Sunday, February 18, 2007

Roman far and wide.

I could tell you about the longest Saturday in recorded maternal history.

I could tell you about my increasingly vexing inability to plan a balanced meal.

But I choose, in a Sherman and Peabody way, to hurtle us backwards in time about two thousand years to…


This is to say, I am back to studying Latin, and you are going to be dragged along because I can study a dead language, write a blog, or find some cunning way to do both at the same time.

[Respectful silence for Quinn’s cleverness]

When last we left the Cranky Roman Family, the boys, Marcus and Quintus, had mocked their sister Julia’s nose. Julia flew to her small-but-well-frescoed bedroom and the boys were sent outside to contemplate their own generally horrible natures. I’d say “Barbaric natures” but, at the time, the Barbarians were living in what would later be called Germany and were more of a “Pillaging” people than a “Mocking” people.

Anyway, here is the Cranky Roman Family and here are the rules: 1) I have to translate to the best of my ability and 2) I have to translate exactly, because I’m not clever enough for idiom yet.


Behold Marcus and Quintus before the door of the house. Julius’ boys are waiting. Mother not near boys is, but in peristylum is.

[I looked up the word “Peristylum”. It means “Peristylum”].

Aemilia happy not is, because Julius is away. Certainly she loves him.

[The writer of this primer is a obviously ‘Bridges of Madison County’-reading drip who chooses to believe this arranged marriage led to love. I put forward Amelia is unhappy because her sons always attack their sister’s appearance when their father goes on grape- and slave-buying trips; and would it kill him once to take Marcus and Quintus along on a business trip to Brundisium as their therapist suggested?]

Where Julia is? In cubicle she is.

[Even though the word looks like “cubicle”, I’m guessing she’s in her bedroom. Unless, of course, she worked in Customer Support but how could that be? She’s in Italy, not India.]

Julia, rose before her nose is. Girl cries: in eyes are tears there .

[Wow, those olden-times people really were different. Modern people keep our tears in a Mason jar under the sink.]

Julia mirror has and before her eyes holds. Girl looks in mirror and asks: “Is not this ugly nose mine?” Nose hers but finely-formed not is. Again cries Julia .

[Hans Ørberg -- with the suspicious and barbaric line through the O -- is the author of this book. There is no photograph of Mr. Ørberg on the book jacket. Coincidence? I think not. Listen, Hans, Julia is just going through an awkward age in a time with very few hairstyle options. You could easily mention Marcus and his abnormally small feet or what appears to be the beginnings of a goiter on Quintus’ neck but no, you seem to be fixated on young Julia's age- and culture-appropriate flaws. I'm keeping my eye on you, Ørberg.]

Syra bedroom door knocks.

Julia: Enter!

Syra enters through bedroom door. Julia sees Syra in the mirror; Syra doesn’t see Julia’s tears, for the girl moving isn't.

[Ørberg here restrains himself from pointing out how Julia's appallingly big nose might be keeping her from moving.]

Syra: Oh, here is my girl. Come into the garden, Julia!

Julia demands: Halt the door!

[I looked that one up. Twice. The verb is to halt or make lame. Apparently, doors in Roman houses would sometimes lift themselves from their hinges and make a break for the Mediterranean Sea to float toward the New World. If someone reading this is currently working on a paper for Western Civilization, make sure to include that fact. You will impress your professor.]

The maid obeys.

Julia: My nose is ugly, isn’t it Syra?

Syra: Ugly? On the contrary, well-shaped your nose is.

Julia revolves around. Then Syra tears sees.

Syra: What is it, my Julia? Wipe your eyes! Is tears! Your nose is as well-formed as mine.

[Oh, dear. I have had the benefit of seeing pictures of both Julia and Syra. If Syra were to inhale hard enough, she’d suck up her own chin.]

Julia: Your nose not well-formed is!

[So young. So Roman. So bitchy. Has there ever been a single unexpressed thought in this family?]

Syra: What? Not well-formed my nose is?

Julia: On the contrary, ugly is! Behold the mirror, Syra.

