Examining the Story: culture and Culture, II

salvēte iterum, amīcī! As promised, this series of posts will include both your comments and my preliminary thoughts about the depiction of cultural and Cultural elements in the most recent story. In case you’d like to refresh your memory, it can be found here – and what do you think about a title? It certainly needs one … but I’m not coming up with anything good enough. 😦

Anyway, after I respond to your comments, we’ll look at such cultural aspects as

  • the characters (male, female, citizen, slave, human, and non-human) and the ways they relate to each other;
  • food and eating habits; and
  • geographic issues (specifically, the geography of Herculaneum as represented in the story).

Then, from the perspective of Culture, we’ll focus on

  • how the characters compare with equivalent characters in Roman literature and (in the case of the animals) in the fable and folktale tradition;
  • whether the relationships among social classes are depicted “accurately” (and what “accurately” means in this context);
  • how the characters exemplify untranslatable core Roman values like pietās and dignitās.

It looks like we’ll need to address comments, culture, and Culture in separate posts.

First, your comments.  Our faithful reader Seumas made a very good point about the danger of reverse sexual stereotyping:

While I applaud the need for strong female characters, here we run the risk of a reverse trope, and one becoming more common, in particular in advertising, that men are foolish and women in control. Not to imply anything about the rest of the stories, but if the only way to present strong female characters is at the expense of male characters, we have simply created a reverse sexism.

This was my response in case you haven’t read it:

Seumas,

You’re quite right about the danger of the reverse trope. I think you’ll see, as we look at additional stories, that there can be strong female characters without reverse sexism. Of course, once the Tres Columnae community begins to create its own stories, there will be a vast range of perspectives, some very pro-male, others very pro-female, and that should alleviate your concerns. But I certainly appreciate the note of caution.

I’ve now had two diametrically opposite comments about gender roles (one claiming that Tres Columnae was far too focused on male characters, and now this one). So I’d like to think that we’re on the right track in that regard. But what do you all think? quid respondētis, amīcī?

On another matter, our dear reader Randy had an important question about the historicity of these characters:

I am curious if any of these characters actually existed in Herculaneum (or nearby). My students “connect” much more if there is more “history” than “fiction” because it strikes them as more worthwhile. Even if it is only commenting on the architecture of the town, they like to construct possible scenarios that teach them about “real life” in the ancient cities.

Of course the details of individuals’ lives can rarely be pinpointed exactly, but the use of “real” people from the ancient world (regardless of how insignificant they are) helps students identify much more easily.

This was my response:

Randy,

I’m glad you enjoyed the story, and I hope your students will, too.

As for the characters, these folks are fictional, but I would be glad to include some real Herculanean citizens, if only in supporting roles. Just by the nature of the site, we don’t have as many surviving names from there as we do from Pompeii. You’re right, though, the inclusion of “real” people is a big help.

On the whole, we seem to have less “stuff” (at least, “stuff” like names of citizens) from Herculaneum than from Pompeii, partly because so much of the site is under the modern-day town and partly because of how deep … and how hard … the covering is. Or is this impression erroneous? I’d love to know more about the real Herculaneum so we can incorporate more true, local flavor of the real town in the stories. I like our main characters as they are and don’t intend to replace them, but I’d be happy to rename them for actual citizens if that’s what the community wants. And in any case, I’d be glad to incorporate some real denizens of Herculaneum, or to give participants the opportunity to do so.  quid respondētis, amīcī?

One of the issues with historical fiction in general, of course, is “how historical” or “how fictional” it needs to be – a question with as many different answers as there are readers … and writers. Personally, I like stories where

  • the main characters are fictional;
  • subsidiary characters are historical; and
  • the author explains, perhaps in a foreword or afterword, how he/she mingled the fictional and historical elements.

That’s what I’ve aimed for with the drafts of the Tres Columnae stories.  But my voice shouldn’t be the only one in this conversation! 🙂

quid respondētis, amīcī et sodālēs?

  • Do you like my favorite kind of historical fiction?
  • Or do you prefer to have historical characters in major roles?
  • Should we go on an epigraphic expedition for names of real-live citizens of Herculaneum?
  • Or do you prefer fictional protagonists, with real-live characters in supporting roles?

The structure of the story need not change if you want real-live characters, but obviously the names might!

Tune in shortly for more about the cultural aspects of the story, and then for more about the Cultural ones.

Examining the Story: culture and Culture, I

salvēte, sodālēs! Today, as promised, we’ll look back at the story we created over the weekend from the perspective of culture and Culture. Specifically, in terms of culture, we’ll look at

  • your comments and emails from yesterday and today, which have raised some interesting points;
  • the characters (male, female, citizen, slave, human, and non-human) and the ways they relate to each other;
  • food and eating habits;
  • geographic issues; and
  • anything else you all want to talk about. 🙂

In terms of Culture, we’ll consider

  • how the characters compare with equivalent characters in Roman literature and (in the case of the animals) in the fable and folktale tradition;
  • whether the relationships among social classes are depicted “accurately” (and what “accurately” means in this context);
  • how the characters exemplify untranslatable core Roman values like pietās and dignitās; and, again,
  • anything else you all want to talk about.

