lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
I have just discovered the awesome fact that you could keep sacred chickens at home for personal consultation! Apparently Tiberius Gracchus (one of the Gracchi brothers who fought for land reform in Rome) had a coop of them. One morning he consulted their keeper who told him not to go the Campus Martius. Tiberius ignored this excellent advice (and stubbing his foot as he was leaving, plus the fact that three crows attacked him as he left home and tossed a tile at him) only to be killed by a Senatorial lynch mob. Alas, that the sacred chickens could not save him as he and his brother Gaius are both great heroes of mine.

And once in a while apparently the sacred chickens would make a break for it. Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was on his way to Spain as consul, when he decided to consult the chickens. Off they flew into a nearby wood never to be found again. Then when he was about to board a ship a voice cried out 'Stay, Mancinius.' And as if that weren't enough bad luck when he decided to board ship somewhere else a giant snake appeared and then disappeared. These all portended horrible disasters in Spain, which all came to pass. And would you doubt that they would once the sacred chickens got in on the act?

And in other information that will make you wonder how the Romans ever managed to create a mighty empire, the evil omen of a SQUEAKING MOUSE made Fabius Maximus give up his dictatorship and his lieutenant his Mastership of the Horse. I repeat, A MOUSE.

And just so we don't leave out the gods: the goddess Juno gave the Carthaginians victory during the Second Punic War in the battle of Cannae because the consul Varro had when an aedile placed a very handsome boy actor in the wagon of Jupiter Optimus Maximus and hadn't expiated the insult to her honour. During this same war we are told that an child was born with the head of an elephant (never a good sign, not least for the poor labouring mother), that a wolf in Gaul stole a sentry's sword from its sheath, and an ox owned by Gnaeus Domitius cried out "Beware, Rome!" A busy time for omens, indeed.

This information is brought to you by book 1 of Valerius Maximus' Memorable Deeds and Sayings
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Watching all of these mini-series about Rome always makes me sad that they clearly have no idea how to wear togas. Though I can't be surprised seeing as the Romans themselves found that garment a bit of a bollocks. Augustus once went off on the senate because people tried to turn up in TUNICS. THE SHAME.

I think part of the problem was that the toga kept getting bigger and bigger, until you ended up wrapped in this ridiculously constricting wool garment that was just about the worst thing to wear in hot weather and have to do a little orating in. And if you got too enthusiastic the thing would start falling off right in mid-speech which was just really awkward. Some Romans used to bring a guy to court with them, so that when they were giving their big prosecution/defence speech they could stop and have him re-arrange it. This was, however, a no-no, akin to buying one of the fancy silk mix see through ones that clung a bit too tight to your legs and left little to the imagination. You had to keep that thing on no matter how impassioned you got until almost the end of the speech. And then you could do whatever you wanted - the damn thing could start slipping off, your hair could be a mess and it would be fine. The amazing thing is that people like Cicero - who were actually moving quite a lot as they talked - kept the thing on until that point. And without pins. ONLY A BARBARIAN WOULD USE GIANT VISIBLE PINS.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Well, not a Roman as they're all dead. Pointy spears and all. But, seeing as I got some bad news today about a dear friend, I am madly trying to distract myself. So ask me about an animal and I will tell you a Roman belief about it. Or an anecdote featuring it. It has to be an animal they knew about (that covers quite a few). Or a mythical animal. I can also do Greeks because I am multi-functional that way... (Hang on a second, that came out wrong.)
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Because the Cicero post will take a while to write and also involve me looking at his delicious invectives which are in my office, I give you...BIRDS.

The Romans loved auspices. They were like bird crack to them. They loved them as much as they loved ablative absolutes and that, my friends, is a lot of love.

Want to take auspices? This is the entry for you! Also with bonus sacred chickens. )

I apologise for clogging up your flist with horrific knowledge about the Romans - sometimes I just can't stop myself sharing these things. THE WORLD MUST KNOW.
lesbiassparrow: (THEY MOVE LIKE COUGARS)
(Quite a lot of this comes from Pliny the Elder's wonderfully whacky Natural History Book 28 which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in ancient Rome and Greece. It's a wonderful glimpse into what people believed.)

