Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sleepiest Consul

I'm going to show off today. Big time.

Before Claudius became emperor, he often fell asleep during the Senate sessions. One time, the other senators put his slippers on his hands, so he'd rub his eye with them upon waking up. Real mature of the patres conscripti. And how fortunate for them that Claudius did not hold a grudge after becoming the most powerful man of the empire. So, if this makes Claudius Sleepy, then I guess Tiberius would be Grumpy, Caligula would be Happy... no, wait, because it actually makes more sense if Claudius is Dopey. Never mind, no cartoons today, I'm showing off!

So, how do I know that? Because I just read it in a book called Das Buch der antiken Rekorde, written by Swedish archeologists Allen & Cecilia Klynne. And guess what, it doesn't have an English translation yet. I feel so well informed right now.

In case you haven't figured it out already, the title translates as The Book of Ancient Records – but I'm sure you've figured it out, after all, you're smarter than I am, even if you can't speak German. Heh.

The book is fun, relaxing, perfectly suited to be read on the subway. If you're looking for hard-core facts, go look somewhere else – it doesn't even have a list of references – my edition, at least – but that doesn't mean it's not well researched. It just means you'll have to retrace the research if you find anything you'd like to quote in your own paper, and this is quite annoying. In return, you'll find a lot of useful information about the oldest stallion ever recorded, the largest number of elephants in one place, the biggest dog, the most educated bird and so on.

I wouldn't vouch for all the facts mentioned in the book, but I'm not going to spend any amount of time trying to prove the authors wrong, unless my life really depends on it. Just a hunch – for instance, at the best paid actor category, the winner is Laberius, who received 50,000 seseterces from Caesar for his performance, but, when he got on stage, he recited a very harsh monologue against Caesar's political agenda. It may be so, but that's not how I remember the story with Laberius. In my book, he gave up on his equestrian rank in order to come on stage as a mimus (I don't use mimus just to show off, though this is the theme of the day, but it just wasn't the same as today's mime. They weren't dressed in black and white stripes. And they had text to recite).He did speak against Caesar's agenda in a contest, lost the contest, but gained back his equestrian rank, as Caesar just couldn't wait to find more people to pardon, like always. I have no idea what's up with the 50,000 sesterces, but the amount was surely not for the contest, which he lost. Maybe it was a gift from Caesar to allow Laberius to meet the financial conditions for becoming a knight. Not that it matters that much – just an example thought how easier my life would have been if the authors quoted their sources.

So, do you know who was the heaviest drinker? How much was the most expensive cloth? Or maybe you're planning a business trip to ancient Rome, and need to know the most expensive perfume, so you know what to pack. And now you also know where to look for all these facts.