I shall be replying to the flood of comments about the last post on the Greek fires by the by (though let me say here and now that something very odd happened in the translation of my post on the Greek website that so many people saw!). But meanwhile to happier topics. A fellow blogger suggests that we classicists tend to keep too many secrets about the ancient world to ourselves. So let me share a few.
Here are 10 things you thought you knew about the Romans but didn’t. 10 myths about the Romans exploded…!
1) JULIUS CAESAR’S LAST WORDS WERE ‘ET TU BRUTE’
Well, only in Shakespeare’s version of the assassination. Probably our best ancient source is Suetonius and he records the words as (in Greek) “kai su teknon” – or “you too my child”. What this means, in fact, isn’t so clear. If it is has a question mark, it smacks of quizzical, dying desperation. Give it an exclamation mark and it becomes a threat (“they’ll get you too kid…”).
2) ROME WAS BUILT ON SEVEN HILLS.
Some serious miscalculation here. Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline, Janiculan, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Pincian, Vatican. That’s 10 for a start. Though it all depends I suppose, on what you call a hill.
3) ROMANS HAD ‘VOMITORIA’ TO BE SICK IN BETWEEN COURSES AT LAVISH DINNERS
Sorry. This is an old one, But vomitoria were the exit routes which spewed people out of the amphitheatres.
4) ROMAN MEN DRESSED IN TOGAS
OK sometimes they did. But it was very formal wear – and it’s a bit like saying ‘Englishmen wear dinner jackets’. Actually you’d have seen all kinds of dress on the Roman street, from tunics to trousers -- and, just to confuse things, prostitutes in togas. (Here’s a neat article which sets this one straight.)
5) NERO FIDDLED WHILE ROME BURNED
Not if you mean that he sat around ineffectually twiddling his thumbs while the city went up in flames. Actually what Nero did was fiddle in another sense: he played the violin (or so it was said).
Five more after the jump. . .