Monday, January 02, 2006

Roman Anglo-Saxon jobs

Roman house slave (puke collector)
OK, so 'puke collector' in itself isn't an actual job but part of being a Roman house slave. Those debauched Romans love a good party, and as a slave, your job is to act like an invisible butler and provide a suitable environment in which such posh citizens can relax. However, once they get going, it's also your job to do the clearing up.
The Roman season of Saturnalia (which Christmas will eventually replace) is about to start so you're going to be busy. The seasonal celebrations are centred on heavy-duty feasting of rich foods and gargantuan drinking sessions with wine and wheat beer. While the guests gorge themselves until they almost burst and then collapse into piles of slithering bodies in an almighty orgy, your job is to keep the floor clean.
In the morning, when they are all nursing headaches that feel like Vesuvius on a bad day, you'll be mopping up pools of sick and Saturn knows what else.
But if you don't, there could be hell to pay. Here's what a character in a play by the Roman humorist Plautus has to say about his slaves:
Get out, come, out with you, you rascals. Kept at a loss and bought at a loss. Not one of you dreams minding your business, or being a bit of use to me, unless I carry on thus! [He strikes his whip around on all of them.] Never did I see men more like asses than you! Why, your ribs are hardened with the stripes. If one flogs you, he hurts himself the most. [Aside.] Regular whipping posts are they all, and all they do is to pilfer, purloin, prig, plunder, drink, eat and abscond! Oh! they look decent enough, but they're cheats in their conduct.
Yule log feller
Ever chopped down a tree? How about a massive tree the likes of which belong to legend, the biggest mother of a tree in the whole forest, so big that the whole family holding hands can barely make a ring around its monstrous trunk. You have? Oh great, then this is the job for you.
To help with the celebrations of the Viking festival of Jólablót – when the borders between the Nine Worlds are at their thinnest … – you have been selected to march into the heart of the darkest forest in midwinter and set about hewing the biggest piece of wood you can find. The tree must be so big that the villagers can burn it for the full 12 days of feasting.
A bunch of burly warriors may be on hand to help swing some axes and provide some company. Of course, no safety equipment will be provided, but we do advise you to rub a few hefty gobs of goose fat into your hands after a day's work to prevent unsightly calluses.


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