Quartus infans II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday was an interesting day – at one point I described it as an “up-and-down” day in an email to a friend. I started the day with a really positive conversation with a friend who’s a school-district-level technology administrator, and who’s also very committed to students, teachers, and learning. She had a lot of positive things to say about the Tres Columnae Project and some great suggestions (including some specific people to talk to). I also had some other good conversations this morning, and that thread about passive and impersonal verbs on the Oerberg listserv, which I mentioned in yesterday’s post, has continued to be a really interesting conversation. Since the Latin-BestPractices list has public archives, you might also want to look at this thread about Differentiated Instruction, which looks really promising, too. (Scroll down a bit to see links to previous and subsequent messages in the thread.)

One point that I made – and which I’m not sure I ever realized until I was writing it – is that the term Differentiated Instruction is really significant. What’s differentiated according to students’ needs and interests is the instruction (that is, the learning materials a teacher uses, or the processes, or the products students make to demonstrate their learning). But the Curriculum (that is, what we at Tres Columnae, with a nod to our friends at the National Paideia Center, would call the essential Knowledge, Skills, and Understandings) remains constant for everyone … or is equally open to modification for everyone, depending on your perspective. A class, or any learning environment, where the teacher (or anyone else) sets different expectations for different students – where he or she expects “more” from you or “less” from you because of what you look like or what your cumulative record says – is not an example of Differentiated Instruction … and it’s not a class where I’d want my children or even my dog to be. In a nutshell, my goal for every learner, whether in my face-to-face teaching world or in the Tres Columnae Project, is quite simple:

I will meet you where you are, and I will help you learn and do more about Latin and the Romans than you ever thought possible.

To do this, I’m willing to try almost anything … as long as it helps you, the learner. If it helps everybody, everybody is welcome to do it; if it helps some, they are welcome to do it; if it doesn’t help others, I really hope they won’t do it!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Does this definition of what Differentiated Instruction is, and isn’t, make sense to you?
  • How congruent is it with the goals and instructional design of your learning and teaching environment?
  • And in terms of this definition and perspective on Differentiated Instruction, is the Tres Columnae Project a good example?

I obviously must think so, and I’ll tell you why … tomorrow. But today I’d love for you to mull that over and respond, if you’d like, either by email or by a comment here.

Meanwhile, I’d like to think for a moment about the issues and questions raised by yesterday’s featured story, which you can find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.

  • I’m most interested in your response to the character of Paulla, and her interactions with little Lollia. You’ll find echoes of strong, earthy women characters from folklore and literature in her, I’m sure. Do you like Paulla so far, or does she bother you? And what do you suppose that response says about you?
  • What about Lollius’ significantly delayed payment of Paulla? Does that change your impression of him – or, for that matter, of her?
  • And what about little Lollia?

We continue today with the next story in the sequence, which you can find at this link on the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like. Little Quartus is born, though of course he has no name yet … and he’s really not “little” Quartus, either:

quīnque post hōrās, Lollia īnfantem magnum partūrit. “heus!” exclāmat Paulla, “fortasse Herculēs nōmen aptissimum est!” Lollia rīdēre cōnātur; difficile tamen est eī rīdēre, quod corpus tōtum maximē dolet. “dīs grātiās agō,” tandem susurrat, “quod Herculēs alter nōn est hic īnfāns! sī enim Herculēs adest, nōnne Iphiclēs ipse in ūterō nunc iam manet? perīre mālō quam alterum īnfantem tam magnum partūrīre!”

Paulla et Lollia rīsibus et cachinnīs sē trādunt; Maccia quoque rīdēre cōnātur. subitō Lollius iānuam aperit et, “heus!” inquit, “nōnne vīcīnī mē arcessunt? quid accidit?” obstētrīcem īnfantemque cōnspicātur et “ō Maccia mea!” exclāmat. “nōnne fēlīcissimus sum omnium cīvium Herculānēnsium? quam pulcher, quam magnus est hic puer!”

Paulla īnfantem in pavīmentō pōnit et Lollius celeriter eum manibus tollit. “mī fīlī, mī fīlī,” Lollius iterum iterumque cantat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

I’ve given you a lot of questions to ponder today, so I think we’ll save questions for this story until tomorrow. We’ll also look at the next story in the sequence, as familia Lollia celebrates Quartus’ diēs lūstricus with some generous help from their patrōnus. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Casina ancilla, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue with our series of posts about the morbus novissimus that mysteriously afflicts Casina, Valerius’ and Caelia’s frequently-grumpy ancilla, shortly after she witnesses the horrible near-death of a servus who reminds her of her own brother in this story from Lectiō XIX of the Tres Columnae Project. Since Casina has also suffered the tragic loss of her own child, as we discovered in this story, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s upset! And given the close connections between mind and body, it’s not surprising that her emotional distress would show up as physical symptoms! Perhaps such a claim would have been surprising 100 or even 200 years ago, when the post-Enlightenment worldview was fully dominant, and when “everyone” knew that there were clean, separate categories for things like mind and body – or, for that matter, for things like language and culture. Fortunately, in our post-modern 21st-century world, we’ve rediscovered that things are connected to each other … often in surprising ways! I just finished re-reading Daniel Pink’s amazing book, A Whole New Mind, and was struck once again by his point about synthesizing the emotional and the rational, the mind and the body, the logical and the intuitive. It also struck me that what “sophisticated and educated” Western culture forgot for a few hundred years and is now rediscovering was, of course, known all along to people that “sophisticated and educated” Western culture despised and marginalized. How ironic … and yet, how hopeful!

And that brings us back to Casina, who is about as despised and marginalized as anyone in Roman society could possibly be – she’s an enslaved woman. And yet, when she’s overcome with her mysterious morbus, we’ll find that her dominus doesn’t react in the “expected” way – with punishments, threats, torture, or death – as she may well have feared. Is it just that Valerius is unusually compassionate? Or does something else cause him to treat Casina better than most Romans would have expected? We’ll find out as we look at the next two stories in the sequence. First, though, Casina’s fellow servī have to discover how sick she is in this story, now available here at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site:

Milphiō et Gallicus ad cubiculum Casinae celeriter regrediuntur. Milphiō extrā cubiculum stat et “Casina, Casina mea, nōnne iam surgis?” rogat. Casina tamen nihil respondet. Milphiō solliitus cubiculum ingreditur et, “Casina, Casina mea, quid agis?” rogat. Casina tamen nihil respondet. ancilla in lectō immōta iacet. subitō oculōs aperit et “īnfāns, mī īnfāns!” exclāmat. Milphiō perterritus, “nōn īnfāns, sed Milphiō adsum, Casina mea! num aegrōtās?”

