Monday, August 17

Doing as Romans Do

Last month, I was fortunate enough to hear my favorite Edutainment guy, Alberto Angela (host of the show, Ulysse) who, along with his dad, Piero Angela (host of the Quark series) make it the only two guys in Italy (aside from yours truly, Caroline Lawrence and The History Channel) who make history entertaining. He regaled us with stories from his just published in English book, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome.
[for a funny version by Rick Steves, go here.]

What was at once totally wonderful and – admittedly – depressing, was that, in these 2000 years, not a whole lot has changed. After reading Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome series, boy, that point really hit home! Between the politics, the affairs, the theater, the filth, the intrigue...Basically the only difference I found between then and now was that, in the old days, actors were seen as only one rank above prostitutes and singers were usually slaves. Nowadays, actors not only are royalty, they even marry into Europe’s royal families. Makes you wish for days of yore…

But I digress. Here is a short list, alĂ  Alberto Angela, of things people complained about in Ancient Rome (people like Marzio, who would have been today’s equivalent of a learned David Letterman or in the very least, a blogger):

Traffic – the Romans had strict rules for when you could come into the City Center with your mule, much like the ZTL zones today. Not only that, whenever a politician’s posse came riding through, all traffic was stopped to let them get ahead, just like those omnipresent and obnoxious blue cars of today. In addition, Roman roads were constantly filled with holes and in need of repair

Pollution -- While today it’s car pollution and small particles, in the day, it was the smoke arising from nearly every fire pit around town.

Immigration – everyone seemed to complain about the arrival – in an already crowded place – of more and more immigrants from across the empire. The higher up you went in the multi-storey building, the more people you’d find crowded into single rooms – not like the state of the poor immigrants of today.

Housing – there was a huge shortage of housing, with people speculating on the real estate and building, just as today. Although I imagine that they all didn’t enjoy ‘second houses’ while many flats were left empty due to fear of renting them out.

Justice System – there was a very long waiting list for court cases to go through the system; today, it’s an average of 5 years. They also had spectacular court cases like the current Amanda Knox case in Perugia, giving rise to Judge Judy and her ilk.

Misc. – Rome was a very dangerous place by day or night, and, along security was a huge issue back then as now. Graffiti was commonplace and an eyesore, except I think there’s was even more permanently carved in stone. And finally, as a sign of demise, of course, there were the low birthrates and the high divorces.

Pretty much the biggest difference was the advent of household appliances: fans, blenders, ovens, water spouts. You name it: in ancient times, these duties were carried out by slaves but today, these little objects still respond to the commands of the master of the household.

And who says history doesn’t repeat itself?


Dave514 said...

Slaves...everyone should own one. A basic right...right!

Bathing: The only ones back then who washed were the wealthy...the rest were dirty and the body odour must have been horrendous. Today, most wash as there is indoor plumbing. So here there is a plus.

Clothing: Again the wealthy had more than one toga. The rest walked around in clothes that were so dirty and raggity it is inconceivable. Today, it's only the wealthy that can afford to be badly dressed. Hoi poli must needs dress to the nines. A reversal from ancient Roma.


Carol said...

davide, re your point on bathing--body ordour is still horrendous today. get on any city bus in summer tme and take a whiff. you'll faint. they might wash but do they use deoderant?!?

Dave514 said...

I don't know where you live,but shortly after WWII at least in the Germanic countries most women didn't shave their legs or armpits. The reason was that the only women that did were prostitutes.

Could it be in Italy that for some this might still be true.

You're right about deodorants. Perfume would be nice too, but subtle please.

Living in Arizona as I do there's not much public transportation. I haven't been on a bus for years. I have been on Roma's metro in the heat of the summer as well as in Wien... no problems.


hampshire said...

You makes more entertaining history..

American in Padua said...

The only real difference between then and now is that Rome is no longer a world leader in politics and contemporary culture. So much else has remained the same, except this possibly "best" and most positive part.

Don't get me wrong-I love Rome and used to live there. But we have to face the facts of this significant change-of-position.

Irreverent Italy said...

Carol & Davide :
With regard to smells and things, first, I don't think very many Italians ride buses in Rome.
Now, they do take the metro, which incredibly has started handing out bottles of water due to the intense heat inside. The B line is scheduled to lurch into the 20th century sometime in the 21st, with A/C planned for next year.
As for deodorant, any of us importers of ArridXX and Soft&Dry not to mention RightGuard, will attest:
Europe offers either deodorants or anti-perspirants and never the twain shall meet.
So, to all you marketeers out there...You're missing a golden opportunity!