Roman cities in the pre-underwear age

A little on Roman cities in the pre-underwear age, as I am immersed in finishing The Time of Troubles. Although public baths had toilets, albeit shared in common, and although the most lavish peristyle house might have had a latrine next to the kitchen, most places did not. So people would relieve themselves on the street, in alleys, on stairways of houses, a corner of the bathhouse or even on tombs. A walk along the street would encounter many piles of fresh and not so fresh bowel movements. Apart from the smells and sights, a number of writings indicate how common this was.

You read to me as I stand, you read to me as I sit, You read to me as I run, you read to me as I shit (Martial, Ep 3.44).

And in various cities the following notices were scrawled:

Shit with comfort and good cheer, so long as you do not do it here (Pompeii).

If you shit against the walls and we catch you, you will be punished (Pompeii).

Twelve gods and goddesses and Jupiter, the biggest and the best, will be angry with whoever urinates or defecates here (Rome, Baths of Titus).

Whoever refrains from littering or pissing or shitting on this street may the goddesses in general favour. If he does not do so let him watch out (Salona).


How heavy is your morning dump?

This question has troubled me for some time, given my short intestine and oft-noted enjoyment of food. So a simple scientific experiment: stand on the scales first thing in the morning; ponder the universe on the porcelain throne for a while; return to scales.

The result after a rather modest purge on this morning: 0.4 kg.

So I estimate that my regular elephant dump should exceed 1kg. Can’t wait to check tomorrow morning.

Anti-futurism, diplomacy, shit and grog: Lenin’s management style

I have one more night of reading Lenin, the last section of volume 45, which is full of telegrams and telephone conversations as Lenin rapidly worked himself to death in the new Soviet state.

First, in response to Lunacharsky’s championing of futurism, Lenin writes:

Comrade Pokrovsky:

Again and again, I request you to help us fight futurism, etc

Could you find some reliable anti-futurists?

CW 45: 139.

On the best form of diplomacy in relation to the British:

I think we should make a strict application of the ‘eye for an eye’ rule to British representatives. Pedantically: treat them just as badly and a little worse.

CW 45: 289.

On shit:

The fact is that our Party suffers terribly from the abominable shit of our administrative apparatus.

CW 45: 143.

And grog – in relation to my discussion of ‘spiritual booze’:

Comrade Kiselyov, Chairman of the Narrow C.P.C.

I wrote you concerning A. P. Smirnov’s memo that I resolutely object to any waste of potatoes on making alcohol, and said that alcohol could and should be made of peat.

Take all measures to accelerate in every way the starting of the experimental plant to make alcohol from peat— the former Givartovsky yeast plant in Moscow.

I strongly object to Smirnov’s proposal that we should pay the peasants in alcohol for their potatoes. If Smirnov insists, let him take the matter to the C.C.

CW 45, p. 324.

Quote of the day: Hegel, pearls and shit-heaps

One of the great consistent themes in Lenin’s works is agriculture, peasants, ‘down-to-earth’ parables and analogies … and farmyard shit:

Hegelian dialectics – that pearl which those farmyard cocks [insert names of philosophers here] could not pick out from the shit-heap of absolute idealism.

Lenin, Collected Works, vol 14, p. 243.

Defining ideology

As is well known, Marxism defines ideology in two, not always compatible ways: critically, as false consciousness, and functionally, as a necessary component of economic and political existence (Lenin was keen on this sense).

But let us stay with the critical definition, in which ideology is bad for you since it screens the real source of your troubles. The proper response is ideological suspicion. In order to gain a hands-on experience of how ideological suspicion works, undertake the following simple experiment: go and take a shit and then spray with one of those toilet sprays with different scents: apple, pear, fruit of the forest, lavender and so on. You have successfully replicated ideology as false consciousness, for all the mist from the spray-can does is mask the smell of your crap. In order to identify the problem, you need to get rid of that can of lavender spray so you can smell what is really going on. Only then can you can solve it properly. So also with ideological suspicion.