A Latin textbook foisted off on unsuspecting high school students. The translation of the title is: "Look! Romans!", and the books purport to teach students how to speak Latin by chronicling the life of a family which is going to Rome.

The single most unfortunate thing about these texts is a character named Sextus. This, in and of itself, is not so bad. Romans were frequently named things like Quintus, and Sextus. That's five and six, simply. No, the unfortunate thing about Sextus is that he is an absolute pest. This, also, wouldn't be too bad, except that the Latin word for "annoying" is "molestus". Thus you have the character who is frequently referred to as "Sextus Molestus". Given the average maturity level of a freshman in high school, this means that the lecture is interrupted several times a class period by some unfortunate sot who can't hold his laughter back any longer.

Ah ha ha ha ha! Sextus Est Puer Molestus! God, I loved that book. See, Sextus, that lovable scamp, was always getting into trouble. One time, he was annoying Cornelia, man, it was great. And another time, he was annoying Davus, the slave! But old Greeky got his revenge - Sextus fell into the fishpond! And this other time, this wolf comes, right? So what does Sextus do? He climbs a tree! Oh, god, the hilarity. Marcus had to sieze a branch and repel the wolf, earning him the undying love of Flavia.

Man, Latin's just been going straight downhill ever since we stopped reading that beautiful, beautiful book.

Introduction

Ecce Romani: Best. Textbook. EVAR.
Ecce Romani is a quadruple/quidruple of Latin textbooks for beginners. It was written by the Scottish Classics Group, and was originally published by Oliver & Boyd. Three editions have been published thus far, the first in 1971, the second in 1982 and the third in the mid-90s.

Synopsis

The series of 4 textbooks (plus a significantly thicker fifth tome which covers unrelated military crap) chronicles the adventures of a wealthy upper-upper class Roman family (a mother, father, daughter, son, and an acquaintance's son) and their slaves. At the start of this epic, they are living happily in their nice villa in the bay of Naples, but Gaius Cornelius Calvus (usually referred to as just "Cornelius"), the senator of the family, is summoned to the crowded city of Rome. Because of this, the entire family has to bundle over to the big city, packed with angry, loud and generally unsavoury characters. Fortunately, Uncle Titus has a nice big domus in which the family lives for the latter half of the series.

It's completely inexplicable, but for me Ecce Romani induces a kind of mild state of general dazed and confusedness. This is probably intensified by the poor choice of words on the part of the authors (see 'quid sub toga portas') and the immensely goofy stories. As mentioned before, when combined with immature teenagers and an insane Latin teacher this can cause a great deal of amusement. Some have complained about this, but Ecce wouldn't be the same without these unintentional features. I mean, come on, we need more stories featuring Sextus taking Cornelia's doll and being repeatedly spanked by his surrogate father in his study. People should treasure this shit. By the time you're done reading this book, you'll be wishing that somebody had had the courage to create a motion picture version of it.

Editions

The first edition is out of print and thus I am unfamiliar with it. It'd probably make an interesting read (in the same way that the first edition of The C Programming Language would make an interesting read.) However, the 2nd and 3rd editions are still in use, the 2nd mainly by English students and the 3rd mainly by North American students. There are some pretty big differences between the two. The reason for this is that editions 1 & 2 were published by O&B whereas the 3rd edition was published by Prentice Hall Publishing.

The 3rd has bigger pages, more detail, an English-Latin glossary, and a greater cost. The illustration styles of the two are also different to each other. The 2nd edition's illustrations are scratchy B&W pen and ink drawings which are slotted around the text. The 3rd edition's illustrations are proper, higher resolution full-page printed B&W drawings.

The numbering systems of the 2nd and 3rd editions are also quite different. The 2nd editions are numbered '1', '2', '3', '4' and '5' respectively. The 3rd editions are numbered 'IA', 'IB', 'IIA', 'IIB', and 'III' respectively.

Main characters

The book does contain some gender stereotyping, which isn't too surprising considering that it is about Roman culture. (If you are a Roman reading this, I hope I didn't offend you.)
Cornelius
He's the fairly stern father of the family. He's a rich senator who lives a comfortable life in Baiae and subsequently Rome. He likes to invite friends over for dinner (commissiatio) and doesn't object to using physical punishment when his sons misbehave.
Aurelia
She's the fairly sentimental mother of Marcus and Cornelia, who doesn't crop up too much, but can be seen comforting Cornelius and becoming annoyed with the slaves' laziness and ineptitude.
Marcus
Marcus is a 15 year old boy who can keep his cool and always knows what to do. The only time he got in a lather was when he had to beat up a wolf with a large tree branch because it threatened to rip off his sister's neck. He can generally be found in the vicinity of Sextus.
Cornelia
Cornelia is the submissive daughter of Aurelia and Cornelius. She is 13 years old, and enjoys hanging out with her friend Flavia. On warm days she likes to sit under trees in the field and watch the slaves working. On hot days she likes to walk through the woods. Of course, once everyone moved to Rome, she wasn't allowed to go out anywhere, causing her to become very, very, very bored. Generally when this happens it's a foreboding sign that something fairly dramatic is about to happen. When something does happen she quite often gets bit parts, such as witnessing fires breaking out in flats and incinerating their tenants, accompanying her mother on shopping trips and being annoyed/teased by Sextus.
Sextus
Sextus is the irritating and hyperactive boy who the Cornelii are looking after while his dad is in Asia. Sextus' hobbies are climbing trees and pissing people off; Cornelia, Marcus, Davus, Eucleides, and so on. He's actually pretty unfortunate, though. He almost got attacked by a wolf, fell into a fish pond and got beaten by his teacher.

