A Guardian story by Alison Flood reports on some interesting material:
Ever been unsure about how to deal with a drunken family member returning from an orgy? A collection of newly translated textbooks aimed at Greek speakers learning Latin in the ancient world might hold the solution.
Professor Eleanor Dickey travelled around Europe to view the scraps of material that remain from ancient Latin school textbooks, or colloquia, which would have been used by young Greek speakers in the Roman empire learning Latin between the second and sixth centuries AD. The manuscripts, which Dickey has brought together and translated into English for the first time in her forthcoming book Learning Latin the Ancient Way: Latin Textbooks in the Ancient World, lay out everyday scenarios to help their readers get to grips with life in Latin. Subjects range from visiting the public baths to arriving at school late – and dealing with a sozzled close relative.
“Quis sic facit, domine, quomodo tu, ut tantum bibis? Quid dicent, qui te viderunt talem?” runs the scene from the latter, which Dickey translates as: “Who acts like this, sir, as you do, that you drink so much? What would they say, the people who saw you in such a condition? […]
The Latin learners are provided with examples of how to deal with visits to sick friends and preparations for dinner parties. They are also briefed on trips to the market to wrangle over prices (“How much is the cape?” “Two hundred denarii.” “You’re asking a lot; accept a hundred denarii”) and an excursion to the bank.
“We don’t know if they would have roleplayed the scenes with other students,” said Dickey, a professor of classics at the University of Reading. “But my hunch is that they did.”
Dickey said the texts were very commonly used. “We know this because they survive in lots of different medieval manuscript versions. At least six different versions were floating around Europe by 600 AD,” she said. “This is actually more common than many better-known ancient texts: there was only one copy of Catullus, and fewer than six of Caesar. Also, we have several papyrus fragments – since only a tiny fraction survive, when you have more than one papyrus fragment, for sure a text was popular in antiquity.” […]
There’s a phrasebook section on excuses (“You did what I told you?” “Not yet “Why?” “I (shall) do it soon, for I’m in a hurry to go out”), and a varied one on insults. “Maledicis me, malum caput? crucifigaris!” or “Do you revile me, villain? May you be crucified!” is one particularly vicious one, along with: “And does he revile (me), that animal-fighter? Let me go, and I shall shake out his teeth.”
“When we think of the Romans, it’s mainly of the rich and famous generals, emperors and statesmen,” Dickey told the Guardian. “But those people are clearly atypical: they’re famous precisely because they were remarkable. Historians try to correct this bias by telling us about the masses of ordinary Romans, but rarely do we have works written by or about these people. These colloquia give us real, contemporary stories about their lives and I hope my work gives a fairer and truer vision of ancient society.”
The book sounds like a lot of fun. Thanks, Bathrobe!