In the summer of 98 AD, a teenage Greek boy named Diocles travels to Rome. He fled from Greece because someone named Leo blamed him for starting a fire in the woods. Diocles says that he gets himself into trouble often, but Leo is even more of an instigator. In Rome Diocles found a home in the inn of Alexander, a fellow Greek who calls him “his other son,” and he works there, transporting many supplies to the inn from the forum. But one day Diocles decides to steal gems from a store, and his whole life changes.
After he commits the crime, in the forum he sees a beautiful girl, Flora. He wants to give her the stolen jewelry. Flora senses something isn't right and Diocles tells her the truth: he was stealing the gems and fleeing from the scene of the crime. But Flora isn’t scared; she offers to pay for the jewelry. Soon Diocles goes back to the store with Flora and pays the shopkeeper.
You see, Flora’s family situation is complicated. Her father, Florus, was an ambassador in Greece. He had to leave Rome because evil men were looking for him. They have tried to attack him while in Greece, but Florus kept them away. Flora's mother, fearing for her safety, mysteriously disappeared to her brother’s home, also in Greece. Flora’s lived alone for a couple years now; she’s tough, brave, fiercely independent, and intelligent. She does have a dog named Hercules who protects her. She’s also very caring: Flora understands that Diocles, like her, is all alone and troubled. She has many friends whom she often helps, and seeing that Diocles is new to the city, Flora offers to take him on a tour of Rome. She befriends him and shows him various locations around the city: the Capitoline temples, gladiator fights at the Flavian Amphitheater, and visiting the tombs at the edge of town. They even celebrate Roman cultural festivals together.
Early on in the story Flora, visiting Diocles at the inn, automatically notices something odd. Alexander the innkeeper questions her about her family and is easily frightened by her dog. He acts very strangely, seems angry, and can be seen performing suspicious deeds around the inn. Flora can’t quite figure out why Alexander is behaving in this manner, and neither can Diocles. Diocles finally realizes the possible dangers of staying in the inn and Flora gives him a home. Hercules the dog seems to know what’s up, but can’t articulate it to the humans. Both Diocles and Flora have visions of their families through dreams and apparitions, who attempt to guide them on their journey.
This is all I’ll give away of the plot. However I will discuss that these are some of the cultural topics the story has addressed either directly in the Latin text or through class conversations:
- guest/host relationship
- the legal status of women in ancient Rome
- the political climate of the late 1st century AD (from Domitian to Trajan)
- the four Augustan/Roman virtues (clementia, iūstitia, virtūs, pietas)
- Roman and Greek views on death
- Some mythology and religious themes
- travel in the ancient world (forthcoming chapters)
There are even more cultural connections to be made as we continue: eleven chapters have been written and several more will be added throughout the second half of the school year. The Latin II students have contributed to the greater storyline primarily through surveys, discussions, and other means. I have filled in their plot with cultural tidbits to embed the story deeply in a Roman historical context. The result is some of the finest student-influenced Latin text I have seen. As this is my third year utilizing my story creation method, I constantly make changes that I feel will be beneficial and useful to students. Although the main ways of gathering the data have remained similar, there is now a greater corpus of related activities to read the text as Latin, not merely translated English, although establishing meaning is a priority in the beginning. Once students are familiar with the text, strengthening that knowledge with activities in Latin makes the input even comprehensible. The compelling adventure continues, told from shifting perspectives and offering several points of view. The characters' personalities are continually evolving. I am proud of what we have accomplished thus far.