Please keep those comments and emails coming today! If you don’t, today’s second post may be a bit brief 🙂 … for two reasons:

  • We’ve already addressed these issues a bit when we looked at characters, plot, and setting on Sunday.
  • This is the first day of a new semester in my face-to-face teaching world, so I’ll be a bit tired this afternoon! 🙂 If you don’t have much to say, I probably won’t, either. 😦

Tune in this afternoon for more about culture and Culture in our most recent story – which still needs a title! Any suggestions?

Beloved Fictional Worlds

salvēte iterum, amīcī! This is sort of a “bonus post” – I originally had planned to include it in the last one, but that became a bit too long. In thinking about characters, plots, and settings, and in thinking about the Tres Columnae metastory, I realize it’s all about creating a fictional world – a place where many stories are possible because there are so many interesting characters, places, and events. And I wanted to pay homage to the fictional worlds that inspired me, both as a child and as an adult.

At first, I was only thinking about historical-fiction worlds, since the Tres Columnae metastory is, in essence, a piece of historical fiction. As I think of my favorite works of historical fiction, I realize they’re my favorites because they create such a world – one that really feels like the time and place where they claim to be set. I think of works like

many others – too many to mention or even to list.

I also think of the works of fantasy and science fiction that created equally strong, but imaginary worlds for me:

And, of course, there were the Classical works that created such worlds in my imagination:

  • The Odyssey and the Iliad;
  • the Aeneid, especially Book II;
  • Apuleius’ Metamorphoses;
  • Vergil’s Georgics;
  • some individual Odes of Horace, and Satire I.8 where he speaks in the voice of the scarecrow; and of course
  • countless others that will come to mind as soon as I hit “Publish.” 😦

And then there are the movies, the plays, the TV series, and all the other works of art that have created such worlds in my imagination.

As a child and even as a teenager, I aspired to write something as powerful and meaningful as these books were to me. Now, with the Tres Columnae project, my goal has shifted: I want to create a place where lots of people can work together, creating things even more powerful and meaningful, and learning an amazing language and culture in the process.

quid respondētis, amīcissimī?

  • How well have we done in creating an imaginary world here?
  • Is that an appropriate goal? If not, what should we be doing with Tres Columnae?
  • If so, are there ways to do it better?
  • And how do we get learners – I started to say “young people,” but Tres Columnae is for learners of all ages – to join in this process of world creation?

We’ll return to these questions in a few days. But first I want to take a deeper look at the grammar, vocabulary, and cultural elements of this most recent story. (Plus, it really needs a title – any good ideas?) After all, Tres Columnae is a language learning system as well as a fictional world, so we do need to make sure we’re helping people learn and acquire the language, too.

Tune in next time, when we’ll take a closer look at linguistic elements like vocabulary and grammar in the story we just constructed together.

Examining the Story, Part II

salvēte iterum, amīcī. As promised, in this post we’ll examine the whole story we’ve created together, focusing specifically on plot, characters, and settings. Then, on Monday, we’ll look at vocabulary and grammar; Tuesday we’ll focus on culture and Culture; and Wednesday we’ll look at Connections and Comparisons. In the meantime, please keep those comments and emails coming!

In devising the plot, I really wanted to invert the “typical” focus on men. Of course, I am a man, so I don’t want to eliminate the male voice completely – besides, that would probably be impossible in a 1st-century-C.E. Roman setting even if I did want to do so. But on behalf of the important women and girls in my life, I do want to shine the spotlight on them from time to time – especially since their Roman counterparts are so often excluded from consideration, both by Roman men and by the (mostly male) Classical scholars over the years who have studied the Romans.

So in this story, many of the important plot elements revolve around women:

  • In a sense, Sabina mustēla causes the whole story. But, unlike some female characters in the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks, she’s still a sympathetic character – unless you really love mice! 🙂 Though, in one sense, she causes the whole mess, in another sense it’s not really her fault. Had Milphio looked, he never would have tripped. And had Ridiculus waited for night-time, as any prudent mouse would do, she never would have been in position to trip Milphio anyway.
  • Ausonia’s innovative behavior (how dare she recline! with her husband!) shocks Maccia and Caelia, but it also makes them think about their own situations.
  • Ausonia looks like a stereotypical “frightened woman” at one point, but she quickly puts her husband in his place when he wrongly blames the children – for trying to save him! And succeeding! He’s clearly a foolish figure, even though he is related to the Emperor (or possibly to a lībertus Augustī).
  • In turn, Maccia and Caelia re-examine their own relationships with their husbands. Evidently Maccia sees all kinds of possibilities in a world where women recline next to their husbands!
  • Valeria and Caeliola clearly are the primary heroes/heroines. Lucius does save Ausonia’s eyesight, but he doesn’t have to stand up to Flavius Caeso in the process, nor does he get threatened with being sold into slavery.
  • And of course Impigra puts Ridiculus in his place … as she should. What was he thinking? 🙂

