28 November 2008

A quiet swim at the baths

Public bathing was a central feature of ancient Roman society, but as this passage from Seneca the Younger's 'Letters to Lucilius' points out, the bathhouses could be hard to relax in:

The hubbub makes you sorry that you are not deaf. I hear the beefcake boys wheezing and panting as they lift their lead weights, and the masseur's hands slapping their shoulders. Then, the ball players arrive and start yelling out the score - that's usually all I can take. But there's also those people who plunge themselves into the water with an almighty splash, and that only gives a mild idea of what goes on. At least these people have normal voices. Apart from them there is the depilator who screeches for customers and never shuts up until he's stripping the hair from someone's armpits and making them yell even louder than he does. Then there's the drinks pedlar, and the sausage salesman, and all the other hucksters, each bawling in his own special way.

- Seneca the Younger (c.4 BC - AD 65), quoted in Philip Matyszak, 'Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day', London, 2007

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