Praegustator: the taster
I first heard about the praegustator when I was younger, and I wanted to be one when I grew up. Imagine being paid lavishly by a king to taste all kinds of exotic foods and drinks. However, like all good things, this one too, comes with a catch.
A praegustator’s job was not merely to check the spices and the salt of food. Instead, he had to taste and confirm whether the food was safe to eat or not. Usually, only someone in a high position or someone with a threat of being assassinated would hire a food taster.
If the taster became sick after the food tasting, it would be concluded that the food was not fit for the king. However, most times, slow-acting poisons would be mixed with food, showing their actions after the food was ingested. That is why, most times, preparing and serving food was in their job description.
One of the many instances of deliberate poisoning happened to the Roman emperor, Claudius, despite the precautions taken by his taster, Halotus. Much later, the Mauryan Queen, Dudhara, died after tasting the food for her husband. Regardless, history bears witness to more food tasters’ deaths when compared to the kings.
A Knocker up
A knocker-up, sometimes known as a knocker-upper, was a profession in Britain and Ireland that started during and lasted well into the Industrial revolution, when alarm clocks and watches were expensive. A knocker-up’s job was to rouse sleeping people so they could get to work on time.
A knocker up was paid to rouse the sleeping. Initially, they woke up people by loud noises but as this also resulted in waking others who didn’t even pay, they started using a baton or short, heavy stick to knock on the clients’ doors or a long and light stick, often made of bamboo, to reach windows on higher floors. They also used pea shooters. The knocker-up would not leave a client’s window until they were sure that the client had been awoken.
A knocker upper would also use a ‘snuffer outer’ as a tool. This implement was used to put out gas lamps which were lit at dusk and then needed to be extinguished at dawn.
Delator: the rattle tattle
It’s hard to admit that delators were actually ‘professionals’ whose job was to gossip about their neighbors.
They reported everything about everybody to the person they worked for. If only this was their only job description — to keep the record of other people — they would have qualified as spies of their time.
However, that’s not it.
Since they were paid to gossip, the number of lies mixed with truth is unimaginable. They would even make the desi aunties look good. The delators were paid for ‘producing’ information and not just ‘giving’ it. That is why they were often the worst betrayers in society and were often looked down upon because they would go to any extent with their lies for more money.
Vestal Virgin: the committed virgin
In 216 BC, Hannibal crushed the Romans. Being as superstitious as they were, the Romans blamed their misfortune on their inability to please their gods.
They believed that all of the tragedy that followed after their defeat was due to their Vestal Virgins were not virgins. With this realization, one of the two Virgins killed herself, while the other was walled up alive near the Colline Gate.
Romans revered their goddess Vesta, the goddess of home and family. The Vestals were her priestesses, and their job was to keep the fire burning in the goddess’s temple, the only priestesses in ancient Rome.
When and if the fire in Vesta’s temple stopped burning, the Romans believed that chaos would enter their city. That happened after their defeat against Hannibal, which is why they decreed a harsh punishment.
Vestals were supposed to be virgins. They were chosen between the age of six and ten. After being selected, they had to be committed to thirty years of virginity. There was no way out.
In case any Vestal is unable to keep her ‘vow of chastity’ intact, a painfully torturous death would follow. However, there were a few perks to being a Vestal. These Virgins were given an upper hand over the other females in the land regarding rights, privileges, and power.
Armpit plucker: the human razor
Unlike today, the most popular leisure activity for people in ancient times was sports. Everybody, young or old, was involved in some athletic activity.
Since they indulged in several hours of physical activity, they were aware of the body hair’s ability to retain foul odour — especially in men. Hence, they kept an armpit plucker, whose sole job was to pluck out hair from men’s armpits. Imagine having a job requiring a lot of attention (plucking eyebrows is never an easy feat), only to be distracted by the unpleasant smell coming from the armpits of the men being plucked.
The armpit pluckers were professionals with hundreds of hours logged into their work profiles for plucking armpit hair. This job was particularly very common among the Romans.
Though they encouraged the armpit hair to be plucked, having hair plucked from any other body area was looked down upon, especially among the men. Perhaps that’s why there were armpit pluckers and not any other kind of professional plucker in history.