Casina subitō surgere cōnātur. “īnfāns, mī īnfāns, utrum mē ad tē vocās annōn? Casina adsum, māter tua – ō mī īnfāns, quaesō, ignōsce mihi!”

Gallicus perterritus, “num umbra adest ipsa? num lemur?” clāmat. “mihi exeundum est, quod … quod … quod mē oportet ientāculum dominō parāre!” et coquus ē cubiculō perterritus festīnat. per tōtam domum currit et “vae! heu! lemur adest ipse!” identidem clāmat. Milphiō tamen, quamquam perterritus et sollicitus est, in cubiculō manet. manūs ad caelum tollit et dīs omnibus precēs effundit.

There’s no doubt that something is seriously wrong with Casina, is there? In the language of contemporary psychology, perhaps we would diagnose her with post-traumatic stress disorder. As you might imagine, Valerius and Caelia are both surprised and terrified when they hear the news of Casina’s affliction in this story:

Valerius ē lectō attonitus surgit et “heus! quid est?” clāmat. Caelia quoque surgit et “vae! heu! quis clāmat?” attonita rogat. Valerius et Caelia ē cubiculīs ēgrediuntur et “nōnne Gallicus iterum sē vexat!” rogant et respondent. coquus enim per tōtam domum festīnat et clāmat, “vae! heu! umbrae et lemurēs mē petunt! vae! heu!” Valerius coquum clāmantem tandem prēnsat et “mēhercle!” exclāmat, “Gallice! quid clāmās? num umbrae? num lemurēs?”

Gallicus dominum suum amplectitur et “ō mī domine,” clāmat, “mī domine, umbrae et lemurēs, imāginēs quoque et dī Mānēs ipsae!” Caelia bracchium Gallicō quoque prēnsat et, “Gallice noster, num mediā nocte vīnum bibis?” rogat. Gallicus tamen, “ō domine, domina, haud ēbrius, haud īnsānus sum! quaesō, amābō vōs, mē audīte! hodiē enim māne, ut semper, Casinam in culīnā exspectō, quod illa aquam ē fonte pūblicō mihi trahere solet. Casina tamen nōn adest! ad cubiculum igitur festīnō illam excitātum – sed nihil respondet! sine dubiō Casina est mortua! sine dubiō omnēs Lemurēs cum umbrīs et imāginibus et dīs Mānibus ipsīs adveniunt mē pūnītum! vae mihi! vae vītae meae!” Gallicus perterritus lacrimīs et ululātibus sē trādit.

Valerius tamen, “Gallice, siste” clāmat, “dēsine ululāre! tē haud decet tamquam īnfantem vāgīre!” et coquus attonitus tacet. tum Valerius, “mī Gallice,” inquit, “quaesō, mihi rem tōtam nārrā – umbrās tamen cum ululātibus omitte!” Gallicus tandem sē colligit et rem tōtam nārrat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

I realize it’s possible to go in many different directions in interpreting this story. We might choose to focus on

  • the psychological issues behind Casina’s illness;
  • Casina’s reactions to her dream about the īnfāns;
  • the responses of Casina’s fellow servī, especially poor Gallicus;
  • the responses of Valerius and Caelia;
  • the cultural and religious issues raised by the story;
  • potential issues of social class and gender; or
  • countless other possible issues raised by the stories.

Which ones would you want to focus on, and what would you want to say about them?  And can you imagine how it would feel to be any of these characters in this situation?

Tune in next time, when Valerius and Caelia observe Casina’s condition for themselves, and when we’ll take a closer look at their (rather unexpected) response. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Live from ACL, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! As you read this post, I’m on my way home from the 2010 American Classical League Institute. I’ll have a longer report about the Monday sessions another time; at the moment, I’m eager to get home. So let me just say that the typical comment at closing banquets – that the Institute feels like a family reunion every year – has always been true for me. What a great way to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, all the while knowing that those friends share your passionate commitment to teaching, and to the languages, cultures, and enduring legacy of the Greco-Roman world. It’s easy to lose sight of that, at times, when one is arguing over methodology!

For those lectōrēs cārissimī who are also traveling today, I wish you safe travels and a happy return home, and I hope to see all of you (and many more) at next year’s Institute in Minneapolis.

Speaking of families, we’ll continue our wedding-themed stories today with this one, in which young Lūcius is sad about Lollia’s wedding.  It, and its sequel below, will soon be available at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, but at the moment I’m eager to get home, so I beg your forbearance for a few hours.  I’ll get those links updated and include them in tomorrow’s post!  Meanwhile, here we go:

Lūcius Valerius tamen, postquam Marcus Vipsānius Lolliam uxōrem dūxit, trīstis per viās urbis Herculāneī errāre solēbat, quod Lollia sibi magnō cordī erat. nōnnūllōs post diēs Fabiō magistrō in viā ambulantī forte occurrit et, “salvē, mī magister veterrime,” inquit. Fabius, quī rēs maximī mōmentī in animō volvēbat, “heus!” exclāmāvit, “quis mē appellat?” mox tamen Lūcium agnōvit et “mī discipule, mī Lūcī, quid agis?” laetus rogāvit.

postquam Lūcius cūrās suās Fabiō explicāvit, ille subrīdēns, “heus!” respondit, “iuvenēs saepe sē propter amōrem ita vexant! tē tamen haud decēbat illam Lolliam dūcere. nōnne enim cliēns patris tuī est Lollius, et vir pauperrimus? tē tamen haud decēbat illam concūbīnam habēre, quod cīvis est, et quod atāvus erat poēta et comoedus nōtissimus. fortasse ancillam illī puellae similem emere poteris? nōnne cum ancillā sīcut puellā lūdere et cūrās tuās sīc levāre poteris, ut āit ille poēta Catullus?”

