Another New Story, V

alvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I hope you’ve all had a much better weekend – and start to the new week – than poor Sabīna mustēla does in the sequence of stories we’ve been exploring in our current series of posts. If you’re a regular reader of Tres Columnae Project stories – or if you’ve been following the ones we share on this blog – you probably remember that Sabīna belongs to Flavius Caesō, the next-door neighbor of our primary character Valerius – and has caused all kinds of havoc in stories like this one. Sabīna, like any proper Roman weasel, lives to hunt mice.

I’m not sure whether Romans think of pietās as a characteristic that animals can display (does anyone know? After all, there’s so much about the Romans, especially their thought life, that we simply don’t know!). But if an animal can be pius or pia, I would think most Romans, except possibly the mice, would consider Sabina’s mouse-hunting – at least in her own master’s domus – to be an exemplum pietātis.  After all, as a Roman, you primarily keep a pet weasel for her mouse-hunting ability. Since Flavius Caesō provides Sabīna with food, a bed, and many other beneficia, her desire to hunt mice for him is probably also an exemplum grātiae. And of course grātia is hugely important in the Roman world!

Sabīna’s problem, though, is that she often oversteps her bounds. The mice she pursues in our current sequence of stories aren’t in her master’s house, and she does not have permission from the dominus (or anyone else in the domus) to hunt mice in domō Valeriī. Sabīna displays a lot of studium in her pursuit of the mice, but studium isn’t always a positive thing to a Roman.  I’m also not sure how a Roman – especially a Stoic, with their distrust of strong emotions and passions – would respond to the relish with which she pursues her bloodthirsty goals.

Of course it’s tricky to try to reconstruct exactly what conduct a Roman might consider virtuous; even to construct a list of Roman virtues is a more complicated task than it might first appear. There’s a nice list in this Wikipedia article, a rather different and longer list (as one would expect, given their perspective) at Nova Roma, a much shorter list (but with a nice explanation of pietās) at everything2, and a nice summary of Sallust’s take on the virtūtēs from the U.S. Naval Academy on the first page of a Google search for “Roman virtues.” Without taking the time to collate and compare all the virtues on these lists – or on the 2.77 million other Google results – I think we can probably all agree that Romans would recognize pietās, dignitās, gravitās, auctōritās, clementia, industria, iustitia, sevēritās, and vēritās as essentially virtuous qualities. We’ll consider Sabīna’s conduct – and that of the other characters in this set of stories – in light of these virtūtēs.

First, though, a quick recap of the storyline so far. As you may recall from Wednesday, Ferōx et Medūsa, canēs Valeriī, had puppies in this story. Then, in this story we examined on Thursday, Rīdiculus et Impigra mūrēs had a litter of mouse-babies, with some help from the local mouse-obstētrīx but with some unwelcome attention from Sabīna. On Friday, we looked at this story, in which Ferox and Medusa realized that Sabīna had entered their house uninvited and decided to take action. And on Saturday, when we considered this story, we were probably relieved (as I was, when I wrote it, and as several friends were when I shared drafts) that everyone was still alive at the end of the story.

Today we’ll look at another story from the sequence, in which poor Sabīna, angry and upset, decides to seek help from the gods. Since weasels, in the fable tradition, are almost always mateless females, I thought it might be appropriate for Sabīna to have a moment of self-awareness, as bitter, lonely people sometimes do: could it be something about me? And so Sabīna seeks out the temple of Juno Lucina, goddess of childbirth (not the temple in Rome, of course; that would be quite a long journey for a weasel!) rather than somewhere more comfortable or customary for her. (Of course, as Catullus reminds us in his hymn to Diana (c. 34), at least some Romans thought of Juno Lucina and Diana as synonymous, and anthropologists and scholars of comparative religions might describe them/her as two facets of a “triple goddess” like Cybele or Magna Mater.)

I’ve addressed my thoughts about the importance of seriously addressing Roman religious practices and perspectives, even for those of us who are very committed to our own faith traditions, in this post from late April, so I won’t repeat them here. I will say, though, that it’s absolutely up to you, each individual participant in the Tres Columnae project, to choose the stories you want to read and to avoid those that, for whatever reason, you find unappealing. Some may want to avoid stories where our characters have visions of Greco-Roman divinities; others may want to avoid the near-death of the laundry slave or the violence in the arena (stories we’ll look at in future posts) or the Circus; still others may avoid the stories in Cursus Secundus in which one of our characters gets interested in – and possibly secretly converts to – Christianity. (If I’ve piqued your interest, I invite you to wait for Cursus Secundus, which will probably be available by late summer or early fall.)

