Thumbs up for Everyday Life in Ancient Rome by Lionel Casson. History.
It takes real skill to write a work of nonfiction that glides by as rapidly as a good novel; Casson has accomplished that. If you want to get a sense of what it would be like to live in Roman times, this book is a good place to start – easy to read, yet detailed and evocative.
“The chief problem was that, like [the tour guides’] modern descendants, once launched on their patter they could not stop. ‘The guides went through their standard speech,’ grumbles one of the characters in a sketch Plutarch wrote about a group seeing the sights of Delphi, ‘paying no attention whatsoever to our entreaties to cut the talk short.’ A writer of satire had a character in one of his pieces pray fervently: ‘Zeus, protect me from your guides at Olympia, and you, Athena, from yours at Athens.’ It was not only that they never stopped talking; it was also what they talked about. They had the weakness, traditional in their profession, of preferring a gaudy tale to sober information. They particularly liked to connect whatever they were showing with the heroic days of mythological times, to point out the very spot on the road where Penelope had agreed to marry Odysseus, the very bones of the monster Hercules had killed, the very point on the beach where Aeneas had landed, and so on. ‘Abolish fabulous tales from Greece,’ snickered Lucian, ‘and the guides would all die of starvation, since no tourist wants to hear the bald facts even for nothing.'”
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