When I read the epigrams of Martial or the satires of Juvenal, what strikes me more than anything else is the sheer discomfort of living in ancient Rome. Martial himself had no running water laid on at his home. Juvenal describes the risk of a poor man on his way home being crushed in the mass of people, making their way through the streets, and how his slaves — everyone has slaves, it seems — await him in vain while he sits shivering on the banks of the Styx, without a copper to pay the ferryman.
The abuse of those enslaved is endless, as Martial makes plain, yet, as in a modern office, the human element breaks through. Some “owners” are in fact under the thumb of their slaves; others again refuse to allow their slaves even to sleep at night.
At the other extreme, we read the letters of the younger Pliny, of a life of retirement in one of a number of rural farms, interspersed with a public career. Even Martial, who wears a bad cloak, acquires a farm of some kind from a benefactor.
None of us, I suppose, would truly choose to live in ancient Rome. And yet … the fascination with it is endless.