Tag Archives: Ancient Rome

Fruit Symbolism in Antiquity

Posted on 02. Sep, 2015 by in Roman culture

Produce in ancient, agrarian times played a key role in the lives of all. It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables over the centuries had acquired varying symbolic tones and divine affiliations. Here, listed, are some examples of the most prominent mythological and everyday appearances as well as symbolic meanings ascribed to produce in antiquity.



European Pear branch with two pears. Courtesy of WikiCommons

European Pear branch with two pears. Courtesy of WikiCommons

The name pear is derived from Latin pera or pira. Despite carrying generally favorable affiliations, the pear is curiously absent from myth. The pear was listed as one of the “gifts of the gods” in Homer’s (9th century BC) epic poem, The Odyssey and was considered sacred to Juno, Venus, and Pomona. Pliny the Elder (23-79), in his Historia Naturalis, wrote on several types of pears. Interestingly one type was called the Tiberiana “because Emperor Tiberius was very fond of them.”



Fruit of Punica granatum split open to reveal the clusters of juicy, gem-like seeds on the inside. Courtesy of WIkiCommons

Fruit of Punica granatum split open to reveal the clusters of juicy, gem-like seeds on the inside. Courtesy of WIkiCommons


The pomegranate was popular in antiquity. The fruit and its seeds were often associated with female fertility, and was considered sacred to Juno and Venus. Contrastingly, the overwhelming symbolism often and still attached to the pomegranate would be its reputation as “the fruit of the dead”. One of the most famous myths including the pomegranate is the story of Proserpina and Pluto. After seeing Proserpina, Pluto stole her away to the underworld and from her mother Ceres. Ceres’ distress of losing her daughter caused the land to wither and grow cold. It was a rule of the Fates that if one would eat in the underworld they would be kept there for eternity. Before her rescue, Prosperpina ate seeds from a pomegranate and unknowingly condemned herself to stay in the underworld every year for the time that would be Fall and Winter. As a result of this myth the pomegranate is one of the foods prohibited in the Eleusinian Mystery initiations.





Fresh figs cut open showing the flesh and seeds inside. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

Fresh figs cut open showing the flesh and seeds inside. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

A popular fruit in both Greece and Rome, the fig took on generally favorable associations as being sacred to Ceres and Bacchus, and representing female fertility and femininity due to the appearance of the inside of the fruit. In myth, the fig takes on a contrasting role from the pomegranate. As Ceres was searching for her daughter Proserpina a man who had received Ceres with hospitality was given the first fig tree. From this myth the pomegranate, despite its popularity, was condemned and the fig was introduced into favor.

However, like any symbol, the fig could take on a more versatile meaning in reality. Cato the Elder, in his efforts to persuade the Roman Republic to pursue a third Punic War, presented the Senate with a handful of fresh figs that had been grown in Carthage. More than show the proximity of Carthage to Rome to illustrate the threat Cato used the fig and its symbolism to call the Senate effeminate.



"Painted Pony" dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Courtesy of WikiCommons.

“Painted Pony” dry bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Courtesy of WikiCommons.

When thinking of beans in Antiquity it might be difficult to remember particular situations or affiliations they had. Beans make this list precisely because they were not only ignored, but neglected, in ancient narratives. Beans, without the solid explanation pomegranates earned, were a prohibited food of the mystery-cult of Ceres. The disrepute of beans was perpetuated by claims that ingesting them caused nightmares or insanity. Oracles wouldn’t eat beans for fear that their visions would become clouded. Both Hippocrates and Cicero avoided them. Roman priests would not even name beans since they were considered impure. Beans, as unpopular as they might’ve been in recipes, served another more civic function. When issues were up for vote in Roman courts the ballots were black or white beans. White representing innocence and black guilt. Despite the culinary neglect beans were also important enough that one of the more influential families, the Fabians, in Rome took it to their name.


A Red Apple. Courtesy of WikiCommons.

A Red Apple. Courtesy of WikiCommons.


And finally, one of the most popular examples of produce in the symbolism of antiquity would be the apple. With overwhelmingly positive affiliations it was considered sacred to Juno and Venus. The apple was symbolic of love and weddings. To throw an apple at someone was to declare your love for them. An apple caught meant the subject of your affection reciprocated. If they dodged the apple, however, it was another story.

Apples in mythology originated with the creation of the first apple tree as a wedding present from Terra for Juno, the goddess of marriage. Apples, however, were often featured in mythology in a more divine hue. Golden apples appear in a couple of particularly famous myths. The Judgment of Paris, when Paris was told to present a golden apple to the fairest among the goddesses Venus, Juno, and Minerva. Paris chose Venus and was rewarded the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy.


Game of Thrones Season Finale: A True Roman Ending

Posted on 18. Jun, 2015 by in Roman culture

Anyone that knows me and my blogger style know that I love looking at pop culture and seeing

how Ancient Rome or the Latin language resonates within it. So this week is no exception, I will

be looking at the Season Finale of Game of Thrones. Just like everyone else that watched it, I

was excited and pumped! So let’s do this…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~XXXXXXXXXXXXXSpoilers Below.XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX~~~~~~~~~~~~

So, here we go! Now while I want to talk and dish about all the fan theories concerning this

scene- let’s just focus on the scene and what it mimics from ancient history.

