A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire

A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire

by J. C. McKeown


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Here is a whimsical and captivating collection of odd facts, strange beliefs, outlandish opinions, and other highly amusing trivia of the ancient Romans. We tend to think of the Romans as a pragmatic people with a ruthlessly efficient army, an exemplary legal system, and a precise and elegant language. A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities shows that the Romans were equally capable of bizarre superstitions, logic-defying customs, and often hilariously derisive views of their fellow Romans and non-Romans.
Classicist J. C. McKeown has organized the entries in this entertaining volume around major themes—The Army, Women, Religion and Superstition, Family Life, Medicine, Slaves, Spectacles—allowing for quick browsing or more deliberate consumption. Among the book's many gems are:

· Romans on urban living:
The satirist Juvenal lists "fires, falling buildings, and poets reciting in August as hazards to life in Rome."

· On enhanced interrogation:
"If we are obliged to take evidence from an arena-fighter or some other such person, his testimony is not to be believed unless given under torture." (Justinian)

· On dreams:
Dreaming of eating books "foretells advantage to teachers, lecturers, and anyone who earns his livelihood from books, but for everyone else it means sudden death"

· On food:
"When people unwittingly eat human flesh, served by unscrupulous restaurant owners and other such people, the similarity to pork is often noted." (Galen)

· On marriage:
In ancient Rome a marriage could be arranged even when the parties were absent, so long as they knew of the arrangement, "or agreed to it subsequently."

· On health care:
Pliny caustically described medical bills as a "down payment on death," and Martial quipped that "Diaulus used to be a doctor, now he's a mortician. He does as a mortician what he did as a doctor."

For anyone seeking an inglorious glimpse at the underside of the greatest empire in history, A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities offers endless delights.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780195393750
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date: 06/03/2010
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 829,635
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

J. C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the author of Ovid's Amores.

Table of Contents

Chapter I: Family Life
Chapter II: Women
Chapter III: Names
Chapter IV: Education
Chapter V: The Army
Chapter VI: Romans At Sea
Chapter VII: The Law
Chapter VIII: Farming
Chapter IX: Medicine
Chapter X: Religion & Superstition
Chapter XI: The Life Of The Mind
Chapter XII: Foreigners
Chapter XIII: Slaves
Chapter XIV: Animals
Chapter XV: Spectacles
Chapter XVI: Food & Drink
Chapter XVII: Decadence
Chapter XVIII: Buildings
Chapter XIX: Pompeii & Herculaneum
Chapter XX: Toilets
Chapter XXI: Not For The Puritanical
Chapter XXII: Tempus Fugit
Chapter XXIII: Kings, Consuls, & Emperors
Chapter I. Family Life
Chapter II. Women
Chapter III. Names
Chapter IV. Education
Chapter V. The Army
Chapter VI. Romans At Sea
Chapter VII. The Law
Chapter VIII. Farming
Chapter IX. Medicine
Chapter X. Religion & Superstition
Chapter XI. The Life Of The Mind
Chapter XII. Foreigners
Chapter XIII. Slaves
Chapter XIV. Animals
Chapter XV. Spectacles
Chapter XVI. Food & Drink
Chapter XVII. Decadence
Chapter XVIII. Buildings
Chapter XIX. Pompeii & Herculaneum
Chapter XX. Toilets
Chapter XXI. Not For The Puritanical
Chapter XXII. Tempus Fugit
Chapter XXIII. Kings, Consuls, & Emperors

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A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Unkletom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities' is a collection of miscellanea about the Roman Empire that is sorted into chapters by subject matter, covering everything from family life to kings and emperors. No snippet takes more than a minute to read so it is an easy book to pick up and read anywhere, be it on a bus, in a doctor's waiting room or even in the bathroom. I was reluctant to mention the last one but, since an entire chapter is dedicated to toilets, I figured it was apropos. Most are quotes from familiar faces such as Seneca, Cicero, Plutarch or Pliny the Elder but others are gleaned from assorted sources dug up by anthropologists over the centuries. As with any collection of information or quotations, some parts will be fascinating and others will be rather droll. Still others just leave you scratching your head in wonder. One entry reminded me of the the old 'I, state-your-name' gag from Animal House when a grave was found with the inscription "Here lies the body of a child whose name is to be added". All in all this is an enjoyable read. No classically decorated bathroom should be without a copy.
RandyStafford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Whether you're a fan of Barry Baldwin's "Classical Corner" column in the Fortean Times, a fan of the tv series Rome: The Complete Series, or already a Roman history buff but can't remember if it was in Cassius Dio or the Historia Augusta where an 11 year old Commodus ordered a slave to be burned for too cold of bath water, this is the book for you.From the clever octopus that stole garum out of a warehouse to graffiti in Pompeian brothels to the paucity of praenomina in the latter republic to the sadisms and mere eccentricities of emperors, this is an always lively and amusing book. Each curiosity is never more than a page long, often a single paragraph. McKeown has constructed the whole thing so that you can dip in anywhere though, occasionally, there is a reference to something you would have come across if you would have read the book the traditional cover-to-cover way. Most of the bits are taken from classical works, but he sometimes goes off on modern tangents like comparing the multi-tasking of Caesar to President James Garfield, noting the inaccuracies of Fascist Italian cinema in recreating the Punic Wars, and the horror of French novelist Stendahl at British tourists. And, channeling Pliny the Elder, he notes that he's left it up to his classical sources to verify the truth of their tales.The specific topics McKeown covers are Roman family life, women, names, education, military, naval matters, the law, farming, medicine, religion, philosophy, attitudes toward foreigners, slaves, animal tales, spectacles, decadence, food and drink, architecture, sex, timekeeping, and rulers. Throw in a helpful glossary about famous sources, people, concepts, and places and several illustrations - especially of coins, and this is a keeper for anyone interested in Roman history no matter where they are in their studies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago