What did the Romans do for education? And why did they have to scrape the dirt off after bathtime?

Why did Roman parents send their child to school with a slave? How did the Greeks and Romans learn each other’s languages? Any why did the Romans need a shower and a scrape after a visit to the bathhouse? The answers and other priceless insight into daily life in the Roman Empire are revealed by the first English translation of Europe’s most ancient children’s book.


The Colloquia of the HermeneumataPseudodositheana is the work of a leading classicist – Professor Eleanor Dickey of the University of Reading. The Colloquia were manuals written to help ancient Greeks and Romans get around in each other’s languages. They tell of a day in the life of a schoolchild and his teacher as well as containing numerous dialogues that shed light on daily life in the Roman Empire.

While much has obviously changed, some scenarios in the book will ring a bell now; from the daily tasks of shopping and banking, to a telling off for a husband returning home late a little the worse for wear.

Professor Dickey’s quest led her to libraries and museums across Europe to read medieval manuscripts and to decipher papyri. Professor Dickey then translated the original Latin and Greek text into English so that it could be used by a wider community.

In the process, her work has cleared up a mystery which has confounded historians – how Romans coped with the fact that the water in their public baths was often filthy.

Professor Dickey reveals: “After a visit to the baths, the Romans should not have needed more cleaning – or so you would think. But after bathing in several different tubs of water the characters in the colloquia take a shower and scrape themselves before drying with towels. It turns out the water at most bathhouse facilities was rarely changed, possibly only once a month. So a shower and a scrape were needed to rinse the dirty bath water off.”

The first volume of The Colloquia of the HermeneumataPseudodositheana was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012; the second volume was published on Thursday 12 February. The book combines an English translation of original ‘colloquia’ that Professor Dickey compiled from ancient manuscripts and books during a four-year project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, with a ground-breaking study of their origins.





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