A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities by J.C. McKeown

The subtitle gives a perfect description of this book: “Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the World’s Greatest Empire.” Bits and pieces of quotations, graffiti, legends and sayings are presented in short chapters that deal with family life, women, medicine, slaves, spectacles, buildings, emperors and much more. There is a whole chapter, including a photograph, on toilets! Another chapter presents details and photographs that are sexually explicit.

     You probably need some knowledge of ancient Rome or Latin in order to appreciate this book. When at least some of the names of writers and historical figures are familiar, the information gives insight into their lives and times. Some examples: a man boasted about a wound to his face received while fighting for Caesar, but Caesar responded with “You should never look back when you’re running away.” One of the reasons that a conspiracy was formed to assassinate Caesar, was that he didn’t show respect by standing up when Senators told him that they were going to bestow honours upon him; at dinner one day, Caesar said that the best way to die is suddenly and unexpectedly, and he was murdered the next day. These examples are about Julius Caesar, but there are references to Antony, Cleopatra, Octavius, Claudius, Nero and countless others.

     The book is surprisingly entertaining and gripping, teaching new information as if by accident. There is no attempt to hide the nasty aspects of Roman culture. Life seems to have been of little value and there was widespread, horrific cruelty to humans as well as animals, with apprently no objection or opposition.

     There is even a fascinating account of a UFO sighting given, which suggests time travel or space ships! Our current civilization may not be so far removed from ancient Rome after all.

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