Monday, 13 April 2015

Underwear at night time?

In a rather recent article, Neil Adkin asked 'Did the Romans Keep Their Underwear on in Bed?' (The Classical World 93 [2000], 619-20) and admits that, unfortunately, we have very scant evidence to answer this question. 'The Romans, unlike the Greeks, were prude' (ibid. 619 n. 7), if we follow what archaeology gives us, yet, there are a few hints in texts that are of some help. Martial 11.104.7-8 writes: 'a breast band and tunic and opaque band hide you, but no girl lies naked enough for me'. A. C. Dionisotti ('From Ausonius' Schooldays? A School-Book and Its Relatives', JRS 72 [1982], 83-125), concluded from Martial that 'night-clothes as such were not then current, but retaining (a little) underwear probably was'. Rightly, one did not trust this suggestion too much. And yet, Malcolm Heath ('Was Homer a Roman?, in F. Cairns and M. Heath [eds], Papers of the Leeds International Latin Seminar, vol. 10 [Leeds, 1998], 47-48; the passage of Eustathius in question is his commentary on Od. 1.121) pointed to Eustathius that a night sleep being fully naked 'was one of the Greek customs mentioned by Homer which was supposedly transmitted to Italy by colonists from Greece' (N. Adkin, p. 619-20). Adkin himself pointed to a wonderful story, told by Jerome (4th. century AD):
'Once, when a sudden earthquake in this province in the middle of the night awoke us all out of our sleep, you, the most prudent and the wisest of men, began to pray without putting your clothes on, and recalled to our minds the story of Adam and Eve in Paradise; they, indeed, when their eyes were opened were ashamed, for they saw that they were naked, and covered their shame with the leaves of trees; but you, who were stripped alike of your shirt and of your faith, in the sudden terror which overwhelmed you, and with the fumes of your last night's booze still hanging about you, showed your wisdom by exposing your nakedness in only too evident a manner to the eyes of the brethren. Such are the adversaries of the Church; these are the leaders who fight against the blood of the martyrs; here is a specimen of the orators who thunder against the Apostles, or, rather, such are the mad dogs which bark at the disciples of Christ.'
Jessica van 't Westeinde (Durham) who drew my attention to this passage, is working on Jerome, and it is clear that Jerome is talking about a southern province, hence Adkin's conclusion that we could draw from Jerome that Romans did not wear anything at night time, seems to neglect the temperature people are facing in Bethlehem or Jerusalem (although nights can be very cold in desert areas) at night might be different from what people experienced in say Rome, Milan, Bordeaux or York. Nevertheless, it is interesting that with the scant evidence we have, sleeping naked seems to have been known whereas no evidence to the contrary, as far as we know, has yet come to light.