As a result, the strongest and most positive characters are female. On the flip-side, many of the male characters end up looking pretty foolish:

  • Milphio trips and causes a huge mess. Wonder who will have to clean that up? 🙂 And besides, what are the odds that you would fall right on the table? (Of course, if you’re a servus, and you hate your status, and you hate the Romans who made you a servus, and you do accidentally trip, you might think the beating would be worth the pain and discomfort you caused … so you might actually aim for the table. But we’ll think more about that on Tuesday.)
  • Flavius Caeso really looks like an idiot. Even a Roman man shouldn’t scream at the person who saved his life – let alone tell her that her father ought to sell her into slavery for … entering the dining room during dinner?! What’s wrong with him, anyway?
  • Valerius seems rather weak. All he can say is “mī Flavī” when Flavius is threatening his daughter. What’s up with that?
  • What is Gallicus, the coquus, doing anyway? He’s apparently still there (or, at least, I didn’t mention him leaving), but he does nothing amidst all the flying food and cutlery. Or is it that he, too, hates his status as servus and is relishing the chance to watch his owners get hurt or embarrassed? (For that matter, how are we to know what he did – or didn’t – put in those lentēs Aegyptiae?)
  • Other than Lucius, none of the (human) males acquits himself well at all in the crisis. And even Lucius seems to let his sisters do the real work! Given a choice between catching a pointy spoon, catching two heavy objects (tabletop and serving vessel), or catching an angry, biting weasel, which one seems least heroic?
  • As for Ridiculus, he lives up to his name as Impigra points out to him. How many sensible mice would venture out, in the midst of a crowded room, to pick up a piece of bread?

My goal was to create a complex, ambiguous situation, with lots of intriguing characters and plot elements. How did I do with that goal?

And, of course, a related goal is to create many jumping-off points for participants who want to create related stories.  For example, a participant might decide to

  • retell the story from the perspective of one of the peripheral characters – Milphio, perhaps, or Ausonia? Or even Impigra?  or Ferox the canis, who oddly failed to notice a weasel … in his house!  (His counterpart in vīllā meā, canis meus amātissimus, notices – and responds to – leaves and squirrels half a mile away, so what’s up with Ferox?)
  • tell what happened next – perhaps at Flavius Caeso’s house!  Or perhaps the next evening at Lollius’ and Maccia’s cēnāculum – did she join him on the dining couch?
  • describe the responses of a non-human character – perhaps the Lār, or one of the Penātēs, or the umbra of one of Valerius’ ancestors.

An overarching goal of mine for the whole Tres Columnae project is that, as much as possible, our participants can feel like they’re present in the situations, with the characters. I want the settings, plots, and characters to “feel real,” and I want them, as much as possible, to feel authentic – as though a real Roman, in that situation, would behave in a similar way. And so

  • I set the stories in a real Roman town, at a more-or-less identifiable time;
  • I tried to create characters who “feel real” and “feel authentic” to the reader, or at least to me;
  • I tried to have them behave as actual Romans might behave – hence the rather passive servants, the astonished Caelia and Maccia, the blustering Flavius Caeso, and Valerius fairly impotent in the presence of the much richer, more powerful Flavius; and
  • I wanted to create three-dimensional Roman women who were both authentically Roman and also authentically strong and courageous.

After all this is the culture that venerates Lucretia – and it took a lot of courage for her to tell her husband what had happened to her, despite her attacker’s threats, and then to avenge her dishonor. It’s also the culture that produced Agrippina the Younger – not at all an exemplum pietātis like Lucretia, but still a strong and powerful woman. In contrast to these, the “Big Three” reading-method textbooks present a lot of flat, insipid female characters. I want better for my own daughter and for the hundreds, even thousands, of other strong, capable young women who have learned, or will learn, Latin from me, either face to face or through Tres Columnae. And I also want better for my son, and for the equally large numbers of boys who have learned or will learn Latin with my help. I want to help them see – and build – an authentically complex model of the Roman world.

quid respondētis, amīcissimī?

  • To what extent has this story created interesting, well-rounded characters for you?
  • To what extent was the plot compelling and engaging?
  • To what extent did the setting seem, or feel, authentically Roman to you?
  • In so far as we fell short – and I’m sure we did 🙂 – what suggestions for improvements do you have?

