Contented Reader

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The Private Life of the Romans

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The Private Life of the Romans

Harold Whetstone Johnston

Project Gutenberg

I downloaded this book out of fairly low-intensity curiosity, and when I opened it up at lunch one day, I didn’t expect to do much more than browse it for a moment or two and move on to something interesting.  So I was surprised- pleasantly surprised- to be really fascinated by it.

The target audience is high school and college-aged Latin students.  The goal of the book is to provide enough detailed information about daily life in ancient Rome to help give context to the Latin texts that those students are reading.  The style is not meant to be especially entertaining, but it is simple and clear and the information is well organized.

By the time I finished reading the book (and I did read the whole book, nice and slowly) I knew a surprisingly large number of things I hadn’t known before.  The structure of the Roman family, and how law and custom dictated what could and couldn’t happen to a man’s wife, child, or slave.  Where gladiators come from, how they train, and where they’re buried (or dumped).  Floor plans for Roman houses, with descriptions of what happens in their various rooms.  Details about bathhouses, dinner parties, weddings, travel.

This really is going to be information I’m likely to be glad I know as I read the works of various old Italians.  Some of it was also a little thought-provoking, as I compared the Roman ways to my own, sometimes favorably, sometimes unfavorably.

For a little while, I decided that I was definitely going to build a Roman-style courtyard house.  With the giant pile of imaginary money I use for building houses.  Then I remembered how different Rome’s climate is from Ohio’s, and eventually changed my mind.  But I still secretly want to.

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Written by Contented Reader

September 15, 2012 at 5:58 am

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