Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

A BLIND clergyman has opened a restaurant in Zurich, staffed by the blind and operating in total darkness, to help the sighted realise what it is like to be blind. The Roman emperor Domitian (AD 51-96) would have applauded the concept, though his aim was slightly different - to make his top civil servants and senators realise what it was like to be dead.

The historian Cassius Dio (c. AD 150-235) reports the occasion. Domitian had a room painted pitch-black and furnished it with bare couches of the same colour. Guests came at night, without their attendants. Beside each of them was set a slab shaped like a gravestone. The food was served by beautiful boys, quite naked and painted black, too. They entered like phantoms, encircled the guests in a terrifying dance and then took up their positions by their feet. Here they served the guests with black food, from black dishes - the food consisting of things that were commonly offered at sacrifices to departed spirits. The meal was conducted in total silence, as if the participants were already in the realms of the dead, with the exception of Domitian who conversed on topics relating to death and slaughter. …

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