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Banter about Dildoes
January 3, 2013 5:20 PM   Subscribe

What were things like in the bars and shops of the ancient Romans?
posted by Chrysostom (51 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was not an article title I was expecting to read after clicking that link.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:24 PM on January 3, 2013


Oh my god, before I even saw the title of this post I thought to myself "LOL IT WAS FULL OF COCKS".
posted by elizardbits at 5:25 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you want to read a fairly similar book about ancient Athens, Courtesans and Fishcakes by James Davidson is fascinating and delves into the naughtier side as well. This one sounds interesting.
posted by graymouser at 5:28 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


And for daily life, I highly recommend Lindsey Davis' books about that Imperial investigator, Marcus Didius Falco and his sidekick, Helena Justina
posted by infini at 5:30 PM on January 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


What were things like in the bars and shops of the ancient Romans?

Banter about Dildoes


What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
posted by saturday_morning at 5:31 PM on January 3, 2013


And for daily life, I highly recommend Lindsey Davis' books about that Imperial investigator, Marcus Didius Falco and his sidekick, Helena Justina

I spent like thirty seconds trying to figure out if this was a dirty joke I wasn't getting.
posted by griphus at 5:32 PM on January 3, 2013 [20 favorites]


Falco
posted by infini at 5:38 PM on January 3, 2013


Falco
posted by Chrysostom at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Falcor

(this looks interesting, though, thanks for the link)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:43 PM on January 3, 2013


Talco?
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:50 PM on January 3, 2013


I wonder how much loldicks has been lost to posterity's ignorance of Latin.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:50 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I spent like thirty seconds trying to figure out if this was a dirty joke I wasn't getting.
posted by infini at 5:51 PM on January 3, 2013


Flacco
posted by Chrysostom at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I spent like thirty seconds trying to figure out if this was a dirty joke I wasn't getting.

To be honest this is pretty much how researching most Roman things goes...
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:02 PM on January 3, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hey, it looks like the author is Mary Beard, who writes really great books on the Roman Empire herself.

Also she seems to have written this, which is interesting too.
posted by Miko at 6:05 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of a passage in 'Claudius The God' by Robert Graves, when Emperor Claudius is describing the various swell humble wine-shops he knew back in the day. The Senate laughs at him, because they all have their own fancy personal wine-cellars. Then Claudius freaks out and yells at them, reminding them of the complex times of Tiberius and Caligula, and then the Senators cower in their seats..
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Taco
posted by griphus at 6:09 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Considering the proliferation of porphyric imagery in Roman art and decoration, it would be difficult to imagine that such a thing might need to be disguised by poetic allegory.

Thus, in the year of his third consulship, did Titus Flavius Domitianus, noticing the general nuisance caused by the number of phalluses erected the public way in cities throughout the empire, and the disruption caused to commercial traffic, and to access to temples and arenas on days of major festivals, and the general disorder resulting from the accumulation of loose dildoes underfoot, so that even wealthy citizens in their litters were put at risk, decreed that all towns of the empire must place a limit of no more than three phalluses per resident to be constructed outside of private dwellings, and that all others should be demolished; and also proclaimed that any stray phalluses found on the streets should be gathered at nighttime, and that public funds be dedicated to this purpose. Naturally, he was attacked by his enemies in the Senate, who accused him of sympathy for the followers of Chrestus, who were known for their horror of dildoes and similar objects. In response to these accusations, he commissioned games to be held in which numerous of the followers of this Jewish preacher were made to fight hyenae, and rhinocerii, and giraffes.

Suetonius, De vita Caesarum
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:11 PM on January 3, 2013 [10 favorites]


The double entendre was probably less for disguise and more for the pleasure of a good dirty joke.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:14 PM on January 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


Veni, Vidi, Visa.
posted by cenoxo at 6:15 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, I'm thinking the shoe imagery may have been an extended series of pussy jokes.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:15 PM on January 3, 2013


As a side note, sewers are super awesome for studying what the hell people put in their faces and Pompeii and Herculaneum are no exceptions. See also here. Surprisingly good photos here. [Somewhere this is this cool fresco of food items for sale but I cannot find a solid reference! Please let me know if you have any citations...]