Lūcius tamen, “num tū discipulōs versūs Catullī legere nunc iam sinis?” attonitus rogāvit. Fabius rīdēns, “haudquāquam sinō!” respondit, “tū tamen, quod iuvenis iam es, sine dubiō Catullum legis!” Lūcius cōnsēnsit sed “num pater meus pecūniam in hoc dabit?” rogāvit. “fortasse, sī ancilla tōtam domum ūnā hōrā purgāre poterit!” inquit Fabius rīdēns, “nōnne rēctē dīcis?” respondit Lūcius. “pater enim meus cum assēs tum līberōs dīligenter custōdit!” tum Lūcius et Fabius cachinnīs sē trādunt. tandem Fabius, “praetereā, mī Lūcī, cum iuvenēs dolent, fābulae multō meliōrēs sunt quam ancillae. nōnne ōlim, cum discipulus meus erās, fābulam leōnis, quī mūrem dūcere volēbat, tibi nārrāvī?”

And then, of course, here’s the story that Fabius tells to cheer his young friend up (grātiās maximās to our friend and collaborator Laura G, who suggested the underlying fable):

“ōlim,” inquit Fabius, “leō, per silvās ambulās, forte laqueō captus, auxilium magnā vōce quaerēbat. cui appropinquāvit mūs minimus et ‘mī leō,’ attonitus rogāvit, ‘cūr tē ita vexās? cūr vehementer fremis?’ leō trīstis et īrātus laqueum dēmōnstrāvit et, ‘mī mūs,’ supplex rogāvit, ‘nōnne mē adiuvāre potes? tū enim, quī minimus es, dentibus laqueum abrōdere potes. sī mē in hōc tantō discrīmine adiuveris, beneficiōrum tuōrum semper meminerō! semper tibi beneficia libēns reddam, mē sī līberāveris!’ mūs libenter cōnsēnsit et mox rem cōnfēcit. tum ‘mī leō,’ inquit, ‘nōnne mē adiuvāre nunc iam potes? mihi enim est puella pulcherrima sed innūpta, quam nūllī mūrēs dūcere volunt, quod nihil dōtis praebēre possum. nōnne tū fīliam meam dūcere potes?’ leō attonitus, postquam rem cōgitāvit, ‘certē, mī amīce,’ respondit. ‘caelebs enim sum, et leaenam dignam haud invenīre possum. praetereā, haud opus dōtis mihi est, quod leō sum! quid mihi dōtis? libenter igitur fīliam tuam dūcam.’

“diēs tamen nūptiārum cum advēnit, rēs dīra accidit. leō enim, ad lectum nūptiālem prōgressus, uxōrem suam vidēre nōn poterat, quod tam parva erat. eam pede suō forte pressit et contrīvit! lūgēbant omnēs, sed frūstrā, quod nūpta erat mortua!”

haec verba locūtus Fabius tacēbat. Lūcius tamen, “hercle!” respondit, “rēctē dīcis, mī Fabī! etiamsī Lolliam dīligō – et proptereā quod Lolliam dīligō – mē haud decet nūptiās Lolliae cupere! tibi grātiās maximās agō, quod semper mihi optimē suādēs!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the interactions of Lucius and Fabius?
  • What do you think of the fable itself?
  • And, perhaps more important, if you are involved in the wider profession of Classics and/or language teaching, what lessons might we draw from the fable? Are there ways it might guide us to avoid some of our more petty disagreements, while reaching a creative synthesis on the really important ones?

Tune in next time for more thoughts about the Institute, and a story in which members of the mouse-family talk about weddings in their world. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Rites of Passage, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll return to our sequence of “Rites of Passage” stories as we continue to feature the ones about preparations for the wedding of Valeria to her distant cousin Vipsānius. We started out on Friday with this fabella, in which Valeria’s father Valerius had received a letter from Vipsānius’ father, and this story, in which he informs his wife, Caelia. (You may recall that Caelia’s brother Caelius, father of Prima, Secunda, and annoying little Cnaeus, is married to Vipsania, so this is evidently a cousin on the maternal side. Perhaps Vipsānia and Vipsānius are brother and sister, but I think they’re actually cousins themselves, most likely patruēlēs since they share the same nōmen. It’s funny: even though I’m responsible for these people, I still don’t know everything about them! 🙂 Sometimes I feel the same way about my own, actual children….)

Of course, we don’t exactly know what’s in the letter, but we can make a pretty good assumption based on Valerius’ and Caelia’s joyful expressions of grātia to dea Fortūna. It would seem that the Valeriī, unlike some Roman families, hadn’t made arrangements for their daughters’ marriage far in advance … perhaps they want Valeria and Caeliola to have a bit of a say, or perhaps they’re just holding out for a good offer. In any case, they’re delighted now that one has come.

After I shared the story on Friday, I spent a bit of time speculating about the thoughts and feelings a Roman father – or his daughter – might have during the conversation when he announced her impending marriage. I have a few acquaintances from cultures where arranged marriage is still the rule, and a small number of former students (most of whom are sufficiently Americanized that it’s not an issue for them, but most of their parents did have arranged marriages.) When we’ve discussed the idea in class, as we’re reading about Roman arrangements for marriage, my “typically American” students are usually appalled, but the ones who come from arranged-marriage cultures are often able to give them some valuable insight. I remember one in particular, a few years ago now, who said it would be sort of comforting to know in advance who your spouse would be. That way, there’s none of the dating and relationship pressure that most American teenagers “have to” go through, she said, and you also know you need to get to know the person, get along with them, and become friends with them. It was really interesting to me, as mostly an observer in the discussion – I had thought my student would be very opposed to arranged marriages, given some of her feelings about other issues. I don’t think her parents were planning to arrange one for her, but she was a bit wistful about that.

Anyway, it’s always dangerous to make cultural generalizations, especially across so much time and space. We know so little, of course, about Roman family relationships. But I think of Cicero’s letters to (and about) his own daughter, and I make certain assumptions about “universal” human nature as I’m planning and writing the stories. It turns out that Valeria (who is, after all, That Age) has started thinking about the kind of potential husband she might want if the choice was up to her. As of today, you’ll find the story at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site.

Valeria in cubiculō sedet et librum legit. “nōnne Ovidius poēta optimus erat?” sēcum putat. “utinam marītus meus ōlim tālēs versūs mihi recitet. et quem marītōrum pater in animō iam habet?”

Caelia in līmine stat et Valeriam legentem audit. Caelia sēcum rīdet et, “fīlia mea Valeriōla, pater tē in tablīnō exspectat,” Valeriae dīcit. Valeria “ēhem! māter, quaesō, ignōsce mihi! tē nōn salūtō, quod intenta librum iam legō.”

et Caelia, “nōnne librum Ovidiī poētae? nōnne Amōrēs Ovidiī?”

