Wedding Stories, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today, as many of us are traveling – or preparing to travel – to the 2010 American Classical League Institute in lovely Winston-Salem, North Carolina, we’ll continue our exploration of the rather shorter journey that young Valeria takes to begin her married life to Vipsānius. Actually, today we’ll be focusing on the final preparations for the cēna nūptiālis – the first wedding feast, the one that occurs in the bride’s father’s house right after the actual ceremony, and before the dēductiō. We’ll look in on familia Vipsānia next time, in the house that Quartus Vipsānius has bought, just for the occasion, in Herculaneum … apparently he is as considerate as he is wealthy, and he decided to spare everyone a lengthy journey from Herculaneum to Milan. As a friend of mine sometimes says of such cases, “Must be nice!”

Today, though, we take a break from the emotional ups and downs of Valeria and her parents to look in on the servī et ancillae as they make final preparations for the cēna nūptiālis. For some reason, I had in mind that everything regarding a Roman wedding took place in the evenings – probably because I love the Catullus wedding hymns, with their references to Vesper and the dēductiō. But in Private Life of the Romans, Harold Johnston maintains that the first part of the ceremony (the iunctiō dextrārum, the cōnfarreātiō or coemptiō, and the cēna) took place earlier in the day, and that the ōmina were checked before dawn … which, of course, makes sense both in terms of pietās (you’d hardly want to start a wedding on a diēs nefastus, after all) and of logistics (these things do take a while).

No doubt Gallicus did the serious cooking yesterday, or perhaps he was up most of the night; in any case, he’s now working on the, um, delicious mustāceum, which (as I had temporarily forgotten) was not only flavored with must but baked on a bed of bay leaves. Not exactly what the twenty-first-century sweet tooth looks for in a dessert! But, of course, the Roman sweet tooth had far fewer sweet things to choose from than its modern equivalent … no chocolate, no refined sugar! vae Rōmānīs! But they didn’t know what they were missing, did they? 🙂

Anyway, it turns out that poor Gallicus is “in a tizzy,” as some of my relatives like to say. He doesn’t do well under stress in any case, as we discovered in this story from Lectiō XI, and his mood can’t be helped by the fact that Casina, his old friend, will soon be departing, a wedding gift to Valeria from her father. (We’ll find out more about how that happened in some stories from Lectiō XIX that I’ll feature in an upcoming series.)  Besides, Gallicus is not entirely pleased with the replacement that Valerius has bought (on the cheap) from his brother-in-law Caelius; if you’ve read this story, this one, and this one from Lectiō XIX, you may remember that Caelius was under a bit of pressure to replace some ancillae. But Gallicus’ opinion of Dulcissima is about to change, as we’ll see in this story. You can now find it at this link at the Tres Columnae Version Alpha wiki site, if you’d like.

dum Caelia et Valeria in ātriō Herculem precantur, in culīnā domūs clāmātur et festīnātur. Gallicus enim coquus ultimās cēnae nūptiālis epulās parāre cōnātur. “heus!” clāmat ille, “ubi est mustum? ubi folia laurea? mē oportet mustāceum celeriter cōnficere – sed quis mustāceum sine mustō foliīsque facere potest? vae! heu!”

Casina, iam Valeriae dōnō nātālī dāta et ad salūtem reducta, cūlīnam ingressa “ēhem!” inquit. “mī Gallice, nōnne tē decet mēnsam īnspicere? nōnne omnia quae petis adsunt?” Gallicus “hercle!” respondet, “adsunt enim omnia! Casina mea, quid tamen faciam, quandō tū cum Valeriā et marītō disēcdēs? quis mē adiuvābit, cum tālia invenīre nōn poterō?” Casina subrīdēns, “nōnne illa Dulcissima, quam dominus noster nūper ēmit, tē adiuvāre potest? nōn modo perīta, sed pulchra est illa.” Gallicus tamen, quī Dulcissimae nōn iam crēdit, “pulchra certē, sed haud tam perīta quam tū!” respondet. “nēmō enim tam perītam quam Casina sē praestāre potest!”

Dulcissima, culīnam ingressa, haec Gallicī verba audit et ērubēscit. paulīsper tacet; tum “ēhem!” inquit, “mī Gallice, quid petis?” Gallicus quoque ērubēscit et “Dulcissima!” exclāmat, “an ades? heus! rēs enim dīra etiam nunc accidit – cultrum enim meum invenīre haud possum! hercle! ecastor! ubi est iste culter?” Casina subrīdet, sed nihil respondet. Dulcissima quoque subrīdēns “mī Gallice,” respondet, “nōnne manū nunc iam tenēs? tibi cūrandum est, mī Gallice; facile enim est coquō, quī cultrum ignārus fert, sibi nocēre!”