Later today I’ll have a brief post about some of the compelling fictional worlds that have inspired me; I’d encourage you to think of your favorite fictional worlds and share them, too.  Then, tomorrow, we’ll take another look at this story from the perspectives of grammar and vocabulary.  Tune in next time for more!

Examining the Story, Part I

salvēte, sodālēs. As promised, today we’ll take a look at the whole story whose construction we watched over the last four posts. We’ll examine my specific goals for the story and how well I met them. Of course, in the complete Tres Columnae system, this story doesn’t stand by itself.

  • It follows some “pre-stories” and grammatical exercises about first- and second-person plural verbs.
  • It follows at least one other “real” story, in which Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus get in trouble – and get teased by their sisters.
  • It precedes some other stories.  And, of course,
  • It’s accompanied by illustrations (per paragraph), audio (eventually, several different versions), and (if participants like it and want to make them) video versions.

Even by itself, though, the story was an attempt to meet these goals:

  • a funny plot with at least one unexpected twist
  • stronger female characters (both in comparison with “Big Three,” and in comparison with the more male-focused stories we’d seen earlier)
  • opportunities for insight into cultural elements (the roles of women, food, social class, and role of children, to name a few)
  • some uses of the “new” grammar (1st / 2nd plural verbs; nōs; vōs)
  • more uses of recent” grammar (pronouns, adjectives, plurals)
  • lots of old” grammar (feel free to refer to the list of “what they already know” in a previous post)
  • some new vocabulary
  • a lot of familiar vocabulary; and
  • good” vocabulary choices, from the perspective of those purists who only want to use Latin words from the “major” authors.  (That’s why I included my thought processes with Lewis & Short on so many occasions.)

Before we analyze how well we met these goals, though, let’s take a look at the whole story:

prope culīnam est cēnāculum minimum, ubi Rīdiculus mūs cum familiā habitat. Rīdiculus est mūs maximae calliditātis. cotīdiē ē cēnāculō suō audāx ambulat; cotīdiē cibum quaerit et invenit; cotīdiē incolumis revenit. Ferōx enim, canis Valeriī, est amīcus Rīdiculī; Ferōx Rīdiculum capere nōn vult.

in vīllā tamen proximā, ubit Flavius Caesō habitat, quoque habitat Sabīna mustēla. Sabīna Rīdiculum capere et ēsse valde vult. cotīdiē, ubi Rīdiculus cibum ad cēnāculum suum refert, Sabīna īrātissima susurrat, “istum mūrem necāre volō! istum mūrem caedere volō! istum mūrem cōnsūmere volō! istīus mūris ossa exspuere volō! nōnne hic est diēs optimus? nam dominus meus, ille Flavius Caesō, ipse in domō Valeriī hodiē cēnat. nōnne iste mūs cibum capere vult? et nōnne ego quoque cēnāre possum?”

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit. Sabīna per postīcum ambulat et angiportum intrat. mustēla per angiportum ad domum Valeriī rēpit. Sabīna callida domum clam intrat et ad triclīnium tacitē rēpit.

intereā Valerius et Flavius triclinium intrant. Lollius et aliī clientēs quoque intrant. omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant.

Caelia, uxor Valeriī, et Maccia, uxor Lolliī, cum Ausōniā, Flaviī uxōre, quoque triclinium intrant. Caelia in sellā sedet. Maccia in sellā sedet. Ausōnia tamen iuxtā marītum recumbit. “heus!” susurrat Maccia. “quid facit ista fēmina?” “nōlī tē vexāre, mea Maccia,” respondet Caelia. “nam in urbe Romā fēminae iuxtā marītōs in lectīs recumbere solent.”

“fortasse tālēs rēs in urbe Romā accidunt,” respondit Maccia attonita, “sed in hāc urbe nōn decet –”

subitō Gallicus, coquus Valeriī, per iānum intrat. Milphiō quoque intrat. Milphiō gustātiōnem in mēnsā pōnit. in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in catīnō argenteō.  in gustātiōne sunt cocleae et carōtae et bulbī condītī. “nōnne gustātiō optima est?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant. Valerius Gallicum valdē laudat. omnēs hospitēs plaudunt.

Flavius Caesō mēnsam īnspicit. “nōnne lentēs Aegyptiae sunt? heus! mē valdē dēlectant lentēs!”

Flavius Caesō panem sumit. “ecce puls optima!” inquit.

Flavius tamen panem in pavīmentō forte dēmittit. “heus! quam neglegēns sum!” inquit. “heus, puer, fer plūs panis!” Milphiō ē triclīnliō exit et panem in culīnā quaerit.

subitō Rīdiculus panem in pavīmentō cōnspicit. “heus! mē valdē dēlectat panis!” mūs susurrat. Rīdiculus per triclinium currit. mūs panem in pavīmentō petit.

