Avoiding Viruses and Playing Games in Rome

Ammianus Marcellinus, Constantius and Gallus 23-25

And since, as is natural in the world capital, the harsh diseases overpower so intensely that the profession of healing fails at treating them, the plan for safely is that no one will go to see a friend who suffers some disease like this. And some more cautious people add another salubrious remedy to this: slaves who have been sent to ask about the health of someone related to people who have this sickness are not allowed to enter the home before they have cleansed their body with a bath. This is how much they fear a sickness seen by other people.

But even when these practices are rather consistently performed, there are some people who, if they are invited to a wedding where gold might be offered to their open right hands, will run all the way to the Spoletium struggling, even though the strength of their limbs is weak from sickness.

But the mass of the poorest and lowest born people: some of them spend their entire nights in bars while some others haunt the shadows of the theater-awnings which Catullus during his aedileship was the first of all to have suspended as he emulated that Campanian corruption. Some of them play dice violently, sounding out foully when they draw air rapidly into their quivering nostrils; or, that thing they like most of all: they stand with their mouths agape from dawn to dusk in rain or shine analyzing the details of charioteers and the strengths and weaknesses of their horses.

And it is completely a surprise to see an uncountable crowd of plebians with a burning passion in their minds, hanging on what happens in the chariot races. These things and those like them allow nothing serious to happen at Rome.”

Et quoniam apud eos, ut in capite mundi, morborum acerbitates celsius dominantur, ad quos vel sedandos omnis professio medendi torpescit, excogitatum est adminiculum sospitale, nequi amicum perferentem similia videat, additumque est cautioribus paucis remedium aliud satis validum, ut famulos percontatum missos quem ad modum valeant noti hac aegritudine colligati, non ante recipiant domum, quam lavacro purgaverint corpus. Ita etiam alienis oculis visa metuitur Iabes.

Sed tamen haec cum ita tutius observentur, quidam vigore artuum imminuto, rogati ad nuptias, ubi aurum dextris manibus cavatis offertur, impigre vel usque Spoletium pergunt. Haec nobilium sunt instituta.

Ex turba vero imae sortis et paupertinae, in tabernis aliqui pernoctant vinariis, non nulli sub velabris umbraculorum theatralium latent, quae, Campanam imitatus lasciviam, Catulus in aedilitate sua suspendit omnium primus; aut pugnaciter aleis certant, turpi sono fragosis naribus introrsum reducto spiritu concrepantes; aut quod est studiorum omnium maximum ab ortu lucis ad vesperam sole fatiscunt vel pluviis, per minutias aurigarum equorumque praecipua vel delicta scrutantes.

Et est admodum mirum videre plebem innumeram, mentibus ardore quodam infuso, e dimicationum curulium eventu pendentem. Haec similiaque memorabile nihil vel serium agi Romae permittunt. Ergo redeundum ad textum.

Image taken from this blog

“Their Only God is Money”

The following is a spurious letter from the wild Historia Augusta. This is filled with religious confusion, some hate, and an odd detail about cups.

Historia Augusta, 29.7

“Hadrianus Augustus greets Servianus the Consul.

Dearest Servianus, that Egypt you were praising to me is completely light of learning, volatile, and swinging toward every little rumor. The people there who follow Serapis are Christians and those who claim to be followers of Christ are actually worshipers of Serapis. There’s no one in charge of the synagogue of the Jews, there’s no Samaritans, no Christian presbyter who is not also an astrologer, a psychic or some baptist. Even the Patriarch, when he has come to Egypt, is made to worship Serapis by some and Christ by others.

These people are the most traitorous, the most vain, most likely to injure while their state is wealthy, showy, fertile and a place where no one is without work. Some people blow glass; paper is made by others; everyone weaves some kind of linen or are part of some kind of craft. The lame have things they do; eunuchs have things they do as do the blind and even those with crippled hands are not without work among them.

Money is their only god—Christians, Jews, every people and race worship him. I wish that this place had a better nature, for it is truly worthy because of its size and richness to be the chief place of all Egypt. I conceded everything to it; I returned its ancient rights and added new ones so that the people thanked me while I was there. But, then, the moment I left, they said many things against my son Verus and I believe that you have learned what they said about Antinoos.

I wish nothing for them except that they live on their own chickens which they raise in a way that is shameful to speak. I am sending you some cups which are decorated with changing colors and were given to me by the priest of a temple but are now dedicated to you and my sister. I want you to use them on feast days. Be careful that our companion Africanus does not use them as he wants.”

VIII. “Hadrianus Augustus Serviano consuli salutem. Aegyptum, quam mihi laudabas, Serviane carissime, totam didici levem, pendulam et ad omnia famae momenta volitantem. illic3 qui Serapem colunt Christiani sunt, et devoti sunt Serapi qui se Christi episcopos dicunt. nemo illic archisynagogus Iudaeorum, nemo Samarites, nemo Christianorum presbyter non mathematicus, non haruspex, non aliptes. ipse ille patriarcha cum Aegyptum venerit, ab aliis Serapidem adorare, ab aliis cogitur Christum. genus hominum seditiosissimum, vanissimum, iniuriosissimum; civitas opulenta, dives, fecunda, in qua nemo vivat otiosus. alii vitrum conflant, aliis charta conficitur, omnes certe linyphiones aut cuiuscumque artis esse videntur; et habent podagrosi quod agant, habent praecisi quod agant, habent caeci quod faciant, ne chiragrici quidem apud eos otiosi vivunt. unus illis deus nummus est. hunc Christiani, hunc Iudaei, hunc omnes venerantur et gentes. et utinam melius esset morata civitas, digna profecto quae pro sui fecunditate, quae pro sui magnitudine totius Aegypti teneat principatum. huic ego cuncta concessi, vetera privilegia reddidi, nova sic addidi ut praesenti gratias agerent. denique ut primum inde discessi, et in filium meum Verum multa dixerunt, et de Antinoo quae dixerint comperisse te credo. nihil illis opto, nisi ut suis pullis alantur, quos quemadmodum fecundant, pudet dicere. calices tibi allassontes versicolores transmisi, quos mihi sacerdos templi obtulit, tibi et sorori meae specialiter dedicatos; quos tu velim festis diebus conviviis adhibeas. caveas tamen ne his Africanus noster indulgenter utatur.”

An image of Serapis, not of Christ
Serapis