“manū?” exclāmat Gallicus. “nunc iam?” Gallicus attonitus cultrum manumque spectat et “heus, Dulcissima mea, mihi ignōsce!” gaudēns exclāmat. “tē enim nōn modo pulchram sed etiam perītissimam nunc praestās! fortasse perītior es quam Casina nostra ipsa!” Casina subrīdēns, “fortūna tibi faveat,” Dulcissimae susurrat et, ē culīnā ēgreditur. Dulcissima quoque ē culīnā exit et “num Gallicus semper ita sē gerit?” attonitus rogat. “semper,” respondet Casina. tum ancillae ambae cachinnīs et rīsibus sē trādit.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of poor, frazzled Gallicus?
  • And what about Casina and Dulcissima?
  • Do you like the idea of breaking the tension with a comic episode like this one, or would you prefer an uninterrupted set of wedding stories?

The good news is that with an online text like the Tres Columnae Project, you can choose the “perfect” order for yourself. No more compulsion to read page 92 before you go on to page 93!  In fact, if you don’t want to read the stories that aren’t directly about the wedding, you can skip them completely! We promise we won’t tell! 🙂

Besides, the point of extensive reading material like this is that you, the reader, get to choose stories and sequences of stories that appeal to you! Just try that with a typical textbook … by their very nature, and by the economics of their production, they really can’t offer much in the way of extensive reading. If they tried, they’d be huge, heavy, and prohibitively expensive.

Tune in next time for another story from the sequence. Depending on how things go Saturday, when I’ll be making my presentation about the Tres Columnae Project at the 2010 American Classical League Institute, I may interrupt the series for a special report about that, or I may save that special report for the end of this series. If you have a strong preference either way, please let me know. And, once again, safe travels to those who are coming from a distance to the Institute.

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

Rites of Passage, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series of posts exploring the preparations for Valeria and Vipsanius’ wedding in Lectiōnēs XIV-XV of the Tres Columnae project … and the actual wedding in Lectiō XXIV, shortly before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. You may recall that we started out on Friday with this fabella, in which Vipsanius’ father apparently has sent a much-expected letter, and this story, in which Valeria’s parents are celebrating the good news. We took the day off on Saturday and Sunday, and then on Monday we looked at this story, in which Valeria, not unlike a young teenager today, was sitting in her room … but not, of course, multitasking as they would!

Speaking of multitasking, I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn by Dr. Larry D. Rosen. He has a lot to say about the good side – and the simple reality – of our media-saturated, constantly-plugged-in students … and everything I’ve read so far has only increased my determination to make the Tres Columnae Project happen for them. Just a quick sample: Chapter 1 is called “Why Tweens and Teens Hate School,” and based on his research, it’s because factory-model schools (though he doesn’t use the term) expect a kind of lockstep, technology-free approach to learning that’s utterly different from what they’ve been wired to do. My own children are academic achievers, and they’re too polite to complain to their teachers for the most part – but I compare the “academic” tasks they’re asked to do for homework with the engaging, interactive stuff they do online for fun, and I weep – for them, but especially for their friends and classmates, and for my own students who come to me bored and turned off from school because it’s such an alien environment for them. And yet, like Procrustes, we school people keep trying to make the children fit our model, rather than fitting the school to the learner! As our friend Cnaeus would say (and he will say, in a story later this week), “vae! heu!” I think you’ll enjoy that story, which hasn’t yet appeared on the blog or on the Version Alpha Wiki site.

Today, though, we’ll look at the story in which Valerius and his daughter have The Talk about her upcoming marriage. You’ll be able to find it at this link at the Version Alpha Wiki site, too, if you’d like. Here we go:

Valerius in tablīnō sedet et fīliam exspectat. Valeria tablīnum ingreditur et patrem salūtat. Valerius fīliae ōsculum dat et, “quaesō, mea fīlia,” inquit, “hoc mihi explicā: quālem marītum tibi invenīre dēbeō?”

Valeria ērubēscit et, “cūr hoc mē rogās, pater?” tandem rogat.

Valerius “hoc tē rogō, quod pater sum tuus, et quod trēdecim annōs es nāta, et …”

et Valeria, “et quod iuvenem in animō habēs? quis est, mī pater, et quālis?”

tum Valerius, “puella mea, quam sapiēns es! num māter tibi rem iam patefacit?”

sed Valeria, “mī pater, nōnne fīlia sum tua? nōnne tē hōs trēdecim annōs cognōscō? haud difficile est mihi hoc intellegere … praesertim cum servus mihi ignōtus in tablīnō etiam nunc stat. dīc ergō mihi: quis est iuvenis et quālis?”

et Valerius attonitus et rīdēns, “heus! num dēlātōrēs Imperātōris tam callidī sunt quam fēminae meae? rem tōtam intellegis. et Vipsānius, consōbrīnus matris tuae, iuvenis ingeniī optimī magnaeque pecūniae est.”

Valeria ērubēscit et “num Vipsānius ille quī in urbe Mediolānō habitat?”

et Valerius, “Vipsānius ipse!”

