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Somebody has really ticked you off. You're all steamed up inside and you want to vent that rage using words, but you don't want to confront them directly because you're either too polite or too cowardly. So do you:
A. Subtweet them.
B. With your finger, scrawl an insulting message into the dirt on their car.
C. Get a small sheet of lead, scratch into it a message cursing your enemies, roll it up and throw it into your nearest sacred spring?
Oh, I forgot to mention that it's 1700-2000 years ago and you're living in the Ancient Roman Empire, so the answer is C.
Stephen Clews, the manager of the Roman baths at Bath, shows us the curses that were sloshing around in the waters for hundreds of years.
NB: One category A and one category B swear appear in this episode.
- Visit the Roman Baths at Bath, or if they're a bit far, at least take an online visit.
- Lots of information about curse tablets here. "Of the provinces of the former Roman Empire, Britain is among the most fertile in curse tablets." I'm so proud.
- How Roger Tomlin, one of Britain's only palaeographers, translates ancient handwriting.
- Using curse tablets to oust love rivals.
- I love that UNESCO recognised the Bath curse tablets.
- The ancient art of curses.
- There were book curses to stop people stealing books! I would use a book curse to stop people borrowing my books and never returning them.
- There was also a hoax book curse in 1909.
- History of wishing wells, the more optimistic version of the curse bath (based in similar principles, though).
- What happens to the coins people throw into fountains?
- The transcript of this episode is at theallusionist.org/transcripts/curse-soup.
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YOUR RANDOMLY SELECTED WORD FROM THE DICTIONARY:
- Stephen Clews is the manager of the Roman Baths and Pump Room at Bath. They're well worth a visit; there's a lot to see there, including several curse tablets on display. Find out more at romanbaths.co.uk.
- You heard a tiny bit of them on this episode, but hear a lot more of Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer in their podcast Criminal, and Benjamen Walker in his, Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything.
- Thanks to Hannah Tunstall from the Roman Baths, and Julia Farley, Sian Toogood and Nick Harris from the British Museum.
- The episode was produced by me and Martin Austwick, who also makes the music that you hear in every episode. He has a new album out at palebirdmusic.com.
- Find me at facebook.com/allusionistshow, twitter.com/allusionistshow, twitter.com/helenzaltzman and instagram.com/helenzaltzman.
The Allusionist is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX. If you're one of the 23,502 donors who keep our shows going, THANK YOU! Find us at radiotopia.fm.
PS Here are some photos of the Bath baths and curse tablets. Not great photos; it's a busy museum and I didn't want to get into people's way.