Building Understanding, VII: A Story

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., we’ll continue to focus on the Roman concept of pietās – which, as you probably know (or discovered in yesterday’s post) has some intriguing similarities to, as well as some obvious differences from, the American ideals of family, patriotism, and devotion to one’s comrades that are celebrated this weekend. Specifically, we’ll consider ways that our characters have shown – or not shown – pietās in the stories we’ve shared on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, and we’ll close with a new story that – at least according to my sometimes-fallible memory! 🙂 – hasn’t previously appeared there or here until now.

Yesterday, I closed with these questions:

  • What do you think about pietās (and the other principal virtūtēs) as an organizing principle for the Tres Columnae storyline? If you’ve explored the stories beyond Lectiō I, can you see how we’ll continue to play with pietās, dignitās, gravitās, and the other big –tās words as we consider our characters’ motivations, behaviors, thoughts, and words?
  • Have you seen any characters who seem utterly un-Roman in their conduct or attitudes?
  • And what about our “naughty” characters like young Cnaeus Caelius? His parents frequently complain that he impiē sē gerit … and what conclusions should we draw from that? Is he behaving in an un-Roman way, or just a bad Roman way? And is there a difference?

It’s clearly been a difficult week for a lot of our faithful readers (it has for me, too, as we’re preparing for exams to start on Tuesday in my face-to-face teaching world). So let me address each question briefly, then move us on to the exciting new story.

A number of years ago, it occurred to me that pietās was such an important virtūs Rōmāna that I ought to bring it to my students’ attention. At the time, there was no Tres Columnae project; in fact, I hadn’t even begun to consider anything like it. So I went looking for examples of pietās in the “Big Three” reading-method Latin textbook that I still use with my face-to-face students, and I was pleased to find a lot of them. In fact, it seemed that pietās was a constant motivator, especially for the “good” characters … but the word itself rarely appeared. So I decided to bring this “hidden” theme to the front and make it more visible. We began that year in Latin II (and have continued until now) with a seminar about pietās, and we returned to the theme with additional seminars at the end of each chapter. By mid-semester, my students were a bit tired of pietās, but they were also very clear about its importance … and we had wonderful discussions in the Latin IV and AP Vergil classes that grew from those Latin II students. Sadly, though, my current students are just not very keen on seminars! 😦

Anyway, once I realized that one could use pietās (or any other virtūs Rōmāna) as an organizing principle for thinking about existing stories, it only seemed natural to me to weave them into the storyline of the Tres Columnae project in a thoughtful and intentional way. As I outlined the plots for the Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus, I found that I needed to track the virtūtēs so I could remember when they were introduced, what we did with them, and how they influenced each character’s words, thoughts, and actions.

So what have you seen in the stories in those first few Lectiōnēs? In looking back at them, I see that

  • Both the Valeriī and the Lolliī are very family-focused;
  • There’s a clear distinction between those who labōrat and those who lūdit according to their status in the family;
  • Valerius seems to treat his slaves well, and they respond with respect (at least most of the time);
  • Lollius, though poor, also treats his family with respect, and they respond appropriately;
  • There seem to be some issues with pietās in familia Caelia, and they’re clear from the disrespect and unpleasantness with which the children treat each other (even as early as this story), not to mention the interactions among the servants!
  • I want to think some more about the Caeliī, who clearly are typical Romans in a lot of ways. If you’re a Roman who impiē sē gerit, does that mean you aren’t a real Roman, or does your very recognition of the impietās prove that, in fact, you really are a Roman?