Valeria ērubēscit et, “num tū versūs Ovidiī legis?” inquit. “nōnne matrōna es?”

Caelia, “matrōna certē nunc, ōlim puella et, ut Ovidius, iuvenca. tē tamen oportet festīnāre, quod pater tē exspectat.”

Valeria mātrī pāret et ad tablīnum contendit. “adveniō, mī pater,” clāmat. liber in pavimentō apertus iacet. Caelia librum manibus sūmit et “eugepae! quam mihi placet hoc carmen!” sibi susurrat. Caelia in lectō sedet et versūs tacitā vōce legere incipit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I’ve really tried to put the focus on the women in this story – and, thereby, to raise some issues about Roman women’s experiences. What do you think?
  • What do you think of Valeria’s surprise that her mom (of all people!) has read Ovid? (As the father of an almost-teenager myself, I’ve had versions of that conversation from time to time.)
  • What about Caelia’s reading of the poem?
  • And aren’t you dying to know which one of the Amōrēs they were reading? Just don’t ask me; I certainly don’t know! 🙂 Perhaps we’ll ask our participants to take a look at the Amōrēs (in translation, if necessary; in a Latin paraphrase, if we can get some more advanced learners to make these; or even in the original, if we can) and choose ones they think are likely.

Tune in next time for the actual conversation between father and daughter; then we’ll continue with the sequence and with stories about the actual wedding, a few months later. We may interrupt the series for a bit on Wednesday or Thursday, though, since I may have some important news about the Exercise and Quiz component of the Tres Columnae Project by then. And for those of you who will be attending the 2010 American Classical League Institute in Winston-Salem, NC, later this month as I write, please look for my presentation about the project and come if you can; it’s currently scheduled as Session 3E, right after dinner on the first evening of the Institute.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming.

Another New Story, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue looking at the sequence of animal-baby stories from Lectiō XVI of the Tres Columnae project. If you’ve been away from the blog for a few days, you should know that in this story, which we shared on Wednesday, Ferox and Medusa, canēs Valeriī, welcomed a set of puppies into the world. In this story, featured in Thursday’s post, Rīdiculus and Impigra, the mūrēs who live in cavō (or, as Rīdiculus would say, “in cēnāculō”) in mūrō prope culīnam, are about to welcome a new litter of baby mice into the world, with the help of a mouse-midwife … but with the unwelcome attention of Sabīna mustēla, who belongs to Valerius’ neighbor Flavius Caeso and has already caused a great deal of havoc in the household in this story from Lectiō XI. In today’s story, now available at this link, Ferox and Medusa realize that Sabīna has come into “their” house – uninvited – and decide to take action.

extrā cavum Sabīna mustēla consistit et, “heus!” susurrat, “nōnne istōs mūrēs olfaciō? nōnne mūrēs quoque īnfantēs? euge! quam mē dēlectat sanguis mūrum īnfantium! quam mē dēlectat ossa parva exspuere! ō mūrēs, mī mūrēs, vōbīs exeundum est. nōnne hūc adveniō vōs cōnsūmptum? exīte, exīte, mī mūrēs, et perīte!”

in peristyliō, ubi Ferōx et Medūsa cum catulīs suīs dormiunt, Ferōx sēmisomnus vōcem mustēlae raucam audit et, “heus!” inquit, “quid hoc est?” Ferōx subitō surgit et, “dī immortālēs!” lātrat, “num ista mustēla domum nostram ingredī audet? nōnne moriendum est istī mustēlae? nōnne mē oportet ossa istīus exspuere?”

Medūsa quoque surgit et, “mī Ferōx, cūr adeō perturbātus es? quid tē vexat?” susurrat. “num tē decet līberōs nostrōs ē somnīs excitāre?”

Ferōx autem, “Medūsa mea,” respondet, “quaesō, tacē et audī!” Medūsa tacet et mox vōcem Sabīnae mustēlae audit. “mūrēs, mī mūrēs, exīte et perīte! mūrēs, mī mūrēs, date mihi ossa sanguinemque!” cantat illa. Medūsa īrātissima, “num,” exclāmat, “tam audāx est ista mustēla? num iterum domum nostram ingreditur mūrēs agitātum? nōnne catulōs quoque nostrōs ēsse in animō habet? age, mī Trux, istī mustēlae ossa exspue!”

Ferōx laetissimus cōnsentit et per domum tacitē rēpit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of Sabīna now? I’m particularly interested in an analysis of her in terms of the virtūtēs Rōmānae, and especially in terms of pietās. Is she appropriately or excessively bloodthirsty as she prepares to do her officia regarding mice?
  • For that matter, is Sabīna really doing her officia regarding Ridiculus, Impigra, and the babies? Surely no one would object to her killing mice for her dominus, in his domus – after all, that’s why he has a weasel, isn’t it? But is it appropriate for her to kill mice in someone else’s domus, under someone else’s manus?
  • Since Sabīna is a female, and a non-human, to what extent do virtūtēs like gravitās and dignitās apply to her? They certainly applied to great Roman heroines like Lucretia – but to a weasel?
  • If the virtūtēs do, or should, apply to her, though, how would you rate Sabīna in terms of gravitās and dignitās? She seems to enjoy her officia a bit more than she might … or is it in the nature of an officium that one should, in fact, enjoy it? Is Sabīna a Stoic, an Epicurean, or something else entirely … like a weasel? 🙂
  • And what about Ferox and Medusa?  To what extent are they behaving (or thinking) in accord with pietās, dignitās, gravitās, and the other virtūtēs?  Or should the virtūrēs Rōmānae be applied to dogs … even if they are rather anthropomorphic dogs?

Tune in next time for the exciting continuation, in which the animal and human worlds once again collide for a bit. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Another New Story

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll look at another new story featuring the animal characters from the Tres Columnae project. It comes from Lectiō XVI, just about midway through Cursus Prīmus. We’ll be focusing on birth and infancy at that point, as both animal and human characters give birth over several Lectiōnēs, and we’ll try to incorporate some human Roman traditions (the diēs lūstricus, for example, and the giving of bullae) into the animals’ world.  We’ll look at several of these stories in posts over the next few days.

It’s an exciting time for the Tres Columnae Project, as we are really starting to feel that the project itself has been “born” and is starting to grow and flourish. So it seems like an appropriate time for stories of birth and new beginnings. Besides, June was the lucky month for weddings in the Roman world, so it’s a time when our characters’ attention would be focused on new life and new beginnings. And for many of our U.S. readers, school is just ending, or just ended, or just about to end – a time of new beginnings for our graduates, of course, but also for teachers as we reflect on the year that just ended and begin to think about “doing things differently” next year.

