salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! And grātiās maximās to our faithful reader Rebecca, who mentioned this post from February in a recent message to the Oerberg listserv about impersonal verbs. I thanked her there, but I want to acknowledge her publicly … and to welcome any new lectōrēs fidēlissimī who have found the blog because of her post. There’s an interesting conversation going on there at the moment; more about it in tomorrow’s post.
Just to repeat one point I made there: one of the primary purposes of the Tres Columnae Project is to build a large collection of “extensive” reading material – stories that a Latin learner can read quickly, independently, and confidently without much guidance from a teacher or other authority figure. Extensive reading builds speed, confidence, fluency, and what we call Ownership of the learning process … and we think that’s absolutely vital. If you’re just joining us, I’d like to invite you to check out the information about Who We Are and learn more about our Core Beliefs. You might also be curious about why we call ourselves a Joyful Learning Community.
If you’ve looked at the very beginning of the Tres Columnae Project, the stories that introduce the Valerii, the Lollii, and the Caelii in Lectiō Prīma and Lectiō Secunda, you may have noticed that all three of the primary families appear to have 3 children:
- Valerius and Caelia have Valeria, Lucius, and Caeliola
- Caelius and Vipsania have Prima, Secunda, and Cnaeus
- Lollius and Maccia have Caius, Lollia, and … Quārtus īnfāns?
But why hasn’t Quārtus appeared in any of our existing stories? You may have wondered that … and so did our amazing illustrator Lucy when she was developing the illustrations for the familiae. As it turns out, little Quartus is a – what’s the opposite of a flashback? A flash-forward? A prolepsis? A not-yet?
Anyway, at the narrative time of Lectiō Prīma, Quartus is still on the way; he’ll actually be born in Lectiō XVI, along with all the animal babies in this story of Ferox and Medusa’s puppies and this one of Ridiculus and Impigra’s baby mice.
This week we’ll focus on little Quartus, and on the related issue of his brother Tertius, who (as it turns out) died young as so many Roman babies did. Infant mortality is a sad thing for us to think about (especially for me as a parent), but it was certainly a fact of life in the Roman world – and throughout the world well into the “modern” age. My own grandfather was one of three brothers who survived to adulthood, all born between 1904 and 1910, but there were at least two other siblings who died in infancy.
And yet, common as it was, infant mortality seems to be another cultural issue that most Latin textbooks don’t address. I’m not sure whether it’s because they don’t want to offend or upset young children who might be using the textbooks, or whether there’s just a desire to gloss over the less-pleasant aspects of Roman society. Of course, most introductory Latin textbooks don’t have very many strong female characters, and that may be another reason for their silence about this “women’s” issue. I don’t think the reasons are actually all that important, though.
Regardless of the cause, while infant mortality is certainly mentioned in “cultural background” essays, it rarely appears in the actual core stories of most Latin textbooks. But, as with the other “unmentionable” features of Roman culture that we’ve addressed in Tres Columnae Project stories, I really think we do a disservice to our learners if we don’t at least give them an opportunity to think about infant mortality. If the topic is too sensitive, or too painful, for a given group of readers, we encourage them – and their teachers, if it’s a school-based group – to create an ITER through the materials that meets their need and avoids topics that are unnecessarily painful. But in general, we want to give as full and accurate a picture as we can, and sometimes that includes some potentially painful topics.
Anyway, we’ll begin our series about little Quartus (who does survive, as we’ll discover) with this story from Lectiō XVI, in which his arrival is imminent and his father is praying for a safe delivery. This is the only story that features little Tertius, and it’s hardly essential to the plot. So if your learners would be disturbed or saddened by him, it’s one you can safely skip. For the rest of us, though, here we go:
dum Cāius Lollius cum familiā Valeriā urbem Mediolānum iter facit, Maccia et Lollia in cēnāculō cūnās parant. Maccia enim partūrīre parat. laeta est Maccia, quod fīlium secundum Lolliō suō dare valdē cupit. anxia tamen et trīstis est, quod īnfantem Tertium, duōbus ante annīs nātum, memōriā tenet. Tertius īnfāns pulcher sed aeger erat. febrēs et tussēs maximī saepe eum afflīgēbant. novem mēnsēs nātus, Tertius mortuus est. Maccia cotīdiē Tertium suum flet et saepe ad sepulcrum contendit precātum et dōna datum. Lollius quoque Tertium suum saepe tacitē flet.
hodiē Lollius ante prīmam hōram surgit et ad sepulcrum ipse contendit flētum. quamquam Lollius ipse pauper est, inter māiōrēs erant nōnnūllī virī dīvitēs. magnum igitur et splendidum est sepulcrum Lolliōrum. extrā mūrōs urbis Herculāneī stat, et multās urnās tenet. in urnīs sunt cinerēs Lolliōrum mortuōrum. prope sepulcrum stat āra, ubi Lolliī sacrificia precēsque Dīs Mānibus offerre solent. hodiē māne Lollius ipse ad āram stat. mātrem, māterterās, aviam, et omnēs mulierēs iam mortuās adloquitur. “quaesō, ō mortuae,” inquit, “uxōrem meam aspicite et eī partum facilem dā!” tum Lollius urnam parvam cōnspicit et lacrimīs ululātibus sē trādit. urnam manibus suīs tenet et Tertium, īnfantem suum, adloquitur. “mī īnfāns,” inquit, “utrum mē audīre potes annōn? utrum īnfantēs quoque auxilium ferre possunt annōn? quaesō autem, amābō tē, sī haec potes, parentēs cum frātre et sorōre aspice et nōbīs favōrem deum conciliā! nōnne māter tua nunc iam partūrīre parat? quaesō, amābō tē, mātrem tuam aspice et eī partum facilem dā!” Lollius Mānēs māiōrum iterum adloquitur et eīs quoque sacrificia vōtaque offert.
quid respondētis, amīcī?
- I suppose Lollius, like any good Roman, was probably praying for another son (who could carry on the family name and bring some money into the family through marriage) rather than a daughter (who would require an expensive dōs down the road), but he doesn’t say so. Do you think he should?
- I asked a few lectōrēs fidēlissimī about the depiction of Roman religion in this story, and the general consensus was that
- we know very little about what everyday Romans actually did and believed;
- “Roman religion” is a monolithic term for what was actually a very diverse set of practices and beliefs; and
- it’s probably impossible to reconstruct “authentic” Roman beliefs and practices in any case.
- What do you think about that? How important is reconstruction of authentic Roman beliefs and practices to you?
- Looking at the story itself, I was aiming to acknowledge the reality of infant mortality without dwelling on it excessively. How well do you think this story accomplishes that goal?
- Do you find any new insights into Lollius, as a character, from this story?
- Is there anything else you wish you knew about him, or about the family?
- What other questions about the story do you have?
Tune in next time, when Lollius’ wife Maccia sends for the midwife, as Quartus’ arrival is imminent. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.