An Ancient Roman Myth 16

Romes mythical founders Romulus & Remus were suckled by a she-wolf


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.

16 thoughts on “An Ancient Roman Myth

  1. Reply patriciaruthsusan May 4,2017 4:02 pm

    Interesting, Paul. Who knows how many other things we got wrong because of critics putting a bad light on it. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • Reply Paul May 5,2017 1:02 am

      Dear Suzanne, don’t get me started on how many things experts get wrong! It is like one day they are telling that black is white and the next thing you know they have totally changed their mind! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Reply dgkaye May 4,2017 2:43 am

    Wow was that ever a little TMI lol, kidding. They certainly ate some disgusting things in those times and whoduthunk vomitoriums were more popular than having indoor plumbing. 🙂

    • Reply Paul May 5,2017 1:05 am

      Debby Definitely too much TMI.. Why do you think I asked for the green salad!
      In fact the Romans used to laugh at the Greeks for serving their guests salad saying it was like giving them Goat and sheep food!

      In fact in the end I didn’t even have the salad.. hygiene not being everything one could hope for.
      Glad you enjoyed the post even if it did make your toes curl!!! Luv PX

  3. Reply Robbie Cheadle May 3,2017 6:49 pm

    This was a very entertaining read. I have not amusing stories about Latin classes to share as in South Africa we are taught Afrikaans and Zulu and our Afrikaans teachers were might formidable and not remotely funny. I still have nightmares about my grade 11 and 12 teacher. I am going to read this to my older son as he is totally hooked on Roman and Greek mythology and is very opinionated with his knowledge. He will certainly learn something new.

    • Reply Paul May 3,2017 7:26 pm

      Robbie Afrikaans and Zulu might seem every day to you but to be honest it has blown my mind…I mean WOW…like… WOW! Hope your son gets a laugh out of this. Paul X

  4. Reply Judy Martin May 3,2017 5:51 pm

    Ha! I would have been very disappointed if you had dispelled the myth of Roman orgies, but that vomitoria one is ok. What a vile thought anyway, trying to shovel in as much food as possible then puking it all up ready to go again!
    I know people who do that with alcohol though and Sally hit that nail on the head in her comment!! 🙂

    • Reply Paul May 3,2017 7:30 pm

      If you want Roman orgies you must read Seutonius 12 Caesars – translated by Robert Graves of I Claudius fame or I Clavdivs as we called it as kids. The 12 Caesars is not like a history book, it is hilarious and really gossipy

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – An Ancient Roman Myth – Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  6. Reply Shehanne Moore May 2,2017 9:48 am

    YAY!! He was a dirty auld git. My sister is much older than me and she was at he same school. When I was there everyone called the head of art ‘Dirty Dick,’ cos he had a withered hand and was a bit touchy with the other one. I never had any complaints about him. Anyway he was there when my sister was and she said he was not who they knew as ‘Dirty Dick,’ it was this old git. Seriously we found Latin quite an entertainment though. After Flavius retired, we got a new teacher who taught the history and the lingo and he could not control the four girls in the class. We had a great time. Never learnt a bloody thing. It was like the Wild West every day. Although ma and my pal skived regularly we would actually come back INTO school for that lesson. I had heard of the Irish Hellfire lot. I came across them when I was doing the book but alas two things, the wrong era and the fact the family background as outlaid in the Viking and The Courtesan was English. But they sounded closer to the original Hellfire Club. Glad you got a laugh. And glad you see more psots here x

    • Reply Paul May 2,2017 8:06 pm

      My God this is hilarious…. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in that classroom! And as for posts my mind in in ferment!

  7. Reply Sally Cronin Apr 30,2017 4:04 pm

    I was well and truly put off the scent and after the food offerings you talked about it was probably just as well I had lost my sense of smell.. Of course the post is stunning as usual.. and now you have cleared up the whole vomitoria, it is clear it is not the name of the alley behind the Rose and Crown…. fantastic my friend…

  8. Reply Shehanne Moore Apr 30,2017 10:45 am

    Hee hee Paul, another cracker from you. I was giggling at the title. We had this right old dodder of a Latin teacher at one stage. He was the head of the department but we only had him for history. He would be arrested today. Looking back I reckon he came in drunk. He could barely get to the desk but when he got there he was then quite sprightly. We were taught a few things only, the King of Epirus was one. Please don not ask me to pronounce it, Mr Bett called him ‘Purus,’ and he would rave about him as if he was a personal friend, who a ‘sully wummun dropped a tile on.’ Next up was the Rape of the Sb9ine women. Mr Bett would lay his hand across his desk and onto my friend’s desk and make the most obscene gestures. We were all made to sit in separate seats and she would lean back to me going’ Oh God, what will I do,’ and I would say’ He comes any closer and he gets it.’ Once he had this great long snotter hanging from his nose that was swinging back and forth. Rome was like ‘ a rumless wheel wi spokes,’ according to Mr Bett chalking this on the board. It was the third thing we were taught every week. The last we knew about was the life and advnetures of a young Roman legiondary on Hadrian’s wall called Flvius…wait for it Betto. Now if you google Flavius Betto he did exist. We felt he still existed that like the Flying Dutchman or the Wandering Jew, he was doomed to exist. Alas in our classroom. One night w mya pal and me actually broke into his classroom when we were meant to be at a lit meeting and we got the book and the centurian in the book was not called Betto at all. Your bpost brings so much back. It is brilliant and as ever funny. Got your email and will reply later today Paul. Just wanted to come by and read your blog x

    • Reply Paul Apr 30,2017 7:39 pm

      Actually Shey your comment was an absolutely cracker too! Firstly what a creepy man your teacher was…It is frightening really what some teachers are like. I liked the way you girls stood up for yourselves too… although in truth you should not have had to! The Rape of the Sabine Women indeed. He knew exactly what he was saying! Dirty aul get! Shudda been strung up! Now on to happier stuff. You comments bring up so many interesting characters..First Sir Francis Dashwood, then the Irish Hellfire Club… of which I had never heard and now Flavius Betto…. who was… yes I have just looked it up… the commander of the Antonine Wall… the short lived Roman frontier at the Firth of Forth to protected the somewhat Romanised Lowlands from those wild Picts (painted men) in the Highlands. I can certainly feel a post or two coming on. Thanks so much for stimulating my curiosity about these fascinating subjects. Absolutely in your debt! Love Px

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