[Julia, you’re angry at your brothers and filled with pre-adolescent self-loathing. You’re worried your fiancé, the sixty year-old Roman senator, will trade you in for a girl with a better-formed nose, so you lashed out. We accept, and we understand. But you do realize that Syra has access to everything you eat, poison is easy to get in Rome and a good pathology lab is about two millennia away. Just saying.]

Julia mirror put before Syra, whom sees nose in mirror. The maid’s eyes grow limp and silent.

[Sometimes, I just translate.]

Meanwhile, outside…

Behold Julius [Italy’s favorite wacky but brutal Roman father] outside the villa arriving. Servants stop the litter before the door. Father greets sons: “Greetings, sons!” and the sons greet the father: “Greetings, father!”

[Years now, around a fire in some God-awful garrison town near Londinium, Quintus will shed a silent tear and think “…could he never say ‘Greetings Quintus, your nose is looking especially well-formed? Why always the distance?…”]

Julius walks through the door.

[There are two sentences after that, of which I can make neither hide nor hair. Variations of the word ‘door’ seem to reappear, so let’s assume he walked through several doors].

After him walks Syrus and Leander. Two sacs carry.

[Let’s also assume the servants carry the sacs, and not the other way around, shall we?]

Servants after them halt the doors.

[Again, students of ancient history, note the doors attempting to get away. Doors being halted. Doors having free will. I cannot imagine why this is the first I am hearing of this.]

Ursus and Davus break up the empty litter.

Boys sacs full which are carried by servants see and ask: What is in sacs?

[Quinn asks readers to note the joke she isn’t making.]

Julius responds: In sac Leander carries apples are. Give the sac, Leander!

[Still not making the joke. I am, however, noting that when I had several housemates, all of them male and gay, there was small library of videotapes in the TV cabinet that featured Ancient Rome as a motif. I always assumed this had something to do with the ease of removing togas. Or strappy sandals. Silly me.]

Leander sac puts before Julius, who opens it.

Julius: Look, sons: this sac full apples is.

And even though you know there is another servant, another sac, an ugly servant having her dreams of personal appeal dashed by a tearful child with a mirror, and perhaps another digression into guy-on-guy action or Roman doors with dreams of freedom, I must bid you good night.

Or rather, vale.


Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

To the ill-tempered family I say, "ad astra per aspera" (my prep school motto and one of only five Latin phrases I know).

5:13 AM  
Blogger Karen of TX said...

How is it I've been reading your blog this long and didn't know you were studying Latin? Must hit the archives more often...

My daughter is learning Latin at school; she's 10. So far the sentences are short but mysterious: "The girl is in the field." It leaves me wondering why the girl is there, and what we should do about it. I'm glad your Roman family at least has action and consequences. Looking forward to more!

I myself am learning Spanish, helping daughter with Latin and son with German. I'm lucky to still read English.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I knew you had been studying Latin, but missed the linked entry when I read through your archives last month. This is hysterical. I actually took Latin in 197? for two years, I can't imagine doing this for fun, though. Italian yes, but Latin. You know the old poem?
Latin is a dead language.
It died across the sea.
It killed off all the Romans,
and now it's killing me.

Lastly, remember our family motto:
Semper ubi, sub ubi.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By Jove, this blog entry full great humor is.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Steven Pierce said...

I still remember one of the first sentences I had to translate when I was studying Latin. "The queen ordered the sailors to kill the children for having produced insufficient quantities of painted urns." I bet that queen could have whipped Marcus and Quintus into shape. And then the sailors would have been around for all the sac-handling action with the servants.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment is a tangent, but I just wanted to mention that I've been reading your blog for a few months now and it always makes me snort with laughter in a most unladylike fashion. I finally saw "The GoodBye Girl" for the first time last week when it was on TCM 31 Days of Oscar movie marathon. Everyone was right, you were fabulous and adorable and just perfect for the part. Not at all a surprise that you grew up to be so well-rounded and witty.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

Quinn -
I'm dying to know... why Latin? Planning on a career change to pharmaceutical sales?

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

De-lurking to thank you. Now I know why my daughter is getting D's in latin.
Of course, there was that day she was watching tapes at home, and some word came up (it began with "O" - Orris? Owee?) that we immediately translated to, "long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away."

8:12 AM  

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