Last evening I participated in debate on behalf of The University of Queensland's Classics and Ancient History Society against another society, the Medieval and Early Modern Society. The topic was "Who threw better parties, Roman emperors or Medieval and early modern European rulers?" Unfortunately, my team lost (if it had been judged acclamation instead if judges we might have had them), but all speakers entertained our audience. My talk was accompanied by a written disclaimer: "If you are sensitive to certain ideas, you might find Yvette's speech offensive. It is meant to be funny. lighten up!"
So please read this as a comic piece. I am not trying to be offensive. It was written to make people laugh and deride the celebratory efforts of European kings.
Please excuse the mixed font, Blogger is having fun driving me nuts!
While my colleagues here have provided examples of how awesome the parties held by Roman emperors were, I would like to discuss the cause of this.
And it’s obvious – Religion!
It isn’t the fault of European kings that their parties sucked – they were working under a handicap – imposed by God.
Christianity – the biggest creator of wowsers in history.
When I first thought about this, I was going to blame the Pope – Pontifex Maximus. All these kings who weren’t the head of religion like Roman emperors were. Let’s face it, it is damn difficult to accuse someone who holds the highest priesthood in the empire of throwing a party so debauched that the gods disapproved. You might say it well after that emperor died, but at that moment, you shut up!
Christian rulers weren’t in charge of religion until much later. How can you throw a great party when some usually old party-pooper with red shoes and a gaudy ring and hat is sitting on a throne in Rome or Avignon is judging you, and threatening you with a ban from sitting in a church every Sunday participating in a cannibalistic ritual involving cheap wine and a stale biscuit?
So I was thinking this line of old farts were responsible until Ithought that European kings can buy decent wine and get fresh biscuits. I was thinking of three kitchens devoted to confectionary in Hampton Court Palace and Henry VIII.
Yes, he got into a fight over women, and authority, and women, and tithes, and women – did I mention the women? - with the Pope and told him to shove it. Yet despite his kitchens and his women, he still didn’t have great parties.
Because God is a wowser!
And the Christian God has spoilt everyone’s parties. The Saxons had great parties. You can tell by Sutton Hoo. Has anyone here partied so hard at a funeral that at the end you buried a boat? No. Why? GOD.
Sure you see some nice burials in churches, but no one got that drunk. Why? Because it’s a church. You can’t party in a church. Why do you think you don’t hold wedding receptions in churches?
Consider Saxon funerals and realise all non-Christian parties were awesome. And the only decent Medieval parties were held by a miniscule number of pagans.
Now let’s look at Roman religion.
There were no crappy wine, stale biscuits or ick factor. I don’t know about you, but if I was told I was about to consume a god, I’d expect it to taste better.
In Rome, when you attended a ritual sacrifice, it’s a BBQ out the front of the temple as often as not. If you were really lucky it was a mixed grill of beef, lamb and pork, with wine and honey cakes. And the holidays! While the kings of Europe were enjoying a day on their knees, in prayer, not fun, Rome’s emperors invited the whole city to party at the races.
Consider Melbourne on Melbourne Cup Day – almost 100 days a year! That’s an awesome party!
And let’s consider the gods themselves. For example – Liber Pater – Father Freedom. Sure the Christian god allows a sip a week, Liber Pater says sure – get smashed!
And Jupiter – while the Christian god managed to knock up one woman, once, Jupiter was tapping whatever he could lay abovine penis or golden shower on. Jupiter isn’t going to judge you for a great party – he wants an invite! Rome’s emperors partied in their homes, in front of temples, in the theatres, the Colosseum, the race track. They partied in the streets and brought out the statues of gods to party with them. They partied in trees and caves, they’d form little religious groups and party in the forest.
Kings weren’t that lucky. For all of Henry VIII’s defiance, he still couldn’t chow down on BBQ beef on Fridays in front of a church.
How can you organise a great party “When thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife”?
It was at a party where Octavian, later first Roman emperor, picked up Livia who was someone else’s wife and pregnant at the time. It was this relation which was the rock on the Julio-Claudian dynasty was built, which was the foundation for the success of the Imperial Roman system, which allowed the best, most debauched, fun, awesome, and most of all GUILTLESS parties.
You bet Roman Emperors threw better parties – the entire system was founded on them.
Whereas European kings based their leadership on the power allowed them by a wowser God.