Valeria patrem amplectitur et “dea Fortūna nōbīs favet!” exclāmat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Obviously not all Roman girls were as happy as Valeria about their father’s choice of husband. In fact, we’ll have a less-positive story of another marriage before too long. But what do you think of Valeria’s reaction?
  • How about Valerius’ attempts to tiptoe around the situation? As the father of an almost-teenage daugher, I found it rather funny … but not dissimilar to some conversations I’ve attempted to have with her.
  • And what about Valerius’ reference to dēlātōrēs Imperātōris? Keep in mind that we’ve set these stories during the Flavian era, when dēlātōrēs were very much in people’s minds … and when the memory of Julio-Claudian emperors’ behavior would have been pretty fresh.
  • And I have to ask – how do you suppose Lucius and Caeliola will respond to the news of their big, “bossy” sister’s impending wedding … and her impending departure from the domus?

Tune in next time, when we’ll follow the Valeriī – and the Caeliī – on their trip from Herculaneum to Milan for the negotiations and betrothal. Of course you know this means that young Cnaeus will either be in the carpentum, and bitter about it as in this story from Lectiō XIII, or on an equus … which might be a true disaster. You’ll find out soon! 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.

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.

utrum di Romani pii sunt annon?

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In yesterday’s post, as we started to wrap up our series of posts about the stories in Lectiō XVI of the Tres Columnae Project, we returned once again to the theme of pietās as it relates to the conduct of our characters. But whenever I talk about pietās with my face-to-face students, especially in a seminar context, we inevitably raise questions about the conduct of the Greco-Roman gods – whether in “simple” myths we read in Latin I or in the complicated machinations of Vergil’s divine characters in the Aeneid. In a nutshell, our question is this: do the Greco-Roman gods display pietās or not? And if they don’t, what does that say about the whole Roman worldview? Is pietās a convenient fiction, a tool for the dominant classes of society to keep their “inferiors” in line? And if so, what are some possible implications for us, here and now?

Of course, we need to be very careful in making generalizations about untranslatable Roman concepts (or “perspectives,” to use some technical language from the National Standards for Classical Language Learning) like pietās! We also need to be careful about applying Roman concepts, like pietās, to myths that were originally Greek. Still, in so far as Romans did appropriate the Greek names and stories and apply them to their own gods, they evidently saw some connection – and in so far as Vergil, for example, includes episodes in which the gods behave very inappropriately (at least to our twenty-first-century viewpoint), I think it’s a fair line of questioning to pursue. And of course Aeneas criticizes his own mother for appearing to him in disguise … and Neptune threatens the winds even though they displayed some sort of pietās by obeying Aeolus, their master, and ultimately Juno … and Venus and Juno engage in all sorts of machinations around the relationship between Aeneas and Dido … and Juno doesn’t care about fate and prophecy … and we could create a much longer list of episodes like this, couldn’t we?

As our faithful reader and collaborator Ann M said in an email to me this week, “ My highly selective fictional glimpses of Romans talking about their gods doesn’t make me think the gods are very just or very kind. They’re interesting and they have to be taken into account.” So, if gods (and, for that matter, Emperors and other powerful people) rarely display justice or kindness, and if pietās is justice or kindness, where does that leave this “central” Roman value? Or, when we assume that pietās is synonymous with justice and kindness, are we applying twenty centuries of Judeo-Christian perspective to a culture in which that perspective would be utterly alien?

Perhaps we need to look again at that definition of pietās as right relationship or proper treatment and ask, once again, how a Roman would define that as it relates to figures of very unequal power or status. Maybe, if you’re a Roman, the right behavior of a powerful figure toward someone less powerful is … to display your power. I think of the law that requires death for all household slaves if they “should have known” that one of their fellow slaves was plotting against his master in this context, and while it makes me shiver, it also seems to fit. But what do you think? And how does all of this apply to our stories from Lectiō XVI?

When I wrote these stories of relatively kind, gentle interactions between divinities and human-like characters, I had these issues in mind; in fact, writing the stories was one way for me to grapple with the issues. I deliberately saved the apparitions for a point in the story when the characters were in (mostly) right relationship with others: Trux has returned home and been welcomed back by his fellow residents of the vīlla, and Sabīna has been appropriately punished – but not killed – for trespassing in domō Valeriī in her pursuit of the mūrēs. In both cases, the characters have gone to places traditionally associated with the divinities (Trux is asleep in the woods, under a tree, and Sabina is actually asleep at the foot of the image of Juno Lucina in cellā templī). Their hearts may not be pure, but their current conduct is appropriate – and pietās has a lot more to do with conduct than it does with feeling or belief. In this context, then, Diana offers comfort to Trux and Juno offers comfort – and a challenge – to Sabīna. Juno’s challenge (or mild criticism) has to do not with Sabīna’s actions, but with the excessive zeal with which she pursues the mice – she seems to be advocating, if not a Stoic detachment from strong emotion, at least some degree of control of one’s mouse-hunting passions. I think it’s a Roman-sounding voice … but of course I’m not one, and neither are most of you lectōrēs cārissimī! 🙂

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the interchanges between the goddesses and the animals?
  • What do you think of my attempt to link these to the larger issues of pietās?
  • And what do you think of my point about pietās and the gods … or pietās and the powerful in general?

