Building Understanding, VII: A Story

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday in the U.S., we’ll continue to focus on the Roman concept of pietās – which, as you probably know (or discovered in yesterday’s post) has some intriguing similarities to, as well as some obvious differences from, the American ideals of family, patriotism, and devotion to one’s comrades that are celebrated this weekend. Specifically, we’ll consider ways that our characters have shown – or not shown – pietās in the stories we’ve shared on the Tres Columnae Version Alpha Wiki site, and we’ll close with a new story that – at least according to my sometimes-fallible memory! 🙂 – hasn’t previously appeared there or here until now.

Yesterday, I closed with these questions:

  • 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?

It’s clearly been a difficult week for a lot of our faithful readers (it has for me, too, as we’re preparing for exams to start on Tuesday in my face-to-face teaching world). So let me address each question briefly, then move us on to the exciting new story.

A number of years ago, it occurred to me that pietās was such an important virtūs Rōmāna that I ought to bring it to my students’ attention. At the time, there was no Tres Columnae project; in fact, I hadn’t even begun to consider anything like it. So I went looking for examples of pietās in the “Big Three” reading-method Latin textbook that I still use with my face-to-face students, and I was pleased to find a lot of them. In fact, it seemed that pietās was a constant motivator, especially for the “good” characters … but the word itself rarely appeared. So I decided to bring this “hidden” theme to the front and make it more visible. We began that year in Latin II (and have continued until now) with a seminar about pietās, and we returned to the theme with additional seminars at the end of each chapter. By mid-semester, my students were a bit tired of pietās, but they were also very clear about its importance … and we had wonderful discussions in the Latin IV and AP Vergil classes that grew from those Latin II students. Sadly, though, my current students are just not very keen on seminars! 😦

Anyway, once I realized that one could use pietās (or any other virtūs Rōmāna) as an organizing principle for thinking about existing stories, it only seemed natural to me to weave them into the storyline of the Tres Columnae project in a thoughtful and intentional way. As I outlined the plots for the Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus, I found that I needed to track the virtūtēs so I could remember when they were introduced, what we did with them, and how they influenced each character’s words, thoughts, and actions.

So what have you seen in the stories in those first few Lectiōnēs? In looking back at them, I see that

  • Both the Valeriī and the Lolliī are very family-focused;
  • There’s a clear distinction between those who labōrat and those who lūdit according to their status in the family;
  • Valerius seems to treat his slaves well, and they respond with respect (at least most of the time);
  • Lollius, though poor, also treats his family with respect, and they respond appropriately;
  • There seem to be some issues with pietās in familia Caelia, and they’re clear from the disrespect and unpleasantness with which the children treat each other (even as early as this story), not to mention the interactions among the servants!
  • I want to think some more about the Caeliī, who clearly are typical Romans in a lot of ways. If you’re a Roman who impiē sē gerit, does that mean you aren’t a real Roman, or does your very recognition of the impietās prove that, in fact, you really are a Roman?

Ponder that, if you dare, while you enjoy the following story from Lectiō XIII. Everyone is on the way to Pompeii to see a spectāculum, but, of course, Cnaeus starts behaving badly….

sexta diēī hōra iam adest. Valerius et Caelia ad iānuam domūs contendunt. Valeria et Caeliōla quoque ad iānuam contendunt. “tandem ad urbem Pompēiōs proficīscimur!” inquit Valerius. “attonitus sum, quod hōra sexta adest, nōsque parātī!”

in viā stat carpentum magnum. duō equī carpentum trahunt. Milphiō iuxtā carptentum stat et lōra tenet. servus Trāniō quoque adest. Trāniō lōra trium equōrum tenet. Valerius Lūcium vocat et, “mī fīlī, tē oportet mēcum ad urbem Pompēiōs equitāre, quod octō annōs nātus es. sorōrēs tamen et māter in carpentō iter facere dēbent, et amīcus tuus Cāius tēcum equitāre potest. tertius equus adest, quod decōrum est Lolliō quoque equitāre. breve est iter, sed multō celerius equīs quam pedibus prōgredī possumus.”

Lollius et Cāius domuī appropinquant et Valerium familiamque salūtant. Cāius laetissimus equum post Lūcium cōnscendit. Lollius laetus grātiās patrōnō agit et equum suum quoque conscendit. Valerius equum cōnscendit et “nōs oportet proficīscī!” clāmat. Trāniō “heus! equī” clāmat, et equī carpentum lentē trahere incipiunt. omnēs per viās urbis ad portam prōgrediuntur.

post breve tempus Cāius montem spectat et “ecce! mōns Vesuvius! quam altus et quam pulcher!” exclāmat. Lūcius tamen, “ecce! consōbrīnus meus! quam molestus et loquāx!” susurrat. Cnaeus enim cum mātre et sorōribus in carpentō splendidō sedet. iuxtā carpentum Caelius, avunculus Lūciī, vir magnae pecūniae magnaeque dignitātis, superbus equō splendidō prōcēdit.