Supporting characters

Eucleides
The poor sucker of a Greek slave who got lumbered with tutoring the boys at the villa, and who had to accompany them to school. He also got clubbed over the head by a couple of thugs in chapter 34, 'Violence in the Streets'.
Flavia
Flavia is Cornelia's girlfriend, who lives in the villa next door. Her main function within the plot is to go out and about with Cornelia. When Cornelia moves off to Rome, she can't come too, so she has to stay behind with her own family, whoever the heck they are. She's generally mentioned at random in various exercises. From the second book onwards Flavia is just another character to be used as the authors felt necessary.
Titus
Titus is Cornelius' brother. He hardly appears at all in the first book, but when the family upped sticks and moved to Rome, they stay at his big town house.
Davus
Davus is an overseer of the farm and slaves at the Cornelian villa. He only appears in the first book, being annoyed by Sextus and apprehending an escaped slave. However, he does get a few passing mentions after that, such as when Cornelia tells the boys that she intends to give a doll to his daughter for her birthday.

Regarding Crux's writeup

"And this other time, this wolf comes, right? So what does Sextus do? He climbs a tree!"
Note that Sextus had been boasting about his lack of fear for anything and all-round invincibility in the previous chapter. "nihil Sextus terret!" burbles Flavia.

"Oh, god, the hilarity."
I dearly hope that you aren't being sarcastic. Ecce Romani is probably the funniest and best thing to come out of Scotland since Groundskeeper Willie.

"Marcus had to sieze a branch and repel the wolf, earning him the undying love of Flavia."
You spelt seize wrong. Anyway, Flavia's crush is on Sextus, not Marcus.

"Man, Latin's just been going straight downhill ever since we stopped reading that beautiful, beautiful book."
Damn straight.

What Amazon has to say

Amazon can give you a good little bit of information about the books. Note that if you search for "Ecce Romani" then the results will include both second and third editions. What's interesting is to see what immature Latin nuts also like perusing:

Customers who bought books by Scottish Classics Group also bought books by these authors:

Funnily enough I'm flicking through some Lemony Snicket books at the moment. Strange coincidence.

Feedback

Wow, I didn't realise this node had gotten so popular while I was away (it's my first triple-cooled node). I suppose I must have made a few people feel more than a tad nostalgic about this wonderful literature. Well, here are the pertinent snippets from my Message Inbox.

  • 2003.01.10 at 10:13 - Cool Man Eddie says Hey, DrT, pottedstu just cooled your Ecce! Romani! writeup, baby!
  • 2003.01.10 at 11:25 - Cool Man Eddie says Hey, DrT, Great Neb just cooled your Ecce! Romani! writeup, baby!
  • 2003.01.10 at 11:26 - Great Neb says re Ecce! Romani!: quality write up - oh the memories, marcus and sextus my childhood friends!

The contents of this writeup are in the public domain.

Ecce Romani, or: How I Learned that the Greeks are Rome's Mafia

In high school, it's amazing how much time you have to contemplate really stupid things. We read Ecce Romani as our Latin text, and about 3/5 into the story, the Senator father Cornelius is called to Rome to serve. Naturally, the family goes with him, as well as the Greek slave/tutor, Eucleides. All goes smoothly along the Via Appia until their carriage's wheel breaks. Sun is setting, and there may not be enough time to repair the wheel and be on their way.

Fearing wolves, sleeping through the night in the carriage is verboten. There is an inn close by, but Aurelia believes that inns are dens of filth, and refuses to stay in an inn. Eucleides refutes her opinion, declaring, "I know the owner of that inn. He is a good man, and a Greek."

At this point, my friends and I begin to contemplate why Eucleides would elaborate that the owner was Greek. Was it not sufficient to simply be a good man? We believed that it was heavily implied that being a Greek meant something above and beyond the obvious. In our 15- and 16-year-old minds, it was clear that there were mob connections. Veritas!

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