salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Yesterday was an exciting day for the Tres Columnae Project, and today looks like it will be full of adventures, too. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the recent thread on the Oerberg listserv about passive verbs, in which this blog post of mine from February was mentioned very favorably. That led to an interesting exchange about the mechanics of teaching such structures. Two items, in particular, stood out for me:
- Rebecca, our regular reader who started the exchange, mentioned that it helps her to think about how a construction (especially an impersonal one) might be “literally” expressed in English – not as an end in itself, but as a gateway to understanding the differences between the Latin and English structures.
- One teacher who responded mentioned that his students’ eyes glaze over when he tells them about such things. He also mentioned that his students understand who does the action and who is affected by it in both passive and active sentences, but they have trouble transforming sentences from active to passive – to change his metaphor just a bit, they seem to get lost in a jungle of endings. He wondered if this was a common problem.
Of course, translation is such a hot-button issue for so many Latin teachers! And I’m sure we all struggle with students who get lost in that metaphorical jungle. For those of you lectōrēs fidēlissimī who don’t subscribe to the Oerberg listserv, here’s a portion of what I said… and I invite you to join in, especially if you disagree!
As for “translation of a structure,” for want of a better term, for it to be most successful, I think the key is that it has to be done by the learner, not by the teacher! Now, obviously, as a teacher, you can ask or even require your learners to participate in the process, but “translation of a structure” is a high-level cognitive task. It has to do with what learning theorists would call Analysis and Synthesis, or what the Paideia model calls Understanding. For that to happen, and to stick, the learner has to do the analysis and synthesis him/herself. Otherwise, you’re just imparting factual Knowledge (“the Latin literally means …”), which is probably why you get those blank stares.
That principle of small steps with plenty of practice is definitely operative when it comes to passives. It sounds like your students are at a good place: they comprehend the sentence AND can tell who is doing and who is receiving the action. Those are two important steps in making that transformation, but there are MANY others. Perhaps the next step is to practice _matching_ a passive sentence with its active equivalent, and vice versa. Picking a frequent example from the Tres Columnae stories, “Cnaeus ā sorōribus dērīdētur,” the choices would be “Cnaeus sorōrēs dērīdet” or “sorōrēs Cnaeum dērīdent.” From there, you might move to having students just change the verb ending (since the passive verb endings are the “new thing” in this context): “Cnaeus ā sorōribus dērīd____.” Then you might practice one of the two noun transformations (acc to nom, or nom to abl) in isolation, and then practice changing it AND the verb at the same time. Then you’d add the other transformation, first in isolation and then in context. And, of course, if you want to “go the other way,” you’d need to model and practice each step of that process, too.
Actually, I think the “thicket of changing cases and endings” – like other “thickets” in which our students get lost – is a sign that there are too many steps going on at once. Latin teachers (and teachers in general!) tend to fall into the trap of explaining or demonstrating a complicated process once or twice, then assuming our students should be able follow all the steps perfectly. But that rarely happens! Breaking the process down this way might appear to take more time in the beginning, but it saves a lot of time later … no anguished cries of “I don’t get it,” fewer low quiz scores, less frustration!
I went on to mention that the Tres Columnae self-correcting exercises (like the samples you can see here at our Instructure Public Demo site) are designed to build students’ skills in this step-by-step manner. I also noted the old axiom that comprehension precedes production, which I hope was helpful to him and to the other list members there. Even if you haven’t used the textbook, I think you’ll find a very congenial, creative, insightful bunch of teachers and learners on that list … and many of them don’t participate in such “mainstream” groups as Latinteach or Latin-BestPractices.
At the moment, though, let’s return our focus to the Tres Columnae Project stories featured in this week’s posts. Today, as promised, we feature the story from Lectiō XVI in which Maccia Lolliī, mother of Cāius and Lollia, is about to give birth to their baby brother Quartus. Cāius, conveniently, is still on the trip to Milan with his friend Lucius that begins in Lectiō XVI, and Lollius himself (as we saw in yesterday’s featured story) is busy praying for a safe delivery. So Maccia turns to her daughter Lollia for help summoning the midwife.
