lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
2011-07-16 08:44 am
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Not actually from Valerius Maximus...

...but I do like to point out that Julius Caesar could believe batty things as well as the next Roman. For some obscure reason he believed that elks have no joints in their legs. This means that they have to stand all the time, because once they're down they can never get up. As a result they can only sleep standing up - and this is how you catch them. You sneak up on one as its sleeping, knock it over (I guess this is the ancient equivalent of cow-tipping) and it's powerless!
lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
2011-07-15 10:42 am
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Valerius Maximus

I will have more hilarious 'facts' about ancient Romans soon, courtesy of Maximus. But I must say that I find it absolutely fascinating that his text was written as a handbook for members of the new elite in the first century CE. Because although the Roman elite were really good at killing each other, they were terrible at replacing themselves generation after generation. The result was that under the empire they a) ran out of patricians (a real problem in Roman religion, so the emperors had to make people patricians) and b) had tons of provincial nobility who did not really have any direct connection to the manly Romans of old. Hence this book. It told you important things like ALWAYS RESPECT THE SACRED CHICKENS. And so on. If ever you were in doubt about how Scipio Africanus (either one) would have behaved in a particular situation, you just picked this one up and found out. Like a Miss Manners for the newly minted Roman senator.
lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
2011-07-14 01:54 pm
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More 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: (Sacred chickens)
2011-07-11 11:32 pm
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Pliny the Elder beer

Well, the man himself would have been horrified given that the Romans thought drinking beer was one step above strangling your parents in the barbarian stakes, but it still exists. And that makes me happy. Here's to Pliny!

And your Pliny the Elder remedy of the day: a wolf's liver in mulled wine will cure a cough. THE MORE YOU KNOW.
lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
2011-07-08 01:56 pm
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I love it when Romans get their grump on about modern music

I am reading Quintilian's guide to raising the ideal orator and came across this gem (after he has been complaining about effeminate modern music and its indecent rhythms):

"Also no one should use the psaltry or the spadix [both types of harps or lyres], which decent virgins should even shrink from touching" (Institutes of Oratory 1.10.31)

KEEP YOUR VIRGINS FROM THE SPADIX, PARENTS! Sadly I do not have a picture of these instruments of wickedness, so that you can be on the lookout for them. But you can see from my icon that the sacred chickens DO NOT APPROVE OF THESE CORRUPT DEVICES.
lesbiassparrow: (Sacred chickens)
2011-04-10 10:21 pm
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Courts in Rome

I've been terribly busy, but decided I needed a break from marking and that I would inflict on you tales of disasters from Rome's courts. (Quite a few of these come from Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory but not all.

First, did you know that there's evidence that some people wore sort of war paint to trials? Pliny the Younger mentions one person who would paint a stripe on his face - one side for when he was pleading for the defence, another for when he was prosecuting. Pliny doesn't seem to find this all that remarkable which suggests that maybe it went on more often than we might imagine (I think he says it was old-fashioned though). (I like to imagine Cicero bedaubed in paint sometimes.)

Quintilian is full of the dangers of props. Romans sometimes used paintings of the scene of the crime to show the full horror of it. But, of course, your prop needed to be shown at the right time for the full effect. People went to court for entertainment and they were more than ready to fall about laughing if cues were missed (people also paid for appreciative or critical audiences as the audience could sway the jury - you'd have a pre-arranged signal like shaking your toga in a particular way and they'd respond with "Graviter! Cito! Nequiter! Euge! Beate! Hoc volui! Good going! Strong blow! Fast! Nasty! Well done! Lovely! That’s that I wanted!" and such things like that).

There was a case where someone defending a woman had the great idea that they would use a wax portrait of her dead husband which would be handed to him at the right moment in the peroratio (the closing point of the speech) so that everyone would look at the dead man and feel massive sympathy for the widow. Unfortunately the person given it did not know what a peroratio was so whenever the person giving the defence speech looked at them they kept trying to give it to him. And when he finally raised it, it was so incredibly hideous that everyone laughed who hadn’t been laughing before then.

