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This could be a very long list, but in advance of Rome on HBO on Sunday I give a selection of odd things the Romans did.

1. Lupercalia. This one is pretty well know, but it's worth mentioning. Goats and a dog were sacrificed, the blood smeared on the foreheads of two aristocratic young men (who had to laugh); these then ran around Rome pretty much naked (they had girdles of goatskin) and beat women with thongs. Women lined up for this as it was supposed to bring fertility. You know that scene in Julius Caesar where Antony offers the crown to Caesar? Antony was taking part in this and thus would have been pretty much nude, sweaty and smeared with blood. Puts a different spin on the situation

2. Tossing Hermaphrodites into the Sea. When things went bad in Rome the Romans would often go looking for a hermaphrodite. Apparently they usually found them, whereupon they flung them into the sea. They did this quite often, so obviously there was ready supply. Occasionally they would also bury Greeks and Gauls alive (this occured in the third century BC in one crisis) if the hermaphrodite thing didn't quite work out.

3. Believe in odd remedies. According to that ever unreliable source of facts, Pliny the Elder's Natural History a woman's milk could be an antidote to poison and if you anointed your eyes with the milk of a mother and a daughter you would never have eye troubles. I have not tried this but I am sure there is someone out there still trying to peddle this as a remedy.

And random fact for the day: Cicero was so proud of the job he did in his consulship, what with putting down the Conspiracy of Catiline and all, he tried to get a Greek poet to write an epic on it. When the poet politely refused he wrote it himself. It was legendary for its sheer awfulness. (But his letters trying to get the guy to write are quite funny.)


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August 2011

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