Romans seem to have thought that hyenas were hermaphrodites/or could switch gender (Ovid thinks the females do so right after having sex - no idea where he thought the womb went.). That makes it magical, so its body will have all sorts of magical effects. It was also thought to be sexually voracious, which means that it is very useful in love magic, where by a process of sympathy you could get that appetite transferred to the object of your desire.

Pliny lists 79 remedies from the hyena (I think the max for other animals is 19 and that's for the crocodile). I present a selection:

1. A hyena's anus worn as an amulet will make you irresistible to the ladies - one look and they will follow you. (You call also rub a tick on her groin if that doesn't get her going.)

More 'facts' behind the cut )

(Also, random fact from Pliny the Elder: if you are pregnant never, ever step over a beaver. DISASTER WILL FOLLOW. I don't know why you would step over a beaver, but just in case, forewarned is forearmed! Also the left foot of a hyena hung above a bed will kill a woman in labour. But, don't despair! Eating wolf meat or having someone who has eaten wolf meat sitting beside you helps.)

Also (and this must be the worst birthday gift EVER): I dedicate this to the lovely [livejournal.com profile] thedorkygirl and [livejournal.com profile] shangri__la who both have birthdays coming up.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
(Other post coming soon, but mules weren't getting enough love.)

Pliny the Elder thought you could break mules by feedng them a lot of wine. I guess that's one way of doing it.

Also he has a hilarious recipe for a love charm that involves plucking three hairs from a female mule's tail. While she is, um, having sex. I suspect that one didn't do this more than once.

ETA: As hyenas and Cicero are currently even, the next post will be on hyenas. With possibly crocodile dung tossed in for good measure. No word on whether Cicero ever used it, but as it was used in rouge and Cicero doesn't strike me as a man to use rouge (though as there is a little evidence that some orators used to paint their faces for court, perhaps he did).
lesbiassparrow: (love is never wrong)
As April is Venus' month, this post is in her honour! (The Romans thought April came from aperio, which means 'to open.' You can see why that got associated with her.)

There were many Veneres (the plural of Venus) in Rome. It made things efficient: you went and offered up to the Venus you particularly needed when your hair was falling out, instead of wasting your time with one who was interested in sewers. The one thing the Romans were is efficient, after all! (This is not a complete list - there's a few I couldn't remember.)

Venus Cloacina. Venus of the Sewer. Her shrine stood at the mouth of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome's main sewer. She was especially revered by water carriers. And, presumably, people with bad drains. (Ironically, she probably started out as a goddess of purification and sexual intercourse. Or purification in sexual intercourse. I can't remember.)

Venus Eyrcina. This one was imported from Sicily and was probably neither Aphrodite nor Venus at the start. She had two temples; at one prostitutes sacrificed to her at the Vinalia, a wine festival. Her other temple was associated with right thinking. I suspect it was awkward if you turned up at the wrong one.

Venus Barbata. Venus the Bearded. This Venus had a cult statue where she was a man. I have no bloody idea what went on with this one.

Venus Calva. Venus the Bald. Dedicated after the women of Rome gave up their hair to be used in catapults during (I think) the Punic Wars. Or it may have been built after the women of Rome all lost their hair and vowed this temple if she'd bring it back.

Venus Libitina. Venus of Funerals. Very popular with undertakers. Her temple was on the Esquiline and you gave her a coin when you buried someone; it apparently was the way the Romans kept track of the population before they came up with the idea of the census.

Venus Victrix. Venus the Victor. Pompey the Great's favourite goddess; she had a temple in his giant theatre complex after he vowed one to her before a battle.

Venus Felix. Venus the Fertile/Lucky (the Romans thought that was one and the same thing). She shared her temple with the goddess Roma (who was not, however, Rome's tutelary goddess - they never told anyone who that was, so you could not bribe her to abandon them. It was probably Flora,* which I find hilarious.) This is the Venus who is the mother of the Roman people and the Julian gens.

Venus Genetrix. Venus the Mother. For Venus the mother of the Roman people. I don't know how she was different from Venus Felix, but she was.

Venus Obsequens. Venus the Graceful or the Bendy. I prefer the bendy title myself.

Venus Mefistis. Venus the Smelly. Actually, I don't know if she had a temple in Rome, but she had ones elsewhere and she's too good to leave out on a technicality.

