Facts, facts, facts
It is easy to become a boring old pedant when it comes to the 'facts' about the ancient world that you find in politics and the media, not just social. After my disagreement with Arron Banks earlier in the week on the fall of the Roman empire, there's been plenty of more to get troubled about. Paddy Ashdown, for example, returned to his earlier quip about Boris Johnson being the silliest appointment since Caligula made his horse a consul.
All fine and funny, except that he didn't. The story comes from Suetonius' Life of Caligula (chap 55) and what Suetonius actually said is "it is said that he had marked down his horse to be consul" (consulatum quoque traditur destinasse). What lies behind this is isnt very clear. Some have thought that it goes back to some joke at the expense of the elite ('you're such a load of supine animals that I might as well make my horse consul'). But whatever the background, there is NO HORSE on the consular lists ever.
But booby prize of the week goes to the Daily Mail's report on the brothel at Pompeii.
Sadly this goes back in some circuitous route via a TV programme to some good work by Kelly Olson in the States. But what ended up in the Mail was a horrible and lurid confection of fantasy, error and old-fashioned half truths and chestnuts. This went from the odd claims that the prostitutes in Pompeii wore a regulation uniform ("When out on the street, Pompeii's working girls wore strict attire - they wore a reddish brown coat at all times, and dyed their hair blonde") and that the girls used to hail passing trade from the balcony of the brothel building (no evidence for that at all.. nor for the claim, so far as I know, that there were male prostitutes there) to the fantasy idea that the place was a "hangout for wealthy businessmen and politicians" (just look at it!.. and they had slaves at home anyway if they wanted sex).
And the worst and oldest chestnut of them all was the assertion that the paintings on the walls were a kind of picture menu of the sexual positions available, on the assumption that it was easier to point to what you wanted than describe. You hear this repeated times and again by tour guides on site. And again there is NO EVIDENCE for that at all.
The ancient world is a fascinating place, and we know such a lot about it. Why peddle error?