Valerius Caelium cōnspicit et, “salvē, mī Caelī!” exclāmat. Caelius, “mī Valerī! exspectātissimum tē salūtō! nōnne tū et familia quoque Pompēiōs contenditis, gladiātōrēs spectātum?”

Valerius cum Caeliō cōnsentit. “certē, mī Caelī, et nōnne amīcus noster, Vatia ille, nōs ad vīllam invītat?” Caelius, “et nōs quoque!” exclāmat. “nōnne dī nōbīs favent, quod omnēs cum ūnō amīcō manēre possumus?”

Cāius et Lūcius Cnaeum in carpentō sedentem cōnspiciunt. “heus!” Cāius Lūciō susurrat, “nōnne Cnaeus māior nātū est quam tū? cūr carpentō, nōn equō iter facit?” Lūcius, “st!” respondet, “equī haud cordī Cnaeō sunt,” et rīsum cēlāre cōnātur.

Cnaeus puerōs equitantēs cōnspicit et “vae! heu! mē taedet carpentōrum!” exclāmat. “māter! māter! equitāre volō!” Prīma et Secunda rīsibus sē trādunt. Vipsānia “mī fīlī,” lēniter respondet, “nōnne iter ultimum memōriā tenēs? nōnne corpus tuum etiam nunc dolet?”

Cnaeus tamen, “vae! heu! cūr ista commemorās?” clāmat. “eque! tē oportet istōs in terram dēicere!” Cnaeus saxum manū tenet et ad caput Cāiī iaculātur. Vipsānia saxum per āera volāns cōnspicit et “puerum īnsolentem! num mīrārīs, quod carpentō iam iter facis? īnfantem nōn decet equitāre, et tū es pēior quam īnfāns!” Vipsānia Cāium prēnsat et vehementer verberat.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

I’m especially interested in your response to the question I asked above, right before the story!  Where can you see themes of pietās (or its opposite) at work?  And (thinking ahead to that Continuing Virtual Seminar about pietās) what if a person knows what’s right (as we all do, at times) but doesn’t do it?  Or does Cnaeus genuinely not know the right thing to do?

And I wish you a good, happy, and peaceful Memorial Day weekend … one that’s entirely free of the family drama in this story. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Building Understanding, V: More about Derivatives

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue with our series about Building Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill in the Tres Columnae system. This is Day 5 of the overall series, and Day 2 of our focus on English derivatives. We’ll be looking at specific exercises and other tasks today, and I hope you’ll agree that the tasks we focus on are at least as much about Understanding, in the end, as they are about Knowledge and Skill. We addressed some of the problems that arise when Knowledge and Skill are taught without a focus on Understanding in yesterday’s post, and on Sunday I left you with this related thought:

Sadly, many American learners come to the study of Latin after a unit (or several) about “Greek and Latin roots and prefixes” in their English classes … but they’ve never developed the Understanding that languages borrow words from each other, or even the Understanding that languages change over time, or that you can often predict the meaning of a word if you know the meanings of its various components. So, while we’ll also develop some Knowledge of English derivatives and some Skills at working with them along the way, our primary goal is this Understanding

How can it be, we’ve probably all wondered, that students come to our Latin classes after “learning about” Latin and Greek word parts in English class, but yet they still “can’t” (or, at least, don’t) look at an English word like matronly and see any connection with māter or matrōna? How can it be that they “learned about” the chemical symbols of elements like gold and silver in several science classes, yet are surprised (pleasantly surprised, yes, but still surprised) by the connection of Au with aurum or Ag with argentum? And how can it be that they “learned about the Roman Empire” in World History class, but “know nothing” about Roman history?

Part of the problem may be that students come to us with an expectation that different school subjects are inherently disconnected from each other. I can’t be the only one who’s had to counsel – or console – students deeply upset because of “all the math in Chemistry,” can I? (You’d think it would be obvious … but then two of my college roommates were Chemistry majors.) Sadly, for many students, Subject A and Subject B (fill in any subject you’d like as either A or B) couldn’t possibly have anything to do with each other. After all, they’re taught in different class periods, by different teachers! They even have different textbooks, and the state (or national, depending on where you are) exams are different. Factory-model schools, by their very nature, promote this sort of disconnected view of their curricula; but even in such schools, many Latin teachers aim to help our learners synthesize knowledge from different areas. I don’t know that we can have a direct effect on curricular fragmentation, but we can probably have an indirect effect as we encourage our students to make their own connections to areas that are personally meaningful and interesting to them.

But how can we build these types of Understanding with real derivative exercises based on real stories? Let’s take a look at Prima Fabula Longa, the first “long” story in Lectiō Prīma of the project. After our learners have read it, we’ll ask them to work through a sequence of tasks like this:

quid novī?