Venus Verticordia. Venus the Heartchanger. Her temple was built from fines on adulterers and adultresses and was built after a Roman equestrian's daughter was struck by lightening. Her dress was pulled up when she was found (her dad got hit too), and it was such a terrible omen they decided adultery was to blame. She was supposed to keep people faithful (something she never managed herself). (Another story says that the temple was built after a bunch of Vestal Virgins decided that the Virgin bit was not exactly necessary for their priesthood.) There was also some festival of hers where prostitutes all went to the men's baths to bathe. I bet a good time was had by all. There was also (at some other festival) statue washing and bathing by worshippers under myrtle. Plus drinking of a poppy potion. I imagine stoned women washing her statue and then splashing about and whacking each other with mrytle.

Plain old regular Venus was also a garden goddess. On August 19th vegetable sellers had a festival in her honour. There was also a goddess Dea Viriplaca, the 'husband pleaser'. For all those times that the marriage wasn't working.

*Flora had a festival called the Floralia which was also celebrated by prostitutes and lewd performances of mime. Which seems to have been really stripping. Nothing the goddess of flowers likes like stripping!
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
This is how the Romans said 'everything will be okay.'

The story goes that once the Romans were being attacked by invading Gauls, who had come close enough to threaten Rome itself. To propitiate the gods they held a massive public sacrifice in the Forum; as part of the ritual there was a flute player and an old man who danced to the tune. Suddenly in rushes someone and says 'the Gauls are at the walls!' Immediately everyone rushes out to grab their weapons and defend the city - but when they get to the walls there are no Gauls. Everyone then proceeds to trudge back to the sacrifice. However, if you make an error in a Roman ritual or have to stop it for some reason, you have to begin again right from the start. Doesn't matter if you're right at the end - you have to go right back to the beginning or else the ritual won't work. Of course, everyone now is moaning because they have to sit there and listen to everything all over again and the whole ritual will have to be repeated (and it's a long one this time, because they really, really need to propitiate the gods). No one is happy about this because it could take hours. Suddenly, though, somone cries out 'the old man is dancing!' The flute player and the old guy had kept going all through the disturbance, which meant the ritual hadn't been interrupted and they could just pick up where they left off.

Hence the saying. This information has been brought to you courtesy of Jupiter Stator, the Jupiter who stops people running away in battles.

ETA: Next up will be an exciting list of all the various Venuses and what each one will do if you sacrifice to her. Including the Venus of prostitutes and the Venus you pray to when you are having issues with your husband. Each one is both Venus and a separate Venus at the same time, which is impressive.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
As I am having to read sections of Pliny the Elder's Natural History over the next while I feel compelled to share with you some of his gems of cures. Did you know that a sheep's lung tied around the head will aid with curing brain fever? But it must be warm! I can only hope that Pliny informed his readers of this delightful cure with a woman's bra wrapped around his head to relieve his headaches, (another one of his cures, and one of the few we know he used). Pliny: the ever reliable treasure trove of the completely insane.

ETA: But that does not even compare with this method of making a woman want sex. Take three hairs from a female mule plucked while it is having sex and weave them together. I strongly suspect you make your slaves get those ingredients. But if you keep the mule around afterwards you can kiss its muzzle to cure your colds. Given the way Pliny phrases this it is clear he tried it at least once.
lesbiassparrow: (Bunnies Dark)
You know how I said I was going to look at only things on puppies and Korean drama and be all cheery as a result? Well, today one of my colleagues was giving a talk on Egyptology under the Nazis - and GOD. I know about the classics stuff but I think familiarity with it makes it less depressing. But hearing about a sister discipline and all the horrendous people becoming enthusiastic Nazis and shiving their old friends who didn't tow the party line in the ribs was just.... Actually I don't have words. And then the speaker read off some of their obituaries which talked about how these former Nazis had suffered for periods after the war (not all of them, mind you) and how terrible this was that they spent some years without posts. Of course, they didn't mention the Nazi bit because you'd have no sympathy for the bastards.


ETA: But there was one guy who had left Germany in the late '30s and was asked after the war to write about what he knew about the Nazi activities of various professors. Of one (Grapow)* he said among other things about him holding Nazi meetings at his house that he "was the meanest Egyptologist of them all." And of another he wrote "as to his character I cannot describe it for he has none." There were other good stabs in there but god - one of them, Kees (I think) was considered too important to one university to even have his career suspended after 1945. So despite having turned in some Belgian scholar for writing articles that were unNazi and multiple other things he gets to keep his nice cushy job. Bastard of bastards.

