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

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Oxford University Press, Jun 1, 2010 - History - 272 pages
2 Reviews
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.
 

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User Review  - RandyStafford - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review

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User Review  - Unkletom - LibraryThing

'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 ... Read full review

Contents

Family Life
1
Women
8
Names
16
Education
28
The Army
32
Romans at Sea
44
The Law
50
Farming
58
Spectacles
139
Food and Drink
150
Decadence
164
Buildings
171
Pompeii and Herculaneum
181
Toilets
185
Not for the Puritanical
193
Tempus Fugit
199

Medicine
64
Religion and Superstition
78
The Life of the Mind
92
Foreigners
100
Slaves
111
Animals
118
Kings Consuls and Emperors
203
GLOSSARY
233
THE COIN IMAGES
241
ILLUSTRATION CREDITS
243
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About the author (2010)

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

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