As you read and heard the story, you probably noticed that a lot of the words were familiar to you while others were unfamiliar or even brand new. Most readers would probably say that these words were familiar:

in, tablīnō, sedet, labōrat, est, Rōmānus, māter, fīlius, fīlia, puella, puer, peristyliō, canis, frāter, et, soror

They’d probably say these words were somewhat familiar:

cīvis, lānam facit, fēmina, quoque, lūdit

And they’d probably say these words were unfamiliar:

summae, doctrīnae, magnae, prūdentiae, bona, benigna, paene, formōsa, lūdus (in lūdō), geminī

Choose two or more words that seemed familiar, one or two that seemed somewhat familiar, and one or two that seemed unfamiliar to you (it’s OK if your categories are different from ours), and click on them. (Obviously the links aren’t clickable yet, but they will be in the exercise!) These links will take you to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a wonderful resource that will show you many, many English words that developed over time from each of these Latin words. When you’ve explored the words you chose, please record some of your observations in your Tres Columnae learning blog. (In an amazing example of serendipity, as our faithful reader Laura G was developing her Vocabulary Blog idea in this totally free online Latin composition course, I was thinking about derivative blogs … and we both had the idea at the same time, I think!)

So far we’ve primarily looked at Knowledge and Skill-building work. Here comes the Understanding piece:

On a scale from 1-5, how much do you think you know about how words from one language turn into words in another language?

If you chose 4 or 5, you’ll continue to another quid novī? (see below). If you chose 1, 2, or 3, we’ll encourage you to look at this sequence:

  1. We’ll show you a paragraph full of English derivatives from the familiar words in our previous list.
  2. When you advance to the next screen, the paragraph will be color-coded, showing the language of origin for each word.
  3. Then we’ll ask, Did you know that a large number of English words – and an even larger number of words in French, Spanish, Italian, and the other “Romance” languages, developed from Latin words over time?

If you choose Yes, we’ll ask, Do you know how this happened?

If you choose No – or if you want our brief history-of-English lecture anyway 🙂 – we’ll then take you on a short summary – focusing on English, since that’s the first language of many of our current subscribers – of

  1. the Roman conquest of Britain
  2. the spread of Christianity, with Latin as the language of education, international communication, and the Church
  3. the Roman withdrawal from Britain and the “fall” of the western Empire
  4. the development of vernacular languages in Europe after the “fall”
  5. the Norman Conquest of England and its huge, but secondary, Latinate effect on English
  6. the “Renaissance” and its “rediscovery” of classical learning
  7. scholarly borrowings of Latin and Greek roots from then through the present day.

Then, in that other quid novī? screen, we’ll ask you to revisit at least one of the Online Etymology Dictionary entries you looked at earlier, and at least one new one. This time, we’ll have you take a closer look at how the words changed and developed over time, and how their meanings are both related to and different from the meanings of the root words. (It’s a big move, for example, from paene to penitent if the folks at the Online Etymology Dictionary are right about that connection!) We’ll invite you to add to your blog post and to participate, if you’d like, in the Continuing Virtual Seminar about word origins and language change.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think about the element of choice in derivative work? It’s very different from what most Latin teachers do, but does it make sense to you?
  • Can you see how our core values of Joy, Learning, Community, and Ownership would impel us to give our learners some choices about vocabulary and derivatives?
  • Do you think we have, in fact, helped our learners build some Understanding as well as Knowledge and Skill? Or have we just confused them with Too Much Information?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to examine how we can build Understanding of cultural elements, from products (like houses) and practices (like family structures) to perspectives (like the untranslatable concept of pietās). 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.

Building Understanding, III: Nouns and Verbs

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we continue our series about the Understandings that we hope our learners will develop, along with increased Knowledge and Skill, during the first two Lectiōnēs of the Tres Columnae project. (For new readers, this three-fold distinction among Knowledge, Skill, and Understanding is central to the Paideia model of education, and you can learn a lot more about Paideia’s “Three Columns of Instruction” at this link.) We’ll be looking specifically at Understandings about language today, and in particular at the second of our five goals for Lectiō Prīma, that the learner will

distinguish Latin nouns and verbs

At first glance, this may seem like a Knowledge level task (after all, what could be more basic for a language learner than parts of speech) or perhaps, at best, a Skill (since we’re asking our learners to distinguish rather than just recognize or list nouns and verbs). And, in fact, we will certainly be building both Knowledge and Skill when we focus on this goal. But we’re not content to stop with Knowledge or even Skill; we also want our learners to develop some deeper Understandings about the nature of language, and to be able to apply these Understandings not only to Latin, but to their native languages and to other languages they may learn down the road.

So consider the following sequence, which (until now) has never appeared on the Version Alpha Wiki site. It comes right after Fabella Prīma and Fabella Secunda:

quid novī?

You probably noticed that Latin, like other languages, has words for people, places, animals, and things, and that it also has words for actions. So far we’ve seen

People: familia

Places: mōns Vesuvius, Ītalia, urbs Herculāneum

Things: columnae, domus

Actions: est, stant, habitat

You may know that English speakers call the “people, places, animals, and things” words nouns and the “actions” words verbs. The Romans called them nōmen and verbum.

On a scale from 1-5, where 1 is very uncomfortable and 5 is very comfortable, how comfortable do you feel with the concept of nōmen and verbum?

On the same scale, how comfortable do you feel with distinguishing a nōmen from a verbum?

