Sunday, April 7, 2013

Roman Cartoons! (with some fruity language)

Cartoons - Roman style
The hot ticket right now in London is Pompeii at the British Museum - a vast collection of art and artifacts collected from the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the seaside towns famously destroyed in 67BC by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Both towns were completely covered in ash - and were thereby preserved for posterity even as the rest of Roman civilisation fell to the barbarian hordes (that's you and me).

The barbarians were in force on friday as we battled for tickets, but it was worth the wait as we fought our way through the turnstiles. What I had not realised was how much the Romans liked cartoons, not printed in books or comics (or indeed online) but rather as murals on the walls of taverns, brothels - and private houses.

The grumpy curators of the BM would not let me take pictures - and their eagle eyes menaced my every move as I tried unsuccessfully to wield my iPhone. Still, the image above gives some idea of what a 1st century BC cartoonist did for a living.

The jokes go something like this:
Caecilius: "Hey, you just cheated at Backgammon. You rolled a 3, not a 2".
Lucillus: "No I didn't. I rolled a 2"
Caecilius: "yes you did, you rolled a 3, you c***sucker (Latin - fellator)
Lucillus: "You want a fight?"
Barmaid: "all right you two, p*** off outside if you want to fight".

OK, it's not exactly hilarious, and the language certainly would not pass muster at my employer - The Times. But maybe our sense of humour has changed a bit since then. Anyway, I liked the idea that if I was put in a time machine and sent back to Rome, 1st century BC, I might actually be able to make a living.

And I think I could write funnier jokes.



  1. But maybe it's the sort of sense of humor you might expect from a society that thought slaughtering people in arenas was perfectly acceptable mass entertainment. (Maybe that's where the cartoonists who tried to write better gags ended up...)

  2. Well, it was really only the Christians who got slaughtered en masse. And they were atheists after all. At least, from the Romans' point of view.