Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

That Funky Gibbon

When it comes to the field of history, what engages the “common reader” can be radically different from academics’ fare. Take the Roman Empire. Anyone who has read Tom Holland’s rollicking tale of the fall of the Roman Republic, Rubicon, will have been regaled with juicy tales of captured Roman governors having molten gold poured down their throat, conspiratorial huddles on the steps of the Forum, and plenty of I Claudius-style bed-hopping. In contrast, “serious” academic study is a far more sober affair, concerned with the quotidian aspects of culture and society rather than the edited highlights.For example, as if to parody the academic inclination to focus on ever-more narrow slices of experience, Matthew B. Roller’s book is entitled Dining Posture in Ancient Rome. According to Roller, whether you lay down or sat up while eating indicated a lot about your status in Roman society. However, Emily Gowers’s review (TLS December 22&29 2006) makes one suspect that some cosmic force arranged the publication of this volume simply so that a single pun can be hatched out: Praising Roller’s efforts, Gower asserts “he has modestly rewritten the Recline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”Incidentally, this review did yield another nugget: “At any rate, Leonardo da Vinci got it wrong: according to the Gospels, Jesus and the apostles ate the Last Supper lying on their sides.”