Above ground, see Nicolas Rauh's interesting (and somewhat theoretical) work on the phalli visible at Delphi. Ostia is pretty fantastic for basically all reasons, but it's a really good way to get a feel for a port and commerce-driven Roman town. The museum at Boscoreale is similarly fantastic; here, for example, is a Roman loaf of bread. (There is also a jar with garum, the Roman delicacy of fermented fish guts and good, which is full of tiny fish bones: mangia!)

If you would just like to see a billion Roman dicks, some of them flying, some of them fucking, you want the Gabinetto Segreto. Do not do this with thirty teenagers.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:25 PM on January 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also Mary Beard is pretty incredible and was recently awarded an OBE, which gives me hope for the classics.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:27 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


So my recommended Asterix volume for this situation is Asterix and the Laurel Wreath - lots of shopping, drinking in bars, haute nouveau cuisine, and an exploration of ancient Roman family household life.
posted by Bwithh at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The religious and ceremonial life of the temple obviously went on against a backdrop of ravens squawking, cobblers hammering and the screams of those having their teeth pulled.

╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
posted by arcticseal at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


That was a great review, at times Britishly scathing.

I'm always amazed how even the most basic assumptions of Roman archaeology remain open to challenge. for instance, the discussion of the fast food restaurants: I did a volunteer archaeology stint in Pompeii two summers ago, on the study of food no less, and the scholars as well as the official interpretation confidently interpreted these spaces as serving hot foods - bean soups and the like. Beard, though, says:
It always used to be thought that the big jars set into their counters held wine and cheap hot food, soups and stews – ladled out to a poor and hungry clientèle by an accommodating landlord or landlady. But the jars are not glazed, and could not be removed for cleaning. It doesn’t take long to see that they would be completely inappropriate for liquids, hot or cold – not to mention a deadly health risk. Amedeo Maiuri, who directed the excavations over several decades of the 20th century (adeptly navigating both the fascist and post-fascist periods), claimed that at Herculaneum he had discovered all kinds of pulse and grain in them. But this turns out from the detailed excavation reports to have been largely wishful thinking (the beans and grains were actually found in amphorae on the upper floors). As Holleran notes, the only food that we know for sure was found in a counter jar at Herculaneum is walnuts. That suggests rather sparser fare for the average Roman takeaway customer (though presumably the beans and grains upstairs were cooked up into something).
So it would seem that this assertion is far less settled than I was given to believe. The fact that you can have these deep ongoing debates, each of which can be utterly rocked by any moment by a relatively small new discovery that disproves everything thought in the past is what makes archaeology such an exciting field.
posted by Miko at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


The religious and ceremonial life of the temple obviously went on against a backdrop of ravens squawking, cobblers hammering and the screams of those having their teeth pulled.

╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


Roman surgical tools photo here. God I love living in 2013.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:32 PM on January 3, 2013


Oh, also, I always chuckle at all the writing that talks about how many penises were in the decorative arts in the Roman empire. WERE? WERE? Take a stroll around Naples one day. I swear, I couldn't browse in any sort of gift/clothing/cultural store without seeing multiple penis images - in art, on t-shirts, on little figurines of guys with massive boners. It's not exactly like this fixation is the emblem of some faded ancient culture.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just realized I wrote "porphyric" imagery instead of "priapic". This would suggest that the Romans were obsessed by imagery related to blue urine.

Which they might have been. In fact, I think this might have been specifically addressed by an edict of Marcus Aurelius.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:05 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow jetladaddict, I just visited Ostia this fall, and knew when we were there that there was more than met the eye. Thanks so much for the links, we'll use them before the next visit.
posted by dbmcd at 9:09 PM on January 3, 2013


El Flaco
posted by spinifex23 at 10:47 PM on January 3, 2013


I just read this book and while it might not be the book that Mary Beard would write on the topic it's (remarkably) the first serious treatment of the subject, so it really is an impressive first run at the topic. (And this does strike me as a very unfair review given how the book situated itself and its aims.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:47 PM on January 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But the jars are not glazed, and could not be removed for cleaning. It doesn’t take long to see that they would be completely inappropriate for liquids, hot or cold – not to mention a deadly health risk."

