Friday, April 18, 2014

Life and leisure in ancient Rome

This post's title is verbatim from J.P.V.D. Balsdon's book on ancient Rome, which is proving to be a good companion to volume one of Gibbon's Decline and Fall. Whereas Gibbon's focus so far is the political history of the empire, Balsdon's interest is in the quotidian life of Romans: how they told time, how bathing was regarded and in what venues, how morning routines differed among classes, and so on. It's really quite fascinating, for example, to think about what the use of sundials and water clocks does to a view of time.

Here's a great sentence in the chapter The Shape of the Day: "Cicero, for instance, claims never to have taken a siesta as long as he was actively engaged in politics or at the bar." It's amusing and even more so when we note that Cicero was a lawyer.