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<   No. 1472   2007-02-06   >

Comic #1472

1 {scene: a really happening party somewhere in Imperial Rome}
1 Marcus: Good party, Julius, but we're running out of wine already.
2 Julius: Hmmm. As much as I hate to do it, we'll have to water it down.
3 Marcus: Do we have to? It seems like such a shame.
3 Julius: I'm afraid so.
4 Julius: {lifting the flask of wine} Ave, vino! We who are about to dilute you, sigh!
4 Marcus: <sigh!>

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Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!

I've finally found something which doesn't have its own article in the English version of Wikipedia, but it's there if you can read Italian.

Anyway, this Latin phrase is recorded as being used by gladiators about to fight in the arena before the Caesar, or Emperor of Rome. It translates to Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!

It was a tough, and short, life being a gladiator, but boy did you get some good lines.

I should also point out that Romans usually did water down their wine - it was the standard serving method. The only people who drank undiluted wine were those boors who wanted to get rolling drunk, which was somewhat frowned upon.

2016-10-12 Rerun commentary: In the intervening years since this comic was first published in 2007, someone has gone and created an English Wikipedia page for this sentence - although the title is the slightly different "Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant", replacing "Caesar" with "Imperator", which means "Emperor". Of course, the title "Caesar" also means "Emperor", so the difference is kind of moot in one sense. It's also not as if we can say that the gladiators must have actually said one or the other - and so which one was it? - because the phrase is only reported to have been used once in Roman history: In 52 AD by a group of captives and criminals to the emperor Claudius. And furthermore, all of the known reports of this event were written by Roman historians who were born after it occurred, so its not as if they could have witnessed it.

So it may have been a legend, and not an actual event at all. But it seems pretty clear that either way, it was unlikely to have been a regular salute used by gladiators in some sort of tradition.

I know all this because the English version of the Wikipedia article is now some 17 times longer than the Italian version (not including references). And interestingly, the English article was created on 6 February, 2007 - just one day after this comic was originally published! So thank you to the reader who created it.

I wonder how many Wikipedia articles have been created because of my comics. I'm pretty sure it's more than just this one.

Reader Daniel writes:
It wasn't just the Romans who diluted their wine; the Talmud, written in the same era, discusses the laws of undiluted vs. diluted wine. It makes it fairly clear that undiluted wine was never intended to be drunk as-is, because it was heavily alcoholic - far more alcoholic than today's wines.

Wikipedia seems to confirm this with regard to the Romans: "Wines were often very alcoholic, with Pliny noting that a cup of Falernian would catch fire from a candle flame drawn too close." I've seen people do that with vodka, but never with wine. So while it's absolutely true that the Romans used to dilute their wines, it isn't because they couldn't hold their liquor! :)

Actually, what I was taught in Talmud class in high school goes a step further than this. I was told that the wine-making process of the time created an almost a heavily-alcoholic slurry, which was barely even a liquid. Perhaps the grapes were completely dried before they were fermented (I don't know enough about fermentation to say if this is possible, but a quick glance at Wikipedia seems to say that the process produces water but does not consume it). Such a procedure would explain why dilution was necessary before you could drink something like that - but I don't know if I'm remembering high school accurately, if what I was told then was even true, or if the Jews and the Romans even used the same wine-making process at the time.

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