As you read these words, it’s the last day of school in my face-to-face teaching world, a time when we often think about both the past and the future, the strong and the weak, the old and the young. We’ll continue with that theme tomorrow as we begin a series of posts about the stories, later in Cursus Prīmus, in which our young characters (Valeria, Lucius, Caeliola, Caius, Lollia, Prima, Secunda, and Cnaeus in particular) begin to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. We’ll begin with Valeria and her impending marriage to Quartus Vipsānius tomorrow, and then we’ll spend some time on other rites of passage – a fitting way, meā quidem sententiā, to start the transitional time of summer. So tune in next time, and prepare for a few tears if you’re a sentimental person – and especially if you’re the father of a daughter. (I cried writing this story … and not just because my own daughter would be making this transition quite soon if she were a Roman!) intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

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 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.

Female Voices, IV

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll look at one possible ending for the story we’ve been following for the past two days, in which our character Vipsānia Caeliae, mother of Prīma, Secunda, and Cnaeus, has come to her sister-in-law Caelia Valeriī for child-rearing advice.

I say “one possible ending” for a couple of reasons. First, if you all hate it, you might develop another, better ending to suit your liking – that’s one of the key features of the Tres Columnae system. Second, we might just provide a couple of alternative endings and let our subscribers choose, or even let different subscribers choose different ITINERA through the stories as well as through other learning materials. The idea of choosing the direction for a story is probably familiar to everyone of my generation who remembers the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, and there have even been some Latin- and mythology-based versions in recent years. When I was first working with the idea of Tres Columnae, I experimented with a program called Quandary (from the publishers of the Hot Potatoes interactive exercise creation software) that allows you to create an “action maze” or interactive story with several possible endings. I ended up taking another path to create the “core” Tres Columnae stories as you know, but I’m still intrigued by the idea of giving learners a choice of plot directions as well as the other choices we’ve talked about.

Anyway, here’s one possible ending for the story, in which Vipsānia does not quite get the idea even after Caelia tries to explain what she should do differently. Tomorrow we’ll look at an ending in which she does get the idea. You decide which you like better … and, among other things, you’ll determine some elements of Vipsānia’s character that might be important in later stories.

Caelia et Vipsānia in triclīniō prandent et rēs minimī mōmentī commemorant. tandem Vipsānia, “prandium quidem optimum!” exclāmat. “quam mē dēlectat! sed heu! vae mihi! miserrima sum, quod fīlius tam impius mihi est. nōnne nōs decet fīlium meum commemorāre? nōnne Cnaeum meliōrem reddere potes? quaesō, amābō tē, mihi hanc rem explicā: cūr Lūcius tuus semper optimē sē gerit? et quid facere dēbeō?”

Caelia diū tacet et rem cōgitat. Dulcissima et Fēlīcissima, ancillae Vipsāniae, quoque tacent, quod rīsūs cēlāre vix possunt. tandem, “ō Vipsānia mea,” inquit Caelia, “tē adiuvāre volō. quid tamen tibi suādēre possum? quid cōnsiliī dare? haud enim difficile est fīlium pium reddere. parentibus necesse est pia laudāre, impia pūnīre, et piē ipsōs sē gerere.”

Vipsānia laetissima, “hercle!” exclāmat, “nōnne facillimum est?” subitō tamen haec addit trīstis: “haec tamen omnia ego et Caelius cotīdiē facimus. Cnaeus autem noster impiē et impudenter sē gerere solet! nōnne necesse est rēbus magicīs ūtī?”

Caelia rīdet et, “nihil artium magicārum sciō, Vipsānia mea! et haud mihi opus est artium magicārum! quaesō, hanc rem mihi explicā: quibus verbīs facta pia Cnaeī laudāre solētis? quibus poenīs facta impia pūnīre?”

Vipsānia, “heu! difficile est poenās numerāre! nōnne istum Cnaeum cotīdiē verberāmus? nōnne vituperāmus? nōnne poenās maximās mināmur? cūr igitur iste Cnaeus pessimē et impiē sē gerit?”

et Caelia, “Vipsānia mea,” respondet, “quid laudis?”

