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Dressing for Dung, Excrement, and Phlegm

A reader of my blog of September 20, focusing on the tufts of dungs, puddles of excrement, and medallions of phlegm that blotched the streets, asked about Miriam’s shoes and whether she would wear the same pair indoors. Outdoors Miriam, like other Roman citizens, wore calcie (the singular is calceus), Latin for shoes or boots. Calcei were a closed, leather, ankle-high shoe. They were secured by laces and made more durable with hobnails, short nails with a thick head embedded in the soles. Upon entering a house, the calcie were exchanged for slippers. Miriam tells of the exchange in THE DEADLIEST LIE, when she enters Amram’s home and is greeted by Myron, the doorkeeper:

After greeting me and taking my himation, Myron escorted me to a padded stone bench in the atrium. While I rested alongside its pool of floating lotus blossoms, beds of dark blue irises, and rows of alabaster statues bearing lamps of aromatic oils, he sent for two maids. One placed a bronze footstool under my feet, removed my calcei, wiped my feet with a damp towel, and fitted me with a pair of slippers. The other brought me a small mahogany serving table set with a silver chalice, a pitcher of cold water, and a flagon of wine from Palestine.

Later, “fetch my shoes” was the phrase guests would use to indicate they were preparing to leave.

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