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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Dinner Party from Hell 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Dinner Party from Hell  (Read 188 times)
Tacitus
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« on: July 12, 2019, 05:21:56 am »

Around 90 A.D., the twisted Emperor Domitian invited a crowd of aristocratic couples to a banquet at his palace on the Palatine Hill. When they arrived at the palace, the guests were ushered into a room that was decorated entirely in black — black marble, black paint, and black velvet drapes, lit only by single flickering funeral lamp. Each guest’s place was marked with a gravestone engraved with his or her name, and instead of the customary soft couches, they reclined on rock-hard benches. The terrified guests assumed they were about to be murdered by the emperor — a vicious predator who had cruelly executed many Senators in the past — and their fears was not assuaged by the nightmarish meal that followed. A string of naked serving boys emerged from the shadows. Painted black from head to toe, they carried food that was itself dyed black and served on black onyx plates. Only the emperor’s voice broke the sepulchral silence. He droned on monotonously about the inevitability of death and decay.

After the ghastly meal was over, the shaken guests were sent home on litters carried by Domitian’s men; most assumed they were about to be taken into back alleys and butchered by imperial assassins. But the expected deathblows did not come: the guests were safely dropped at their homes. When their nerves had partially recovered, a messenger from the emperor arrived at each guest’s door bearing an ancient gift bag — their personal gravestone from the banquet (which was crafted of fine silver), one of the expensive onyx plates they had eaten from, and one handsome waiter, now washed clean, doused in fragrant perfume, and ready to do the survivor’s bidding.

The guests were left to speculate on the real purpose of this deranged dinner; some assumed it was in honor of those who had lost their lives on the campaigns in Dacia, although simple sadism could also be the answer.
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Jay GT4
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« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2019, 06:21:46 am »

Nice party idea.  I'll try it at my next party Smiley

But is the story true?  I find tales like this are always a part of the legend that surrounds the despised Emperors likeTiberius, Caius, Nero, and Domitian.  Some part of it is probably true but with each telling it gets more and more outrageous.  Or it could be entirely true. We'll never know will we?
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« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2019, 08:37:19 am »

Our ancient authority for this anecdote is Cassius Dio, according to the following citation from a Google link:

The account by the Roman writer Cassius Dio provides a good description:

"On another occasion he entertained the foremost men among the senators and knights in the following fashion. He prepared a room that was pitch black on every side, ceiling, walls and floor, and had made ready bare couches of the same colour resting on the uncovered floor; then he invited in his guests alone at night without their attendants. And first he set beside each of them a slab shaped like a gravestone, bearing the guest's name and also a small lamp, such as hang in tombs. Next comely naked boys, likewise painted black, entered like phantoms, and after encircling the guests in an awe-inspiring dance took up their stations at their feet. After this all the things that are commonly offered at the sacrifices to departed spirits were likewise set before the guests, all of them black and in dishes of a similar colour. Consequently, every single one of the guests feared and trembled and was kept in constant expectation of having his throat cut the next moment, the more so as on the part of everybody but Domitian there was dead silence, as if they were already in the realms of the dead, and the emperor himself conversed only upon topics relating to death and slaughter. Finally he dismissed them; but he had first removed their slaves, who had stood in the vestibule, and now gave his guests in charge of other slaves, whom they did not know, to be conveyed either in carriages or litters, and by this procedure he filled them with far greater fear. And scarcely had each guest reached his home and was beginning to get his breath again, as one might say, when word was brought him that a messenger from the Augustus (Domitian) had come. While they were accordingly expecting to perish this time in any case, one person brought in the slab, which was of silver, and then others in turn brought in various articles, including the dishes that had been set before them at the dinner, which were constructed of very costly material; and last of all came that particular boy who had been each guest's familiar spirit, now washed and adorned. Thus, after having passed the entire night in terror, they received the gifts."

I think this elaborate trick would have been worthy of an Oscar, if Domitian indeed planned and carried it out as described!
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« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2019, 10:02:38 am »

Nice party idea.  I'll try it at my next party Smiley

Hi folks,

Now, that sounds like my kind of party. I'd like to attend a party like that. Smiley

This thread reminds me of an incident in college back in the 1980s. An editor for my university's newspaper didn't like our university's president. My university had a University Center, which had a bar/restaurant in the basement. For a Halloween edition of my university's newspaper, the editor added photos of what the university's president wanted the new bar/restaurant to look like. It was the president's concept for a re-design. The photos were very dark and Gothic. Everything was black. The tables and chairs were made out of stone. The people were dressed like vampires and similar creatures. It looked similar to a Medieval torture chamber. Of course, it was a Halloween joke.

But you know what? I actually liked it. It would have been a fun and interesting re-design for my university's bar/restaurant.

These photos appeared in the "Arts and Features" section of my university's newspaper. But, for Halloween, that section of the newspaper was re-named "Farts and Creatures". Smiley

Meepzorp
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Tacitus
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« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2019, 03:16:12 pm »

You would not have liked this party.  Everyone was sure they were to be killed.  They were not allowed any of their own attendants.  No one spoke the entire night except the emperor who spoke about how fleeting life was, etc.
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David Atherton
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« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2019, 06:35:49 pm »

I've never had much sympathy for Domitian's cronies and courtiers who were invited to such a perverted evening (if indeed it happened at all). Instead, my sympathies lie more with the 'comely naked boys', the slaves, and the 'boy(s) who had been each guest's familiar spirit' that had no choice in their participation. Just imagine the terror they felt! And likely that evening was only the beginning of their ordeal. The fact that Dio concentrates on the outrage inflicted on Domitian's noble guests and not a word concerning the young slaves says more than anything else how different that culture was to our own.
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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Dinner Party from Hell « previous next »
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