“laudis? istum puerum īnsolentissimum laudāre nōn possumus, quod nihil laudābile umquam facit!” exclāmat Vipsānia.

tum Caelia, “ō Vipsānia, laudēs multō potentiōrēs sunt quam poenae! praetereā, plagae et minae fīlium pium reddere haud solent. sī enim minās efficere potes, fīlium perterritum, nōn pium, reddis; sī nihil efficis, puer, quod verbīs tuīs haud crēdere potest, īnsolentiōrem sē reddit! num plagīs minīsque servī equōs exercēre solent? haudquāquam! eōs enim oportet dīligentiam patientiamque praestāre. et nōnne līberī nostrī multī plūrus sunt quam equī?”

Vipsānia paulīsper haesitat. tandem, “hercle! rem tōtam intellegō!” exclāmat. Vipsānia laeta Caeliae vale dīcit et ancillās arcessit. cum ancillīs per iānuam domūs ēgreditur. “heus! rem tōtam iam intellegō!” iterum clāmat. “facillimum est mihi Cnaeum nostrum pium reddere! puerī enim, ut Caelia nostra, similēs equīs sunt. ancillae! festīnāte! nōs decet ferrārium et gemmārium vīsitāre!”

Dulcissima attonita, “ferrārium, domina mea?” rogat, et Vipsānia, “certē, Dulcissima mea! nōnne verba Caeliae meae memōriā tenēs? puerī enim similēs equīs sunt. nonne necesse est mihi ferrārium vīsitāre? et sine dubiō mē oportet gammārium quaerere, quod praemium dignissimum mereō!”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Obviously Vipsānia comes off as an idiot at best in this story, but do you think we’re being fair to her?
  • In any case, what do you think of the other women characters – especially Caelia?
  • What do you think of Caelia’s parenting advice? Is it good advice? Is it sufficiently Roman advice, or is it excessively tinged with my 21st-century American perspective?
  • Can you imagine the reaction when Vipsānia gets home with … whatever she buys from the blacksmith? What on earth will she buy, and what would poor Cnaeus do with it?
  • Do you find you have a bit more sympathy for Cnaeus than you did before, now that you know more about his parents? 🙂
  • And what do you think of the idea of different possible endings for stories in the Tres Columnae system?

Tune in next time when we’ll explore the other possible ending to the story – I hope that “next time” will be on Friday, but it might possibly be Saturday if “life intervenes.” Then well explore some aspects of a Virtual Seminar about Roman women that fits naturally after these stories. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Exercises and Quizzes, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! For those of our readers who celebrate Easter or Passover, I hope this season has been deeply meaningful and renewing to you, as it has to me. For others, I hope the spring weather (if it’s spring where you are) has refreshed and renewed you as well. Many of our readers are returning from Spring Break this week, while others (including me) are now on it. In either case, I hope you’re also rested and refreshed by that!

Today we begin a series of posts about Exercises and Quizzes in the Tres Columnae system. We’ll begin with some philosophical questions … including the definitions of these learning activities, the differences between them, and the purposes of them. Then we’ll look at some samples, including ones that we’ve previewed in prior posts … but with a difference! This time, instead of reading a description, you’ll actually be able to experience the exercise or quiz. I’ve created a demonstration “course” (URL coming tomorrow) that is open to the public, and some additional exercises that are only available to Free Trial subscribers at the moment. So you’ll be able to see what these aspects of the project look and feel like.

First, though, we need to deal with two big, but often overlooked questions. First, what’s the difference between an exercise and a quiz? Typically, in a factory-model school, exercises are “practice activities” and quizzes or tests are “assessments” – that is, an exercise would probably not be “graded for accuracy” (though it might be), while a quiz or test definitely would be “graded for accuracy.” But in the Tres Columnae system, every interactive exercise (or quiz, or whatever you want to call it) gives the learner immediate feedback about the accuracy of his or her responses, and it also suggests a pathway for review (or for extension and further application) depending on the learner’s apparent mastery.

If you’re using the TC system in a venue where “grades are given” (whether that’s a traditional school or a homeschool), you can decide, as the teacher, how to convert the assessment information into a “grade” – our purpose is to provide you with the tools and the information, not to mandate how you convert the information into a number! Of course, if you don’t have any idea how to start making this conversion, we’ll be glad to offer some suggestions. 🙂 But you can feel free to modify them or discard them completely if you’d like.

To make our participants’ lives a bit easier, we will make some distinctions between exercises and quizzes in the mature version of Tres Columnae. We’ll define an exercise as a learning activity whose primary purpose is to develop proficiency with a particular skill, and a quiz as an activity whose primary purpose is to measure your proficiency. For example, consider a typical sequence of activities:

  1. You read, see, and hear a story that introduces a new grammatical concept.
  2. You read a quid novī explanation.
  3. You complete a self-assessment of your comfort level (a preliminary and formative quiz).
  4. You decide whether you need more practice with the new concept. (a self-assessment quiz)
  5. If you do, you practice in various ways (exercises) and then assess your comfort level again (quiz).
  6. If not, you have an opportunity to prove (to yourself and, if you have one, to your teacher) that you do, in fact, understand the new concept (quiz).

