Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lagniappe: Roman Libraries

More from H.V. Morton's A Traveller in Rome (1957). In the midst of informing us about ancient Roman books, authors, and poetry readings (all of which made me think of Marcus Didius Falco from Lindsey Davis's great detective series), Morton veers off into a delightful historical anecdote.
I do not know whether any lending-libraries existed in Rome, but there were reference libraries, not only in Rome, but also in the country towns. Aulus Gellius says that once, when staying with a distinguished man at his villa near Tivoli, an argument rose among the guests on the danger of drinking iced water in hot weather. Those who considered the habit harmless doubted certain quotations made by a fellow guest, who, to prove his point, ran out to the public library and returned with a quotation from Aristotle strongly denouncing iced water as dangerous to health. Gellius adds that the guests were so much impressed by the quotation that they all decided to give up iced water in future. What interests me is not their decision, but whether the man who ran to the library was allowed to return with a copy of Aristotle, or whether he just wrote out the quotation; and this Gellius leaves in doubt.
Funnily enough, what interests me is just the opposite from Morton. I find it fascinating, and also hilarious, that all it takes is a quote from one famous philosopher and everyone decides to change their habits. Then, as now, food fads require very little traction to become authoritative and have everyone jumping to adjust their lifestyles. Human nature really doesn't change from era to era.

1 comment:

  1. Great fun from the always entertaining H. V. Morton.

    I live in Texas; I'm KEEPING my iced water and iced tea.

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