Ponder that, if you dare, while you enjoy the following story from Lectiō XIII. Everyone is on the way to Pompeii to see a spectāculum, but, of course, Cnaeus starts behaving badly….

sexta diēī hōra iam adest. Valerius et Caelia ad iānuam domūs contendunt. Valeria et Caeliōla quoque ad iānuam contendunt. “tandem ad urbem Pompēiōs proficīscimur!” inquit Valerius. “attonitus sum, quod hōra sexta adest, nōsque parātī!”

in viā stat carpentum magnum. duō equī carpentum trahunt. Milphiō iuxtā carptentum stat et lōra tenet. servus Trāniō quoque adest. Trāniō lōra trium equōrum tenet. Valerius Lūcium vocat et, “mī fīlī, tē oportet mēcum ad urbem Pompēiōs equitāre, quod octō annōs nātus es. sorōrēs tamen et māter in carpentō iter facere dēbent, et amīcus tuus Cāius tēcum equitāre potest. tertius equus adest, quod decōrum est Lolliō quoque equitāre. breve est iter, sed multō celerius equīs quam pedibus prōgredī possumus.”

Lollius et Cāius domuī appropinquant et Valerium familiamque salūtant. Cāius laetissimus equum post Lūcium cōnscendit. Lollius laetus grātiās patrōnō agit et equum suum quoque conscendit. Valerius equum cōnscendit et “nōs oportet proficīscī!” clāmat. Trāniō “heus! equī” clāmat, et equī carpentum lentē trahere incipiunt. omnēs per viās urbis ad portam prōgrediuntur.

post breve tempus Cāius montem spectat et “ecce! mōns Vesuvius! quam altus et quam pulcher!” exclāmat. Lūcius tamen, “ecce! consōbrīnus meus! quam molestus et loquāx!” susurrat. Cnaeus enim cum mātre et sorōribus in carpentō splendidō sedet. iuxtā carpentum Caelius, avunculus Lūciī, vir magnae pecūniae magnaeque dignitātis, superbus equō splendidō prōcēdit.

Valerius Caelium cōnspicit et, “salvē, mī Caelī!” exclāmat. Caelius, “mī Valerī! exspectātissimum tē salūtō! nōnne tū et familia quoque Pompēiōs contenditis, gladiātōrēs spectātum?”

Valerius cum Caeliō cōnsentit. “certē, mī Caelī, et nōnne amīcus noster, Vatia ille, nōs ad vīllam invītat?” Caelius, “et nōs quoque!” exclāmat. “nōnne dī nōbīs favent, quod omnēs cum ūnō amīcō manēre possumus?”

Cāius et Lūcius Cnaeum in carpentō sedentem cōnspiciunt. “heus!” Cāius Lūciō susurrat, “nōnne Cnaeus māior nātū est quam tū? cūr carpentō, nōn equō iter facit?” Lūcius, “st!” respondet, “equī haud cordī Cnaeō sunt,” et rīsum cēlāre cōnātur.

Cnaeus puerōs equitantēs cōnspicit et “vae! heu! mē taedet carpentōrum!” exclāmat. “māter! māter! equitāre volō!” Prīma et Secunda rīsibus sē trādunt. Vipsānia “mī fīlī,” lēniter respondet, “nōnne iter ultimum memōriā tenēs? nōnne corpus tuum etiam nunc dolet?”

Cnaeus tamen, “vae! heu! cūr ista commemorās?” clāmat. “eque! tē oportet istōs in terram dēicere!” Cnaeus saxum manū tenet et ad caput Cāiī iaculātur. Vipsānia saxum per āera volāns cōnspicit et “puerum īnsolentem! num mīrārīs, quod carpentō iam iter facis? īnfantem nōn decet equitāre, et tū es pēior quam īnfāns!” Vipsānia Cāium prēnsat et vehementer verberat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

I’m especially interested in your response to the question I asked above, right before the story!  Where can you see themes of pietās (or its opposite) at work?  And (thinking ahead to that Continuing Virtual Seminar about pietās) what if a person knows what’s right (as we all do, at times) but doesn’t do it?  Or does Cnaeus genuinely not know the right thing to do?

And I wish you a good, happy, and peaceful Memorial Day weekend … one that’s entirely free of the family drama in this story. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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