Cleopatra at the Breakfast Table by Peter O’Brien

As a preview of our First Spring Launch, Quattro would like to share an excerpt from Cleopatra at the Breakfast Table: Why I Studied Latin With My Teenager and How I Discovered the Daughterland by Peter O’Brien.

Excerpt from “Chapter One: My Daughter, Me and the Magisterium”

ONCE UPON A RECENT SPRING MORNING my 14-year-old daughter, Siobhan, told me during breakfast that she had settled on her courses for the following school year. One of her electives, she informed me nonchalantly between munches of whole-wheat toast and sips of cinnamon tea, would be Latin. As her father, I naturally think that she is beautiful and talented and wise, but I was startled to learn that in our era (consumed with that which it is nourished by: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and continuous text messaging) Latin was even an option at her local public high school. She had decided, with not an iota of encouragement or pressure from me, to dip her nail-polished toes into the vast and unknown waters of Latin, a language that has been “dead” for 2,000 years or so.

When I asked her why she wanted to study an ancient language, she said, in that special tone which teenagers have of talking to their oh-so-out-of-touch parents: “I don’t know, Dad. Do I need a reason? I think it will be fun. A bunch of my friends are also taking Latin next year.” Wayfinding for a separated parent with a teenager is, of course, always a challenge. Even with the technological benefit of wireless GPS, accompanied by a standard-issue internal compass, a parent is always on the lookout for unmarked paths and mislabeled routes that must be negotiated. And Siobhan, like all teenagers, has her own distinct vision of the landscape through which she travels, what I’ve taken to call the Daughterland. One small, cunning example of this: riding back on the subway from our first trip to her orthodontist, Siobhan looked across at a poster advertising a crisis hotline for kids in trouble. The poster blared: Thinking of suicide? There is help. Let’s talk. and listed a telephone number to call. “Dad,” she said, giving me a mischievous jab in the ribs with her elbow, “can you take down that number for me?”

As a former English major who has wandered among books and writers – including a few ancient authors, all in translation, of course – I decided that it might be fun to accompany her on this year-long linguistic adventure, despite the evident navigational hazards. It might help spark my sympathies for this foundational language, might inspire some random reading of a few great writers, and might provide me the opportunity to read about early Roman history and perhaps even consider if there were historical lessons that could be applied to our Internet-infused age. Most important, it might provide me with a way to keep connected, in a fatherly fashion, to Siobhan’s expanding teenaged life: the swirling torrents and tumults, the impending serpent’s-tooth bouts of “Dad, really! You don’t understand anything!” that I thought were sure to be part of her teenaged years. Could I convince her that the two of us studying together wasn’t too, using a word she might use, “creepy”? Would I get in her way by being too parentally pedantic? Would I embarrass her (more than I usually do) in front of her friends? Would my language acquisition skills (my grey matter is already turning hard and crusty) be able to keep up with her language acquisition skills (hers is still refreshingly soft and malleable)? Would we still be talking to each other at the end of the school year?

I had, as usual, more questions and doubts than answers. When I asked what she thought of me studying with her (I didn’t go into the whole father-daughter bonding stuff), she was initially supportive, I think. “Oh Dad,” she said with a bit of a snarky, know-it-all sneer and an upward rolling of the eyes. “Don’t you have enough other stuff to do? Aren’t you looking for work you know, paid work? Don’t you…ummm, well okay, I guess.”


Don’t miss the launch of this and other exciting Quattro Books titles at our First Spring Launch on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at Supermarket Restaurant, beginning at 7:30 pm. Visit the Events section of our website for more information.

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