Our tour guide in Rome was sadly misinformed. Get this- according to her the ancient Romans didn?t speak English, they spoke Latin!
Tsk, tsk, tsk! Silly girl.
So, what about Cleopatra?? I asked as we moved amongst the ruined temples, arches, and remnants of antiquated old buildings in the Roman Forum.
Prego?? said the young woman.
Cleopatra,? I said again. ?You know, with Richard Burton and violet-eyed Elizabeth Taylor??
Ah, the film?
Uh-huh, it was in English.
As was the movie, Caesar and Cleopatra…
And Anthony and Cleopatra…
And Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiator, Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, and every actor who ever performed Shakespeare?s Julius Caesar, not to mention Monty Python’s Life of Brian.?
Life of Brian! I have seen this DVD many, many times!
In English or Latin??
Ah ha! So you know that they all spoke in English too, I said, I mean except for the part where Brian was tagging a Roman wall with graffiti, only to be caught by a Roman soldier who made him correct his graffiti for using the wrong tense??
Si, si, si! And the phrase he was writing on the wall was in Latin, yes?? she said thinking she had me.
Yes, I reluctantly agreed, but…?
Much like what you see here on the Arch, she added pointing up to the 2,000 year old marble Arco di Tito, the Arch of Titus where what looked to be a very old advertisement for a used chariot dealership was carved into its well-weathered face. I thought I recognized the words: PRIUS AUDI SCION SATURN, LEXUS IV x IV- MAKEUS OFFERUS.
I shrugged and looked off in the distance at the Colosseum and found my answer. Okay,? I said, so maybe they wrote in Latin but they spoke in English!
You make joke, yes? It was Latin!
I grinned, nodded and played along. I had Latin friends and they spoke Spanish and not once while I was watching any of the movies about ancient Rome did I hear a Centurion refer to Caesar as Jefe…
Okay then, what about Gladiator with Russell Crowe??
I loooove Ruzzel Ca-row! squealed the tour guide in delight, clapping her hands.
Did you love his English accent??
No, he is Australian.?
Close enough, but you get my point. He spoke English in Gladiator just like the rest of the actors in the movie, just as do the actors in the HBO series Rome- even the Italian actors!
And the series I think is shot here in Rome?
It is, so perhaps you are right,? she laughed as we came to a mutual understanding.
To be fair she had offered us a few historical facts of interest along the way. Like the word arena, for instance, that she explained came from the Latin word harena for sand, the substance that was spread over the floor of the Colosseum to soak up the blood from the games. That made sense since I’m reasonably certain the Romans probably didn’t have a word for Bounty paper towels.
Also, we were informed that the word Caesar in Italy isn’t pronounced, “See-zer.” It’s pronounced “Ches-saw-ray,” and that it may not have been pronounced either way by the Romans themselves. “Some scholars say that the actual pronunciation of the Emperor’s family nickname was closer to the German word Kaiser,” explained our tour guide. “His clan name was Julia.”
She went on to say that the name Caesar that we associate today with the Roman Emperors is said to have come from
A: a relative who was born by C-section (from the Latin word Caedo meaning “to cut,”
B: a relative who was killed in battle by an elephant (elephant being Caesai in Moorish),
C: a relative who had a thick head of hair (from the Latin word Caesaries),
D: that a relative or Julius had bright grey eyes (from the Latin Oculis Caesiis) or, possibly
E: my theory that it was from a conversation overheard at the Ides of March Bistro: “You take a stab at the Caesar salad?”
“Ate two, Brutus!”
Caesar, by the way, became Kaiser in German, Czar in Russian, and Tsar or Tzar in Bulgarian and Serbian. No longer in popular use, the one-word moniker and its variations have been relegated to the past.
Future generations I’m sure will similarly debate the origin, meaning and historical significance of the names: Paris Hilton, the Beastie Boys, and Scooter Libby, I added!
“You have fun with history, I think,” said our tour guide at the end of our walking tour.
I smiled and nodded. “It’s much easier at times to understand than the present,” I said and then tipped her. I always tip good tour guides because I’m too lazy to do the research myself and because they often have to put up with people like me. No easy feat!
Oh and one more thing…
When you said the Goths and Vandals sacked Rome??
Was it paper or plastic??