Speaking of June, I have some exciting news for our Free Trial subscribers to the Tres Columnae project.  As you may recall, the Free Trial period was originally scheduled to end on June 1 – yesterday, if you’re reading this post “live.”  But due to your requests and some logistical considerations, we’ve decided to extend the Free Trial period through June 15 for current Free Trial subscribers, and through June 30 for anyone who signs up after June 1.  Free Trial subscribers, please remember that you can submit all the stories, images, audio, video, and other “stuff” you’d like … and (other than granting us the right to publish and use it, and other subscribers some rights to use, adapt, and remix it) you still own and control what you’ve submitted to us.

In today’s story, Ferox and Medusa, canēs Valeriī, are preparing to welcome a litter of puppies into the world, and Ferox (like many proud fathers) gets just a bit flustered.  By the time you read this post, you’ll be able to find the story at this link, and it will also be featured in the Table of Contents for the project at the Version Alpha Wiki site.

per domum Valeriī festīnātur et lātrātur. Medūsa enim, canis Valeriī, catulōs partūrit. Ferōx, marītus Medūsae, “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne mē decet adesse? fortasse obstētrīcem vocāre dēbeō! nōnne mē oportet auxilium tibi ferre?” Medūsa tamen, “Ferōx! tacē et abī!” respondet. “canēs enim oportet sōlās catulōs gignere! haud opus est obstētrīcis vel medicī, mī marīte!”

Ferōx igitur per tōtam domum festīnat et lātrat. Medūsa autem sub lectō sē cēlat et “heu! marītum stultissimum!” sēcum colloquitur. “num canis umquam obstētrīcem vocāre solet?”

brevī tempore Medūsa quīnque catulōs gignit. Valeria sonōs catulōrum audit et “māter! frāter! soror! venīte!” exclāmat. tōta familia Valeria cubiculum ingreditur et “heus! catulōs optimōs!” exclāmātur. Valerius ipse Ferōcem Medūsamque valdē laudat. Caeliōla “nōnne nōs decet bullās catulīs quaerere?” rogat, et Valerius, “fortasse, filia mea,” respondet.

tum omnēs hominēs ē cubiculō ēgrediuntur. Ferōx et Medūsa cum catulīs manent. Ferōx singillātim catulōs tollit et “ecce fīlius meus! ecce fīlia mea!” prōnuntiat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • In general, we’ve tried to keep the animal and human worlds rather separate from each other – that is, the animals don’t talk to the people, and they don’t behave in people-like (or animal-fable-character-like) ways when the people are around. Does that make sense to you?
  • Do you think we’ve accomplished that in this story?
  • To what extent have we addressed the themes of pietās and familia that we explored in last week’s posts?
  • What other virtūtēs Rōmanae have we addressed – or, perhaps, failed to address?
  • And what new insights, if any, into our characters do you have as a result of this story?

Tune in next time, when we’ll feature another story from this sequence and explore some of its implications. Later this week, we’ll look at what we’ve accomplished so far with the Tres Columnae project, and we’ll also take a look at plans for the future. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Building Understanding, VI: Housing, Families, and Pietas

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series on Understanding, shifting the focus from language elements (like nouns and verbs) and a Connection or Comparison task (like native-language derivatives from Latin) to focus on Roman Culture. As you may recall if you’ve read the stories in Lectiō Prīma on the Version Alpha Wiki site, our cultural goals for Lectiō Prīma include helping our learners to

compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure

begin to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās

Our faithful reader Laura G pointed out in this blog post that we’ve done a lot with housing and family structure, but not so much with pietās in the materials she’d seen. Today and tomorrow we’ll attempt to make the pietās connections clearer.

First, for our readers who may not be experts on Roman beliefs and values, I suppose we should try to define and translate pietās … except that it’s a completely untranslatable Roman concept! If you doubt my claim of untranslatability, just check out this lengthy definition for the adjective pius and this even longer definition for pietās itself and see if you can find a single-word equivalent in any language other than Latin! 🙂 In a nutshell, pietās is the way a Roman acts so that he (or she) is in the right relationship to everyone: family, friends, the state, the gods, nature, enemies … everyone and everything. It has a lot more to do with conduct than with inner attitudes or beliefs – which is perfectly natural for Roman culture but often leaves twentieth- and twenty-first-century Americans and Europeans scratching their heads in confusion.

That’s one reason why our goal is to begin to explore the concept; fully exploring it will be, in some senses, the work of the entire Tres Columnae project and possibly beyond. But of course, with any huge exploration, you do have to start somewhere. That’s why we chose to begin with housing and family structures. In any culture, the layout and design of people’s homes says a lot about what they value and what their culture as a whole values, and housing is closely related to family structure. For example, I’m writing this post in a “family room” which is designed to be the heart of the house, with a fireplace on one wall and the perfect-sized space for an “entertainment center” (big cabinet for TV and stereo) on another wall. The house was built in the early 1990’s, and it absolutely reflects a cultural view of what families “should” do (sit together in the evenings after dinner and watch TV) that was dominant in this part of the U.S. at that time. A different house, built at another time in another part of the world, would have a very different layout.

So, after they read stories set in a domus and an īnsula, our participants will have the opportunity to explore lots of freely available online images of domūs and īnsulae. (Over time, we hope that lots of them will go to Roman sites, including Herculaneum, and contribute their own photos and other images of what they see, too!) We’ll also provide some links to a range of different perspectives about Roman family structure, probably with a few annotations about the perspective or “slant” of the authors if that’s important for our readers. We’ll then offer a Continuing Virtual Seminar in which participants can explore issues about housing, family, or both, depending on their particular interests and goals.

After that, though, we’ll begin to address the issue of pietās more formally with a sequence like this:

quid novī?

If you think back to our five goals for Lectiō Prīma, you may remember that the fifth goal was

begin to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās

We haven’t used the word very much … mostly because it’s very difficult to represent in English. Check out this Wikipedia article, this definition of the adjective pius, and this definition of pietās itself, and you’ll see what we mean! You’ll also, notice, though, that pietās is closely connected with familia. Pietās is much broader and deeper than just “devotion to your family,” but “devotion to your family” is a big part of it.

