A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities

A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities

Strange Tales and Surprising Facts From the World's Greatest Empire

Book - 2010
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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 elegantlanguage. 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.
Publisher: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2010.
ISBN: 9780195393750
Characteristics: xi, 243 p. :,ill. ;,22 cm.


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Apr 07, 2019

A very enjoyable book that fulfills what the title and subtitle promise. One can only wish that every civilization gets a treatment like this! Certainly worth re-reading or at least looking into again.

Nov 19, 2012

This was an enjoyable read and I learned some things of which I was not previously aware. While the book does not have a narrative line - it's a compendium of facts arranged into various categories - the author appears to have taken some pains to engage the reader's interest. Having read the various "Book of Lists" that came out some years ago, this is very much in the same vein.

Jan 27, 2012

A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities by JC McKeown This isn’t so much a book as it is a compendium, a list (with some elaboration) of this and that. As such, it lacks continuity except that which is presented by themes such as Women, Names, or Toilets. As such, I’m afraid this book was simply something I couldn’t get excited about. So back it goes to the shelf, unread.

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