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Now if I was a meaner person I would have entitled this post: Et Tu Olly? But that may have made some people quite upset.


Here is the scene I want to focus on- and you guess it- Jon Snow’s “final” scene (no pun

intended). Here is a clip from HBO’s Game of Thrones:

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Now, I couldn’t have been the only one that noticed the UNCANNY resemblance to ANOTHER

famous stabbing murder-right? Julius Caesar? March 15th 44 B.C.E? In the theater of Pompey?

Here is a clip from HBO’s Rome:

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So, let me get this straight…

Jon Snow vs. Julius Caesar

1. Both men in power- Lord Commander vs. Dictator or Rex (King).


2. Both “Murdered” by stabbing (Jon Snow was stabbed by four knives before losing

consciousness & Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times.)

3. Stabbed by “friends” or “brothers.”

4. Both betrayed by one person they thought wouldn’t betray them (Jon Snow-Olly & Caesar-


Morte di Giulio Cesare ("Death of Julius Caesar"). By Vincenzo Camuccini, 1798

Morte di Giulio Cesare (“Death of Julius Caesar”). By Vincenzo Camuccini, 1798

*However, it should be noted that Olly was a show creation and not part of the books. What

other purpose does Olly serve in the series other than an empathetic reminder of the cruelty of

Wildlings AND to serve as a Brutus type figure.

5. Both considered “traitors.” Jon Snow betrayed his Night Watch and Brothers. He betrayed

their ultimate neutrality in the book. Caesar betrayed the senators by betraying the Republic.

Ironic Moments:

1. Jon Snow is ultimately betrayed by Bowen. “The final straw for Bowen (Old Pomegranate) is

when Jon reads aloud a letter sent by Ramsay Bolton and Jon states intention to march on House

Bolton at Winterfell, threatening the neutrality of the Night’s Watch. Bowen and fellow

conspirators stab Jon Snow several times” Bowen who is known as the Old Pomegranate, which

is considered a food of the Underworld and Pluto.

La Mort de César (ca. 1859–1867) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicting the aftermath of the attack with Caesar's body abandoned in the foreground as the senators exult

La Mort de César (ca. 1859–1867) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, depicting the aftermath of the attack with Caesar’s body abandoned in the foreground as the senators exult

2. Caesar’s last words is a topic of much discussion. However,Suetonius reports that it was

Greek “”καὶ σύ, τέκνον” meaning “You too, child?” I find this to be somewhat ironic, because

Brutus is not a child. Thus, this term child must be a term of endearment or Caesar’s thoughts on


2a. For Jon, he does not utter last words- but it is not hard to imagine that he thought something

similar with Olly delivering the final blow.


This, as always, was fun to write and explore. If you would like to see some other comparisons I have found between Ancient Rome and GoT (Game of Thrones) here.

Monthly Latin Spotlight Text: 12 Caesars

Posted on 06. May, 2015 by in Latin Language

Salvete Omnes!

Welcome to the second Monthly Latin Spotlight Text Post! By this I mean to summarizes a text of Latin in all its major facets and include an excerpt from the text with Latin and English. This week I thought we would spotlight one of the most interesting, juicy, and somewhat gossipy book from Roman Antiquity.


Gaius Suetonius Tranqullus

Name: The Twelve Caesars
Also Known As: De vita Caesarum (Latin: About (or On) the Life of the Caesars)
Date: 121 AD
Author(s):  Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus or simply referred to as Suetonius
Type of Text: Historic, Opinion Piece &  Gossip/
Genre: Biography
Twelve Caesars.

Twelve Caesars.

The book contains twelve biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire. These 11 other emperors include: Augustus, Tiberius. Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.
Type of Latin: 
Classical Latin
Distinguishing Features:
The book can be described as racy, packed with gossip, dramatic and sometimes amusing. There are times the author subjectively expresses his opinion and knowledge. Regardless of the former,  The Twelve Caesars is considered very significant in antiquity and remains a primary source on Roman history.
Where is it today:
The oldest surviving text is referred to as M or Codex Memmianus (or Paris, lat. 6115), the oldest extant manuscript, written at Tours ca. 820 and apparently with no direct descendants. By direct descendants, it means that they are no other manuscripts that follow or descend from it.
In Pop Culture:
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Robert Graves, though most famous for his historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God (later dramatized by the BBC) obtained most of his material for his books from Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars. There series is currently in the works to be adapted by BBC & HBO for a new miniseries.
Courtesy of Louis le Grand & WikiCommons.

Courtesy of Louis le Grand & WikiCommons.

Incitato equo, cuius causa pridie circenses, ne inquietaretur, viciniae silentium per milites indicere solebat, praeter equile marmoreum et praesaepe eburneum praeterque purpurea tegumenta ac monilia e gemmis domum etiam et familiam et supellectilem dedit, quo lautius nomine eius invitati acciperentur; consulatum quoque traditur destinasse. (Caligula LV.III)
He used to send his soldiers on the day before the games and order silence in the neighbourhood, to prevent the horse Incitatus from being disturbed. Besides a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, purple blankets and a collar of precious stones, he even gave this horse a house, a troop of slaves and furniture, for the more elegant entertainment of the guests invited in his name; and it is also said that he planned to make him consul. (Caligula LV.III)