs miserrimīs per tōtam diem in ūrīnā et aquā stāre. “quandō vestēs sunt sordidae, nihil melius est quam ūrīna,” Gellius dīcere solet. “ūrīna enim sōla vestēs pūrās et candidās reddit.” Gellius servōs saepe castīgat, quod lentē labōrāre et saepe vomere solent. “heus! servī ignāvissimī! cūr vomitis?” exclāmat et servōs vehementer verberat. “vōbīs labōrandum, nōn vomendum est! nōnne servīs ignāvissimīs pereundum est, sī in urīnā ipsā vomunt et vestēs sordidās reddunt?”

hodiē Casina, ancilla Valeriī, ad fullonicam contendit trēs togās purgātum. Casina prope fullonicam consistit et “heus! odōrem horribilem!” exclāmat. “dīs gratiās maximās agō, quod in vīllā, nōn fullonicā mihi labōrandum est. vīta servōrum est dūra, dūrissima tamen servōrum quī in fullonicā labōrant!”

Casina fullonicam intrat et, “domine Gellī,” clāmat, “Valerius, dominus meus, trēs togās tibi mittit. nōnne togās sordidās purgāre potes?” Gellius per fullonicam contendit et, “heus! nōnne Casina Valeriī ancilla? certē, certē, mihi facile est togās dominī pūrās reddere. tē oportet proximō diē cum tribus dēnāriīs revenīre.”

Casina, “trēs denāriōs quaeris?” exclāmat. “num Imperātor ipse est dominus meus? nōnne ūnum tantum dēnārium quaerere solēs? nōnne ūnum sestertium? num dominum oportet alium fullōnem quaerere?”

et Gellius, “ancillam impudentem!” respondet. “nōnne quattuor līberī, nōnne uxor aegra mihi est? nōnne octō servī optimī? ūnus dēnārius haud satis est! num īnsānīs?”

et Casina, “domine Gellī,” impavida respondet, “nōnne quoque cēnāculum optimum in īnsulā Valeriī ipsīus? num vīs alium cēnāculum invenīre? num dominum meum contemptum habēs?”

tum Gellius “heus!” exclāmat, “vērum est quod dīcis. nōnne ūnum dēnārium ūnumque sestertium mihi dare dominus tuus potest? nōnne amīcus veterrimus sum, et cliēns fidēlissimus?”

et Casina, “cōnsentiō,” respondet, et togās Gelliō trādit. tum Casina ē fullonicā ēgredī incipit. subitō tamen cōnsistit et, “heus!” sibi putat, “quis est ille servus miserrimus, quī in fullonicā labōrat? num illum cognōscō?” Casina servum dīligenter spectat et, “fātum horrendum!” sēcum putat. “nōnne enim frātrem meum videō?” Gellius per fullonicam ambulat servōs pūnītum. iuxtā frātrem Casinae stat et “servum impudentem!” exclāmat, “num vomis? num labōrāre cessās? tibi moriendum est, quod inūtilis es!” et servum miserrimum in ūrīnam impellit. servus dominō resistere cōnātur, sed frustrā. Gellius enim pedem in collō pōnit et nāsum sub urīnā tenet. cēterī servī perterritī tacent.

Casina perterrita et immōta stat et rem tōtam spectat. subitō vōcem ignōtam audit. aliquis enim fullonicam intrat et, “heus! Gellī! quid facis?” exclāmat. Gellius attonitus pedem tollit; servus surgit et urīnam sanguinemque identidem vomit. in fullonicā stat Flavius Caesō, vir maximae dignitātis. “Gellī! cūr istum servum pūnīs? quid facit ille?” rogat Flavius Caesō. “num tē decet urīnam tuam sordidam facere? num togae meae nunc sordidae et sanguineae sunt?”

et Gellius “heus! mī Caesō! inopīnātus advenīs!” susurrat. “cūr poenās istīus servī commemorās? nōnne togae tuae–”

Caesō tamen, “Gellī, mē summā cum dīligentiā audī!” interpellat. “nōnne fullō es? nōnne tē oportet vestēs pūrās reddere?”

et Gellius, “certē, mī Caesō, et–”

sed Caesō, “tē igitur oportet verba mea dīligenter audīre, mandātīs dīligenter pārēre. sī enim servus in urīnā perit, nōnne umbra in fullonicā manēre solet? nōnne umbra vestēs sordidās reddere vult? et nōnne perīculōsissimum est umbram īrātam reddere?”

Gellius attonitus, “vae mihi!” sēcum susurrat. “mē oportet multa sacrificia hodiē facere!” et Caesō, “nōlī umquam,” susurrat, “servum mortuum in urīnā reddere!” Caesō maximā cum dignitāte ē fullonicā ēgreditur.

Casina rem tōtam attonita spectat. servus tandem vomere cessat et ad urīnam regreditur. Casina servum intentē spectat et “heus!” sēcum putat, “vae illī! sed quam fēlīx sum, quod iste servus haud frāter meus est!”

Casina nihil dīcit, sed ē fullonicā celeriter contendit. ad domum Valeriī celerrimē regreditur, ubi lacrimīs ūlūlātibus sē trādit. “vae mihi! vae vītae! vae istī servō miserrimō! et vae fratrī meō!” iterum iterumque exclāmat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • In the first draft of the story, no one else came into the shop, and Gellius did drown the servus. But I just couldn’t stand it! I also thought it would be too much for our younger, more tender-hearted subscribers.
  • I actually talked about the story with some of my face-to-face Latin II students, and they all agreed that the servus needed to live. That’s when I had the idea of Flavius Caeso ironically saving the day. Do you think he’s right for the part, or should someone else do it?
  • What do you think of Casina’s response … both before and after she realizes it’s not her brother?
  • And do you suppose she could share her concerns about Gellius with her dominus … or that, if she did, he’d care?

As I was writing this story, I was aiming not just to horrify (though it’s certainly horrifying enough!) but also to show our participants that, to a Roman, a servus – especially one like the one who isn’t actually Casina’s frāter – seems much more like a car, a lawnmower, or a washing machine than a person. We’ve all read stories of guys who shoot their lawnmower when it won’t start in the spring … stupid, but they don’t go to jail for murder, do they? And we’ve all replaced defective or worn-out cars, washing machines, or other equipment … without any regard for the feelings of the appliances, or of their fellow appliances that remain in the house, for that matter! Of course, our appliances don’t actually have feelings … unlike a servus or ancilla. But to a Roman, the feelings of the servus or ancilla are as irrelevant as our appliances’ feelings would be … even if we did think they had feelings.

As for Flavius Caeso, if you’ve read this previous story, you probably now have a pretty good suspicion about why he’s so conflicted about the treatment of servī.

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to shift our attention to what I’m going to call Vocabulary With Minimal Translation. In other words, how can the Tres Columnae system help our learners acquire a deep understanding of the Latin words they learn, as well as knowledge and skill at using them, without resorting to the typical “vocabulary list” with all its perils? And what perils, exactly, am I referring to? We’ll find out more next time. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] inevitably grow. Think of the story of the poor unfortunate laundry slave, which we shared in this blog post last week. What are some of the Understandings that a learner might begin to develop from that […]

  2. […] that continually seems to gnaw at her. Then, with this story from Lectiō XIX, which we featured in this post from May, poor Casina is confronted with the near-death of another innocent servus. Perhaps the combination […]


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