As I think about the Latin textbooks I know well, I realize that midwives aren’t very prominent, even when (as usually happens in the “Big Three” reading-method books) a character does give birth. I don’t know why that is, either. Of course, midwives are the archetype of the independent woman in the ancient world – and, for that matter, they’re just about the only independent women in the ancient world – so Roman men probably found them a bit terrifying. Other than the father’s role of acknowledging paternity by picking up the newborn child, men had very little to do with birth in the Roman world, and that probably helps to explain the silence of the textbooks. But we’re aiming for more, so Paulla the obstētrīx (like her mouse-counterpart in this story from later in Lectiō XVI), plays a major role in the birth narrative, which you can also find here on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site if you prefer. We think you’ll find her a memorable character, too!
dum Lollius ad sepulcrum māiōrum Mānēs precātur, Maccia quoque mātūrē surgit et deae Iunōnī Lucīnae precēs adhibet. tum per cēnāculum celeriter ambulat onmia bene purgātum. dum mūrōs lavat, subitō “heus!” exclāmat, “nōnne venter mihi maximē dolet. Lollia! mē audī!” Lollia ad mātrem celeriter contendit et, “quid vīs, māter mea?” sollicita rogat. tum Maccia, “heus!” inquit, “venter mihi maximē dolet! tē oportet obstētrīcem quaerere, quod tempus adest!”
Maccia ad cubiculum prōgreditur et statim recumbit. Lollia iānuam cēnāculī aperit et celeriter ēgreditur. obstētrīx est anus sexāgintā annōrum, cui nōmen Paulla est. in īnsulā proximā habitat. Lollia igitur celeriter quīnque scālīs dēscendit et hanc īnsulam ingreditur. tribus scālīs Paulla in cēnāculō pulchrō habitat. Lollia iānuam pulsat et, “quaesō, Paulla obstētrīx, māter mea Maccia Lolliī tē rogat!”
Paulla in cēnāculō clāmōrēs Lolliae audit et “hem!” sēcum putat, “sine dubiō iste pauper Lollius mē grātīs uxōrem adiuvāre exspectat.” īrāta et fessa est Paulla quod hīs tribus diēbus quīnque mātrēs īnfantēs suōs gignere iam adiuvat. ad iānuam cēnāculī igitur haud contendit, sed in sellā suā prope fenestram sedet. Lollia tamen, ignāra īrārum Paullae, iterum iterumque iānuam pulsat et clāmat. tandem Paulla “heus!” sēcum putat, “mē oportet istam iānuam aperīre! sine dubiō ista puella eam frangere in animō habet!” Paulla igitur iānuam aperit et, “quis mē ita appellat?” īrāta Lolliam rogat. Lollia anxia, “salvē, obstētrīx,” inquit et Paullam rīte salūtat. Paulla “salvē atque tū, puella,” respondet et, “num tū partūrīs?” magnō cum rīsū rogat. Lollia ērubēscit et, “nōn ego, sed māter mea, illa Maccia Lolliae, amīca tua,” obstētrīcī respondet.
Paulla “haud mihi amīca māter tua, sed pater certē dēbitor!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus mihi trēs dēnāriōs hōs duōs annōs iam dēbet?” Lollia iterum ērubēscit et, “obstētrīx benigna,” Paullae respondet, “nōnne adveniō dēnāriōs tibi datum?” sacculum pecūniā plēnum obstētrīcī offert. Paulla sacculum aperit et pecūniam avida numerat. tum “ēhem! trēs enim dēnāriōs, duōs sestertiōs quoque! dī mihi favent … et sine dubiō dī patrī tuō favent! cūr tamen mē hodiē petis?”
et Lollia “ō obstētrīx benigna,” respondet, “quaesō, amābō tē, venī mēcum ad cēnāculum! māter enim nunc iam partūrit et tē exspectat.” Paulla “veniō nunc iam,” Lolliae respondet. “fortasse iste pater tuus mihi dēnāriōs dēbitōs celerius iam potest.”
quid respondētis, amīcī?
Since this post is getting a bit long, we’ll save my questions … and any that you want to share … for tomorrow’s post. We’ll also find out what happens when little Quartus arrives. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.