It's one of the greatest misfortunes of history that the Romans didn’t have Twitter.
After almost 20 years of gathering dust on my bookshelf I’ve taken down my copy of Martial’s Epigrams to learn the art of pithy sentence writing for my Twitter account.
I’ve found some absolute gems that would have seen the Romans conquer social media as readily as they conquered a large part of the world. Almost two thousand years after it was first published a sentence like “All the friends she had, Lycoris has buried. May she become a friend of my wife!” seems purpose built for the Twitterverse.
Or how about a put down like “When I call you ‘master’ don’t pride yourself, Cinna. I often return even your slave’s greeting so.”
Martial didn't just use epigram to dish out insults, there’s poetry in his one-liners too: “From a Northern race I sent you, Lesbia, a lock of hair, that you might know how much more golden is your own.” Poetic, and just a wee bit creepy. But that’s the Romans for you.
Just think how a master of propaganda like Julius Caesar would have used Twitter. The translation of his famous line “I came, I saw, I conquered” is worthy in itself, but the original Latin of Veni, vidi, vici has an arrogant charm to make it that much more punchy and easy to retweet.
In the Discworld novel Jingo, Terry Pratchett reveals some insight into the thought process that comes up a line like that:
“It wasn’t the sort of thing you came up within the spur of the moment, was it? It sounded as if he had worked it out. He’d probably spent long evenings in his tent, looking up in the dictionary short words beginning with V and trying them out…Veni, vermini, vomui, I came, I got ratted, I threw up? Visi, veneri, vamoosi, I visited, I caught an embarrassing disease, I ran away? It must have been a big relief to come up with three short acceptable words. He probably made them up first, and then went off to see somewhere and conquer it.”
So I started thinking about how some of the great moments in Roman history would have appeared on Twitter and Facebook.
It’s not hard to imagine that on 11 January 49 BC Julius Caesar would have been updating his Facebook page to ‘crossing the Rubicon’. And then a fateful day in 44 BC this update might have elicited a few comments …
Julius Caesar: Heading to the Roman Senate, Ides of March.
Calpurnia-Ceasar'sWife2: Just be careful not to get any stains on your toga and don’t forget to pick up a new set of knives on your way home.
Brutus: See you there Jules, just another boring day in da House, nothing out of the ordinary planned.
Or how about twenty years later, Julius Caesar’s great nephew Octavian summing up the victory over his two greatest enemies that made him Emperor of Rome in 27 BC…
Octavian: Marcus Antonius & Cleopatra @ the Battle of Actium…EPIC FAIL! ROFLMAO!
Queen Cleo: Bite my asp!