But couldn't you have a smaller, waterproof jar that fit inside the big, fixed in place jars? That way you could fill the smaller jar with wine, soup or whatever, then slip it inside the bigger one. When it's empty, take it out of the holder, wash it (hopefully), fill it again and put it back in place. You could switch out the contents of the big jar very quickly by replacing the smaller one with another smaller jar, and thus always have something hot in there.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:23 PM on January 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just realized I wrote "porphyric" imagery instead of "priapic".

Thanks for noticing and admitting. I was starting to wonder if what I had been hearing as "porphyrogennetos" was actually "porphyric genitals" all along.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:29 PM on January 3, 2013


Mary Beard also hosts a fantastic series on the BBC about ancient Rome (sorry, on phone so can't link). She is delightfully enthusiastic about the subject.
posted by littlesq at 11:35 PM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mary Beard has been writing some brilliant essays lately on the 'street life' theme, showing how even the most basic assumptions about daily life in ancient Rome are still open to debate. I particularly liked this article from last May on walking and other forms of travel:

It is commonly said, for example, that wheeled traffic was banned from Rome, and probably from other Italian towns too, between sunrise and the tenth hour of the day. With certain significant exceptions, such as vehicles for the transport of building material, or those used by Vestal Virgins, Rome was a pedestrian city during daylight hours. That indeed is what several contributors to this volume assert – as I am sure I have done myself. But in an eloquent chapter, “Cart Traffic Flow in Pompeii and Rome”, Alan Kaiser pours cold water on this idea. Taking a careful look at the single explicit piece of evidence for this ruling (a strange hotchpotch of regulations applying to the city of Rome, but found inscribed, for some reason, in a town in South Italy), he points out that the Latin word used for “wheeled-transport” is plostrum, or plaustrum. This, he insists, is not the usual word for any old cart or wagon, but it refers specifically to a large “utilitarian ox-cart, intended for transporting heavy loads”. On this interpretation, the regulation was never intended to ban all those other lighter forms of wheeled transport, from the currus (“chariot” or “wagon”) to the raeda (“carriage”). It was more the equivalent of a modern ban on heavy goods vehicles going through the centre of a town.

And another great essay here on slaves and ex-slaves.

I also admire Mary Beard for the way she dealt with the oafish A.A.Gill when he accused her, in a TV review, of being 'too ugly for television' (or words to that effect). She wrote a reply in the Daily Mail (I don't normally link to the Mail but for once the link is worthwhile) giving Gill a taste of his own medicine.
posted by verstegan at 11:56 PM on January 3, 2013 [9 favorites]


I heard things went really downhill when Ryanair started flying drunken Romans to gladiator matches in Seleucia. Back then (before Michael O'Leary was born) the tankard of wine and hunk of cheese were actually free.
posted by crapmatic at 12:11 AM on January 4, 2013


I thought unglazed jars were used to hold water because of the evaporative cooling effect. I know I saw them being used that way in Sudan.
posted by atchafalaya at 2:17 AM on January 4, 2013


...used to hold water because of the evaporative cooling effect...

Yes (although would you build those into a counter?).

Kevin Street's suggestion also makes sense to me.

As a further idea couldn't you possibly put a small charcoal fire in the bottom of the larger jar to heat stuff in the smaller one? (In fact going further still it could also be quite like a small tandoori oven).

Now I want a curry. Tiqua Masala Romana habemus?
posted by Segundus at 2:40 AM on January 4, 2013


Pot-in-pot refrigerator
posted by cenoxo at 3:49 AM on January 4, 2013


I just realized I wrote "porphyric" imagery instead of "priapic". This would suggest that the Romans were obsessed by imagery related to blue urine.

Which they might have been. In fact, I think this might have been specifically addressed by an edict of Marcus Aurelius.


