If Greek culture is notable for its intellectual and ethical sophistication, then Roman civilization is best characterized by its intense patriotism. While some historians find the provincial zeal of the Romans refreshing after the degeneracy of the Greeks, others describe the Romans as morally rigid, rural barbarians--slaves to the state--compared to the emancipated, enfranchised Greeks. 1
For our purposes, we will drop in on Roman society about the time of Sappho ( sixth century B.C.). We find a small, religious, landed aristocracy who worked the land themselves. The Latin language reveals just how agrarian the society was. Deriving their alphabet from the Etruscans, an Asian people who tried to rule and urbanize the Roman tribes, the Romans took many words from the soft. For example, laetus (joy) described well- manured ground; felix (happiness) referred to fertile soil; sincerus (truthfulness or sincerity) was pure honey without beeswax; and frux (fruitfulness) was profit. The grand Roman villas had their origins in rudimentary farmhouses: The kitchen gardens behind the old one-room houses were partially enclosed to include a dining room and separate peristyle (kitchen). The one-room hut became the den, office, and library. After enclosure, the farmyard became a receiving atrium (living room), and a vestibule (hallway) leading to the atrium completed the arrangement.
A child born into one of the aristocratic clans learned the importance of the family unit as the backbone of society. The pater (father) held sovereign authority in all family matters. The mother, a well-respected family mem-