The other thing you would do was bring in an entire family and have them dressed in mourning looking miserable as a way to get pity. This was even better if you could get children to cry - and then, you, the kindly orator would lean forward and ask them why they were crying and they would lisp "because Dad's dead' or something of that ilk. Unfortunately, children aren't always co-operative and had to be prompted to cry. One time a young orator asked a child why he was crying and he said "because my tutor is pinching me!" In another case an orator carried a young child around the courtroom to gain sympathy. The other orator simply shrugged and looked at his rather fat client and said "What can I do? I can't carry you around."

One big problem was the toga. If you weren't very good at wearing one you might do something terrible LIKE EXPOSE AN ARM. Here's Quintilian: "an arm is exposed and we catch a glimpse of the fold of his toga; another stretches out his arm to its full length, raises it to the roof, or swings it back and forth over his left shoulder, raining down blows to the rear so that it is dangerous to be standing beside him; another makes a leftwards sweep, waves his hand around at random and hits his neighbours, or else flaps both elbows against his two sides. And then there is the sluggish or timid hand, and the hand that moves as though it were slicing something." (It didn't help that there was little space in courtrooms and you might take out the rest of the bench - of course, that's better than Republican orators who didn't have courtrooms and had to plead in the open air, rain or shine.)

My favourite are the people who Quintilian remarks would march over to the jury making a great impression on their way there, but who couldn't work out how to make a dignified retreat back to their bench and would have to sidle off, ruining the effect.

(ETA: And random Roman cure of the day: kissing a mule will cure a cold. Pliny the Elder seems to have put this remedy into practice. But then he also liked to wear a bra on his head to cure headaches.)
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
2011-04-05 05:47 am
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The togaed race. And I bet the Romans were sorry about that.

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)
2011-04-04 05:56 pm
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How to declare war in Rome

Rome is an oddly conservative society; they do not like to get rid of practices even though they're clearly not appropriate for a world empire. One of these has to do with declaring war. The traditional way to declare war is for a fetialis, a member of a priesthood, to announce four times that your war is justified. The first time is at the borders of your enemy's territory, the second to the first person you meet, the third at the gates of the enemy city and the fourth in their forum. (A bit of a bollocks to do if they didn't have a forum, of course. I suspect you just found two houses huddled together and went with that if nothing else served.) 33 days later the person sent out to do this would declare that before the gods that the Roman demands had not been met and return to Rome. Next you get yourself one of the fetiales to take a fire-hardened spear and hurl it into enemy territory: this must be witnissed by four adults. (There are a few variants on this, but it all comes down to essentially the same things. The main source is Livy, who has the classic account.)

Why? Because a war must be just. You have to either seek compensation for an injury and be turned down or properly declere war. Otherwise it isn't fair and the gods don't like people who aren't fair and will crush them like a bug. (We will leave aside the issue of the giant Roman army and how fair that waa.)

Of course, this became unworkable as the Roman empire got bigger and bigger. Just marching out to the limits and returning home would take FOREVER. Or the enemy might be nomadic or have migrated from their territory so you had no idea where to hurl that damn spear. Additionally, there were only about 20 (max) fetiales and as they were also aristocrats and probably spending much of their time already fighting wars you couldn't send them out all the time.

The Romans could have given up killing people and warring but that would have been to get rid of most of what the Romans liked doing, which was, well, killing people and fighting. So they continued to send out messengers to declare wars (but these were no longer fetiales). And they decided that you could force someone from the territory you were fighting with to buy land in Rome (probably near the temple of Bellona) and toss your spear into it. Honour satisfied. Gods on your side. Victory assured.

A little note on auspices in war: generals on campaign marked out a special part of their camp for taking the auspices; this was your templum. Any ritual you did outside this would be void (another get out of jail free card for generals - if you cast lots to take a route and the route turns out to be a disaster you can suddenly decide that it was taken outside this templum.) Now, I think you brought a pot of sacred earth with you on campaign (from within the pomerium) but I'm having a hard time remembering how I know this.

Now I shall watch the mini-series Augustus. WHICH IS GOING TO BE AWESOME. It has a very surprised Peter O'Toole on the cover.

ETA: Ask a Roman a question is still open for business.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
2011-04-03 02:40 pm
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Ask a Roman a question

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)
2011-04-03 10:53 am

How to tell the future with birds. And piss your enemies off at the same time

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)
2011-04-02 03:19 pm

Hyenas! The miracle animals of the Roman empire!

