Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Sponges, Moss, and Stones

P.C. Buckland, The Environmental Evidence from the Church Street Roman Sewer System (London: Council for British Archaeology, 1976) = The Archaeology of York, fasc. 14/1, p. 14:
Some support for the presence of excretory products in the system is provided by the abundant sponge spicules noted in all sub-samples taken for diatoms (A.G. Greenfield, pers. comm.). A piece of sponge mounted on a short stick formed the Roman equivalent of toilet paper, with the added advantage that it could be washed out.
Buckland goes on to cite Martial 12.47.7 and Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 70.25, both of which can be found here.

I owe this reference to Ralph Jackson, Doctors and Diseases in the Roman Empire (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), p. 51, with n. 72 on p. 189.

Jackson also (ibid.) cites D.J. Breeze, "The Roman Fort on the Antonine Wall at Bearsden," in Studies in Scottish Antiquity presented to Stewart Cruden (Edinburgh, 1984), pp. 33 ff., for the use of moss as a tersive material. Unfortunately this book is not available to me.

In addition, Jackson (p. 53, fig. 11) reproduces a photograph of a vase, with this caption:
Baby on a potty. Scene from a red-figured vase made in Athens c. 440-430 BC. The potty chair comprises a tall base surmounted by a deep bowl with leg holes. The object in the child's hand is more probably a rattle than a cleansing sponge.
The vase is identified more closely as a chous (now in London at the British Museum, 1910.6-15.4) by Kathleen M. Lynch and John K. Papadopoulos, "Sella Cacatoria: A Study of the Potty in Archaic and Classical Athens," Hesperia 75 (2006) 1-32 (on. p. 19, fig. 11). Like Jackson, Lynch and Papadopoulos identify the object in the child's hand as a rattle.

John K. Papadopoulos is also the author of another very interesting article, "Παίζω ἢ χέζω: A Contextual Approach to Pessoi (Gaming Pieces, Counters, or Convenient Wipes?)," Hesperia 71 (2002) 423-427, in which he argues that the word πεσσός (pessos, whence English pessary) might sometimes refer to clay disks used to wipe after defecation.

Papadopoulos reproduces an Athenian red-figure kylix tondo fragment by the Ambrosios Painter from Orvieto (now in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts, Res. 08.31b) showing a man wiping his bottom with what looks like a smooth stone or pessos.

In addition to passages from Aristophanes' Peace and Wealth (discussed here), Papadopoulos cites Aristophanes, Acharnians 1168-1175 for the practice of wiping with stones. I'm not convinced that the passage from Acharnians is relevant. The chorus wishes that evil might befall Antimachus (tr. anonymous):
I also hope for him a misfortune at night. That returning all-fevered from horse practice, he may meet an Orestes, mad with drink, who will crack him over the head; that wishing to seize a stone, he, in the dark, may pick up a fresh turd, hurl, miss him and hit Cratinus.
S. Douglas Olson, in his commentary on Acharnians 1168-1170, makes no mention of using stones as tersive materials in connection with this passage.

But Papadopoulos does make an intriguing and attractive suggestion, that the Athenians may have used discarded ostraka (potsherds), with the names of prominent politicians scratched on them for ostracism, to wipe after defecation.

If true, the practice reminds me somewhat of the inscriptions scratched on lead bullets used in ancient slings. See W. Kendrick Prichett, The Greek State at War, Part V (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), chap. I (Stone Throwers and Slingers in Ancient Greek Warfare), pp. 1-67, esp. pp. 49-53 on these inscriptions, which fall into the following categories: names of enemy states, names of military leaders, names of military contingents, invocations to gods, recommendations addressed to the bullets, abuse addressed to the foe, and names of the artisans who fabricated the bullets. Before I became aware of Pritchett's exhaustive treatment of the subject, I discussed ancient slings here and quoted two of these of these inscriptions, which fall into the category "recommendations addressed to the bullets," from Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, I:I am also reminded of historical novelist Kenneth Roberts (1885-1957), who despised Franklin Delano Roosevelt so much that he glued Roosevelt dimes to his ashtrays, and took delight in grinding the ashes of his cigars into the image of Roosevelt's face.

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