I’m delighted to welcome a guest writer to the blog on this special day – G Petrieus Ruso, Medicus.
When I first asked him to say a few words about Saturnalia, he was characteristically reticent and referred me to his friend Valens, claiming that “He knows more about parties than I do.”
Indeed, Valens thought the article was a splendid idea. Unfortunately he was on his way out to dinner and didn’t have time to write anything, but he assured me Ruso would be secretly pleased to help. I have to say the good doctor managed to hide his pleasure very successfully, but I’m grateful to him for taking the time to write this piece. It’s reproduced in full below.
Ruso: I’ll do my best here, but I don’t think it’s really what the editor was hoping for. Readers might like to know that I offered to write her a piece on “Interesting injuries sustained by drunks,” or “the consequences of persistent overeating,” or “how one celebration can be stretched out for seven days despite official attempts to curb it.” I also offered “deciding how much cash to give your dependants so that they can buy presents”. All to be followed by the usual warning from the Vigiles about the dangers of unsupervised candles.
She wasn’t keen on any of them. Apparently twenty-first century people can work this sort of thing out for themselves. What people want to know, she said, is what the Romans did that was different. Perhaps I would like to write about the relief of flinging off the toga for casual dress? The cries of “Io Saturnalia”? The brief exchange of status, whereby slaves are waited upon by their masters? The sharing of candles and cheap pottery gifts?
The problem, as I tried to explain to her, is that no sensible person wears a toga anyway if it can possibly be avoided. It’s hot, cumbersome, and prone to sliding off in all directions. So in that respect it’s Saturnalia almost all year round in the Petreius household.
The cries of “Io Saturnalia!” can indeed be heard throughout our streets, although during the late watches of the night the response can vary from a cheerful echo to suggestions about where the revelers can go and what they should do when they get there.
As for the exchange of status: my wife, who as friends may know was once a slave herself, insists that this an important tradition to maintain. Unfortunately neither of us has the skills required to prepare a suitable feast. Obviously I’ve always had more important things to do than study the art of cooking. Curiously, it seems so has my wife. In this respect I fear we’re a sad disappointment to the few staff we’ve managed to acquire over the years. Still, it does allow them to take full advantage of the other freedom on offer: that of being rude to one’s master.
With regard to the candles and the pottery gifts – I suspect most readers already know about the last-day-of-Saturnalia rush to the shops in the hope of finding bargains. And it’s clear from the above picture that the editor herself is no stranger to cheap pottery gifts. This offering was found in a charity shop by friends who had heard her complaints about the local badgers wrecking her garden vegetable patch. See how they’ve thoughtfully given the bears’ faces a personal touch with tipp-ex and black pen?
24 thoughts on “Io Saturnalia! – Ruso speaks.”
🤗😊🤗🍷🍷 Thank you Ruth. I hope your Saturnalia is everything you hope.
Thank you Tony! Best wishes to you and yours over the festive season. Neither Ruso nor I can work out how to do those emoji things so please imagine a few suitable ones here:
Thanks. Have a good time, and I hope your slaves will be nice to you this year.
Thank you Jonathan. Best wishes to you from Downie Towers, the Petreius household and all the staff.
Io Saturnalia indeed! Mind you it is so cold here (-20 Celsius) that wrapping myself in a toga sounds delightful.
The very best to you and yours (including caroling badgers)
– 20? That’s terrible, Lisa! Yes, definitely stick with the togas, and ask the slaves to stoke up the underfloor heating before you swap jobs. Io Saturnalia!
Ha, ha! Carina Mitela says. The two of them should come to Domus Mitelarum. How good are they at charades and would Ruso like to be the Saturnalicius princeps? *laughs up her sleeve*
No? Oh well, Io Saturnalia! anyway.
Please thank Carina Mitela for her kind invitation, Alison. Unfortunately Ruso’s just found something extremely important and urgent to do that will prevent him and Tilla from travelling to Domus Mitelarum. But he hopes you all have a splendid holiday and don’t receive too many pottery badgers.
Saturnalia, bah humbug! (Scrooge and a grumpy Ruso are channeling).
Seriously, what a fun idea to have Ruso write. Loved it. Merry Christmas and Happy holidays to all.
And all good wishes to you, Paul! – Ruth (on behalf of Ruso)
Ruth, Russo has the touch. Are you worried that he might supersede you as story-teller … Should he “voice” the next adventure? Perhaps from his idol scribblings in his medical records? I can’t say. I mean he’s so busy with his practice, solving devilishly clever murders and then there’s Tilla. Perhaps he should learn how to cook. Heaven knows Tilla never will and Saturnalia will be around again next year.
Cheers and Happy Christmas,
Jamie, ex-pat from across the Pond.
Salve Jamie. This is Ruso typing as our author is busy writing Christmas cards – thus demonstrating yet another reason why newfangled religions should be avoided.
I’m honoured at your suggestion that I should pen the next book. I’d certainly crack on with it a lot faster than our author, who always seems to be off doing something else, and leaves us in dire crises for days at a time. I’m not sure that learning to cook is practical for a man of my profession, though. After all, a writing-tablet can be abandoned if there’s an urgent call to a patient. Or even taken along to fill quiet moments. Whereas a man abandoning a half-cooked dinner could potentially come home to find his house burned down. Better to risk the annual disappointment, I think. And to live in hope that one day Tilla… no, perhaps not.
Anyway, to you and yours,
Dear Ruso. Do you seriously think you can produce an account of your adventures more swiftly than Ruth Downie? Don’t you recall your attempts to produce a ‘Concise Guide to Military First Aid’ when you were first in Deva. Your drafts were disorganised and incoherent, and you cast them aside. Get back to the day job and, if you are currently in Gaul, enjoying [sic] the company of your brother’s family, and rely upon Ruth to continue as biographer.
This is Ruth, reasserting control of the keyboard while Ruso is busy helping a patient who’s been overindulging in the Saturnalia spirit.
Thank you so much for your wise words. Fond as I am of Ruso, I really don’t think he should take full responsibility for his own (and Tilla’s) fate as well as supporting all his patients and being nominally in charge of his somewhat unconventional household. Not to mention tracking down criminals.
Putting a book together is a complicated business and as you point out, so far he hasn’t shown a great deal of aptitude. Still, I wouldn’t like to discourage him completely. None of us is born knowing how to write books. In fact his early fumblings bear a truly remarkable resemblance to my own. But I’m sure once he’s read your message he’ll agree that we ought to leave things as they are.
I really enjoyed some of Ruso’s mail from his family. Now that Tilla’s become literate, maybe they will send messages to each other. Or maybe Tilla will author a “Concise Guide to Dealing With Romans”.
Now that WOULD make interesting reading… Although of course most of her fellow-Britons would need somebody literate to read it aloud to them.
It comes every year
To welcome in Winter
With times of good cheer.
Eat, drink and make merry,
And watch snowflakes fall
While wishing a Very Good
New Year to All.
If Saturnalia’s wine
Makes those Romans drink deep,
Then perhaps it is time
To go stealing their sheep.
Best Yule Wishes!
Thank you Barbara – and all good wishes for Saturnalia to you and yours!
…and who gave Tilla that set of clay panninins for cooking coddled dormouse?
Whoever it was, they were wasting their time!
Oops…should have been “pannikins”. But you’re right. Doubt they’ll get much use. Maybe she can swap them for a scalpel or two.
I am deeply concerned for the household slaves who will have to eat Tilla’s cooking during Saturnalia.
But perhaps she will improve
Fortunately it’s only once a year, Patrick!