Rites of Passage, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, a transitional day in my face-to-face world, we’ll start looking at stories in which our younger characters make transitions. Specifically today, we’ll begin to address the wedding of Valeria, young Lucius Valerius’ big sister, to their distant cousin Quartus Vipsānius. If you’re a longtime reader of the blog, you may recall some another story from this sequence, now available through this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site … this is the story where Valeria and her family have gone to visit the Vipsanii in Mediolānum. They attend a chariot race, and Vipsānius’ father has an unfortunate encounter with two drunk race fans and a bōtulus! In this series of posts, we’ll look at some other stories from this sequence, as well as some from the actual wedding ceremony.

The sequence actually begins in Lectiō XIV with this fabella, which introduces what Romans called the modus optātīvus, and what most English speakers would call a “volitive” use of the subjunctive mood. The spectāculum to which it refers comes in Lectiō XIII and also features some unruly spectators; you can find it at this link at the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’re interested.

paucīs mēnsibus post spectāculum, Valeria diem nātālem celebrat. Valeria iam trēdecim annōs nāta est. “mea fīlia, nōn puella, sed fēmina est,” inquit Caelia. “utinam marītum Valeriae aptum inveniam!” Valerius sēcum putat.

servus iānuam domūs pulsat et clāmat. Milphiō servō iānuam aperit et “quid hīc petis?” rogat. servus Milphiōnī epistulam trādit et in ātriō morātur. Valerius in tablīnō sedet et epistulam legit. “heus!” exclāmat, “utinam ille servus dominō responsum referat!”

Valerius Milphiōnī epistulam dictat. Milphiō Valeriō epistulam scrībit. Valerius servum vocat et “heus! puer! Fortūna tibi favet! utinam ad dominum suum celeriter reveniās!”

As you probably expect, there’s a quid novī explanation about the new verbs and the word utinam, followed by some interactive exercises with which our participants gain comfort with the forms of the optātīvus. They then see this story:

Valerius per tablīnum ambulat. “ēhem!” sibi dīcit. Caelia Valerium audit et tablīnum intrat. “heus! mī marīte!” inquit, “cūr continuō ambulās? cūr ēhem continuō dīcis? num quid tibi cūrae est?”

Valerius “heus! Caelia ades!” clāmat, “num diū in tablīnō stās? multa enim in animō volvō. nōnne Valeria nostra iam fēmina est? nōnne iuvenī optimō nūbere dēbet?”

Caelia, “certē, mī Valerī,” respondet, “et nōnne diem nūptiārum nostrārum memōriā tenēs? nōnne vōcēs patrum et mātrum? nōnne –”

Valerius, “certē, Caelia mea,” respondet, “et dea Fortūna nōbīs favet. nōnne consōbrīnus tuus, ille Quartus Vipsānius, in urbe Mediolānō habitat? nōnne Vipsānius vir magnae dignitātis magnārumque dīvitiārum est?”

Caelia, “vērum dīcis, mī marīte,” respondet, “Vipsānius autem –”

et Valerius, “nunc iam in ātriō morātur servus Vipsāniī. servus enim hūc pervenit epistulam mihi portātum. et … epistulam quaesō lege!”

Caelia epistulam legit et, “prō dī immortālēs! dea Fortūna nōbīs certē favet!” exclāmat.

Valerius cum uxōre cōnsentit et, “Caelia mea, fīliam nostram hūc vocā! mē enim oportet cum Valeriā colloquium habēre.”

You can probably imagine what the colloquium is about! I’m not sure, though, that any of us, whether scrīptor or lectōrēs, can imagine Valeria’s thoughts or feelings. As a Roman girl of a fairly wealthy family, she certainly would have grown up expecting an arranged marriage, and she’d certainly be aware that she’d reached marriageable age. Would she be shocked, nervous, excited, relieved, or some combination when her father finally summoned her and told her who the man would be? And in Valeria’s case (of course, I know her better than you do … there are stories about her that you haven’t seen yet!), was she hoping for a local boy? Or was she expecting a distant relative like Vipsānius? Has she ever met him, and (whether she has or not) what does she know about him? How did Roman girls and women feel about the reality of arranged marriage anyway? And how did Roman fathers feel when they were actually making the arrangements – and actually informing their daughters about the arrangements? I think of my own daughter, who’s a bit younger than Valeria … as I write the draft of this post, she’s not-exactly-celebrating the end of school at her last dance class before this weekend’s big recital. I can’t imagine sitting down with her and announcing the name of her new husband – but then, as we know, I’m not a Roman!

I suppose I should tell you, though, that a former student once asked me if I was a native speaker of Latin … and was surprised to find out that I wasn’t! The conversation went something like this:

Her: Really? You’re not a native speaker?

Rest of class: (desperate attempts not to snicker)

Me (in my mid-twenties at the time): Just how old do you think I am?

Her: I don’t know, you’re a teacher, you must be like fifty or something.

Me: Are your parents fifty?

Her: No.

Me: Do I look older than your parents?

Her: I don’t know. You’ve got to be pretty old.

I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or terrified at the time … and many years later, I’m still not sure. Ironically, my current students tend to underestimate my age and are surprised that I’m in my early forties – “You don’t look that old!” they say. Again, should I be flattered or terrified? And no, I don’t ask how old their parents are anymore … I don’t want to know! 🙂

Returning to the two stories for a moment, though, quid respondētis?

  • In a previous post, I’ve mentioned our reasons for introducing the optātīvus rather earlier than a “conventional” Latin course would do. What do you think, having now actually seen the fabella?
  • What do you think of the characterization of Valeria … and of her father and mother?
  • And how would you have responded if you were Valeria?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at more stories from the sequence and share some of your comments and questions. I’ll describe the exercises next week … and I may be able to send you to a live demonstration! More on that soon … we’re inspecting some different possible software platforms for the exercises and quizzes of the Tres Columnae project, and we may have some good news in the next week or so. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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