Of course, every time he pissed he thought to himself, "Enjoy this moment and be glad you don't have a metabolic disorder"
posted by atrazine at 3:56 AM on January 4, 2013


Metafilter: would just like to see a billion Roman dicks, some of them flying, some of them fucking
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:14 AM on January 4, 2013


MetaFilter: I don’t imagine they are meant to be dildoes.
posted by Splunge at 5:34 AM on January 4, 2013


MetaFilter: I spent like thirty seconds trying to figure out if this was a dirty joke I wasn't getting
posted by briank at 5:50 AM on January 4, 2013


couldn't you possibly put a small charcoal fire in the bottom of the larger jar to heat stuff in the smaller one?

You could but that would leave obvious charcoal debris which isn't found in the extant jars.

Pot-in-pot refrigerator

Just possible. I think of the present-day summer climate (ooooff) and the prevalence of granitas for sale on every corner. One certainly craves coolness. At the same time, these places are so ubiquitous, and cool water fountains are many, and were free. It's hard to imagine that many separate businesses selling something cool to eat on the spot rather than bulk groceries (like grain or nuts) or a substantial meal, especially when cool water was already abundant.
posted by Miko at 5:54 AM on January 4, 2013


"But the jars are not glazed, and could not be removed for cleaning. It doesn’t take long to see that they would be completely inappropriate for liquids, hot or cold.

Trick question! Neither were amphorae glazed, and yet those were ubiquitous for oil and wine - the waterproofing effected by other means.

And perhaps their take on cleaning was a little less fastidious than ours. Why clean if you're only going to put in more wine or whatever?

(Evaporating liquid also explains why these things turn up empty after two thousand years - though I did read one place that a bag of coins was found at the bottom of one dolium, no doubt the shop-owner's Cunning Plan to deter conventionally minded thieves. Has no one done a chemical trace of the dolia?)

Pot-in-pot refrigerator

Narrow opening, wide inside? And where are the interior pots? It was a hot day when Vesuvius blew, you would expect some to be present inside.

(By the way, the little indentation just outside the bread oven puzzled archeologists until the bread baking wife of one suggested they might hold water for coating soon-to-be-baked loaves. At least, that's what I heard from the husband.)
posted by BWA at 7:29 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


the little indentation just outside the bread oven

I don't disbelieve it! It's really interesting how much embodied knowledge can be missed, even when it has carried down in practice to the present day. One of the things our team did was to document the bakery at the House of the Chaste Lovers. Our principal investigators were clambering all over the oven body looking for where the oven vented. It must have a vent! I happened to be nearby, and since I study (later) historic cooking and my brother has become an expert pizzaiolo with his own restaurant, I was able to let them know that this kind of oven has no separate vent - it vents out the top of the front beehive opening as hot air circulates around the curved oven roof.

Things like the need to toss cornmeal into the oven, and coat loaves with water, and pop loaves aside to cool right after baking, etc., are all still part of normal bakery practice with this sort of oven, and you'd have to know a bit about the demands and mechanics of bread baking to understand the way humans interact with an oven like this. So, yay for experimental archaeology and for consulting with people who practice the present-day analogues of ancient professions.
posted by Miko at 7:55 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I need to sort out and upload all the photos from the completely glassed over but still visible fish sauce, wine, and cloth dying factories of Barcino. There's even blue stains in the troughs from the old dyes.

Every so often, like now, I keep wanting to run away and become an archeologist. Sigh Asian parents and their engineering/MBA obsessions
posted by infini at 8:52 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I need to sort out and upload all the photos

Yes. Yes, you do. (And you need to tell us once you've done so.)
posted by BWA at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2013


Yeah, I tried it and it didn't come out right. This is the order I wanted it to be in, but the set has it exactly backwards. meh. Can one do a reverse slideshow or shall I just delete and start over?
posted by infini at 1:38 PM on January 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to say I have the book RIGHT NOW and I am very excited about reading it; if anyone would like a scan of the chapter of research on tabernae, for example, please let me know!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:55 AM on January 17, 2013


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