Since I’ve done the Greek myths to death, how about an old Roman myth for a change?
The Ancient Romans loved their orgies, right? Sex; gluttony; sickening violence: you name it they loved it.
From lunchtime to dawn, guests consumed lashings of wine and exotic foods, such as ostrich and peacock brains, flamingo tongues, porpoise meatballs, stuffed dormice, boiled parrot (yes, that’s right; it’s not a typo for carrot) and sow’s udder served steeped in its own milk.
‘No, honestly, just the green salad would be lovely thank you. Did you say the chef had washed his hands? Well, just a cup of boiled water then.’
Obviously eating and drinking copious amounts all day and night necessitated something a bit more drastic than the odd gulp of Milk of Magnesia. So dining rooms were furnished with an adjacent cubical called a vomitorium. Here you could talk to god on the big white phone – you know… ‘Oh God! Oooh Godddd. Oh dear Godddd, noooo – before going back and enjoying yourself some more.
The favourite method of relief was to tickle the tonsils with a feather specifically brought along for the purpose. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t want to use someone else’s feather would you?
And that is the myth.
In actual fact, vomitoriums did exist, but they are not what you think. However let me keep you in suspense a bit longer, while we get some things straight.
The Romans probably did have sex orgies. Even the Victorians had orgies, and they had women fainting over naked piano legs. But the Romans viewed sex differently to us, considering it a natural appetite. Yes, they did things that would make your toes curl. And on the basis of ‘least said soonest mended’, let’s move swiftly on. Equally, eating until you vomited was not usually part of the Roman dining experience.
Roman society was a bit like the Mafia… Actually that should be the Mafia is like ancient Rome. Everyone was a patron, or a client of someone further up the food chain. Except the emperor, which is why everyone wanted to murder him or be him.
Dining was part of a social display of wealth and power. Clients would do favours for their patrons: a bit of murder, arson, larceny… the usual. Patrons would bestow favours like giving jobs or lending money at exorbitant interest rates, and feeding their clients. Sometimes very poorly it must be said; which led to a lot of satires from disgruntled poets.
Most of what we think we know about Roman orgies is from either Ancient Roman ribald fiction such as ‘The Satyricon’, or Seutonius’ famous ‘The 12 Caesars’ that details the reigns, and moral failings, of the first 12 Emperors. For almost two millennia Suetonius has been read as straight history, whereas his aim was to put down the current Emperor’s predecessors by dragging up every piece of salacious gossip he could lay his hands on.
So in the light of this, were vomitoria, (Notice I got the proper plural in. Oh, my Latin is bona!), where you went to vomit?
No. That is an Ancient Roman Myth.
Think about it, even the most hardened Roman diner would not have fancied listening to all that going on while trying to choke down a braised sow’s nipple.
But vomitoria did exist.
They were broad corridors in theatres that let the audience quickly ‘spew’ out of the building and onto the streets at the end of a performance.
Now, you are probably wondering why I headed the post with a she-wolf suckling Rome’s mythical founders, Romulus and Remus.
To be honest, it was to throw you off the scent.