Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vomitorium: Fact or Fiction

Today I was sitting my wing back armchair reading Lewis Mumford's The City in History and generally pretending to be scholarly when I came across a section in Mr. Mumford's book describing the Roman vomitorium: the a room where gluttonous Romans went to purge themselves so they could eat even more. Say what?

After hours of studious research at the local public library (OK, fine, a two second search on wikipedia), I uncovered the shocking truth: Lewis Mumford was wrong. And there are even whole papers written about it from the American Philological Association. Apparently, although Romans did occasional vomit after a meal (and really, who hasn't?), the vomitorium as Mumford describes them did not exist.

But that doesn't mean the word doesn't mean anything. Vomitoria are passages built into theatres that allow spectators to "spew" out after a performance. I've seen instances of these not necessarily at modern theatres, but at large sports stadiums. I just never knew they had such a crude and awesome name.

This whole exchange leaves me pondering how easy it is to disseminate and multiply incorrect historical information. And also how disappointing it can be sometimes to learn the truth.

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