Friday, September 10, 2010

Ancient Rome is ruder than you think

     I love ancient history, and it's mainly because of the filth. When I was at school the textbook View from the Forum was full of black and white photos of marble busts, and the world that the text described seemed utterly sterile and lifeless. And it was dull. Sure, I could name the Julio-Claudian emperors, but what's the point of that? I suspected there were things I wasn't being told about Caligula, which is how I learned to dig deeper to discover the world underneath. 

     There is colour in the ancient world; roof tiles, shop awnings, stolas, painted facades, and such filthy graffiti that you know we haven’t evolved too much as a species. Lahis felat a.II, advises a piece of graffiti uncovered in Pompeii. Two as, about the cost of a loaf of bread, seems reasonable for the service offered. Me me mentulum linge, another piece of graffiti invites. You won’t find that translated in most textbooks, and I hope that someone pointed the writer towards Lahis and a mutually beneficial transaction. If not, he could have followed this sign in the street that pointed to the nearest brothel:

      Okay, so their great men produced enough pompous moral essays and dissertations on the law to see us through until the end of time, but Ancient Rome isn’t really about philosophers in togas sprouting pithy Latin maxims. Rome is about the people, and as Obi Wan tells Luke: You won't find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Cue jazzy cantina music.

     Take that, View from the Forum! I always knew there was more than it was telling. Rome isn’t about the militaristic expansion of empires after all. As it turns out, it’s all about incestuous emperors, weird street corner fortune tellers, fast food stalls, mob unrest, corruption and obscene acrobats. Where else but the ancient world could you get accosted by a beared naked old lunatic, painted entirely red, with something important to tell you about Nemesis?

     You just don’t get crazy like that these days. Or you only get it until someone calls the police.  


  1. Frankly, I find the military expansion stuff to be boring too. It just isn't my area of interest-- but the culture and the people! That is something else altogether. And the myths, too, of course. You're absolutely right that they do not tell us ANY of the good stuff in school, but if they did I bet a lot more people would want to study it :P

  2. Hell, yes! Although, it makes it kind of like our secret, doesn't it? We know that the people who think history is boring are just doing it wrong.

  3. Hahaha! They TOTALLY are!!

    It's like when I read a review by Roger Ebert for the Thor movie, and he said "gods are not interesting characters" and I went "WHAT?!" Because CLEARLY he was not reading the right myths.

  4. He said that? That is insane! Ancient gods are the world's original soap opera, except there's a hell of a lot more sex and violence than you can show on TV.

  5. He said that!!! I couldn't believe my eyes! It just KILLED me. (to say nothing of how frustrating it was to hear him comparing the Thor movie to the original norse mythology which he clearly had not really researched at all, either. sigh.)



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