'Working IX to V' in Ancient Rome and Greece
If you woke up this morning dreading the workday, you might be thankful that at least you're not an ornatrix — a hairdresser slave in ancient Rome. In those days, hair treatments required ingredients like decomposed leeches, urine and pigeon droppings.
Ornatrix is just one of the professions described in Working IX to V, a new book about ancient Greece and Rome.
Author Vicki Leon tells Renee Montagne about some of the unusual professions of those ancient times, many of which were carried out by slaves.
"Slavery back then wasn't based on race, color or religious preference," Leon says. Instead, people often became slaves through war and conquest. And they were of varying backgrounds.
"It did run the gamut. And a great many of the slaves — because they were well educated, and in some cases, more educated than their masters — they tended to be given positions of great trust," Leon says.
Romans themselves were slaves to fashion. They wanted their bodies to be perfect, which led to some bizarre specialties, Leon says. "Like the polisher guru [who] took pumice and other abrasive materials and polished their clients to a rosy glow."
Or armpit pluckers, who had to have nerves of steel to deal with their shrieking clients, Leon says.
And long before the BlackBerry, there was the nomenclator. These personal assistants helped their masters remember the names and personal details of people who would come to greet them. With a whisper into his ear, a "senator or that fat cat could greet him like a long-lost friend," Leon says.
"Some particularly pretentious wealthy people had a nomenclator to keep track of all their staff."
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