So far, we’ve mainly been building Knowledge (what nouns and verbs are – which we hope, but are no means certain, that our learners already know to some degree). Of course, the self-assessment involves some Skill and a bit of self-understanding … or at least self-awareness! But wait, there’s more:

If your comfort level with distinguishing a nōmen from a verbum is 3 or less, we’ll invite you to follow a link to a further explanation:

quid novī?

At this point in our learning of Latin, it will actually be quite easy to distinguish a nōmen from a verbum, because all the verba we’ll see until Lectiō Quīnta will have something in common! Take a closer look at the three verba we’ve seen so far:

est, stant, habitat

What do they have in common?

They all end with the same letter – a ___

(If “I” or “you” or “we” do the action of a verbum, it will change, but we don’t have to worry about that until Lectiō Quīnta!)

Then everyone goes on to this quid novī? – the one that firmly focuses on Understanding:

It’s actually easier to recognize a Latin verbum than it is to recognize an English verb.

For example, consider these five unfamiliar Latin words, which we’ll come to know well in future Lectiōnēs:

mustēla, plōrat, cēnāculum, īnsula, reddit

Two of them are verba – which two?

(if you answer correctly)

  • certē! Even though you’ve never seen the words before, you could tell that plōrat and reddit had to be verba, because they both ended with -t.

(if you answer incorrectly)

  • vae! heu! You might want to take a closer look at the quid novī? explanation. Check again to see the letter that all verba will end with until at least Lectiō Quīnta, then try the question again!

Now (if you’re a native English speaker) consider the following list of English words. Which ones are definitely verbs and couldn’t be any other part of speech?

drink, swim, fly, run, crawl

You probably noticed that all of them could be verbs, but they could also be something else.

The people drink water (verb) – but you can also have a drink of water (noun)

The boy likes to swim (verb) – but the boy went for a swim (verb)

Birds fly (noun) – but I see a fly on the table (noun), and (in some dialects) you can look fly (adjective).

See if you can generate your own examples for run and crawl, and see if you can come up with some other English words that can be several different parts of speech in different contexts.

Unlike those English words, though, Latin verba will be easy to recognize – at least until Lectiō Quīnta – because they end with -t.

On a scale from 1-5, how comfortable do you feel with recognizing nōmina and verba now?

On the same scale, how comfortable do you feel with some of the differences between Latin and English?

With this quid novī? explanation, we’ve firmly crossed over from Skill (recognizing or classifying words as nouns or verbs) to Understanding, as we focus on a critical difference between Latin and English. Of course we’ll go on to complicate the picture a bit, as we consider some words that can be used as bases for both nouns and verbs (coquus and coquere early on, and labor and labōrāre after a while, among others). But from the very beginning, we want to build not only Knowledge (these words are nouns, these are verbs) and Skill (here’s how you can distinguish a verb from other parts of speech) but also Understandings (languages indicate parts of speech in different ways).

Personally, I think most existing Latin textbooks do a great job with building Knowledge, and in general they’re also pretty good at building Skills – grammar-translation books, for example, build the Skills of producing and analyzing grammatical forms, and reading-method books build Skill at reading comprehension. But I’m far from convinced that most textbooks focus on Understanding … and, of course, textbooks always drive instruction to some degree even when a teacher (or a school district) insists that some curriculum document or set of standards is “much more important” than the textbook. Unfortunately, when we don’t work to build (or at least to assess) Understanding, we can leave our students without the context or basis to apply their developing Knowledge or Skill.

I had a dramatic illustration of that recently, when my Latin I students suddenly started adding noun endings to verbs (and vice versa) in writing exercises. First I was surprised, then I was angry, then I was sad, then I was puzzled – I guess I went through most of the stages of the grief process, come to think of it, though I refused to get to Acceptance of what they were doing! 🙂 Anyway, I eventually discovered that for several of them, the noun-verb distinction just wasn’t clear … and this was in late April, after several months of daily 90-minute classes! We went back, built the missing Understanding (and related ones about which verb stems form which tenses), and saw a big improvement. It’s not surprising … after all, if you don’t have the Understanding of what Skills or Knowledge to apply, it’s like flying or driving while blindfolded: you’re unlikely to get to your destination, and you’re quite likely to crash and, possibly, burn on the way!

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • How do you feel about the Knowledge-Skill-Understanding distinction we’ve been using?
  • Do you agree with my claim about building Understanding of language through these quid novī? explanations and exercises?
  • What about my claim that textbooks, in general, prioritize Knowledge and Skill over Understanding?
  • And what about my poor, wayward Latin I students? Was it really that they had a lack of Understanding, or was it (as some teachers might claim, especially at this difficult time of year) just that they were being “bad” or “lazy” or “unmotivated” or something like that?

Tune in next time, when we’ll see how even the study of English (and other language) derivatives from Latin can be made into an exercise for Understanding as well as Skill and Knowledge. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus.

