Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  Jan. 9, 2002 at 5:59 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Who hasn't wondered what sort of life he or she might have lived in antiquity?

How did the average person get along in ancient Egypt or Rome?

Books are filled with stories of many a pharaoh, Roman emperors, great warriors, the Colosseum, the pyramids and massive battles.

But what of poor, insignificant schleps who eked out a living, reared families and put enough wheat in the bin perhaps to buy a sleek sedan chair or maybe a two-passenger chariot?

Little is recorded about working stiffs and their lot in life. Were there unions, time clocks, Medicare, early retirement?

What did the ordinary peasant eat and wear? What sort of house did he inhabit?

We know all about Marc Anthony and Caesar of Rome, and Thutmose, Tutankhamen and other princely Egyptian dudes, but what of the sainted common man?

Very little indeed.

These thoughts assailed writer-actor-director-humorist Terry Jones, late of the Monty Python gaggle of British nut cases who gave us belly laughs in '70s movies and personal appearances.

Well, Jones has put together two "Hidden History" shows he also hosts for The Discovery Channel on Jan. 20 from 9-11 p.m. EST.

Why the quirky Brits chose idiosyncratic Jones to tackle this somewhat scholarly subject is rather typical of the English quixotic approach to entertainment.

This week Jones' study of the subject was described by the Discovery Channel thusly:

"While the legends of Pharaohs and Emperors live on today, Jones' mission is to bring to light the lives of the common folk of ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire; to call on Jones' unique perspective to examine ordinary citizens' diets, hygiene, careers, sex lives and domestic arrangements."

Still in his 50s, Jones clearly was not around for firsthand information about life on the planet prior to the last century.

All the same, Jones did confide, "People in those times led lives very much as we do today. There is enough evidence from ruins and ancient writings that indicate mankind went about living and working and loving as we do today."

No great scholar himself, Jones neither reads nor writes Sanskrit or deciphers pictographs.

"My Sanskrit is miserable," he confessed.

"I totally relied on experts in the field, especially Joanne Fletcher, who has written books on the subject. She's red-haired, very vivacious and talks with a wonderful Scottish accent.

"She's an Egyptologist specialist who likes (pharaoh) Amenhotep III, but she doesn't like Amenhotep II at all."

Well and good, but what about good ole Joe Blow, the Egyptian who worked for a living in the mines or perhaps building pyramids?

"Fletcher lived in Egypt for years and took me through some of the houses in a village where she selected one ancient man's place, and talked about how many children he had 3,000 years ago. A ruin now, of course.

"It was really no different from the house Joanne was living in with her adopted Egyptian family.

"The house belonged to a man named Senajim who painted tombs for the rich. His story can be found in hieroglyphics."

He tells viewers about the intricacies of their diets, fashions, cosmetics and sexual relationships.

"Men and women had equal rights, and both wore cosmetics.

"They didn't have indoor plumbing at the time. My impression is that for ancient Egyptians life was pretty good.

"The climate was warm, and they enjoyed good food, beer and wine. They tried to live as they hoped to live in the afterlife, which was vital to them.

"The Nile was a source of life, flooding to provide the crops and always a constant source of drinking water and navigation.

"Ancient Rome was a much nastier society than that of Egypt. They had a few thousand families who ran the Roman Empire. Caesar looked after his own family and cared little for the common people.

"As you know, slavery was prevalent in both cultures, but it was not as harsh as slavery became in later societies.

"The food was better in both countries in those days because it was fresh and not involved with all the chemicals in use these days."

Jones said the middle classes did not exist then as we know them today in Western countries.

"But there were large numbers of people who worked for the government and on such projects as building tombs for the dead, including pyramids.

"But it is believed the pyramids were built by free men who were paid, not by slave labor."

He said state archives show medical treatment and common medical conditions of the workers still survive. Appallingly, unwanted babies were thrown away.

"I think viewers will be surprised to learn (that) average men and women 3,000 years ago lived much as we do today," he said.

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