Roman Toilet Paper/Game Piece Revisionism?

More on the game piece side, actually , although I’ll admit to not knowing about the other personal hygiene method mentioned in this item (tip o’ the pileus to Sarah Bond for setting me on to this one and to Dan Diffendale for tracking down the original article). Here’s how the Daily Mail covers it:

Ancient artefacts thought to be early gaming pieces will have to be reclassified after new research which claims they were actually used to wipe bottoms.

The flat, disc-shaped Roman relics have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester, West Sussex, since the Sixties.

Up until now museum experts thought the items were used for early games like draughts, but an article in the British Medical Journal has now proposed that they have a very different function.

It is well publicised that Romans used sponges mounted on sticks and dipped in vinegar as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet the idea these ceramic discs might also have been used for such personal hygiene is a revelation.

The broken pieces – known as ‘pessoi’, meaning pebbles – range in size from 1in to 4in in diameter and were excavated near to the museum in 1960.

It had been thought that they were chips used to play an ancient game, also known as ‘pessoi’, but research published last month in the BMJ drew from classical sources to present evidence that they were also used to clean up after going to the toilet.

Noting the ancient Greek proverb ‘three stones are enough to wipe one’s a***’, Philippe Charlier, assistant professor in forensic medicine at the Raymond Poincaré University Hospital in Paris, points to archaeological excavations which have uncovered pessoi inside the pits of Greek and Roman latrines across the Mediterranean.

In one such dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2-4in in diameter and 0.2-0.8in thick which, Professor Charlier wrote, were ‘re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma’.

Other evidence from the classical world has been passed down to us in the form of ceramics painted with representations of figures using pessoi to clean their buttocks.

According to Professor Charlier’s article, the Greeks and Romans even inscribed some of their pessoi with the names of their enemies or others they didn’t like.

Thus everytime they went to the toilet they would literally be wiping their faecal matter on the names of hated individuals.

Examples of such stones have been found by archaeologists bearing the names of such noted historical figures as Socrates, Themisthocles and Pericles, Professor Charlier reported.

Museum curator Dr Rob Symmons said: ‘When pottery like this is excavated it is someone’s job to wash it clean.

‘So, some poor and unsuspecting archaeologist has probably had the delight of scrubbing some Roman waste off of these pieces.

‘It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could still find some further signs of waste or residue.

‘However, these pottery pieces have no monetary value because we are essentially talking about items once used as toilet roll.

‘The pieces had always been catalogued as as broken gaming pieces but I was never particularly happy with that explanation.

‘But when the article produced the theory they were used to wipe people’s bums I thought it was hilarious and it just appealed to me.

‘I love the idea we’ve had these in the museum for 50 years being largely ignored and now they are suddenly engaging items you can relate to.’

Dr Charlier’s research indicates that the use of such stones would have probably been rather hard on the rear ends of the ancients, and could have caused a variety of medical issues.

He suggests the abrasive texture of the pessoi could have led to skin irritation, mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids.

He wrote: ‘Maybe this crude and satiric description by Horace in his 8th epode (1st century BC) — “an a*** at the centre of dry and old buttocks mimicking that of a defecating cow”— refers to complications arising from such anal irritation.’

Dr Symmons, who has been at the Fishbourne Roman Palace museum for seven years, added: ‘We will obviously have to think about re-classifying these objects on our catalogue.

‘But we hope the pieces will make people smile when they learn what they were used for.

‘They would have probably been quite scratchy to use and I doubt they would be as comfortable as using toilet roll.

‘But in the Roman era it was that or very little else.’

… plenty of photos at the Daily Mail page, which will give you an idea of the (uncomfortable, it seems to me) size of these things.

As mentioned in the article, this all stems from an item in the British Medical Journal by Philippe Charlier et al (Toilet hygiene in the classical era). I was initially skeptical (primarily due to the size of the things) but there does appear to be archaeological, literary, and forensic (not sure if that’s the right word) support  for all this. An excerpt from the article (footnotes can be tracked down in the original):

Many pessoi have been found within the faecal filling of Greek and Roman latrines all around the Mediterranean world (fig 1).6 Pessoi found during the American excavation on the Athens’ agora, for example, are described as 3-10.5 cm in diameter and 0.6-2.2 cm thick and having been re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimise anal trauma.4 Use of a pessos can still be seen on a Greek cylix (wine cup) conserved in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US. The cup, dating from 6th century BC, was found in Orvieto, Italy, and shows a man, semi-squatting with his clothing raised. The man is maintaining his balance with a cane in his right hand and is clearly wiping his buttocks using a pessos with his left hand.