What evidence of devotion – and concern for right relationships and proper conduct – among familia members have you seen in the stories in Lectiō Prīma? Please take a moment or two to record them in your Tres Columnae learning blog. You may even want to begin to compare pietās with your own ideas about duty, respect, and devotion to family – especially if your ideas are very similar to pietās or very different from it! Then, if you’d like, please feel free to join the Continuing Virtual Seminar about pietās and share your thoughts with others.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • If you’re familiar with pietās, like many readers of the blog, do you agree with our (very inadequate) attempt at a definition? If not, we’d really like to hear from you, because we’re quite dissatisfied with it ourselves!
  • What do you think about the sequence of tasks? They’re a bit more free-form than the ones about grammar and etymology, but we think that’s appropriate under the circumstances. On the other hand, we may well be wrong … and if so, we’d really like for you to tell us!
  • 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?

Tune in next time when we’ll try to have some answers to some of these questions. Due to the Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., we’ll be taking a break from posting on Saturday and Monday – and I hope our Roman characters would agree, as we’ll take some time to honor those who have sacrificed much for our freedom and security. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Building Understanding, IV: Derivatives

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series about building Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill from the very beginning of the Tres Columnae project. (Again, if that distinction is new to you, please check out this link to the National Paideia Center, a huge influence on my thinking and on the Tres Columnae project.) We’ll be looking at the third goal of Lectiō Prīma today, which is that learners will

recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words

Depending on your experiences with Latin teachers – and Latin textbooks – you may have very different reactions to this goal.

Sadly, for some teachers, “Latin” has come to mean “English Vocabulary Development,” with instruction in the language and culture taking a distant second place to “roots and prefixes” or “making derivative trees.”

For others, English derivatives are “something you memorize with the vocabulary” – there’s a list of them, and you, the learner, are to reproduce that list on the vocabulary quiz. If you know the words, that’s fine; if not, there’s clearly something wrong with you (or with your previous English teachers) :-); but in any case, you are to memorize those words and list them along with those principal parts, genders, and other things in the dictionary listing. And heaven help you if you say dux means “leader” when the book clearly lists “general” as its meaning … or if you list duke as a derivative and forget about ducal! 😦

For still others, English derivatives are so much less important than language or culture that they (I should probably say “we”) de-emphasize them, forgetting about two huge benefits of derivative study for different groups of learners:

  • For those with a strong English vocabulary, it’s exciting to make the connections between Latin words one is learning and English words one already knows well. (Our faithful reader Laura G, for example, mentions in this blog post that she had never known that isolate derives from īnsula.)
  • For those who don’t have a strong English vocabulary, Latin words that one knows well can suddenly become a key to unlock long, mysterious English words whose meaning used to be opaque and mysterious. For example, once you know pater, suddenly paternity, patron, patronize, and patriotism begin to make sense.

Unfortunately, when we focus only on the Knowledge level of derivative work, we short-change both groups of learners:

  • The students with strong English vocabularies are bored because they already know the English words, and they don’t see the point of associating them with their roots.
  • The students with weaker English vocabularies are lost – they don’t know the Latin words that well, and they’re suddenly being asked to learn a bunch of other information (English words they don’t know) as well as a bunch of new information (several forms of a Latin word and a list of meanings).

The same problem happens when we focus exclusively or primarily on Skill without Understanding:

  • Again, the students with strong English vocabularies are bored: they already know how to separate a word into root, prefix, and suffix, so why practice what you’ve already mastered?
  • And again, the students with weaker vocabularies are probably lost: they don’t know how to separate a word into its elements, but the teacher is too busy yelling at them 😦 to notice. Besides, the teacher probably doesn’t know how to teach this word-attack skill … especially if the students are in high school or college at the time! Word attack skills, after all, are supposed to be the province of elementary teachers and reading specialists, aren’t they? “I don’t have time,” moans the teacher, “to teach these kids” – or worse yet, “those kids” – “things they should already be able to do. What’s wrong with those elementary teachers?” Or “those kids” or “those parents” or “society” or … the blame game goes on and on, but the poor child still can’t see that impetuous consists of a prefix, a Latin root, and a suffix, and Ms. X has just spent her whole planning period complaining rather than developing a solution!

If there is a solution, I think it has two elements. First, we Latin teachers need to acknowledge that our students do come to us with different levels of Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding of things we’d consider to be prerequisites for success. They’re not interchangeable parts, and rather than complaining about this, we need to (1) accept it and (2) find out what our learners do know. Once we know that, we can be more effective – rather than boring or frustrating a child with work that’s too easy or too difficult, we can match the task to the learner. And that’s a lot easier to do with a learning system like the Tres Columnae project – unlike a textbook, which is, by nature, linear and standardized, we can offer multiple pathways, exercises that are actually responsive to students’ patterns of errors, and immediate feedback. We can also help our learners build Understanding along with their Knowledge and Skill, whether they’re working on derivatives or on any other linguistic or cultural element.

How exactly will we do that? I’ll show you tomorrow, when we’ll actually look at some derivative and vocabulary exercises. intereā, quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Please let me know if you feel I was too harsh! I actually have a lot of sympathy for the “English Vocabulary Development” folks; I just would like to widen their perspective a bit and show them that really, deeply learning Latin will be better for their learners in the long run – and that their learners can, in fact, achieve real, deep Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding of Latin along with a growth in their English vocabularies.
  • What about my claims regarding students with strong or weaker English vocabularies? Have I diagnosed their difficulties accurately? And if I have, do you agree with my potential remedy?
  • Do you think it’s possible – or desirable – to match the task to the learner, or do you think everyone should be doing exactly the same thing at the same time? In either case, why do you think so, and what arguments would you use to persuade “those poor misguided fools” on the other side?

Tune in next time, when we’ll look at some of your responses and also take a closer look at some specific quid novī explanations and exercises for derivation from Lectiōnēs Prīma et Secunda. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

What about Vocabulary? II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take another look at vocabulary-related issues in the Tres Columnae system … and we’ll also take a look at a new story, thinking about the types of vocabulary exercises (and other vocabulary questions) that we might ask about it. When I look at blog traffic statistics, lectōrēs cārissimī, I’ve certainly noticed that you all like posts with stories better than posts without them. So I’ll try to give you plenty of stories, even in the more philosophically oriented posts.

Anyway, here are some quick thoughts about vocabulary, partly in answer to the questions I asked yesterday, and partly in answer to a great question from our faithful reader Laura G. You can read her comments and my preliminary response if you’re interested.

