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The Complete Susquehanna Angler.
WHEREIN SCHOLIAST DISCOURSETE ON ANCIENT GASTRONOMY.
BY CHARLES A. MUNGER.
PISCATOR : Marry, an I will see. 'Fore heaven that was a most lovely flash of lightning, blue and jagged; and there comes the big thunder tumbling at its heels. The shower sags to one side of us. I doubt if we get more than a sprinkle from one corner of it. We shall fish in quiet then, and thou shalt talk without fear of a soaking.
SCHOLIAST : Let it rain an it likes ; 't is an old saying that rain makes the hair grow. And now, as the breviary of Augustan manners and austoms was in many particulars a transcript of those of Greece, and as the former are more or less illustrative of the latter, I propose to follow through the cena Trimalchionis, as detailed by Petronius, stopping occasionally to explain and enlarge. Becker's Banquet in Gallus is but an abridgement of Petronius, even to the story of the wehr-wolf, and, he having relied upon that author, we may look upon him as a fair exponent. The ostentation of the Roman, however, is not fairly chargeable upon the more refined Greek. We will begin with the guests immediately on reclining. The shoes having been taken off, as was the custom, Egyptian boys poured snow-water on their hands, while others picked their toe-nails. Wine was then produced, and directly the first course of the banquet followed. The promulsis, antecæna, or gustatio, as it was called by the Romans, consisted of all things deemed provocative of appetite; eggs being an indispensable portion of it. Petronius then says: “On the promulsidary stood an ass in Corinthian metal, with two panniers containing olives, white on one side, black on the other. ... There were also little salvers in the shape of bridges, on which were laid dormice, strewed over with honey and poppy-seed.' These same dormice are still in good repute among modern epicures. Hot sausages, on a silver gridiron, followed. Then, from under a wooden hen, eggs of the pea-fowl were brought and distributed, which were eaten with spoons of a pound weight. With this the first course was removed by a company of singers. Now it must be recollected that the ancients knew nothing of forks. To modern ingenuity are we indebted for that simple, useful, and graceful instrument. Therefore fingers were in constant requisition, and became from their office unctuous, rendering frequent ablutions necessary. The habits of the Orientals of our day are the same in this respect. The water (or in this case of extravagance — the wine) was poured upon the hands, some receptacle for it being placed upon the floor beneath. The ablutions being performed, wine was brought — Opimian Falernian,' a hundred years old. The vintage under the consulate of Opimius was much esteemed by the Romans, as it was singularly excellent both in quantity and quality. It is curious to see to what lengths the ancients carried the manufacture of wines. Xenophon says that the ten thousand, in their retreat through Carduchia, found wine in such plenty that it was contained in plastered cisterns. The brands were as numerous as the vineyards. Athenæus enumerates them, giving their peculiar qualities. There was the sweet Falernian, which was made when the south wind blew through the vineyard ; there was the Rhegian, the Surrentine, Privernian, Formian, Tripoline, Sitine, Tiburnian, Labican, Gaurian, Prænestian, Mæsic, Ulban, Anconian, Buxentine, Veleternean, Calenian, Cæcuban, Fundan, Sabine, Siguine, Nomentumnian, Spolitumnian, Capuan, Barbine, Cancini, a noble wine resembling the Falernian. There was the Lesbian, of which Alexis sings :
'All wise men think
The Lesbian is the picest wine to drink.'
MENDEAN wine, such as the gods distil
And hyacinth, in one rich fragrance blent.'
PISCATOR : Gramercy, my dear Scholiast, such a raking fire of grape will force me to surrender to Morpheus. And now I bethink me that this morning I did put into my pocket a flask of medicine, which was sold by the ounce in the time of good Queen Bess, a spoonful being considered a dose by Physician, and from its efficacy called eau de vie, now better known as brandy, which hath a very strengthening property, and is marvellously good for lubricating the hinges of the tongue. Nay, I have lost it! 'Tis not about here. It hath dropped on my way — perchance when I fell — and that rascally Poeta and unsophisticated Venator shall find it and become inebriated. Alas! that it should be! Prithee speak no more concerning wine, for it maketh my mouth to water, which I hold not to be a good index.
