Another New Story, VI

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll begin to wrap up our sequence of posts about the stories from Lectiō XVI of the Tres Columnae project by focusing on our characters’ application of the virtūtēs Rōmānae, and specifically of

  1. pietās,
  2. dignitās,
  3. gravitās,
  4. auctōritās,
  5. clementia,
  6. industria,
  7. iustitia,
  8. sevēritās, and
  9. vēritās

The Wikipedia article on Roman virtues also lists comitās, constantia, firmitās, frugalitās, honestās, hūmānitās, prūdentia, and salūbritās as primary virtūtēs, and the list from NovaRoma.org is (as you might expect) even longer.  But I don’t want our list to be overwhelming, and I do want to focus on virtūtēs that a domestic animal (at least, a fable-tradition talking and somewhat anthropomorphic animal) might reasonably possess. So hūmānitās was fairly easy to eliminate :-), and the others, while important to Romans in general, seemed less significant for these particular stories … except, perhaps, for prūdentia. Had Sabīna displayed a bit more of that (for example, by considering how Ferox and Medusa might respond to her presence, uninvited, in their house), there wouldn’t be a story, would there?

I struggled a bit with the organization of this post; I wasn’t sure whether to go “virtue by virtue” or “character by character” in my own thoughts. Finally I decided on “character by character,” with the first few today and the rest tomorrow and possibly Thursday. That way, either on the last day of school in my face-to-face teaching world (Thursday, June 10, if you’re reading these posts “live”) or on the first day after that, we’ll be able to celebrate the arrival of summer by starting something new on the blog, just as my face-to-face seniors, who graduate on June 9, will be doing on their “first day of freedom.”

I want to save the really important characters like Sabīna and Ferōx for later, so we’ll be looking primarily at Rīdiculus mūs today. In the process, we’ll also look at Impigra, their older children, the obstētrīx, and the human characters from this story and this one.

Let’s start, then, with poor Rīdiculus. If you’ve been trying to picture him, please take a look at the beautiful portraits of him and Impigra by our amazingly talented artist, Lucy M, and see what you think.  On the same page, you’ll find a picture of the “cēnāculum” – one that makes it clear, of course, that Impigra and the obstētrīx are right to call it by its proper name of cavus! Anyway, here are my thoughts about him in terms of each of the virtūtēs:

  1. pietās: Other than his comical obsession with the cēnāculum idea, it seems to me that Rīdiculus, in general, is in the proper relationship with all the other animals (and even humans, for the most part) in his life, at least in this sequence of stories. (I don’t think we can say the same for his foolish decision to pursue the bread during the dinner party in this story, but at least he realizes he was wrong!) He is solicitous of his wife when she’s in labor; he makes sure the children don’t pester her; he welcomes the obstētrīx (I suppose we can forgive both of them for their little exchange about the cēnāculum issue!); and he protects the whole family from Sabīna and other predators as much as he can.
  2. dignitās: Wikipedia defines this as “a sense of self-worth; personal pride,” which, meā quidem sententiā, is true enough, but hardly adequate. If I had to define dignitās in English, I’d say it was “an awareness of one’s personal and social standing, and the desire to increase one’s standing as much as possible without violating the dictates of pietās or some other virtūs.” In that light, I think we can understand Rīdiculus’ obsession with the cēnāculum terminology; to call his home a cavus, for him, would be to associate himself with common field mice. He certainly doesn’t want to call it a domus or vīlla or aula, though, since it’s clear that he’s dependent on the good-will of a patrōnus – indirectly, on the kindness (or inattention) of Valerius and his familia, and more directly on his “friends” Ferōx and Medūsa. It’s clearly closely connected with honestās, which Wikipedia defines as “The image that one presents as a respectable member of society,” but I think dignitās is more internally focused, while honestās is more external. quid respondētis? And isn’t it amazing how far English derivatives like dignity and honesty have developed from their roots?
  3. gravitās: Here’s another loaded term, especially when it’s used, unchanged, in English! Wikipedia calls it a “sense of the importance of the matter at hand, responsibility and earnestness.” Rīdiculus, in general, is quite earnest and responsible – sometimes to comic excess, as with the cēnāculum issue!
  4. auctōritās: This is almost completely untranslatable – Wikipedia’s attempt, which is about as good as any I’ve seen, is “The sense of one’s social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria.” So it’s closely connected, as well, to honestās and dignitās. But you have to be at a certain level of social standing to have auctōritās, while any Roman (even a slave or a child) might reasonably be asked to display dignitās. I’m not sure Rīdiculus really has any auctōritās, though he is the paterfamiliās … or is he? Is his father still alive? We don’t actually know!
  5. clementia: Rīdiculus isn’t normally in the position to show generosity, kindness, or gentleness to an inferior or an enemy. By his nature, he’s dependent on the clementia of others – especially of Ferōx and Medusa! You may recall this story, where Sabīna tries to turn Medūsa, and indirectly Ferōx, against the mice by appealing to other virtūtēs.
  6. industria: Rīdiculus is definitely a hard worker, though not always a smart worker! I think he’s OK in this area! 🙂
  7. iustitia: Wikipedia defines this nicely as “Sense of moral worth to an action.” I don’t think it really applies to Ridiculus’ conduct in most of these stories, except perhaps for his interactions with his wife, the children, and of course the obstētrīx.
  8. sevēritās: Rīdiculus, by nature and by his very name, is not prone to either “gravity” or “self-control,” the two synonyms Wikipedia offers. But he does control himself when first Impigra, then the obstētrīx fusses at him over the word cēnāculum.
  9. vēritās: Other than his self-deception about his home – and his lack of knowledge of animal habitats, as witnessed in this story – Rīdiculus seems to be a truthful little mouse.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our list of virtūtēs?  Are there any we should add, and are there any that (tuā quidem sententiā) are less important than the others?
  • What do you think of our definitions of the virtūtēs?
  • For that matter, what do you think of any attempts to define them “globally” – as opposed to the (much easier and safer) prospect of defining them contextually, as they appear in a particular passage or literary work?  In other words, it’s a lot simpler to define “pietās in the Aeneid” than “pietās in general” – so should we avoid general definitions?
  • What do you think of our analysis of Rīdiculus through the lens of the virtūtēs?
  • And what do you think of the other characters’ use – or non-use – of the virtūtēs?

Tune in next time, when we’ll respond to your comments and look at the other characters – especially Ferōx and Medūsa – through the lens of the virtūtēs. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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  1. […] late first century C.E. I struggled with visions, as you may recall from this blog post and from yesterday’s post, because I felt a need to respect several possibly conflicting […]


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