Monday, 10 December 2012

The Holiday Season In The Ancient World 2: Original Twelve Days of Christmas

Warning: This post does contain some nudity in painting and an erect phallus attached to crude statuette meant to represent a 2,000 year old pastry.

Well, t'is the season to start giving and receiving gifts, even for (some of ) us Atheists.  And there's no reason to think the Twelve Days of Christmas is anything original.  In Rome, pagans had been scrambling with last minute Saturnalia shopping ages before little Jesus first made his appearance in the barn.

Here are twelve interesting gift ideas from the first-century Roman poet Martial.  He has over 200 gift inspirations for that special (or hated) someone in Book 14 of his Epigrams.

Day one: A PARROT

The hell with a partridge in a pear tree.

I, a parrot, am taught by you the names of others; I have learned of myself to say, " Hail! Caesar!"

Day two: NUTS

Mixed nuts are a seasonal tradition.
Nuts seem a small risk, and not likely to be attended with much loss; yet such risk has often robbed the young of honour.
Wise words.

Day three: A TOOTH-PICK

After all those nuts, a tooth-pick is in order.  Could you imagine going through life without access to a decent tooth-pick and having eaten nuts?
A piece of Lentisc wood is best; but if that is unattainable, a quill may relieve your teeth.

Day four: AN EAR-PICK

After you're done picking your teeth, you may as well just go ahead and pick your ear.
I offer you an instrument to allay the tickling of your ear, when it annoys you with troublesome irritation.


And you thought those novelty hand-shaped back scratchers you see in dollar stores were the slightest bit novel.  Not so!  If it was an excellent gift in Martial's time why not pick one up as a stocking stuffer this year!
This hand will protect your shoulders from the bite of the troublesome flea, or from other things more offensive than a flea.


Speaking of stockings.  Some things never change about this time of year.  Looks like it's not only turtles all the way down, it's also socks all the way down.  Socks and underwear that is!  Why not buy those insufferable in-laws you're forced to get along with some goat-scented itchy socks?
These are not formed of wool, but of the beard of the fetid goat. You may bury your foot in this hairy covering.


If it's not Cabbage Patch Kids and Talking Elmo dolls one year, it's Corynthian Lizard-Slayer toys the next - and they all end up broken by New Year's day anyway!
Spare, treacherous child, the lizard which is crawling towards you. It is eager to perish by your hands.

Day eight: DUMB-BELLS

Whether it be a New Year's resolution or a not-so-subtle message from a loved one, when you get these you know it's time to beef up a little.  Martial has it right though.
Why do strong arms fatigue themselves with frivolous dumb-bells? To dig a vineyard is a worthier exercise for men.

Day nine: A SAUSAGE

Speaking of beefing up in the New Year, there is nothing more disappointing in this day and age than receiving one of those ghastly brick-like Christmas fruitcakes.  Well, just imagine receiving an old sausage.
The sausage which comes to you in mid-winter, came to me before the seven days of the Saturnalia.
Priapus pastry.
Anyone want a bite?


Forget about those marzipan potatoes and pigs from Germany.  Don't know who Priapus was?  Well, go ahead and do a Google search - just not at work or in front of the kids, please.
If you wish to appease your hunger, you may eat this Priapus of ours; even though you consume every part of it, you will not be the less pure.

Day eleven: A (MALE) CORSET

Think putting on a few pounds during the holiday season is anything new?  Nope.  This gift is sure to compress impress.
You might be able to confine your breast within a bull's hide; but what you use is too small for the purpose.


When it comes to lawyer jokes - some things really have never changed.
As you, a poor lawyer, write verses that bring you no profit, accept a heart similar to your own.

For more great first-century gift ideas, why not visit the (mostly full) list!: Martial Epigrams: Book XIV

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