Either way, once you’ve mastered the new concept, you move on to the “next thing” – reading a story, creating a story, responding to a Continuing Virtual Seminar prompt.  You’re not stuck in lockstep with “the rest of the class,” who might need more (or less) time with the concept than you do.

Even with this distinction, a lot of the learning activities in the Tres Columnae system can be used as either exercises or quizzes, depending on the needs of the learners and teachers who are using them.  And that raises the next question:

What’s the purpose of an exercise or quiz anyway?

This may seem like a ridiculously obvious question, or a deeply subversive one … but I think it’s one we need to address. Over the years, I’ve heard various explanations for the assignments that my colleagues and I give to students:

  • It’s the next thing in the book. You have to do Section 8.2 before you can do Section 8.3.
  • I have a headache and need something for them to do to keep them busy.
  • I lecture on Tuesdays, and we do activities on Wednesdays. I need a good activity for them to do.
  • Progress Reports (or report cards) are coming up. I only have one quiz and one test so far. I need two more quizzes and another test.
  • I’ve been teaching (fill in the subject) for 25 years, and I’ve always used these lesson plans. That’s why the quiz is on Thursday.
  • The students need to practice this concept, so I found (or created) this activity for them.

I’m sure I have used most of these explanations, too. But I recognize that (except, possibly, for the last one) they’re all factory-model approaches in which the individual students are somehow less important than … something else, whether that be the teacher’s comfort, an administrative mandate, a number on a report, or the hassle of rewriting a plan.

In my face-to-face teaching life, I’m not one of those teachers who “never does the same thing twice” – largely because, if an activity or other assignment has been successful, it seems foolish to reinvent the wheel every day. But I certainly don’t “always use” a particular plan. I do refine lesson plans from year to year (I work in a school where weekly plans are submitted), but things inevitably change because the students themselves are different. And even if the plans were identical, the execution of the plan would change: this group would need more or less time, or more or less explanation, than their counterparts last year, last semester, or earlier in the day.

Anyway, in the Tres Columnae system, a lot of these explanations (or excuses) simply don’t apply.

  • The “TC” instructional sequence is flexible, depending on the needs of the learners and teachers who are using it. But within that flexibility, there’s a predictable order along which learners can advance at their own pace. No need to approach everything in lockstep!
  • If “TC” is being used in a school-based setting, all the exercises, quizzes, and stories are always available … even if the teacher is sick or tired, or even if there’s a substitute, for that matter. All you need is an Internet connection.
  • Since there’s a built-in assessment for each “new thing” – as well as constant opportunities for self-assessment – subscribers (and their teachers) can see a constantly-updated record of their progress at any time. No need to rush to include another quiz or test!
  • Since contributors will constantly be adding new stories, images, audio, and video, “TC” need not be the same twice. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. That way, it remains fresh for teachers even after several years of use. Just try that with a traditional textbook!
  • As they can with other forms of content, subscribers will be able to create their own exercises – and whole new types of exercises, if they’d like – and submit them for inclusion in the project. So, if you see a need, tell us about it and send us a sample. We think we’ll be able to treat exercises like other forms of content from an Ownership perspective: that is, you’ll grant us rights to use your exercise as part of the project, but you’ll retain other rights to it. People will be able to create derivative works from your exercises, as they can from other content you create, but they’ll pay you a small royalty. So your exercises just might help you become famous … and they might actually pay you back over time! 🙂

Given this philosophical and logistical framework, what types of exercises will be featured in the Tres Columnae system? We’ve already seen a few examples, which we’ll return to in future posts this week, and we’ll look at even more. What will be different this time, though, is that you’ll have a link to a “live” version, so you can see what they’ll really look and feel like in the completed project.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of our distinction between exercises and quizzes?
  • What do you think of our musings about purpose?
  • Do you have any specific suggestions for types of exercises – or quizzes – that we should include?

Tune in next time, when the specific examples begin.  grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Shades of Meaning, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs. Today we’ll continue our series of posts about vocabulary development with a fairly brief post about the pragmatics of a particular expression that our friend (?) Cnaeus Caelius uses several times in the story we focused on this week. At long last, tomorrow, we’ll look at connections between Latin and other languages.

First, though, let’s deal with That Phrase. It’s not a very nice thing to say, especially if you’re a Roman! Here’s the complete exchange:

sorōrēs bracchia Cnaeī prēnsant et hoc rogant: “frāter noster, nōnne diem tuum commemorāre vīs?”

“minimē, puellae molestae, nōlīte mē vexāre,” respondit ille.

Prīma autem “nōnne nōbīs dē lūdō commemorāre vīs?” rogat. et Secunda haec addit: “nōnne laetāris, mī frāter, quod puerum tam īnsolentem quam tē iam vidēs?” Cnaeus tamen īrātus, “puellās īnsolentēs!” exclāmat. “nōnne vōs decet in maximam malam crucem īre? cūr mē ita vexās? et iste Quīntus Flavius est īnsolentissimus! multō īnsolentior est quam ego!”