(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)
2011-04-02 11:19 am

A quick note on mules in Rome

(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)
2011-03-31 09:19 pm
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Need a Venus? The Romans have got one for you!

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)
2011-03-31 10:23 am
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Senex saltat/the old man is dancing

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: (love is never wrong)
2011-02-20 07:18 pm
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Seriously, theirs was the gayest, gay love that I ever did see. The lighting even got soft as they looked longingly at each others lips amid the downpour that constantly beset Scotland. Mind you, they might have been forced into their love because apparently there were no women in Roman Britain. There were in non-Roman Scotland, but they were all grubby and related to people whose idea of a good time was to paint themselves in woad, get drunk and hit things with axes, so probably not very desirable. I did admire the people of Scotland's determination to wear as few clothes as possible while inhabiting the worst climate ever. You go, Scots! There is no flu that can fell you! Plus you have lots of lovely mud to wallow in and, according to this film, not much else. No horses. No sheep. I think there might have been one cow, but it looked like it was going into a decline.

PLEASE SOMEONE MAKE A SEQUEL WHERE THEIR ROMANCE CONTINUES! They could travel around rescuing eagles and being manly and apparently unkillable by hypothermia.

ETA: There's one scene where all the Celts are getting mad drunk before going off to do something related to initiation ritual or rolling around and pretending to be wolves, and they have them speaking Irish in the background (as well as subbed for the main speakers) and one man is asking another how many rooms a place has. WHILE THEY'RE SITTING IN THE MUD IN THIS ONE ROOMED CABIN IN A LAND THAT APPARENTLY VIEWS EXTRA ROOMS AS BEING OF THE DEVIL. I don't know why, but this was one of the highlights of the film for me. Always dreamers, those Celts! Keep trying, Mr. Woad Paint: one day you will have more than one room. One day... (But you know the person he was asking the question was going 'WTF? How many rooms do you think it has, given that we all live in bloody one room mud huts?')
lesbiassparrow: (THEY MOVE LIKE COUGARS)
2010-02-25 01:04 pm
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Roman religion: the sacred chickens

I think these are my favourite part of Roman religion. These were specially bred chickens that accompanied commanders to war. Before heading into battle their keepers would feed them and observe how they ate. If they didn't eat, the gods were telling you battle would not go in your favour. Not unnaturally this could drive commanders up the wall. In fact, in the First Punic War one naval commander tossed the lot of them over the side of his ship with the words 'if they will not eat, let them drink.' He suffered a horrible defeat at the Battle of Drepana, losing nearly all his fleet. The moral of the story: never, ever mess with the sacred chickens.

As I have no sacred chickens icon, I give you Marc Singer making his CRAZY EYES.
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
2010-01-30 01:44 pm
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Be glad you didn't live in Rome

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: (Default)
2008-01-23 05:48 pm
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On the excesses of modern music

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: (ian romans)
2006-11-30 04:54 am

Roman beauty treatments

So in the course of research recently I came across these winners (mainly from Pliny the Elder, who was batty to an almost charming degree):

1. You can get freckles from drinking wine in which dead newts have been placed. But the intestines of a particular type of land crocodile are effective in getting rid of freckles. You mix them up into a face mask. Yummy!

2. It is often effective to have hair dyes mixed by a virgin and then put them on in the shade

3. When dying your hair you should have a mouth full of oil so that your teeth don't get stained. Given the horribly toxic nature of Roman dyes I suspect running for your life would be better advice

4. The teeth of dogs steeped in wine and honey or mice with honey and fennel make wonderful toothpaste.

5. Pliny the Elder suggests you use these ingredients in an unguent to get rid of hair: gall and liver of several types of sea fish, gall and liver of leeches and a frog, then mix the result with oil and vinegar. Mind you, as a sign that he hasn't gone totally round the bend, he then suggests tweezing your hair out before.

6. Mouse dung, mashed ants, vulture’s blood, bulls dung, and donkey urine taken at the rising of the Dog Star are effective ingredients in beauty treatments.

The Romans, now they were a interesting set of people
lesbiassparrow: (Default)
2006-05-07 07:09 pm

Completely random post on the Aeneid

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.