Today we’ll focus on Vocabulary Lists and Flashcards. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m deeply skeptical of the kinds of lists that present a “Latin word” and “its English meaning.” Of course, I grew up with such lists; the textbook I use in my face-to-face teaching life uses them; and I continue to assign list-related vocabulary work to my face-to-face students. But I’ve grown increasingly skeptical that vocabulary lists can actually promote deep, meaningful learning of vocabulary. Instead, I’m afraid they send two messages that I don’t want my students to receive.

First, they seem to send a message that “Latin and English are exactly the same; there’s a one-to-one equivalent for everything.” I didn’t realize this until recently, when I was reflecting on the homework assignment turned in by a (very capable) Latin III student. We’d been reading the Daedalus and Icarus sequence from Book X of the Metamorphoses, and the assignment was to vertite Latīnē a couple of English sentences that summarized part of the action. (I deliberately don’t say “translate into Latin” because I want my students to think about turning thoughts rather than looking up words.) Anyway, the sentence involved an English indirect statement with a “that,” and she did a creditable job of making ōrātiō oblīqua out of it … but she also threw in a seemingly-random ille to represent the word that in the original sentence. Of course, if you look up that in an English-to-Latin dictionary, you will see the word ille! And that’s pretty much all you’ll see … certainly not any guidance as to different ways the English word that is used, and the different ways that Latin represents them. After all, dictionaries have to be reasonable in size and price, and that type of detailed explanation would make them unmanageably large in both respects. But an unfortunate consequence is that, even when using a dictionary, a learner thinks “Latin Word X = English Word Y.”

Second, vocabulary cards and lists seem to send a message that “vocabulary in a language class is like all the other vocabulary work I do in those other classes” – that is, it can be “learned for the test,” regurgitated in some form, and promptly forgotten. I talked about that in more detail in this post from January, but it continues to bother me … especially when I watch my face-to-face students do reading-comprehension activities in class. The most faithful vocabulary-card and vocabulary-list makers, in general, are the same young people who chronically raise their hands, plaintively seeking my help because “I can’t find this word in the dictionary.” It’s there, of course, and it’s also on the cards or lists they just turned in – but it’s in a declined or conjugated form, and they can’t make the connection. Or else it never occurred to them that there should be a connection between the cards/lists and the words in the reading passages … or that the cards or lists have any higher purpose beyond “do them and turn them in” … such as, for example, helping you, the learner, actually learn the words on them! 😦

Ten or fifteen years ago, my students eagerly made and used cards (or lists, for the card-challenged) because Latin class was the only place in their school experience where cards happened. Now, though, their counterparts make cards for everybody – including Mrs. X, who takes the cards up and never gives them back! So a strategy that once seemed different and special has become boring and ordinary, at least in my corner of the world. Has that happened where you are?

Lest I bore you :-), I’ll save further reflections on the other points I raised yesterday for another post, and we’ll turn to the obvious next question: If not lists, what? And how, in a list-free world, would the Tres Columnae system help learners process and reflect upon the Latin words they encounter?

I actually think a world without any vocabulary lists would be difficult to achieve … there are certain words that don’t lend themselves to pictorial representation, or that aren’t obvious in context, or that don’t have obvious derivatives or cognates. Even then, though, I’d like to make it clear that the connections between English and Latin words are rarely one-to-one… in other words, I’d like to build not only Knowledge of the basic meanings of the words and Skill at using them (for comprehension and for production), but also Understanding of the deeper issues and ideas involved in words and meanings. For example, I envision that learners might “adopt a word,” research its connotations in a Latin dictionary, and create a semantic map, illustration, or other learning tool that presents some of the differences in connotation between the Latin and English words. Even a simple word like et is rich in possibilities (for example, a Roman can have a series like Caelius et Valerium et Caeliam et līberōs salūtat, but we can’t say *Caeilius greets and Valerius and Caelia and the children). So imagine what you could do with a noun or a verb! And imagine trying to represent the differences in meaning, connotation, and what we might call “closeness of connection” among et, –que, and atque! 🙂

So, in the context of a real Tres Columnae story, what might we do to

  • present new vocabulary
  • help learners relate new words to words they already know
  • help learners practice the new words, developing their Knowledge and Skill, and
  • help learners reflect on the new words, increasing their Understanding?

Let’s look at this story from Lectiō XVIII, next in sequence after the one in Wednesday’s post about servī et ancillae.  (You can also find it at this link at the Version Alpha Wiki site if you’d like.)  Vipsānia, uxor Caeliī, has finally noticed that many of the vernae bear a suspicious resemblance to her husband, and she confronts him in a way that many Roman women would be unlikely to do. Of course, it helps when your own pater was a senātor, your marītus is an eques, and you were married sine manū….

annō proximō, Dulcissima et Fēlīcissima ambae parturiunt. Dulcissimae puer, Fēlīcissimae puella nāscitur. Caelius Ūtilī pecūniam dat et, “vernās optimōs mihi praebēs!” exclāmat.

Vipsānia tamen suspiciōsa “heus!” exclāmat, “vultūs enim Caeliō meō quam similēs! mihi necesse est istās ancillās pūnīre!”

Vipsānia ergō ad Caelium festīnat et, “marīte!” exclāmat, “tē rem maximī mōmentī quaerō. novās enim ancillās habēre volō, quod mē taedet Dulcissimae et Fēlīcissimae. ignāvae enim et inūtilēs sunt illae, quod īnfantēs iam nūtriunt. quaesō, amābō tē, illās vende et aliās ancillās mihi eme!”

Caelius, “hem!” respondet, “aliās ancillās habēre vīs? ancillās novās et pulchrās? fortasse, sī pretium aequum –”

Vipsānia tamen īrātissima, “pulchrās enim? pulchrās?! num mē contemnis? num spernis? haud caeca, haud īnsāna sum! rēs enim gestās tuās plānē intellegō! num pater meus, ille Vipsānius senātor, tālia ferre potest? nōnne mē decet–”

sed Caelius, “Vipsānia, Vipsānia, cūr tē vexās?” respondet. “nōnne dominus sum? nōnne mihi est patria potestās? nōnne quoque manus servōrum et ancillārum? tē haud vexō, haud contemnō! tibi dōna aptissima emō! et tibi servulōs grātīs praebeō! cūr tē vexās? num ingrāta mē dēplōrās? num dīvortium quaeris?”