Prīma et Secunda cachinnibus sē trādunt. “heus! multō īnsolentior quam tū? utrum bove pater illum pūnīre solet, an taurō?” inquit Prīma. “nōn taurō, sed lupō!” inquit Secunda. “immō leōne ferōcissimō!” clāmat Prīma. “vel bālaenā maximā?” exclāmat Secunda.

“tacēte, pessimae puellae!” exclāmat Cnaeus īrātus. “nōnne mē decet vōs ambās in maximā malā crūce suspendere?”

“tacē, frater pessime! patrī verba tua commemorāre possum!” exclāmat Prīma ērubēscēns. Secunda, “verba enim impiissima!” addit. Cnaeus tamen, “num mē terrēre potestis? nōnne bracchium patris in pavīmentum cadere potest, sī mihi plagās plūrēs dare temptat? et quid poenārum minārī potest ille?”

The phrase in question is the malam crucem, with which characters in Roman comedy – especially Plautus – are constantly threatening each other (or telling each other to go hang themselves on, for that matter). In this context, we have Prima and Secunda ignoring it the first time Cnaeus uses it, but becoming extremely offended (or at least pretending to do so!) the second time. And you may be wondering why.

Longtime readers of the blog know that I’m very fond of Plautus’ comedies, especially as a key to understanding Roman social structures. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly how to interpret the social structures in Plautine comedy, since they’re overtly set in Greek city-states and, of course, are “translated” (whatever that means) from Greek New Comedies that have since been lost. But if we take a look at comedy in our own day, we can probably draw a few tentative conclusions. Comedy, by its nature, exaggerates (and therefore pokes fun at) aspects of everyday life and social structures. Sometimes the exaggerations are wild (the Marx Brothers, anyone? or SpongeBob?), and sometimes they’re closer to real life (the Brady Bunch, perhaps?). But if there’s no connection to everyday life and “real” social structures, it’s not a comedy; it just isn’t funny. With that set of assumptions, I looked at the times when Plautine characters threaten each other with a malam crucem or a malam rem and noticed that it seems to be a threat from the superior (usually the master, or a citizen) to the inferior (usually a slave or non-citizen) … which makes sense, given how crucifixion was typically used in the Roman world. It was a penalty for slaves, non-citizens, and other “undesirables” who stepped out of their place, whether by committing theft or by participating in a rebellion.

And so, when Cnaeus tells his sisters not just to go to the malam crucem, but that it’s decet for him to hang them on one, consider the implications! Women, it seems, were rarely crucified; citizen women, certainly not; and Prima and Secunda have hardly done anything worthy of crucifixion! They did make fun of their brother, but that’s not an unusual behavior among big sisters. It certainly doesn’t give him the right to reduce them to rebellious-slave or non-citizen-thief status! So much about the hidden, unstated assumptions of Roman society can be brought out … and contrasted with the unstated assumptions of learners’ native societies and cultures … with little words and phrases like this one. And yet, if all you do is “translate the passage,” all you’d say is “this is an idiom expressing anger and insult.”

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I must confess I did not track down every malam crucem or malam rem in Plautus, so I may have missed some where a woman or a social superior is addressed. If so, please tell me … and please tell me if you find anything like that in any other Roman author. I’d be glad to revise my understanding!
  • What do you think of the sibling rivalry among Prima, Secunda, and Cnaeus? Do you find it believable, and do you think it will “speak” to Tres Columnae participants of school age?

One hope that I have for the Tres Columnae project is that we can present characters who “feel” authentically Roman – who behave in Roman ways, give us insight into Roman thought patterns, and occasionally strike us as different or other or even alien. One problem I have with the “Big Three” reading-method Latin textbooks is that their characters, by and large, are so sympathetic … or in a few cases, so underdeveloped that we don’t really get a sense of their motivations. When they are developed, they often tend to be very similar to twentieth-century Westerners … but the Romans, for all their accomplishments and influence on us, were not twentieth- or twenty-first-century Westerners. Some of their thought patterns and assumptions were dramatically different from ours, and I think it’s important to do justice to those differences. But what do you all think?

Tune in next time for those language-to-language connections. And, in the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming.

Shades of Meaning, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue exploring the vocabulary-related issues that are raised by this story from the Tres Columnae project, in which young Cnaeus Caelius, as so often, behaves badly … but this time his sisters are really involved in provoking him. Yesterday, we looked at opposites, synonyms, homophones, and near homophones; today we’ll focus on some concepts that probably do have to be formally presented, as well as on prefixes, suffixes, and connections to English and other languages.  We’ll continue with more of those connections in tomorrow’s post.