Building Understanding, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we begin to look at the ways that the Tres Columnae system builds not only

  • Knowledge (of vocabulary, morphology, details of Roman culture and history) and
  • Skill (at reading, hearing, speaking, writing, understanding, analyzing, and interpreting Latin) but also
  • Understanding (of what our friends at Paideia call “concepts, ideas, and values about the curriculum”).

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post,

We’ll actually look in detail at the Understandings that might be developed during the first two Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus. We’ll take apart the stories themselves, looking for important cultural – and trans-cultural – ideas implicit in them. And then we’ll explore how you, the members of the Tres Columnae family, might create stories or other submissions that encouraged further exploration of important ideas.

So what are some of the big “concepts, ideas, and values” we’ll be addressing? And how do they relate to the stated goals for Lectiōnēs I and II? If you recall (or if you’d like to look at the relevant page on the Version Alpha Wiki site), the goals for Lectiō I are to help the learner

  1. directly comprehend a Latin sentence
  2. distinguish Latin nouns and verbs
  3. recognize and explore English derivatives of Latin words
  4. compare housing and family structure in Roman world with our own housing and family structure
  5. Begin to understand, analyze, and explore the concept of pietās

I realized – and our faithful reader Laura G pointed out kindly in a blog post of hers – that I had forgotten to upload the exercises for goals 2 and 3 … they’re on the way, and we’ll look at them on Monday. Goals 4 and 5 are closely connected … and there’s a lot more material for both of them coming as well.

As we consider the goals again, you’ll probably notice that Goal 1 is primarily about Skill, though learners certainly build some Knowledge (of the meanings of Latin words and of typical patterns of Latin sentence structure) and some Understanding (if nothing else, the concept that Latin and English word order are sometimes different) in the process. Goal 2 is also primarily about Skill, though it also builds some Knowledge (of typical endings for Latin nouns and verbs, for example) and some Understanding (that Latin, like other languages, has different parts of speech, and that they can be recognized even if you don’t know the exact meaning of the word in question).

The last three goals, though, are primarily about Understanding, as you’ll see starting on Monday when we examine them in detail. Yes, even the Derivatives and Culture goals are more about Understanding than they are about Knowledge – which, alas, isn’t universally true in Latin textbooks or Latin teaching! I’ve seen a lot of “Derivative Trees” and lovely models of Roman buildings in my life, but I’ve also known a lot of Latin students who didn’t make the connections to deeper understanding … and, of course, many of those students were mine! 🙂 So the quest for Understanding is very personal and very important for me.

Sadly, many American learners come to the study of Latin after a unit (or several) about “Greek and Latin roots and prefixes” in their English classes … but they’ve never developed the Understanding that languages borrow words from each other, or even the Understanding that languages change over time, or that you can often predict the meaning of a word if you know the meanings of its various components. So, while we’ll also develop some Knowledge of English derivatives and some Skills at working with them along the way, our primary goal is this Understanding. In the same way, while we want our students to develop some Knowledge about Roman history and culture (including the housing and family structure topics we address in Lectiō I), our main goal is to help them Understand some ways that cultures are similar – and different – over space and time, and to begin to grapple with some of the issues that this Understanding raises for them.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of the Paideia model’s three-fold division?
  • What do you think of our application of it?
  • And what do you think of our claim that we are, in fact, aiming for Understanding with these final three goals?

Tune in on Monday, when I’ll try to prove this claim with some specific exercises, explanations, and other tasks from Lectiō I … things that, until now, have not been featured on the Version Alpha Wiki site. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Building Understanding, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we begin a multi-part series about how the Tres Columnae system builds Understanding of important ideas, values, and concepts – not only through “big” activities like the Virtual Seminars but through the stories themselves. If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you know that Understanding is one of the three “Columns of Instruction” in the Paideia system of teaching, along with Knowledge and Skill. You’ve also explored the connections we’ve made with the three elements of the Trivium, and you may have noticed that, overall, we’ve had a lot more to say about Knowledge and, especially, Skill than we have about Understanding. This series of posts attempts to restore some balance.

Of course, in the Paideia model, it makes sense to emphasize Skill, since an “ideal” Paideia classroom spends something in the neighborhood of 60-70% of instructional time on the development or “coaching” of Intellectual Skill. (In case you’re wondering, Knowledge gets 10-15% of instructional time and Understanding gets the remaining 15-20%.) I haven’t counted to see if approximately 1 post in 5 or 6 has been devoted to Understanding, which would be the proper proportion if I followed the Paideia model in planning blog posts. Most of our posts have certainly been about Skill, and specifically about building the skills of reading, writing, understanding, and interpreting Latin (to paraphrase both my state’s standards document and the National Standards for Classical Language Learning). To a lesser extent, we’ve talked about Knowledge, and about the integration of Knowledge and Skill. To the extent that we talked about Understanding, it was usually in the context of the Continuing Virtual Seminar, in which our subscribers will have abundant opportunities to develop, share, refine, and challenge their own – and others’ – Understanding of important ideas.