“ēheu! mūs est in triclīniō!” exclāmat Ausōnia. “euge! istum mūrem capere possum!” inquit Sabīna. mustēla quoque per triclīnium currit. mustēla mūrem in pavīmentō petit.  “heus! quid accidit?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant perterritī.  “quid accidit?” Milphiō in līmine rogat.

ēheu! Milphiō mustēlam nōn videt. pedēs Milphiōnis nōn iam sunt in pavīmentō! Milphiō supplantat et in mēnsā cadit. mēnsa per āera volat! panis per āera volat! olīvae et lentēs per āera volant! catīnus ad caput Flaviī, cochlear ad oculum Ausōniae volat.

“ēheu!” exclāmat Flavius. “quid facere possum?” Valēria tamen per iānuam celeriter currit. Caeliōla et Lūcius quoque celeriter intrant. Valēria catīnum et mēnsam in āere captat. Caeliōla mustēlam capessat. mustēla īrāta puellam mordēre temptat. Caeliōla Sabīnam īrāta verberat. Lūcius cochlear in āere comprehendit. Rapidus panem comprehendit et ad cēnāculum suum celeriter currit.

“līberōs īnsolentissimōs!” exclāmat Flavius Caesō. “num triclīnium intrāre audētis? num mustēlam meam verberāre audēs? ō puellās impiās! nōnne vehementer vapulāre dēbētis?”

“mī Flāvī,” respondet Valēria attonita, “cūr nōs pūnīre vīs? nōnne tē et uxōrem servāre temptāmus?”

Caesō tamen īrātus, “tacē, puella īnsolēns!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus tē in servitūtem vēndere dēbet? et servum ignāvum! ubi est panis? et cūr supplantās? nōnne maximē vapulāre dēbēs? nōnne in metalla vēnīre dēbēs?”

Valērius attonitus surgit. “mī Flavī –” Ausōnia quoque surgit et marītum vituperat.

“tacē, marīte stultissime,” interpellat Ausōnia īrāta. “num nihil vidēs? num nihil intellegis? hae puellae piissimae vītam tuam servant. hic puer fortissimus vītam meam servat. nōnne istam mustēlam tuam pūnīre dēbēs? nam propter mustēlam ille servus supplantat et haec omnia per āera volant. propter līberōs tamen catīnus tē, cochlear mē nōn percutit. fortasse tū puellās et puerum castīgās, ego tamen valdē laudō quod mē servant.”

Flavius Caesō attonitus nihil respondet. “fortasse,” Maccia susurrat, “ego quoque iuxtā marītum recumbere dēbeō.” Caelia rīdet sed nihil dīcit. cēterī hospitēs Valēriam et Lūcium et Caeliōlam valdē laudant.

intereā Rapidus panem per iānuam suam trahit. “mea Impigra, mea uxor,” exclāmat. “nōnne cēnam optimam tibi ferō?”

“ō marītum stultissimum!” respondet Impigra īrāta. “nōnne tē cum familiā tuā necāre temptās? sī panis in pavīmentō cadit, nōnne in pavīmentō per tōtam cēnam manet? nonne post cēnam triclīnium est vacuum? nōnne mediā nocte panem petere potes?”

“rēctē dīcis, mea uxor,” susurrat Rīdiculus. “nōnne nōmen aptissimum habeō?”

Today we’ll look at the goals regarding plot, character, and setting. Tomorrow we’ll look at vocabulary and grammar elements. Tuesday we’ll look at culture and Culture. And on Wednesday we’ll begin a series on Connections and Comparisons, showing how these strands of the National Standards can be developed with a story like this one.

Of course, I really want to hear what you think, but in our second post today I’ll share my preliminary thoughts about plot, character, and setting. Tune in shortly for more.

Building a Story, Part IV

salvēte iterum, sodālēs! In this post, we’ll finally reach the climax of the story we’ve been building. Just to recap what we have so far:

prope culīnam est cēnāculum minimum, ubi Rīdiculus mūs cum familiā habitat. Rīdiculus est mūs maximae calliditātis. cotīdiē ē cēnāculō suō audāx ambulat; cotīdiē cibum quaerit et invenit; cotīdiē incolumis revenit. Ferōx enim, canis Valeriī, est amīcus Rīdiculī; Ferōx Rīdiculum capere nōn vult.

in vīllā tamen proximā, ubit Flavius Caesō habitat, quoque habitat Sabīna mustēla. Sabīna Rīdiculum capere et ēsse valde vult. cotīdiē, ubi Rīdiculus cibum ad cēnāculum suum refert, Sabīna īrātissima susurrat, “istum mūrem necāre volō! istum mūrem caedere volō! istum mūrem cōnsūmere volō! istīus mūris ossa exspuere volō! nōnne hic est diēs optimus? nam dominus meus, ille Flavius Caesō, ipse in domō Valeriī hodiē cēnat. nōnne iste mūs cibum capere vult? et nōnne ego quoque cēnāre possum?”