Anyway, before we say anything else, let’s look at the story of Sabīna in the temple, now available at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site:

postrīdiē māne Sabīna mustēla surgit et ē domō Flaviī ēgreditur. per viās urbis ad templum Iūnōnis tacitē rēpit. mustēla templum ingreditur et deam Iūnōnem trīstissima precātur. “ō dea Iūnō Lūcīna,” inquit lacrimāns, “cūr mihi nōn est marītus, nōn sunt līberī? cūr semper sōla et trīstissima per hanc urbem errō? cūr nēmō mē cūrat nisi iste Flavius Caesō? cūr omnēs mē spernunt, omnēs contemnunt? nōnne pia sum mustēla? nōnne sacrificia et vōta solvere soleō? nōnne mūrēs mortuōs dominō meō semper reddō? cūr omnēs mē spernunt, omnēs contemnunt?”

Sabīna valdē lacrimat et prō ārā deae trīstissima manet. mox mustēla vōcēs sacerdōtum audit et perterrita, “dea Iūnō, quaesō, mē servā!” susurrat. Sabīna imāginem deae cōnspicit et sub pedibus Iūnōnis sē cēlat.

sacerdōtēs cellam ingrediuntur et precēs longissimās deae offerre incipiunt. Sabīna quoque deam precātur. mox tamen mustēla fessissima sub pedibus deae obdormit. in somniīs dea Iūnō mustēlam perterritam tollit et in gremiō suō fovet. “Sabīna mea,” inquit dea subrīdēns, “cūr tē ita vexās? cūr vītam tuam plōrās? num marītum līberōsque cupis? mihi, ut bene scīs, est marītus potentissimus, mihi līberī quoque – sed marītus cotīdiē mē vexat, et … istum Vulcānum commemorāre haud volō.”

Sabīna attonita, “dea Iūnō!” respondet, “cūr tū, uxor sororque Iovis Optimī Maximī, mē tantō honōre afficis? cūr in gremiō tuō ipsa mē tenēs et fovēs? nōnne mustēla sum, omnium animālium miserrima et minima?”

dea autem iterum subrīdēns, “heus!” respondet, “cūr tē ita contemnis, Sabīna mea? nōnne omnia animālia cūrae dīs estis? nōnne omnibus animālibus sunt officia propria? nōnne omnia animālia officia vestra agitis vōtaque ita solvitis? nōnne semper pietātem ostenditis? tē haud contemnō, sed laudō, quod pia es!”

Sabīna attonita tacet. dea tamen haec addit: “ō Sabīna mea, trīstis et misera es, quod officia mūrīna et canīna tē fallunt. nōnne tū mūrēs agitās pietātem ostentum? nōnne tamen mūrēs ipsī fugiunt pietātem ostentum? et nōnne canēs tē persequuntur pietātem ostentum? haud tē decet flēre, sī mūribus ossa exspuere nōn potes! haud tē decet flēre, sī canēs tē mortuam reddere cōnantur! illī enim, sīc ut tū ipsa, officia sua agere vōtaque solvere cōnantur. nōlī tē vexāre, sī quandō mūrēs effugere possunt. nōlī tē vexāre, sī quandō canēs tē agitant! nōnne enim mūrēs canēsque, sīcut vōs mustēlae, cordī dīs immortālibus sunt?”

Sabīna attonita nihil respondet. paulīsper quiēta sub pedibus deae manet. mox tamen mustēla cantūs precēsque sacerdōtum nōn audit, quod illī ē cellā templī ēgrediuntur. mustēla surgit et, “dea Iūnō, tibi grātiās maximās agō! mihi necesse est omnia verba tua memoriā tenēre!” inquit. ē templō tacitē rēpit et ad domum suam regreditur.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Specifically, as you consider the whole sequence of stories, how would you rate each character’s conduct in terms of
    • pietās,
    • dignitās,
    • gravitās,
    • auctōritās,
    • clementia,
    • industria,
    • iūstitia,
    • sevēritās, and
    • vēritās
  • If anyone behaved in an unsatisfactory way (for example, Juno seems to be gently scolding Sabīna about something), what suggestions for improvement would you make to them?
  • And how do you suppose they’d respond to your suggestions?

Tune in next time for your responses (I really hope we’ll have a lot of comments now that some of you teachers are done for the summer!), your questions, and a few preliminary answers from me. Then we’ll move on to a new series of posts, with more new stories from a later point in Cursus Prīmus. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!

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