But many other aspects of the Tres Columnae system also help our learners develop and refine their Understandings of important ideas and value. Even the stories, which mainly seem to be focused on building Knowledge and Skill, also become a tool for Understanding when they expose our learners to aspects of Roman culture that seem foreign or alien … or, for that matter, to aspects that cause learners to exclaim, in surprise, about how little has changed over the past 2000 years. In both cases, as learners grapple with dramatic differences or similarities between “us” and “them,” their Understandings inevitably grow. Think of the story of the poor unfortunate laundry slave, which we shared in this blog post last week. What are some of the Understandings that a learner might begin to develop from that story? Or, for that matter, what about the series about Caelius and his ancillae? (The link takes you to the first story in the series; you can then follow links on the relevant pages, or you can click here for the second story, here for the third, and here for the fourth if you’d prefer.)  There are all sorts of Understandings – some pleasant, some less so – that might be developed as a learner reflects on those stories.

In this series, we’ll actually look in detail at the Understandings that might be developed during the first two Lectiōnēs of Cursus Prīmus. We’ll take apart the stories themselves, looking for important cultural – and trans-cultural – ideas implicit in them. And then we’ll explore how you, the members of the Tres Columnae family, might create stories or other submissions that encouraged further exploration of important ideas.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • Are you curious, or is it so close to the end of the school year that you don’t have any curiosity left? 🙂
  • What sorts of important ideas can you find in the stories in Lectiōnēs I and II … and do you think it’s possible to refer to such deep core values so early in students’ Latin careers?
  • And if we can do it – and if we should do it – how come the traditional textbooks aren’t already doing it?

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to answer all of these questions. 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.

Another Virtual Seminar, II

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! Today we’ll continue with our series of posts about Continuing Virtual Seminars for Lectiō Undecima, as we explore the responses our fictional subscriber John might make to the seminar he chose about slavery in the Roman world. We’ll also take a look at one of the Virtual Seminars he didn’t choose – the one about moral lessons from fables.

In an amazing example of “face to face” and online life converging, one of my Latin I students raised a very similar issue during class yesterday. I also had a short conversation with some of my Latin II students, who wish the other members of their class were more willing and able to participate in seminars. As I look at this small, definitely unscientific sample, it seems that I’m right about Tres Columnae’s real target audience, today’s Latin learners and potential Latin learners. They’re definitely interested in the bigger picture; they love to create and share all kinds of things with each other; and they deeply appreciate it when someone takes the time to look at their unique, personal learning needs. Unfortunately, they’re also suspicious of formal, organized learning environmnents like schools: so often, it seems, they’ve felt mistreated, unappreciated, or dehumanized by dreadful experiences in the institutions that should be putting them first.

Perhaps that’s why young John (if he were real) chose the seminar about slavery, and perhaps that’s why some of my face-to-face students are so fascinated by, and so eager to discuss, the lives of Roman slaves. Consciously or not, they feel demeaned and depersonalized in a factory-model school environment, so they empathize with others (servī et ancillae in our Big Three reading-method textbook or in the Tres Columnae stories) who are similarly treated. When we get to the fable seminar, we’ll find some interesting connections there, too, especially as we consider things from the perspectives of the lower-status animals in the fables.

Anyway, back to young John, who has chosen the Roman slavery seminar, reviewed a suggested list of Tres Columnae stories, and followed a couple of links to articles about slavery in the Roman world. He’s now considering the Opening question, which he’ll have to answer before he can “enter the seminar room” and participate in the Core conversation. You may recall from yesterday that the opening question says:

Slavery, by its nature, is a horrible system; it dehumanizes both the slave and the slave-owners. But are there degrees of horror? On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is “just a bit horrible” and 10 is “unbelievably horrible,” where would you rank the Roman system of slavery?  Or would you say that “degrees of horrible” aren’t actually possible?

As John considers his answer, he realizes that this deceptively simple question is, in fact, fraught with peril. In fact, he wishes he didn’t have to respond to it at all! After all, how on earth can you possibly rate any thing horrible on a “degrees of horrible” scale? Things are either horrible or not – how could you possibly claim something was more or less horrible than something else? His first thought had been “4 or 5, because it’s not race-based like slavery in the U.S. Before the Civil War, and because it’s possible for slaves to get set free and even become wealthy sometimes.” But as he thinks about it, he imagines all the “unlucky” servī who didn’t get set free … the ones who died in the mines, or who were sold by their family to pay a debt. John is still thinking that, in some ways, Roman slavery was “less horrible,” but he’s starting to realize that “less horrible” is still pretty horrible.

After a lot of thought, John goes ahead with his response but adds one point: “I’m not sure if there are degrees of horrible.” He enters the Virtual Seminar and finds that this issue – degrees of horrible – is actually one of the key questions on which participants have been focusing.

Meanwhile, here’s an outline of the Virtual Seminar that John did not choose – the one about moral lessons in fables.

Opening: Why do you suppose Fabius might have chosen asinus in pelle leonis as the fable of the day?