(Grapow after Franck, a Nobel laureate, resigned his chair in Physics in protest at Jewish colleagues being driven out and sacked, organized 42 other academics to write a telegramme asking for faster purging of undesirable elements from the universities.)
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Cicero c. 50 BCE on the evils of modern music: "and yet I do observe that audiences which used to be deeply affected by the inspiring sternness of the music of Livius and Naevius, now leap up and twist their necks and turn their eyes in time with our modern tunes." (De Legibus II.39)

I always knew that using that double aulos would be the end of society.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
This myth is always guaranteed to make me sniffle every time I read a good version of it. It's one of the saddest stories in the world: man loses dearly beloved wife, goes to hell to get her back, and, finally, just when he's just of the verge of escaping with her he has a moment of weakness and looks back, just for one second, and loses her forever. After this he wanders around forlorn and is torn apart by some worshippers of Bacchus because he won't ever love women again - and his head, torn from his body, still sings of Eurydice.

Aieee! That's all Greek myth in that one story: there's nothing safe in this world and just when you are almost there (wherever there is), you lose everything. And then some.

I must be in a particularly maudlin mood today because I'm posting a translation of a portion of (IMO) one of the best versions of the story, Virgil's in the Georgics. I like this one because it actually give Eurydice some voice - the bit I'm posting is mainly her speaking to Orpheus just before she vanishes back into the underworld. It kills me because not only does she die again, they don't get to even say a last farewell to each other. I don't pretend the translation is very good or even terribly accurate, but I hope it gets the power of Virgil across a little bit.

Cut for those what don't like depressing poetry )
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
To make the below make a bit of sense, here's a few random facts about the Battle of Marathon. (If one can be said to have a favourite battle this might be mine, though I am also very fond of Salamis and Teutoburg Forest.)

1. The Spartans didn't turn up for Marathon. They said they were busy celebrating the Carneia. They did show up after the battle and say that the Athenians hadn't done a bad job, which I am sure was very useful and much appreciated. Later on they and the Thebans did burn Plataea to the ground and turn the place into a giant inn.

2. Aeschylus' brother died at Marathon when he grabbed a Persian ship and had his arm chopped off for his troubles. This may or may not be the reason why Aeschylus went on to write long tragedies that make you cry when you read them in Greek. And that's not because they're so sad.

3. Miltiades, the Athenian general, did actually have tactics for this battle. This is surprising because usually everyone argues that only the Spartans had the training to manage anything more than running at people and hoping for the best.

4. According to Herodotus the Persians suffered 6,400 losses, while the Athenians and the Plataeans suffered...192. That's a 30:1 ratio. Take that, Spartans!

And here's some pictures of Miltiades' helmet from Olympia and the tumulus of the Athenians at the site of the Battle. According to legend you can hear horses neigh and the clash of armour at night there.

Sadly, they won't let you take pictures in the museum of Marathon, so I don't have a shot of the pillar they put up at the site or the grave goods recovered from the burial of the Greek dead.

Read more )
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
I find this from an article by a classicist shriekingly funny:

“When classicists view a film set in antiquity for the first time, their reaction to the film is never the same as that of the non-classically trained audience. The viewing process bypasses the usual modes of passive reception and sensual spectatorship that apply to the viewing of most contemporary Hollywood films and becomes by default an intellectual endeavor. Because of the critical and pedagogical nature of their discipline, classicists approach the cinema with essentially the same mindset they apply to evaluating a colleague’s article or even a student’s term paper. Classicists are on the lookout for a variety of irregularities, scanning a broad spectrum of signals that do not belong to the vision of the classical world they have honed during decades of study, research, and teaching.”

Translation: when classicists go to a film they bitch about it to each other afterwards. Often (according to the same article) about such stirring things as whether Achilles could have been blond. Because classicists are deep thinkers.
lesbiassparrow: (rose bad wolf)
...and probably don't want to know. But I will tell you anyway, because that's the sort of person I am. I think that makes me very Roman, because the Romans weren't the sort of people to consult your opinion on anything. Of course, I don't actually have an empire, but maybe someone will leave one lying around so I can pick it up.

