Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Working IX to V

Working IX to V: Orgy Planners, Funeral Clowns, and Other Prized Professions of the Ancient World
© 2007 Vicki Leon
312 pages

This amusingly-titled volume caught my eye more than a few times in the past, and with an itching to read something about Rome, I decided to delve into it. The book contains over 160 job descriptions from Greece and Rome, sorted into general categories ("Law and Disorder" contains sections on bureaucrats, policemen, bodyguards, and mercenaries, for instance). Occasionally Leon uses one particular individual from history to explore an occupation's duties and hazards. Cicero's faithful slave Tiro stars in the section devoted to scribes. The descriptions are laced with humor, often ribald. Leon is a casual author, constantly making sly jokes to the reader Illustrations abound, and more than a few of them sport humorous captions.

Working IX to V is immensely detailed, and as every section is individually listed in the table of contents I can see the book being useful to someone writing historical fanfiction, though I suppose a for-profit author would prefer a more standard handbook.  I enjoyed the book:  although more pedestrian jobs are included (tax collectors and mercenaries), Leon delights in telling the reader about history's bizarre and revolting occupations. Her book will considerably enrich the way I think about daily life in Rome, as the details go beyond just specific occupations. Every section contains information on how that job fit into the overall scheme of things, and I learned all manner of odd details. For instance, blue-blooded Roman ladies had specific slaves to carry around their shoes when they paid social visits: different shoes were required for different occasions. Apparently, wearing sandals with one's toga was a major faux pas to the Romans. Playwrights were also expected to take active hands in performing and finding actors for their plays in Greece.

For information on daily life in Rome, particularly concerning occupations, this book will serve and amuse amply.

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