  1. What are some other appropriate fables with similar morals?
  2. Do you think Quintus Flavius would have been able to hear those morals more easily?
  3. Some scholars of folklore say that fables have two different morals – or different levels of morals – one for the privileged classes and one for the oppressed, perhaps depending on which character in the fable you most identify with. So, which character in asinus in pelle leōnis do you find most appealing – the master or the donkey? Why?
  4. What character traits (or details of the situation) caused you to identify more with the character you chose?
  5. What are some conclusions you might draw about yourself from the character you identified with?
  6. What moral did you derive from the story?
  7. What are some possible morals that a person might derive if they identified with the other character – the one that you did not find appealing?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • We haven’t had a lot of comments recently, and I’m not sure if that’s because you’re all exhausted at this difficult time of year, or if you find Virtual Seminars unappealing, or if they’re just foreign to your experience. Please let me know … if you, the Tres Columnae community, don’t want Virtual Seminars as an option, we certainly don’t have to offer them.
  • Do you want more stories, more sample exercises, more theoretical posts? Just let me know and I’ll be glad to focus on what you’re most interested in.

As I looked over the recent posts, I noticed that we’ve had a lot of stories and situations that focused on male characters recently. Of course, our female characters – and the issues about women’s roles in Roman society – are also very important to us. So next week’s posts will focus on them, and yes, there will be at least one new story. 🙂

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

Another Virtual Seminar

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! After a wealth of new stories in yesterday’s post, we’ll be returning our focus to the idea of the Continuing Virtual Seminar today. Specifically, we’ll be looking at the options that our fictional subscriber, 10-year-old John, might participate in after he’s read the stories in Lectiō Undecima that we featured yesterday. John finds that there are at least three interesting options:

  • Since certain themes do, in fact, continue from one Lectiō to another, he could choose to continue in (or return to, or join for the first time) a Virtual Seminar about Roman education that began in Lectiō Nōna, when our main characters arrived at school;
  • He could choose to focus on moral lessons from fables, obviously starting with the one that Fabius tells his students in this Lectiō; or
  • He might decide to focus on slavery in the Roman world, which is obviously a continuing theme of the Tres Columnae stories. Until now, though, we have mostly seen relatively benign masters and relatively high-status slaves – skilled household workers and paedagōgī, for example. There will be a re-entry point to the slavery seminar in Lectiōnēs XIX and XX, where we’ll witness a much harsher side of Roman slavery.

John was really hoping for a seminar about violent entertainment or something like that – he is, after all, a 10-year-old boy! 🙂 But after some thought, he decides to choose the Virtual Seminar on Roman slavery. John isn’t interested in moral lessons at this point (partly because his big sister, our other fictional subscriber Jane, keeps trying to deliver them to him all the time!), and he doesn’t want to think about schools; he and his sister are home-schooled because of a series of unpleasant conflicts with the local school district, and he’d rather not think about those.

Here are some of the questions to which John might respond:

Opening: Slavery, by its nature, is a horrible system; it dehumanizes both the slave and the slave-owners. But are there degrees of horror? On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is “just a bit horrible” and 10 is “unbelievably horrible,” where would you rank the Roman system of slavery?


  • Pick another slave-holding culture with which you’re familiar. Where would you rank it on that same scale of horror, and why?
  • What are some specific reasons that you ranked Roman slavery where you did in comparison to the other system you chose? That is, why did you decide it was more horrible or less horrible than its counterpart?
  • What are some specific incidents in the stories in Lectiōnēs I-X that show the dehumanizing effect of slavery on the servī?
  • What are some specific incidents that show a dehumanizing effect on the dominī?
  • Why do you suppose there was no movement for the abolition of slavery in the Roman world (at least, not until much later than the time when our stories are set)?
  • Given that slavery was eventually abolished in the Roman world (at least as a matter of law), what could possibly have caused it to reappear in post-Roman European cultures?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What types of responses would you expect young John to make to these questions?
  • For that matter, what responses would you make to questions like these?
  • What do you think of the idea of a seminar with multiple entry points?
  • And how on earth would one go about assessing, evaluating, or “grading” John’s seminar participation – or, for that matter, anyone’s participation in a seminar?

Tune in next time, when we’ll follow John’s progress and consider some of these big questions about assessment. Then, depending on what you all say, we’ll either look at another Virtual Seminar; develop some other stories; or possibly build up a new kind of exercise together. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus!

Virtual Seminars, III

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In today’s post we’ll step back from the example of a Continuing Virtual Seminar, which we explored in the last two posts, to see whether it’s logistically possible to do such a thing with the technology that’s available today. Short answer: yes! Both TikiWiki and Moodle, the two software packages that serve as the “back end” for the current version of the Tres Columnae project, have “Forum” capabilities which (with just a bit of tweaking) will be able to provide Jane, John, and our other subscribers with the experience I’ve described in this series of posts. We’ll most likely use the TikiWiki forums, at least at first, since we want to make Virtual Seminars available to the whole community, including our free subscribers who won’t normally have access to the exercises, quizzes, and other material on the Moodle site. Over time, we may possibly migrate to a single “back end” software platform, but if that happens, it probably won’t matter to you as a subscriber. Anyway, either “right out of the box” or with a few simple settings, we should be able to

  • provide multiple Fora/Forums for each Lectiō;
  • require participants to respond to an opening question before they enter the rest of the Forum;
  • provide Thematic Threads within the Forum for our participants to respond to;
  • allow participants to receive email notifications of new posts in any Thematic Thread, or not, as they prefer, and change their preferences at any time;
  • include links to audio files (hosted externally) if they prefer to respond that way; and even
  • rate each other’s responses on a scale from 1-5 if our participants would like that ability.

