A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities
Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World's Greatest Empire
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About the author
J. C. McKeown is Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the author of Ovid's Amores.
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.
Oxford University Press
; June 2010
272 pages; ISBN 9780199752782
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Title: A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities
Author: J. C. McKeown
In the press
"This cabinet is as true to the Roman world as the highbrow history it eschews. Whether we use it as a gift to friends or light reading for ourselves, the readers' understanding of the ancients will be enriched by the stories they take away from this treasure chest of curiosities." --Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Zestful. This book could persuade the most history-hating student to fall in love with ancient Rome. It's a highly entertaining read." --Sunday Times
"Entertaining" --Times Literary Supplement
"To be enjoyed as a lighthearted Romanophile outing." --UNRV.com
"The esteemed classicist J.C. McKeown shows in his Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, the ancients were as passionate, opinionated, and curious as we are today-if not more so. A madcap smorgasbord of the ancient world."--The Daily Beast
"Readers' understanding of the ancients will be enriched by the stories they take away from this treasure chest of curiosities."--Bryn Mawr Classical Review