Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vita Romana

Some time periods and civilizations are more interesting than others, and I personally think the Romans were an incredibly interesting group of people. And since people continue to create books, movies and TV series set in Roman times, I feel I'm not alone. We have a new book that looks at the various aspects of living in the Roman Empire. Roman Life: 100 B.C. to A.D. 200 by John R. Clarke focuses on the heyday of the Empire, when things were really exciting (from Spartacus to Mark Anthony to Nero). He breaks the book into general themes - work, bathing, taverns, religion, death, dinner parties - and then in each section he provides the information in a variety of ways. There are beautiful photos of statues, mosaics and ruins. There are also digital reconstructions of what rooms and buildings really looked like (based on the pieces that have survived to present day). But one of the most intriguing things Clarke has done is to include little novellas about Romans going about their daily business. For instance, the chapter about Shows focuses on Marcus Holconius Rufus - high counselor of Pompeii - who has financed a theater performance for the entire city. As Rufus goes through all the ceremonies and events of the big holiday, the reader learns how theaters worked: who paid for them, how they were set up, what they looked like and what was performed. Both instructive and entertaining, this book is perfect for anyone who would like to know more about Roman life without hacking their way through dry, footnoted text. It also includes a glossary, a bibliography for further reading, and an interactive CD-ROM that lets users choose an identity (slave, guest, client, etc.) and wander around the House of Vettii in Pompeii. Very fun.

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