We’re already able to manage multiple internal blogs for our subscribers, so the Learning Log blog feature is already available if anyone would like one. The audio links are the only element that may not work “right out of the box,” but if that’s a feature that participants really want, we’ll make it happen as soon as possible. Everything else should work right away. In fact, please feel free to check out this link to the Continuing Virtual Seminar we’ve been following for the past couple of days. Everything is there except the sample responses! 🙂 We’ve also included a couple of the Core questions that Jane decided not to respond to, in case you’re interested. Please feel free to post your responses and thoughts, either there or in a comment here. For this Virtual Seminar alone, it won’t be necessary to respond to the Opening question first.

And now for something a bit different! If you haven’t yet taken a look at (potential) Part III of the story of Trux’s adventures, please do, because I need some feedback about it. When you do look at it, you’ll notice that Trux has a vision, dream, or something (his friend Callidus the serpēns would probably say it was a “something”) in which the goddess Diana appears to him. I’m not sure even how I feel about this story, and I’d really like to have your feelings about it … regardless of whether you love it, hate it, or are completely neutral about it. It relates to the rather sensitive subject of Roman religion (specifically, Roman religious practices and perspectives) … a complicated area for us to reconstruct, to be sure, and one that can be fraught with peril depending on the teaching and learning situation in which you find yourself.

As I think about the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks, I’ve observed that they tend to avoid, even minimize, discussion of Romans’ religious practices and perspectives. There’s not much mythology (and, of course, most of the “Greco-Roman” myths aren’t native to Roman culture anyway), and other than at significant milestone events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.), the characters rarely seem to participate in the rituals of pietās and cultus deōrum. I’m not sure why that is!

  • Perhaps it’s because the publishers wanted to be able to sell their books and wanted, therefore, to avoid anything that might be controversial and hurt sales.
  • Perhaps it’s because the books themselves were mostly written in a period (the mid to late twentieth century) when “educated” people saw religion as a “private” matter that need not be publicly discussed.
  • Perhaps Roman religion seemed so strange to the authors that they just didn’t want to bother with portraying it.
  • Perhaps there’s some other reason I haven’t thought of.

In any case, pietās and cultus deōrum are always below the surface of the stories in these books, but that’s where they generally stay. In some ways, that makes sense, especially if you focus (as those books do) on the experiences and attitudes of wealthy, educated Roman men of the late Republican and early Imperial periods. Many of them were quite skeptical of traditional Roman religious perspectives, though they rarely let that skepticism prevent them from taking on politically expedient religious offices or performing public rituals that the voters expected of them! They were, after all, practical men! 🙂

In any case, both pietās and cultus deōrum had a lot more to do with what we might call “right action” than “right belief” or “right feeling.” (This always surprises my students, who mostly come from religious backgrounds where feeling is paramount … and even if they aren’t personally religious, that’s what they, as products of 21st-century American culture, expect religion to be.) So, in one way, it’s perfectly reasonable that the “Big Three” de-emphasize Roman religion … but, in another way, I don’t think we’re painting a completely accurate picture if we leave it out. Anyway, I want to walk a fine but important line in our handling of Roman religious beliefs in the Tres Columnae stories:

  • As a person of faith myself, I think matters of faith and religion do need to be taken seriously, not avoided.
  • If we are to provide a reasonably authentic picture of Roman life, I don’t think we can do it without at least a few references to the religious aspects of their world view.
  • But I don’t worship the Roman divinities, so I can’t fully understand the perspectives of those who do. At the same time, I recognize that there are some folks who do worship them, some of whom may well become Tres Columnae subscribers. I don’t want us to appear to be trivializing or misrepresenting their beliefs. (Side note: that’s one reason I don’t have my face-to-face students “re-enact a Roman wedding” or pretend to do haruspication or augury, as some teachers do. I gather the haruspices use eggs rather than exta … but it still bothers me.)

So, with these thoughts in mind, what do you think of somnium Trucis? I’m especially interested in your responses to

  • the appearance of Diana;
  • the other animals’ response to the dream; and
  • the viewpoint of Callidus serpēns.

Overall, do you think we should

  • keep the story as it is;
  • modify it in some way;
  • provide different versions for different users (in keeping with our idea of ITINERA); or
  • get rid of it completely?

I really need some advice here!

Tune in next time, when we’ll begin to explore the rather different path that Jane’s brother John might take through a Virtual Seminar for another Lectiō … and at the end of that, we’ll put the Virtual Seminar in place and let you participate in it, too, if you’d like. We’ll also be sharing a new story before the week is over. intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments, emails, and Virtual Seminar responses coming!