First, though, a quick reminder about subscription access, prompted by a question from our friend Anita W on the Latin-BestPractices listserv.  Like many of us, she is a busy teacher who doesn’t have time to look at new materials during the school year.  I told her that, while the current Free Trial subscription offer for the Tres Columnae project does end on June 1, 2010, free access to stories and other static content (and the free subscription that permits you to comment on stories) will, of course, continue.  (And I also explained the various categories of subscriptions in my response, if you’re interested and would like a short summary.)   So, even if you don’t have a chance to use the Free Trial subscription, you can still check us out … for free … at  your convenience.

At the end of the last quid novī? explanation I quoted yesterday, I noted that the word sōlus is (at least according to Lewis & Short) quite probably related to and suus … this was actually news to me, and I was excited to learn it! (I was also excited to quote that Sanskrit word the other day, because I know almost nothing about Sanskrit … perhaps we can add a Joyful Learning Community for Sanskrit at some point if the Latin version of Tres Columnae takes off.) Anyway, and suus, and the special ways that Romans use , are another important vocabulary issue in this story:

quid novī?

For a while now we’ve seen the Latin word (and its dative form sibi). sē and sibi are called “reflexive” words because they “reflect” (or refer or relate to) the nominative word in their sentence or clause, the way that English words like himself or herself or themselves do. Sometimes sē functions in a way that seems completely natural to an English speaker:

Prīma et Secunda inter iocōs faciunt – and we might also say they joke “among themselves.”

Cnaeus in lectum iactat – and we would also say he “throws himself on the bed.”

But Romans also used the word in some ways that seem unusual to an English speaker.

For example, in Lectiō VII, one story is called Lūcius pessimē sē gerit, and in this story the servants ask num Cnaeus umquam bene sē gerere vult? An English speaker would probably say “Lucius behaves badly” rather than “Lucius carries or conducts himself badly,” and would definitely not ask whether Cnaeus ever “carries or conducts himself well.”

If you’ve ever insisted that “literal translation” shows a student’s understanding of a passage (and, to be honest, most of us have … at least at some point in our lives), please just take a moment and ask yourself what “carrying or conducting oneself” (well or badly) demonstrates! 🙂 Now let’s return to the quid novī?

And in this story, we see Prīma et Secunda cachinnibus sē trādunt. An English speaker would definitely not say that someone “handed themselves over to laughter” – or “to tears” (or sleep, or laughter, or jokes) later on, when Cnaeus lacrimīs et somnīs, servī cachinnīs et iocīs sē trādunt.

As for prefixes and suffixes, there are more prefixes than suffixes in this story; the obviously prefixed words include abī, dēsinit, commemorāre, contendit, and effundit. are the obvious words. We already will have had quid novī? explanations for THE common prefixes, but will provide links back to the con/com one since commemorāre and contendere involve slightly different nuances of the prefix. In it, we’ll note that the root meaning is with (since com and con are the prefixing forms of cum), and that, in general, we can see com words where the com means “together with or as one” (like commemorāre, where you are bringing things to mind together) and ones where it means “all together or completely” (like contendere, where you are stretching/hurring all together or completely).

In any case, please note how we’ve deliberately taken pains not to imply a one-to-one correspondence between the Latin and the English! One-to-one correspondences are rare, and language learners need to grasp this important concept! If you don’t, you can experience a lot of sad frustrations, as a recent exchange on the Latinteach listserv revealed. The teacher’s students were convinced that dīcere “means” to say or tell (i.e., that it has the exact same range of meanings as the English say and tell do), so they insisted that a sentence like dīcunt Cnaeum canem vexāre “could be translated” as “They tell Cnaeus to bother the dog.” Their poor teacher valiantly attempted to correct their misconception, but said she still felt that they had difficulty understanding the point.  My guess (and that of several list members who responded) was that the students had fallen into the “Latin is just a special code to represent English” trap, rather than realizing that Latin (or any other language) has distinctive modes of expression, and that there usually isn’t a one-to-one correspondence!

In the interest of time, I think we’ll pause here and pick up tomorrow with a point about the pragmatics of a particular expression. Of course, pragmatics can be a bit tricky when you’re dealing with a language whose native speaker population is no longer alive … but fortunately we can tell a lot about pragmatics from the more “everyday” Latin writings that have survived – things like comedy, farce, and satire in particular. Not that these aren’t a high literary form (except possibly for farce!), but they’re a high literary form that takes its inspiration, and much of its language, from daily life. So tomorrow we’ll consider why Prima and Secunda are so insulted by one thing that Cnaeus tells them.

intereā, quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Do you want to see more sample vocabulary explanations, or do you get the idea?
  • What do you think of our desire to avoid the “one-to-one equivalent” concept?
  • How well do you think we’re doing with this goal?
  • And what about pragmatics, anyway?

Tune in next time for more. grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.  Please keep those comments, emails, and Trial Subscription requests coming.