Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

At Dinner

The Romans did not use chairs when at the table, but reclined upon couches. They rested upon the left arm, leaving the right hand free.

As soon as Gaius and his family had taken their places about the table, one of the slaves removed their sandals, for a Roman would not think of eating in a private house with sandals upon his feet.

When the dinner had been served, Gaia, turning to Lucius, asked, "And what did you do in school to-day?"

"Oh," replied Lucius, "I had such a nice way of learning my letters. The master gave me a set of letters cut from ivory, and, after I had learned their names, I made words from them, by laying them on my tablet. I played that each ivory letter was a boy, and it was much easier to remember their names that way.

"The master praised Marcus, to-day," he added, turning to his father.

"What did he say?" asked Gaius, and Marcus answered with a flush of pleasure, "I read my maxim so well, that he said I should some day be able to address the Senate."

"That is praise, indeed," said his father, and then he added, "I think you have your mother to thank for that. Ever since you learned to talk, she has been careful about your speech, and your mother uses the purest Latin."

Gaia flushed with pleasure at her husband's praise, while Marcus replied, "I know that that is true."

"I hope" Gaius continued, "that you will gain as much by Glaucon's teaching, for he is a good Greek scholar and can teach you to speak Greek language as well as you speak the Latin. We are fortunate in having such a pedagogue as Glaucon."

"Glaucon is teaching me to speak in Greek, too," said Lucius eagerly, "and he says that I do very well."

"That is good," said Gaia, smiling approvingly at her younger boy.

"Father," said Lucius after a pause, "one of the boys in school was flogged to-day."

"What had he done?" asked Gaius.

"He wanted to go to an exhibition at the circus, and so he took cumin to make him look pale."

"Aha," said Gaius; "and so the master saw through his trick?"

"Yes," replied Lucius, laughingly, "and he gave him an exhibition of flogging, instead."

"He was smarting from it afterward," added Marcus, "and Glaucon told him not to mind; that flogging was what made good men and women."

"Glaucon is probably right," said Gaius. "The rod is needed when boys and girls choose to be unruly."

"Father," said Terentia, speaking for the first time, "I hear that girls attend some of the schools."

"Yes," replied her father, "it is true, but I think no good will come of it. The daughter's place is in the home, and I believe it is better for her to be educated there. A girl should know how to read and write, and keep simple accounts, as you are learning to do; but the most important lessons for her to learn are how to care for a household, how to spin and weave, and above all, how to hold the love and honor of her family.

"I know that my ideas are beginning, in some places, to be looked upon as old-fashioned," added Gaius, "but they were held by our ancestors, and they lived worthy and honorable lives."

"We had a new fashion set us at school to-day," said Marcus with a laugh. "Titus, the son of Faustus, was brought to school in a litter carried by six slaves."

"I am afraid," said Gaius severely, "that Faustus will some day be sorry for his foolish following of these new Greek fashions. Certainly Titus is able to walk, and need not be carried to school by slaves as though he were a great noble, or a lame old man. Children should be taught to be self-reliant, strong, useful, and honorable. Being carried about, needlessly, by slaves, does not teach them any of those things.

"My children," added Gaius, earnestly, "let us keep to the old Roman ideals, which make strong, manly men, and true, honorable women: let us avoid idleness and empty show, and foolish fashions, which will make us weak in body, and weak in character as well.

"I think you all know the story of Cincinnatus,"

Gaius continued, after a pause, "but it will do no harm for you to hear it again."

"No, indeed, Father," said Terentia. "We always love to listen to your stories."

"I  don't remember about Cincinnatus," said Lucius. "Who was he?"

"His name was like your own," answered Gaius. "It was Lucius Quintus, but he was called Cincinnatus because of his crisply curling hair.

"He was a brave and noble man, and a good soldier, but he lived upon his farm outside the city, and tilled the ground with his own labor.

"At the time of my story, some of the people with whom the Romans had made a treaty of peace, had broken their treaty, and were going through the Roman provinces killing the people and burning their houses.

"The Romans reminded them of their promise of peace, but they would not listen, and they defeated the soldiers who were sent out against them, and kept them captive.

"Then the Romans saw that they must choose a very wise man as well as a good soldier, and must make him Dictator, and place him in charge of the entire army.

"They decided that Cincinnatus was the man who was needed, and messengers from the Senate were sent to bring him.

"They found Cincinnatus plowing in his field, but he wrapped his toga about him and listened with dignity to all that they had to say.

"He went with them at once to Rome, and took command. He ordered every Roman in the city who was old enough to enter the army, to be ready to go with him that night. Each one was to carry his arms, sufficient food to last five days, and twelve wooden stakes.

"No one understood what the stakes were for, but all were ready to obey his commands.

"That night, under his orders, they marched to the spot where the enemy's troops were encamped, and surrounded them. Then each man dug a trench before him and drove in his stakes; and when the enemy was aroused by the shout of the Romans, they found themselves surrounded and captured.

"Then Cincinnatus had two spears set upright in the ground, and a third fastened across their tops, and he made all the defeated army pass through, in sign that they placed themselves under the Roman yoke. After that he let them go to their homes.

"When Cincinnatus returned to Rome he was given every honor that could be shown to a victorious general, but a few days later he laid aside the office of Dictator, knowing that his work was done, and returned to his little farm.

"We need not all be farmers, as Cincinnatus was, but we should all imitate the simplicity and the dignity which made Cincinnatus one of the heroes of Rome.

"The Greeks, whose ways so many Romans are copying," Gaius added, as he finished his story, "have among them the best artists and poets in the world. I wish to give them all the credit possible for their art and their literature. It is only the idleness and the luxury of the Greeks that I am sorry to see the Romans imitating. It will not prove good for Rome."