Vipsāna tamen “dīvortium? num tū impudēns dīvortium quaeris? nōnne sine manū uxor tibi sum? facile igitur est mihi cum dōte Mediolānum revertere! num paupertātem cupis, mī Caelī?”

Caelius attonitus, “quid hoc?” tamen susurrat. “Vipsānia cārissima, num iocōs meōs agnōscis? sī enim ancillās novās quaeris, nōnne–”

Vipsānia attonita et īrāta nihil respondet, sed ē tablīnō celeriter ēgreditur. “tē oportet tacēre et istās ancillās cum īnfantibus statim vēndere!” exclāmat et ad cubiculum suum contendit. Caelius “haud necesse est Dulcissimam vel Fēlīcissimam vēndere!” clāmat. “tibi autem trēs ancillās novās emere in animō habeō!”

paucīs tamen post hōrās, Caelius Ūtilem arcessit et, “Ūtilis,” inquit, “tē ad urbem Pompēiōs mittō vēnālīcium quaesītum. mihi enim necesse est servōs inūtilēs vēndere!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Which words are likely to be new to our participants?
  • Which ones are important enough to present first, in a fabella, with pictures, or with some other explanation?
  • Which (new or familiar) words might learners still want, or need, to practice?
  • And what kinds of practice would work best?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to address these questions … and the other big issues I raised on Friday. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Listening to Marginalized Voices

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll take a closer, more analytic look at the story we developed over the past few days, in which we learn a lot more about two primary female characters:

  • Vipsānia Caeliī, mother of Prīma, Secunda, and bratty little Cnaeus, and
  • Caelia Valeriī, her sister-in-law, mother of Valeria, well-behaved Lūcius, and little Caeliōla.

We also get a hint or two about the characters of Vipsānia’s two ancillae, Dulcissima and Fēlīcissima, though they don’t play hugely important roles in this story. We’ll learn more about them later.

If you haven’t been following the story, you might want to look at

  • Tuesday’s blog post for Part I of the story, and Wednesday’s post for Part II, in which Vipsānia impulsively visits her sister-in-law (unannounced and uninvited!) to ask for her advice
  • Thursday’s post for Part III, Version A, in which Vipsānia almost understands Caelia’s advice about training children with patience rather than screams or threats; and
  • Friday’s post for Part III, Version B, in which Vipsānia definitely misunderstands Caelia’s advice … and frustrated Caelia plays a practical joke on her.

Or if you’d prefer, you can see Part I here, Part II here, Part III A here, and Part III B here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki. As always, we’d love to have your feedback about plot, vocabulary, syntax, or any other elements of the story that interest you.

Today, though, we’ll focus specifically.on the characters of Vipsānia and Caelia, and we’ll see whether we can use them as a window to greater understanding of the often-margnialized world of Roman women. In Monday’s post, at the beginning of this sequence, I noted (to my surprise!) how few stories so far had focused on the lives of Roman citizen women characters. We’ve had lots of stories about the men, the children, the animals, the servī, and even the ancillae, but not so many about the matrōnae. Since Mother’s Day is this weekend in the U.S. (tomorrow, in fact, as I write this post), it seemed like a good time to rectify the lack of attention we’d paid to matrōnae et mātrēs. Given what we know about the children of these two families, it seemed reasonable that Vipsānia and Caelia would be quite different; in fact, if you take a look at their pictures, as developed by our extremely talented illustrator Lucy M, you can probably see that she grasped their essential differences even before I did! I have to admit that Vipsānia was a tabula rasa to me for a long time; in fact, I hadn’t even decided on her name in some early drafts of the Tres Columnae metastory. Poor Vipsānia! Maybe she is the way she is because everybody, not just her author, treats her that way! 😦

The last time we took a story apart, looking to see how we might use it to explore aspects of Roman culture, several readers objected to the whole enterprise. Their point was that the story (about Rīdiculus the mouse and Sabīna the weasel) was a comedy (which it certainly is) and that, as a result, you couldn’t do serious analytical work with it. I obviously disagree with this conclusion – mostly because I’ve always been fascinated by the social messages implicit in comedies. I remember, as a child, watching reruns of I Love Lucy, The Beverly Hillbillies, and the like in the afternoons and thinking how different their assumed social norms were (though I obviously didn’t have that terminology) from those of the era in which I lived. By contrast, I wasn’t all that interested in The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch at the time – they just reflected the world I did live in. It wasn’t until that world had changed, and I saw those shows again in a changed world, that I found them interesting. I had a similar response to “higher-quality” things like children’s books … the ones that were set in, or written in, another time were always more interesting than the ones about “here and now.” And the interest stayed with me as I studied the social roles in Plautine comedy (the subject of my undergraduate “integrative exercise” paper) … and even today, as I sometimes watch children’s comic shows on The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon with my favorite-and-only children, now 12 and 8. (Those shows are often set in a version of “here and now,” but it’s a youth-culture here-and-now and I no longer qualify as a youth!)

So, with this interest in the sociocultural implications of comedy, I set out to develop funny stories for the Tres Columnae project that could also be used as jumping-off points for more serious cultural analysis if you, the participant, want to go in that direction. Of course you don’t have to go in that direction, any more than you have to analyze the social-class dynamics at work in The Beverly Hillbillies. But if you do want to go in that direction, I wanted some interesting material to work with.

Specifically, in developing our current sequence of stories, I hope I’ve provided

  • two very different Roman women, each of whom may or may not be stereotypical in certain ways
  • two very different families, with obvious questions to consider about the relationship between the children’s characters and their parental models
  • complex and ambiguous characters who can’t be easily classified as good or bad even by the most black-and-white, concrete-operational preteen subscriber.

I’m curious to know what you think, both about these aims and about how well I’ve met them in this sequence of stories. quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • To what extent do Vipsānia and Caelia conform to stereotypic images of Roman womanhood?
  • To what extent do they challenge or subvert those images?
  • What patterns of influence can you see between the women and their children’s conduct and character?
  • To what extent have I succeeded at making Vipsānia and Caelia multidimensional and complex characterss? Or are they just inconsistent … or completely consistent and unsurprising?
  • And to what extent do you think that my goals of inverting stereotypes, exploring family dynamics, and dealing with complexity are appropriate for the Tres Columnae system?

Tune in on Monday for your answers and some more questions. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll continue our exploration of marginalized voices with more stories about servī et ancillae. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!