Some scholars suggest that ostraka, small pieces of broken ceramic inscribed with names that the Greeks used to vote to ostracise their enemies, could also have been used as pessoi, literally putting faecal matter on the name of hated individuals. (Examples of ostraka with the names of Socrates, Themisthocles, and Pericles have been found in Athens and Piraeus).

The two pessoi in figure 1 belong to a private collection. Their precise archaeological origin (discovered in the filling of latrines close to deposits of excrement) and their morphology (rounded form with the edges recut) clearly indicate their use for anal cleaning. Solidified and partially mineralised excrement can still be seen on the non-cleaned and lateral surfaces, which has been confirmed by microscopy (fig 2).

… I’m still somewhat skeptical now, however, because all the evidence adduced (including a bit from Aristophanes that I skipped) comes from the Greek world. Then again, Graecia capta asperum victorem cepit, and perhaps that, er, assault extended to the latrines (the Wheelock gloss on Horace’s original seems punnishly appropriate here)? Or perhaps this gives us an idea of what Romans did in the latrines while waiting? Whatever the case, it’s another interesting detail to add to the arsenal …

Other coverage:

Dyslexia and Ancient Greek

Tip o’ the pileus to Graham Shipley, who mentioned this study on the Classicists list … here’s the abstract of an article by Kate Chanock:

This paper recounts the process by which a severely reading-disabled adult student taught himself to read and write Ancient Greek, and in so doing, improved his ability to read and write in English. Initially, Keith’s reading and writing were slow, difficult and inaccurate, accompanied by visual disturbance. However, motivated by a strong interest in Ancient Greek literature and philosophical ideas, Keith enlisted me (his Faculty’s academic skills adviser) to help him learn the language. Working on transliteration focused Keith’s attention on the alphabetic principle separately from meaning, while practising translation focused on the formal markers of meaning. Relieved of the stress of performing under pressures of time and others’ expectations, Keith made good progress with Greek and, after 6 months, found himself reading more fluently in English, without visual disturbance. This paper seeks to contribute to our knowledge of how adults learn to read, looking at the interplay of motivation, phonological awareness, knowledge of how form conveys meaning, and the learning environment. It both draws upon, and raises questions for, the neuroscientific study of dyslexia.

Treebanking Greek and Latin at Alpheios

Not sure if we’ve mentioned the Alpheios project before, but they’ve sent me this little missive, which should be of interest:

The Alpheios Project should like to announce the availability of sentence diagrams for selections from book one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the entire Iliad and Odyssey, five of the plays of Aeschylus, the Theogony and Shield of Heracles of Hesiod and the Ajax of Sophocles. We hope to be able to provide several more plays of Sophocles and examples of diagrammed prose in both Latin and Greek in the near future, beginning with Plato’s Euthyphro.

The diagrams have been fully integrated into the Alpheios tools and are available from an icon in the browser window. As always, the tools remain free and open source.

Sentence diagrams are an invaluable tool for close study of a text as well as learning its language, and when collected into “treebanks” have become a basic resource for contemporary corpus linguistics.

Creating sentence diagrams has proven to be pedagogically effective and popular with many students, and anyone interested in contributing their work to the ongoing project is encouraged to visit:

http://nlp.perseus.tufts.edu/syntax/treebank/getinvolved.html

Classical Chickens

I believe this a higher-resolution version tha...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lengthy article in Smithsonian Magazine about the rise of the chicken to its current place of culinary dominance has scattered Classical allusions (most of which are familiar) of interest:

The chickens that saved Western civilization were discovered, according to legend, by the side of a road in Greece in the first decade of the fifth century B.C. The Athenian general Themistocles, on his way to confront the invading Persian forces, stopped to watch two cocks fighting and summoned his troops, saying: “Behold, these do not fight for their household gods, for the monuments of their ancestors, for glory, for liberty or the safety of their children, but only because one will not give way to the other.” The tale does not describe what happened to the loser, nor explain why the soldiers found this display of instinctive aggression inspirational rather than pointless and depressing. But history records that the Greeks, thus heartened, went on to repel the invaders, preserving the civilization that today honors those same creatures by breading, frying and dipping them into one’s choice of sauce. The descendants of those roosters might well think—if they were capable of such profound thought—that their ancient forebears have a lot to answer for.

[...]

For the Romans, the chicken’s killer app was fortunetelling, especially during wartime. Chickens accompanied Roman armies, and their behavior was carefully observed before battle; a good appetite meant victory was likely. According to the writings of Cicero, when one contingent of birds refused to eat before a sea battle in 249 B.C., an angry consul threw them overboard. History records that he was defeated.