Sabīna igitur ē peristyliō exit. Sabīna per postīcum ambulat et angiportum intrat. mustēla per angiportum ad domum Valeriī rēpit. Sabīna callida domum clam intrat et ad triclīnium tacitē rēpit.

intereā Valerius et Flavius triclinium intrant. Lollius et aliī clientēs quoque intrant. omnēs in lectō recumbunt et cēnam exspectant.

Caelia, uxor Valeriī, et Maccia, uxor Lolliī, cum Ausōniā, Flaviī uxōre, quoque triclinium intrant. Caelia in sellā sedet. Maccia in sellā sedet. Ausōnia tamen iuxtā marītum recumbit. “heus!” susurrat Maccia. “quid facit ista fēmina?” “nōlī tē vexāre, mea Maccia,” respondet Caelia. “nam in urbe Romā fēminae iuxtā marītōs in lectīs recumbere solent.”

“fortasse tālēs rēs in urbe Romā accidunt,” respondit Maccia attonita, “sed in hāc urbe nōn decet –”

And that’s where we left off earlier. And now to continue:

subitō Gallicus, coquus Valeriī, per iānum intrat. Milphiō quoque intrat. Milphiō gustātiōnem in mēnsā pōnit. in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae, multae …

(I’m reminded by the Wikipedia article that Romans loved pickled leeks, carrots, parsnips, and cauliflower, and that upper-class Romans preferred pureed lentils to the fava beans and chickpeas that were normally eaten by the poor. Not sure how much single-use vocabulary I really want to include here! But in the course of writing this post, I’ve been in touch with our potential illustrator, who wanted some guidance for a particular scene. Now I know that the pureed lentils, the bread, and the snails – along with the little pointy spoon called cochlear that Romans ate snails with – will be important plot elements.)

in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in …

(which word for bowl? Lewis & Short suggest catīnus, used by both Varro and Horace for a food-serving vessel)

in gustātiōne sunt multae olīvae et lentēs in catīnō argenteō. in gustātiōne sunt …

(what do they call snails again? Oh, that’s right, coclea, which is why the spoon is cochlear)

in gustātiōne sunt cocleae et carōtae et …

(Onion? bulbus.  And what’s that word for pickling that Ovid uses? condiō.)

… et bulbī condītī. “nōnne gustātiō optima est?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant. Valerius Gallicum valdē laudat. omnēs hospitēs plaudunt.

Flavius Caesō mēnsam īnspicit. “nōnne lentēs Aegyptiae sunt? heus! mē valdē dēlectant lentēs!” Flavius Caesō panem …

(I want to say, “dips it,” but he’ll drop it first, by accident. So…)

Flavius Caesō panem sumit. “ecce puls optima!” inquit.  Flavius tamen panem forte in pavīmentō …

(drops! Of all the words not to remember! Lewis & Short suggests dēmittere. And besides, forte is so adverbial that it should go next to the verb anyway, isn’t it?)

Flavius tamen panem in pavīmentō forte dēmittit. “heus! quam …

(clumsy! Lewis & Short suggests crassus, but … I know! neglegēns!  Flavius would never call himself crassus!)

“heus! quam neglegēns sum!” inquit. “heus, puer, fer plūs panis!” Milphiō ē triclīnliō exit et panem in culīnā quaerit.

subitō Rīdiculus panem in pavīmentō cōnspicit. “heus! mē valdē dēlectat panis!” mūs susurrat. Rīdiculus per triclinium currit. mūs panem in pavīmentō petit.

“ēheu! mūs est in triclīniō!” exclāmat Ausōnia. “euge! istum mūrem capere possum!” inquit Sabīna. mustēla quoque per triclīnium currit. mustēla mūrem in pavīmentō petit.  “heus! quid accidit?” omnēs hospitēs exclāmant perterritī.  “quid accidit?” Milphiō in līmine rogat.

ēheu! Milphiō mustēlam nōn videt. servus ….

(trips! Of all the words to forget! L&S suggests supplantō)

pedēs nōn iam sunt in pavīmentō! Milphiō supplantat

(or is it sē supplantat? is it transitive or instransitive?)

et in mēnsā cadit. mēnsa per āera volat! panis per āera volat! olīvae et lentēs per āera volant! catīnus ad caput Flaviī , cochlear ad oculum Ausōniae volat!  “ēheu!  moritūrī estis vōs!” exclāmant hospitēs perterritī.

“ēheu!” exclāmat Flavius. “quid facere possum?”  Valēria tamen per iānuam celeriter currit. Caeliōla et Lūcius quoque celeriter intrant. Valēria …

(which words to use for catching, here? L&S suggest several, with slightly different shades of meaning. So let’s use them, and then let’s explore those shades of meaning after we read!)