SCHOLIAST: No more then of wine, which I conceive to be no better than a
MIXTURE rank of midnight weeds collected,
With Hecate's ban thrice blasted, thrice infected. " The wine having been disposed of, a large circular tray was brought in, with the twelve signs of the zodiac around it, upon every one of which the structor, whose business it was to arrange the dishes upon the furculum or tray, had placed an appropriate dish — on Aries, ram's-head pies; on Taurus, a piece of roast beef; on Gemini, kidneys and lamb’sfry; on Cancer, a crown — the host having been born under that constellation; on Leo, African figs; on Virgo, a young sow's haslet — a
great favorite among the ancients, consisting of the vulva and sumen of a young sow which had never given suck ; on Scorpio, a fish of that name ; on Capricorn, a lobster; on Aquarius, a goose ; on Pisces, two mullets, which were a chief object of Roman epicurism ; on Libra, a pair of scales, in one of which were tarts, in the other cheese-cakes ; and in the middle was a green turf with a honey-comb thereon. The cheese-cake was an article of food highly esteemed in the olden time, and therefore deserves more than a passing notice. It was the subject of separate treatises by gastronomers, and was frequently called the
divine cheese-cake. Athenæus, who treats tediously upon all things bearing upon gastronomy, is unusually prolix when he comes to speak of this. He enumerates over thirty different kinds. One he mentions as compounded of cheese, milk, and honey. Those called Upoturides were made thus : Put some honey into some milk, pound them, and put them into a vessel, and let them coägulate ; then, if you have some little seives at hand, put what is in the vessel into them, and let the whey run off; and when it appears to you to have coagulated thoroughly, then take up the vessel in which it is and transfer it to a silver dish, and the coat or crust will be uppermost.' It does not seem that cheese was a necessary constituent of the cake, as the name would indicate. It took its name, probably, from the fact that the first were com pounded from cheese, and that those subsequently made bore a resemblance to the former. But to discuss this matter of cheese-cakes further were to lose the whole centripetal force of my discourse, and therefore I desist. To return. Meanwhile,' says Petronius, ' an Egyptian slave carried bread in a silver portable oven, singing at the same time, in a very delicate voice, a song in praise of wine flavored with laserpitium.' Then 'four fellows came dancing in to the sound of music and took off the upper part of the tray, beneath which, on a second tray, were crammed fowls, a sow's paps, and a hare fitted with wings to resemble Pegasus. There were also four figures of Marsyas, standing at the several corners, spouting a highly-seasoned sauce on some fish, which swam in a very Euripus.' This sauce was probably Garum, an e.xquisite liquor, as Pliny calls it, extracted from the blood and the entrails of certain fish macerated in sea-water until putrefaction took place. During all this time musicians were in attendance, striking up at intervals dulcet strains in every mode : the simple Æolian, the varied Asian, the plaintive Lydian, the religious Phrygian, the warlike Dorian, and the convivial Ionic; all of which may have pleased the ancients well enough, but which would have afforded no more gratification to modern ears than an accordeon and hurdy-gurdy playing different tunes together without any regard to time; as harmony and time were both as yet unknown. Again the wine began to circle afresh. Acrobats were introduced ; jests and tales went round. A species of representation was performed. Rare and splendid presents were given the guests. These presentations were not infrequently very extravagant. We read that Cleopatra, having met Antony in Cilicia, prepared a royal entertainment for him, in which every dish was golden, inlaid with precious stones, wonderfully chased and embossed ; and the walls were hung with cloths embroidered in gold and purple, all of which she presented
to him, desiring him to sup with her the next day, and to bring his friends and captains with him. The banquet of the day succeeding was more splendid still. To the guests she gave every thing in the banqueting hall, even to the triclinia on which they lay, presenting, at their departure, to the highest palanquins, with slaves for bearers, and to the others horses with golden trappings, and Ethiopian boys to bear torches before them. The buffoneries of the boar and pastry pigs, and of the disembowelling of the second boar, I pass over as illustrative of nothing except ostentation. In consequence of the repeated draughts of wine, the guests became uproarious. A magnificent dessert was then laid, consisting of cakes and fruits, all of which were filled with a saffron liquid, which spirted over the guests upon the slightest touch. Then a course of delicacies was brought forward, followed by drunken buffooneries, which were put an end to by the arrival of thrushes in pastry, stuffed with raisins and nuts, quinces, scollops, and oysters, probably ostreæ crudæ, or, technically speaking, raws, closing with (O ye immortal gods! what a dish!) SNAILS. Here the feast breaks up amid dancing women, unruly servants, drunken guests, and stultified host.
