quality posts: 16 Private Messages WootBot


September begins that time of the year when the months are all screwed up. Sept- means "seven," even though September is the ninth month. Ditto for Oct-ober (not the eighth), Nov-ember (not even close to the ninth) and Dec-ember (yada yada tenth month). It's all the Romans' fault, since they're the ones who threw off the count by adding January and February to the calendar around 150 BC. Ken Jennings sticks it to those toga-wearing troublemakers by debunking four bits of persistent malarkey about the Roman empire. Are you not entertained?!?

The Debunker: Did Ancient Romans Vomit in a Vomitorium?

In the popular imagination, the Romans were so debauched and hedonistic that they set aside a special room just for tossing one’s cookies at a banquet. I guess you’d be chowing down on grapes at a banquet when you’d start to notice you were feeling a little full, so you’d head out to the vomitorium, enjoy a refreshing Technicolor yawn, and then come back to the table for a second helping. We’re supposed to believe, I guess, that this was a common upper-class architectural feature, like listings for Roman houses were all “3 bd/2 bth/1 vm.” Uh, no. Let me clarify: Romans did vomit sometimes. And they did build buildings with vomitoria. But nobody ever vomited in a vomitorium. Not on purpose, anyway.

According to Seneca, Roman banquets sometimes got so crazy that a slave was assigned to crouch under the table mopping up the mess whenever a guest felt the need to deliver street pizza. (I can’t believe I never saw one of these guys on Dirty Jobs.) But note that the liquid burp was a not-infrequent custom at the dinner table, which would seem to make a second room unnecessary. Vomitoria, despite their name, were not anterooms to banquet halls. They were actually passageways that opened onto the seating areas of a Roman amphitheater or coliseum. They were so named, I guess, because of their resemblance to throats spewing crowds of spectators into the stands. Eww.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits Aldous Huxley as the first writer to misunderstand the purpose of a vomitorium. (In his novel Antic Hay, he imagines that Petronius Arbiter, the famed party animal who wrote the Satyricon, would have had a vomitorium in his house. Which is not true, unless Petronius lived in a stadium.) It’s easy to see how the mistake got made, but don’t be fooled! The next time you’re in a real vomitorium—heading to your seat at a ball game, perhaps—please do not vomit. Your fellow fans will appreciate the courtesy.

Quick Quiz: What syrup, made from the roots of a Brazilian herb, was once a common emetic, used to induce vomiting?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.


quality posts: 31 Private Messages curtise

That would be syrup of ipecac, which I didn't realise until today isn't something that is still in use.
I vaguely recall being threatened with ipecac if I ever ate anything from mom and dad's medicine cabinet as a child.


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ejcrotty

Didn't the Romans add July ( for Julius Caesar ) and August ( for Augustus Caesar ) , not January and February??? Or does that need debunking as well???


quality posts: 1 Private Messages jwlynn64

Bought some syrup of ipecac about a year or two ago. They still sell it in case your kid eats something that they should not have.


quality posts: 2 Private Messages squirrrl
ejcrotty wrote:Didn't the Romans add July ( for Julius Caesar ) and August ( for Augustus Caesar ) , not January and February??? Or does that need debunking as well???

Julius used to be quintilis and August used to be sextilis until julius and augustus named those months after themselves.

There also used to be a leap month named intercalaris because all the months have fewer days than we do now. That's why we have the leap day at the end of february because intercalaris used to be before march.

Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome circa 700 BC, added the two months Januarius "January" and Februarius "February" in 700 B.C.

The more you know...


quality posts: 9 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

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They still sell Ipecac? Awesome! And here I've been using Clamato like a chump.

There's a pretty good joke in a few early Kurt Vonnegut stories where the ENIAC-like supercomputer is named EPICAC...


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dhkendall

Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipecac goes vomiting ...