Saturday, September 04, 2004

Private Life of the Romans

A most informative work dating back to 1932 on that other and much less well known aspect of Roman life, by Harold and Mary Johnston; yet another item to remind one of the importance of finite limits on the validity of copyrights.

There's plenty here that should prove eye-opening to those whose knowledge of Roman history is confined mostly to the typical accounts of the doings of senators, emperors and generals, from the section on naming conventions (do you know the difference between a praenomen, a nomen and a cognomen?) to the marriage customs of the various classes, to the relationships between masters & slaves, patrons & clients, and plenty else besides.

Contrary to what many maintain to be an excessive, politically correct contemporary focus on teaching about women, slaves and the like at the expense of great generals and statesmen, I think the importance of gaining an understanding of the mundane aspects of a people's existence is still underplayed rather than the opposite. Knowing this sort of thing is what makes the difference between, say, a foreigner thinking he understands American life simply because he's seen a lot of Hollywood movies, and actually living and working amongst Americans and thereby coming to appreciate that contrary to what videotapes might imply, most do not live in a glamorous and dangerous world of handsome self-made millionaires, promiscuous blonde bombshells, cocky but brilliant young lawyers, rogue cops with integrity and taciturn cowboys who are quick on the draw, and that most Americans share the exact same concerns as do people anywhere else - making a living, raising a family, maintaining friendships, finding distractions, provisioning for old age, etc.