The cæna Trimalchionis, though not given by one of the patrician order, may yet be considered as a fair picture of Roman manners and gastronomy, and much that appears absurd and ostentatious in Trimalchio is confirmed by other authors not to have been uncommon. Their feasts were more notable for extravagance than good taste; and upon them they concentrated all the gastronomic genius and resources of the world. Dishes composed of the brains of five hundred peacocks, or the tongues of five thousand nightingales, could have possessed no other merit than costliness. Perhaps I cannot better sum up the matter than by quoting from the Physiologie du Gout, a portion of the chapter entitled Résurrection de Lucullus, designed to represent a modern banquet, conducted after the magnificence of the Romans, though the description is highly varnished with French exaggeration :
'Let us suppose that a man of eminent station and wealth wished to celebrate by a feast, to be at once memorable for its splendor and profusion, some great political or financial event. He would place all the arts under contribution to ornament the banquet-hall, and exhaust all the resources and skill of his house and excellencies of its cellar. He would cause two plays to be represented during this solemn dinner by the best actors, and music to be executed by the most renowned artists, as well vocal as instrumental. He would prepare for entr'actes, between dinner and café, a ballet, to be danced by all that the opera could furnish of grace and beauty. He would see the evening terminate with a ball, in which two hundred ladies, chosen from among the most beautiful, and four hundred dancers selected from the most elegant, should join; that the side-board should be constantly furnished with the most delicious beverages, hot, fresh, and iced; that toward midnight a wellordered collation should endue all with renewed vigor ; that the servants should be handsome and well clothed, the illumination perfect, and, to forget nothing, that the host should charge himself with sending for and re-conducting of all his guests.'
Bless me! but how our worthy master doth snore! I have heard they do not dream who snore ; and they that have quiet consciences and
good digestion do not dream. He is a very honest man, without doubt. Awake, master!
PISCATOR : By my troth! 't is a most lovely fish ; see how he doth give out the separate colors like the dolphin, whereof you may read in
- ha! I did sleep. Give me thy hand, most learned Scholiast. What a blessed thing is sleep! it falleth down upon us like blessings showered from the great white throne. Thank God for sleep. But I think, my dear Scholiast, thou wert speaking of feasts and feasting. I pray thee proceed, for thy discourse was delectable ; for he speaketh excellently well who, avoiding all startling ideas and expressions, putteth his auditors at ease, and with honeyed sentences and rounded periods composes their senses into delightful slumber.
SCHOLIAST : After all, we moderns are but little in advance of the ancients in gastronomy. They made it a science; we, especially Americans, degrade it to a necessity. While we are apt to deride all advancement, they were quick to encourage. Among the Sybarites, if any confectioner or cook invented any peculiar and excellent dish, no other artist was allowed to make it for a year, and he alone was entitled to the profits derived from its manufacture. Such inducements were held out to encourage excellence; and I doubt if we have an earlier example of a patent-right than this, dating back as it does to about B.c. 520. If we except coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, potatoes, maize, and pumpkin pies, there is little to pride ourselves upon. The following lines of Anaxandrides, remarkable for their grace and beauty, throw also much light upon their edibles. Listen, therefore, Piscator, while I sing them :
‘THERE is a scent of Syrian myrrh,