“Poenica is an immigrant from Tyre, the Phoenician city known for its purple. She’s an extraordinary purple-dyer who wants to become a tightrope walker! In this tale, her shop is visited by different Romans looking to get togas purpled, as well as an honored Vestal in need of a new trim on her sacred veil. Some requests are realistic—others ridiculous. Is life all work and no play? Can Poenica find the time to tightrope walk?”
For this novella, I’ve gone back to my roots of writing Latin that students can read within the first months. The last book written at such a level and scope was Syra sōla in early 2019, with more recent books being written for readers having closer to a year of Latin or more. With its low unique word count (19) and high cognate count (16), Poenica purpurāria is one of the most comprehensible novellas to date. It’s over 1600 total words in length, making for a manageable choice among the first books read, or a quick read for more experienced Latin students.
Poenica purpurāria seriously unshelters (i.e. unleashes, doesn’t limit, etc.) its grammar. In this novella, there are indirect statements, passive voice, gerundives of purpose, perfect and future tenses, ablative absolute, and the future periphrastic. Considering it’s able to be read within the first months of Latin, that’s a lot of grammar exposure for the beginning student.
Regarding target culture, Poenica purpurāria can serve as an introduction to quite a variety of topics for a book of its small scope, including the process of dyeing clothes itself, multicultural Rome, women in antiquity, Phoenicians, trade, not to mention Vestals and the broad topic of religion. Teachers are encouraged to make note of what students find compelling, and consider exploring more of that in class. Poenica purpurāria is available…