[...]

Artistic depictions of rooster combatants are scattered throughout the ancient world, such as in a first century A.D. mosaic adorning a house in Pompeii. The ancient Greek city of Pergamum established a cockfighting amphitheater to teach valor to future generations of soldiers.

[...]

Around the Mediterranean, archaeological digs have uncovered chicken bones from about 800 B.C.. Chickens were a delicacy among the Romans, whose culinary innovations included the omelet and the practice of stuffing birds for cooking, although their recipes tended more toward mashed chicken brains than bread crumbs. Farmers began developing methods to fatten the birds—some used wheat bread soaked in wine, while others swore by a mixture of cumin seeds, barley and lizard fat. At one point, the authorities outlawed these practices. Out of concern about moral decay and the pursuit of excessive luxury in the Roman Republic, a law in 161 B.C. limited chicken consumption to one per meal—presumably for the whole table, not per individual—and only if the bird had not been overfed. The practical Roman cooks soon discovered that castrating roosters caused them to fatten on their own, and thus was born the creature we know as the capon.

[...]

Nuntii Latini Graecique

Nuntii Latini from YLE:

De crisi Graeciae oeconomica

Erkki Liikanen, moderator Argentariae Finniae, censet causam difficultatum oeconomicarum, quibus Graecia laboret, esse fiscalitatem iniustam. Divites tributa non solvere, illos autem, quorum reditus mediocres aut parvi sint, usque gravioribus tributis vectigalibusque onerari.

Bonum successum, quem factiones extremae in comitiis parlamentariis nuper factis habuerint, indignationem civium ostendisse. Sauli Niinistö, praesidens Finniae, arbitratur crisim in Graecia non esse tantum oeconomicam sed potius iam socialem, cum cives fiduciam amiserint. Plus quam dimidia pars investitorum internationalium credit crisim politicam, quae ex comitiis Graeciae parlamentariis orta sit, effecturam esse, ut Graeci hoc anno ex zona euronis discedant.

… more stories plus audio at: Nuntii Latini (YLE)

Nuntii Latini from Radio Bremen:

Kraft triumphat, Röttgen recedit

Electionibus in Rhenania-Vestfalia praemature habitis Democratae Sociales ab Hannelore Kraft ducti victoriam manifestam adepti sunt. Quae factio coalitione cum Viridibus coniuncta civitatem gubernare perget. Democratae Christiani Norbert Röttgen duce cladem acerbissimam acceperunt.

… more stories plus audio at: Nuntii Latini Septimanales 18.5.2012 (Radio Bremen)

Nuntii Latini via Ephemeris:

Pyrobolus ante scholam displosus est

Mane Brundisii in urbe Italiae Meridionalis pyrobolus displosus est apud Scholam Ad Instituenda Munera Socialia dicatam “Franciscae Morvillo Falcone”; discipula sedecim annorum obiit diruptione laniata, alii V sauciati, inter quos altera puella in mortis discrimine manet cum graviter vulnerata sit, aliique leviter acceptis plagis a nosocomio dimissi sunt. Investigatores machinamentum exstructum esse satis facile putant tribus vasis gasariis ac displosum instrumento tempori praestituendo. Sunt qui existiment mafiam ream sceleris fuisse, cum schola dicata sit mulieri iudicis Ioannis Falcone qui una cum ea necatus sit insidiis mafianis apud Panormum abhinc viginti prope annos. Sed ab auctoritatibus nulla sententia prudenter excepta est. Num potest omnino petitio tromocratica recusari? An facinus viri insani?

Dubium non est quin sontes occidere voluerint, quoniam ea hora quaedam puellae in scholam inibant. Potuit magna caedes fieri: nam post aliqua temporis minuta omnes alumni adventuri erant. “Quoquo modo se res habent, quod factum est ut scelus tromocraticum atque intolerabile ostenditur, quia terrorem universis iniecit ”, ait Petrus Grasso magistratus praepositus mafiae repugnandae. “Reos inveniemus” fertur Anna Maria Cancellieri Administra negotiis praeposita declaravisse, quod omnes sine dubio exoptant.

… much more at: Ephemeris

Akropolis World News in Classical Greek:

Brill Fonts

The folks over at the place that turns out incredibly expensive (it seems to me) books have come out with a realllllllllllllllllllly nice font package. Here’s a bit of their blurb:

After careful consideration, Brill has taken the initiative of designing a typeface. Named “the Brill”, it presents complete coverage of the Latin script with the full range of diacritics and linguistics (IPA) characters used to display any language from any period correctly, and Greek and Cyrillic are also covered. There are over 5,100 characters in all. This indispensable tool for scholars will become freely available later this year for non-commercial use. You will be able to download the font package after agreeing to the End User License Agreement. “The Brill” is available in roman, italic, bold, and bold italic, with all necessary punctuation marks and a wide assortment of symbols. It will be especially welcomed by humanities scholars quoting from texts in any language, ancient or modern. “The Brill” complies with all international standards, including Unicode. John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks, well-known for his multilingual fonts, is the Brill’s designer.

