Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ancient Road Rage

Doing any traveling this summer on vacation? The word "travel" has a common etymology with the word "travail." Travel in Roman days seemed torturous at times (as related in the textbook Latin for Americans I, Glimpses of Roman Life: Roman Roads, p. 39). This excerpt from Archaeology Odyssey 02:01 produced by the Biblical Archaeology Society offers an illustration by which you could compare your own summer jaunts.

In the spring of 37 B.C., the Roman poet Horace set off down the Appian Way, the grand, ancient highway beginning in Rome and stretching some 350 miles to the southeastern coast of Italy.

For 17 days Horace and his companions negotiated the perils of travel in the ancient world: rainy days, sleepless nights, questionable food, poor accommodations. Horace suffered from an upset stomach and inflamed eyes, not to mention the trickery of a local girl, who had promised the poet a midnight rendezvous. Horace recounts these misfortunes in one of his Satires, the fifth poem of Book I.

I left lofty Rome on a trip, stopping first at Aricia, At a quiet little inn. My companion was Heliodorus, by far the best Greek rhetorician alive. From Aricia we pushed on to Forum Appi, a place jammed with boatmen And sharp innkeepers. This forty miles took us two days. Took us slowpokes two days: real travelers make it in one. The Appian Way is less rough if you take it in stages. At Forum Appi I found the water so foul I made war on my stomach and waited fuming while friends Finished their dinner.

Now night was preparing to spread Her darkness on earth, to station her stars in the heavens. And boatmen and slaves began cursing each other to pieces. . . .

Never take a night boat, reader. You spend the first hour paying fares and hitching up the mule. Then fearless mosquitoes and resonant swamp frogs keep sleep safely at bay. A sailor and passenger, soused with cheap wine, compete in songs to their absent girl friends. The mule driver finally drops off to sleep: the lazy driver lets the mule browse, fastens the rope to a rock, stretches out, and snores.

Dawn was already at hand before we observed That the boat hadn’t budged an inch. Then a hot-tempered tourist leaped ashore, cut a switch from a willow, lit into the mule And the driver, drumming on their domes and their bones.

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