1. For a long, long time, the Spartans were the only people who could advance in step. Everyone else in ancient Greece usually only turned up a few days before the battle, but the Spartans could spend all their time training. Mind you, the Spartans also could only do this because they'd enslaved and routinely terroized their neighbours, the Messenians

2. The Spartans were also the only people with matching equipment; everyone else just turned up in what they bought privately or could borrow off friends with more money.

3. It was a long time before people worked out how to use cavalry against foot soldiers because there were no stirrups and saddles and so if you hit into a heavily armoured group of men in formation you'd probably fall off your horse and not do any damage before they killed you. Philip of Macedon was the guy who worked out that you could give them a long javelin to poke at people and solve that problem.

4. Pyrrhus (he of the Pyrrhic victory) was killed when an old woman threw a tile at his head from a roof, stunning him enough so someone could finish him off.

5. Elephants were great in war until they freaked out and trampled their own side. This happened a lot. They are also only effective against tightly packed infantry; they just sort of slide through infantry in loose formation

6. Both cities that suffered the most and offered up the biggest percentages of their manpower in the Persian Wars - Thespis and Plataea - get pretty much wiped out in the Peloponnesian War.

7. Livy once spent several very funny pages explaining why the Romans would have defeated Alexander had he attacked them. This is the earliest known example of what would later morph into the 'Superman vs. Spiderman' debate.


Oct. 7th, 2006 11:12 pm
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
I am prepping a lecture on Sappho and I bring you some of the most gorgeous poetry ever to have been written.

Sappho 16

Some say an army of horsemen, others
say foot-soldiers, still others, a fleet,
is the fairest thing on the dark earth:
I say it is whatever one loves.

Everyone can understand this --
consider that Helen, far surpassing
the beauty of mortals, leaving behind
the best man of all,

sailed away to Troy. She had no
memory of her child or dear parents,
since she was led astray

reminding me now of Anaktoria
being gone,

I would rather see her lovely step
and the radiant sparkle of her face
than all the war-chariots in Lydia
and soldiers battling in shining bronze.

More poetry behind the cut )
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Poems which are easy to dislike: the Aeneid

Most people's reactions on reading the Aeneid are a bit puzzled. As in 'what is all the fuss about this poem? You're kidding me that Virgil wrote it at two lines a day and this is what he came up with?'

It has the problem of not having a very inspiring hero. Aeneas, really, is a incredibly pallid character and also a bit of a git what with the trail of dead women he leaves in his wake.* Also he is not very bright. No, honestly, he is the dumbest epic hero ever. People give him prophecy after prophecy telling him to go to Italy and he's 'oh, right you mean Thrace/Crete/where ever I happen to see next.' Mind you, his father is just as thick, and completely one with him on the misreading of prophecy. (My favourite bit: the scene where dad sees horses and says that they are either an omen of peace or war. Right. Covering your bases a bit with that one, Anchises.)

But for all that I think it is a great and horribly sad poem, mainly because Aeneas is so ordinary. Here's this bit player in the Iliad who only wants a heroic death, who is forced by his mother, Venus, to carry the glory of Troy to Italy. And he doesn't want to. All he wants to do is settle down, rebuild what he can of Troy and have a quiet life with his son and father. He keeps trying to do this again and again and it ends in disaster until he just lets himself be swallowed up by his destiny.

And in the course of the poem he loses everything. He sees his whole world ripped away from him with the destruction of Troy. He loses the woman he loves, he abandons his mercy in the final lines of the poem to kill from sheer rage. And what does he get in return? A mother who once says she'd be happy if he died as long as she can save his son, three years with a woman who probably doesn't want him, and an empire he doesn't care about. It's all about sacrificing yourself for something which will give you no pleasure because people have bigger plans for you than you can possibly imagine or want. Which is why it is both great and horrible.

*I have just realised this makes him sound like a psychopath. He doesn't actually kill the women directly, more they sort of, well, die around him.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
Given that I am currently teaching a course on women in antiquity I am shockingly uninformed about Roman depilatories. But I do know that according to Ovid, crocodile dung was used in rouge, that Pliny the Elder wore a bra on his head to cure headaches, and if a menstruating woman walked through your crops they would die. Oh and wombs would wander all over a woman's body if you weren't lucky. (And you don't want to know how you would fix a blocked womb.)

Next week I will post on the fun of the lupercalia and nearly naked aristocrats running through the streets of Rome beating willing women. I really hope they film Mark Antony's participation in those festivities.


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August 2011

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