… for those of you wondering, it has macrons and near as I can tell it has ligatures and other sorts of things which Classicists would need in a font. Might be worth checking out (and it will be free, apparently):

Why Classics?

Tip o’ the pileus to Rose Williams for alerting us to this piece in USA Today:

When college-targeted publications feature articles on topics like the highest-paying college majors or the college majors that are most likely to land you a job, things do not always look too good for people studying the humanities.

Humanities departments face budget cuts now more than ever, and for small subdivisions of humanities, like classics, the future is even grimmer. Even at top departments like the one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, budget decreases affect the number of courses that can be offered each semester and the number of faculty the department hires.

Sometimes, when I tell someone I’m a classics major, they don’t even understand what the department is. Classics as in classical music? Classics as in 18th century British literature? (No and no.) Classics as in Greek and Roman history? “Oh, so you want to be a teacher.”

People who hear someone is a classics major usually assume that person wants to be a high school Latin teacher or a college professor. While many classics majors choose to earn graduate degrees in classics and become teachers and professors, there are many other fields that undergraduates can enter with a classics degree. But more importantly, there’s a lot to be learned from classics, regardless of your profession.

Classics is a popular undergraduate major for law school students, because it teaches you to think critically and formulate arguments. There’s nothing like the speeches of the fifth century logographer Lysias to get the legal mindset started! Many students who major in classics also choose to work in libraries or museums.

Even if you’re not planning to enter one of these fields, classics is still a great field to study. Yes, Latin is a dead language, and ancient Greek is tremendously different from modern Greek. Yes, these societies ultimately collapsed. No, people don’t have dinner parties and discuss the meaning of love, Symposium-style. But the influence of classics on modern culture is still prevalent today.

Take the Percy Jackson young adult book series, for example. The novels have been on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 200 weeks, not to mention being made into a blockbuster movie franchise. The novels are based on Greek mythology, and their author, Rick Riordan, completed a Roman-inspired series following Percy Jackson’s success and an Egyptian-inspired series after that.

In cult classics that aren’t based in classical themes, the classical influence is still apparent. Harry Potter’s spells are a sort of Latin mash-up, and the names of many Pokémon derive from Latin roots.

Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has stated in multiple interviews that the games in the series were based on the idea of the Roman gladiatorial games, and more than a few Hunger Games characters have classically inspired names. For example, the emperor Nero forced Seneca the younger to commit suicide for alleged participation in a conspiracy; President Snow forced the Hunger Games’ Seneca to commit suicide when he allowed tributes from a district other than the Capitol’s to win the games.

Even if classics departments are shrinking and students are moving toward more economically favorable fields of study, series like these show that people today are still very much interested in the classical world. And who wouldn’t be? The cultures are fascinating, from Roman feasts to Greek vase painting.

People say they study history because history repeats itself, but studying classics is so much more than that. The classical world heavily shaped the western one, and much of America’s founding was based in how the Roman Republic was run. Classical influences are everywhere, from Greek columns on government buildings to Philadelphia’s city layout, which was loosely inspired by the Roman road system.

The argument that classical studies are no longer relevant really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, we don’t deal with the issues that characters in Greek tragedy faced. (Has anyone you know murdered his father and married his mother lately?) But the works of great tragedians reach something deeper, issues that afflict humanity as a whole. In Euripides’ Hecuba, the titular character suffers because of her willingness to trust people, eventually becoming extremely cynical. If you read the tragedy, her character transformation is remarkably similar to Taylor Momsen’s Gossip Girl character Jenny Humphrey’s change from innocent and trusting to high school queen in the show’s first two seasons.

The times and settings change, but human issues don’t. And classics, more than any other field (aside from philosophy), deals with these issues in a way that’s still relevant today, and will still be relevant in the future.

The bottom line is, you should choose a major you love, even if you’re not sure how it will help you in your career search. If you can defend what you’re passionate about (and still have the skills to do they jobs you’re applying for), your employer will see that passion. I’m not a journalism major, but my studies in classics have given me a different perspective in my editorial experiences and have never hindered my job search. So do what you love — and take a course in your school’s classics department if you’ve got some extra room in your schedule.