Valēria catīnum et mēnsam ex āere captat. Caeliōla mustēlam capessat. mustēla īrāta puellam mordēre temptat. Caeliōla Sabīnam īrāta verberat. Lūcius cochlear ex āere comprehendit. Rapidus panem comprehendit et ad cēnāculum suum celeriter currit.

“līberōs īnsolentissimōs!” exclāmat Flavius Caesō. “num triclīnium in mediā cēnā intrāre audētis? num mustēlam meam tangere audēs? ō puellās impiās! nōnne vehementer vapulāre dēbētis?”

“mī Flāvī,” respondet Valēria attonita, “cūr nōs pūnīre vīs? nōnne tē et uxōrem servāre temptāmus?”

Caesō tamen īrātus, “tacē, puella īnsolēns!” exclāmat. “nōnne pater tuus tē in servitūtem vēndere dēbet?  et servum ignāvum! ubi est panis? et cūr supplantās? nōnne maximē vapulāre dēbēs? nōnne in …

(what’s that word for salt mines? Or mines in general?)

nōnne in metalla vēnīre dēbēs?”

Valērius attonitus surgit. “mī Flavī –” Ausōnia autem quoque surgit et marītum vituperat.

“tacē, marīte stultissime,” interpellat Ausōnia īrāta. “num nihil vidēs? num nihil intellegis? hae puellae piissimae vītam tuam servant. hic puer fortissimus vītam meam servat. nōnne istam mustēlam tuam pūnīre dēbēs? nam propter mustēlam ille servus supplantat et haec omnia per āera volant. propter līberōs tamen catīnus tē, cochlear mē nōn percutiunt. fortasse tū puellās et puerum castīgās, ego tamen valdē laudō quod mē servant.”

Flavius Caesō attonitus nihil respondet. “fortasse,” Maccia susurrat, “ego quoque iuxtā marītum recumbere dēbeō.” Caelia rīdet sed nihil dīcit. cēterī hospitēs Valēriam et Lūcium et Caeliōlam valdē laudant.

intereā Rapidus panem per iānuam suam trahit. “mea Impigra, mea uxor,” exclāmat. “nōnne cēnam optimam tibi ferō?”

“ō marītum stultissimum!” respondet Impigra īrāta. “nōnne tē cum familiā tuā necāre temptās? sī panis in pavīmentō cadit, nōnne in pavīmentō per tōtam cēnam manet? nonne post cēnam triclīnium est vacuum? nōnne mediā nocte panem petere potes?”

“rēctē dīcis, mea uxor,” susurrat Rīdiculus. “nōnne nōmen aptissimum habeō?”

quid respondētis, amīcissimī? Of course, this is an early draft, and the story could easily be improved with some careful editing. But what do you think of

  • the overall plot?
  • the characters?
  • the situation?
  • the use of old, familiar vocabulary?
  • the introduction of new vocabulary?
  • the cultural elements (food, gender roles, and of course the roles of children)?
  • the Cultural elements of social class, dignitās, and pietās, and the literary allusions in the names of Sabina and Ridiculus?

What, if anything, would you suggest that we change or improve about the story? And what do you think about the process as I modeled it for you?  Could your students follow a similar process?  Or could you, if you’re a Latin learner yourself?

Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll start taking the story apart to examine these elements more closely.

Building a Story, Part I

salvēte, amīcī!  Welcome back for a short series of posts in which we’ll actually construct a story.  (Well, actually, I guess today you’ll watch and I’ll construct the story.  But within a week or two, when the Tres Columnae project begins to “go live,” you’ll be able to construct your own stories, too.)

As I drafted the storyline and metastory for Tres Columnae, one big desire was to include lots of culturally authentic “stuff” that we (participants and I) could use to create interesting stories.   Specifically, with regard to culture and Culture in the stories, I wanted

  • a lot of characters – male and female, rich and poor, free and slave, human and animal, from across the spectrum of Roman society
  • a lot of locations – both in Italy, in various provinces, and in Rome itself in the end
  • a lot of interesting situations – not only the “4-F” culture elements described by our friends at (the wiki site), but also everyday life tasks, historical incidents, mythological stories, folk tales, fables … as broad a spectrum as possible of both culture and Culture for the characters to interact with
  • a lot of stories – some written by me, but most by other members of the community, for each other
  • a lot of illustrations, audio, and video – in a variety of voices and styles

Of course, I also wanted lots of grammar-practice tasks, lots of vocabulary-practice opportunities, and lots of other things that aren’t directly related to culture and Culture.  But we’ve already discussed many of these in prior posts!

Today, we’ll walk through the process I’ve followed in creating the initial Tres Columnae stories, including the ones I’ve shared in the past. I’m curious to know whether my process will work for other participants!

