Sunday, 8 May 2005

Roman Vomit Collectors

Everyone knows how extravagant and decadent Roman banquets could be. There were multiple courses and loads of wine to be consumed and the feasting lasted all night. But how did these people manage to eat non-stop for so long? Well, according to Seneca, the Romans vomited so they could eat and they ate so they could vomit. Apparently, according to Cicero, Julius Caesar escaped an assassination attempt because he felt like vomiting after dinner. Instead of going to the latrine to do the deed, where his assassins were waiting in anticipation of this, he decided to vomit in his bedroom (yuk!) and so missed getting bumped off on that occasion...

However, most Romans didn't feel it was necessary to leave the dining room in order to vomit. For this reason, they usually had bowls lying around, especially for this purpose, but other times they would just bend over and puke all over the floor. Who would think that there was a slave whose 'job description' was to crawl around on all fours under the dining couches and mop all this mess up. This unfortunate person was the 'Vomit Collector'. Seneca describes the delightful scene: When we recline at a banquet, one [slave] wipes up the spittle; another, situated beneath, collects the leavings [vomit] of the drunks." And it's not as if the poor slave could get out for a bit of fresh air for a few minutes. As we can read in "Trimalchio's Banquet", part of the Satyricon by Petronius, Trimalchio, an ex-slave who had become rich, had the following inscription put up on the premises: "NO SLAVE TO LEAVE THE PREMISES WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE MASTER. PENALTY ONE HUNDRED LASHES." One would think that an ex-slave would show some understanding, but sadly, like the worst of the nouveau riche of today, he was just as bad as those socially above him.

4 comments:

lenin said...

The trajectory of oppressed people/groups becoming oppressors themselves is a sadly familiar fact of history: Christians, Zionists, communists...

Alterior said...

Too true. Almost like the psychologists' theory of abused victims becoming abusers.

Dave Heasman said...

Indeed. Never, never work for a trade union.

Marya said...

I'm just wondering, in which of Seneca's works does he describe this scene? I need the information for an ancient history assignment. Thank you so much!