  • If it feels like it would work for you, please let me know. I’ll be sure to include a description so that other participants with our same learning and thinking styles can benefit from that model.
  • If it feels like it would never work for you, definitely let me know … and tell me about the process (or processes) that would work! Not all Tres Columnae participants will approach tasks the same way, and it would really help for them to have many different models.

Anyway, I began with some of the characters and a general idea of locations and plot. I moved on to a rough outline (and in places it’s still pretty rough) that showed major story elements, locations, “big ideas,” and “new grammar” (which might mean morphology, syntax, pragmatics, etc.) for each Lectiō. Once I had developed the outline of the Metastory, I started writing individual stories, usually as the mood struck me. I did begin at the beginning, with the first story in Lectiō I, but I did not write every story in order. After all,

  • Tres Columnae isn’t a conventional textbook where every student must read every story;
  • It isn’t a conventional novel where every word and scene is critical to the plot;
  • Even if it were one of those things, writers of textbooks and novels rarely begin with page 1 and “write straight through to the end” anyway! 🙂

At the moment, then, I’m not only thinking about and attempting to model the process of writing a Tres Columnae story. I’m also actually doing the process – and I need to, if I’m to meet the goal of having Lectiōnēs I-X of Cursus Primus available, in some primitive form, by the end of the month! ēheu!! quae mēns īnsāna mē in hōs furōrēs impulit? 🙂

Anyway, I have three different stories or story-situations in mind, from which I need to choose one:

  1. A dinner party at domus Valeriāna or possibly vīlla Caeliāna that’s disturbed by a mouse … and, of course, by somebody chasing a mouse :-);
  2. A vēnātiō (probably in the arena at Pompeii, because I don’t think there was an arena in tiny little Herculaneum) where a brave little wolf-cub tries to defend his/her mother against a lion; or
  3. A chariot race where a team of horses is saved by their animal friend … but I can’t decide whether the friend should be a dog or a bird.

At first, I was really attracted to #2. I still think it will be an important part of the gladiator-fight Lectiō, but as a source of culture and Culture it’s not exactly what I need. The main culture-and-Culture story in that Lectiō will be told from the perspective of the humans watching the fight, not the animals participating in it!

Then I was very interested in #3 – and I still plan to use it in the chariot-racing Lectiō. But I still can’t decide between dog or bird, and that will obviously make a big difference in some significant plot details. (Argos the stray puppy, for example, could hardly save his friend Vēlōx the racehorse by flying into a hated rival’s face … and Alcyone the kingfisher wouldn’t be likely to bark at anyone.) So that leaves us with #1, the dinner party complete with mūs and mustēla.

In writing a Tres Columnae story (and, for that matter, in all the other fiction writing I’ve ever done), my next step is to think about character, setting, and the overall arc of the plot. This story happens during Lectiō XI of Cursus Prīmus, after Caius, Lucius, and Cnaeus have been in school for a while. It turns out that all three boys, for very different reasons, got in trouble at school today, and they all have sisters who enjoyed this immensely.

Since I want a mūs and a mustēla, my initial thought was to set the story in Lollius’ apartment – but then I realized he would hardly be likely to have a dinner party; he’s too poor! We’ve already seen a story about Caius and a story about Cnaeus, so I decided to focus on Lucius this time, which requires a setting at domus Valeria. That makes intuitive sense, too, since it’s easier to have a dinner party if you live in the city than if you’re out in the country like Caelius and his family.

Then come some decisions about the cultural-and-Cultural elements to stress: I decided on gender roles and food, since these are easily incorporated into a story about dining. And then I thought about the plot in general terms. I know that plots have a tendency to change as you’re actually writing, so I don’t want an excessively detailed outline. My general thought is

  1. Valerius (pater) and Caelia (māter) are angry at Lucius for … whatever happened at school;
  2. Lucius’ sorōrēs, Valeria and Caeliōla, are delighted that their brother got in trouble … he’s a goody-goody and rarely gets in trouble, which only makes them hate him more of course;
  3. The children are sent to bed so Valerius and Caelia can receive their guests;
  4. The dinner guests eat and drink in appropriate Roman style (but not the way it happens in the movies!);
  5. They’re interrupted by the mūs, who comes forth boldly to steal some food – and who still needs a name;
  6. The mustēla, who also still needs a name, chases the mouse;
  7. Chaos ensues; and
  8. One of the children saves the day somehow, earning praise.

With these elements in place, it’s time to think about vocabulary and grammatical elements, and then it’s time for the actual writing. For that, however, you’ll have to wait until the next post! 🙂

For the moment, quid respondētis, cārissimī?

  • Does this method of pre-writing work for you, or do you have a better system for the way you learn?
  • More important, do you think this method would work for the Tres Columnae participants?
  • Please ask if you don’t understand a step, or if you think I skipped one or included an unnecessary one.

Tune in later today for the actual story – and the rest of the process, including culture-and-Culture-themed questions.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 9:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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