A Study of its Times, its Authors and their Sources,
its Authenticity and its Practical Usefulness
in Modern Times
Anyone who would know something worth while about the private and public lives of the ancients should be well acquainted with their table. Then as now the oft quoted maxim stands that man is what he eats.
Much of the ancient life is still shrouded and will forever be hidden by envious forces that have covered up bygone glory and grandeur. Ground into mealy dust under the hoofs of barbarian armies! Re-modeled, re-used a hundred times! Discarded as of no value by clumsy hands! The "Crime of Ignorance" is a factor in league with the forces of destruction. Much is destroyed by blind strokes of fate — fate, eternally pounding this earth in its everlasting enigmatic efforts to shape life into something, the purpose of which we do not understand, the meaning of which we may not even venture to dream of or hope to know.
Whatever there has been preserved by "Providence," by freaks of chance, by virtue of its own inherent strength — whatever has been buried by misers, fondled, treasured by loving hands of collectors and connoisseurs during all these centuries — every speck of ancient dust, every scrap of parchment or papyrus, a corroded piece of metal, a broken piece of stone or glass, so eagerly sought by the archaeologists and historians of the last few generations — all these fragmentary messages from out of the past emphasize the greatness of their time. They show its modernity, its nearness to our own days. They are now hazy reminiscences, as it were, by a middle-aged man of the hopes and the joys of his own youth. These furtive fragments — whatever they are — now tell us a story so full and so rich, they wield so marvelous a power, no man laying claim to possessing any intelligence may pass them without intensely feeling the eternal pathetic appeal to our hearts of these bygone ages that hold us down in an envious manner, begrudging us the warm life-blood of the present, weaving invisible ties around us to make our hearts heavy.
However, we are not here to be impeded by any sentimental considerations. p4 Thinking of the past, we are not so much concerned with the picture that dead men have placed in our path like ever so many bill boards and posters! We do not care for their "ideals" expounded in contemporary histories and eulogies. We are hardly moved by the "facts" such as they would have loved to see them happen, nor do we cherish the figments of their human, very human, subconsciousness.
To gain a correct picture of the Roman table we will there set aside for a while the fragments culled from ancient literature and history that have been misused so indiscriminately and so profusely during the last two thousand years — for various reasons. They have become fixed ideas, making reconstruction difficult for anyone who would gain a picture along rational lines. Barring two exceptions, there is no trustworthy detailed description of the ancient table by an objective contemporary observer. To be sure, there are some sporadic efforts, mere reiterations. The majority of the ancient word pictures are distorted views on our subject by partisan writers, contemporary moralists on the one side, satirists on the other. They were not specialists in the sense of modern writers like Reynière, Rumohr, Vaerst; nor did they approach in technical knowledge medieval writers like Martino, Platina, Torinus.
True there were exceptions. Athenaeus, a most prolific and voluble magiric commentator, quoting many writers and specialists whose names but for him would have never reached posterity. Athenaeus tells about these gastronomers, the greatest of them, Archestratos, men who might have contributed so much to our knowledge of the ancient world, but to us these names remain silent, for the works of these men have perished with the rest of the great library at the disposal of this genial host of Alexandria.
Too, there are Anacharsis and Petronius. They and Athenaeus cannot be overlooked. These three form the bulk of our evidence.
Take on the other hand Plutarch, Seneca, Tertullian, even Pliny, writers who have chiefly contributed to our defective knowledge of the ancient table. They were no gourmets. They were biased, unreliable at best, as regards culinary matters. They deserve our attention merely because they are above the ever present mob of antique reformers and politicians of whom there was legion in Rome alone, under the pagan régime. Their state of mind and their intolerance towards civilized dining did not improve with the advent of Christianity.
The moralists' testimony is substantiated and supplemented rather than refuted by their very antipodes, the satirists, a group headed by Martial, Juvenal and the incomparable Petronius, who really is in a class by himself.
There is one more man worthy of mention in our particular study, Horace, a true poet, the most objective of all writers, man-about‑town, pet of society, mundane genius, gifted to look calmly into the innermost heart of his time. His eyes fastened a correct picture on the sensitive diaphragm of a good memory, leaving an impression neither distorted nor "out of focus." His eye did not "pick up," for sundry reasons, the defects of the objects of observation, nor did it p5 work with the uncanny joy of subconscious exaggeration met with so frequently in modern writing, nor did he indulge in that predilectionº for ugly detail sported by modern art.
So much for Horatius, poet. Still, he was not a specialist in our line. We cannot enroll him among the gifted gourmets no matter how many meals he enjoyed at the houses of his society friends. We are rather inclined to place him among the host of writers, ancient and modern, who have treated the subject of food with a sort of sovereign contempt, or at least with indifference, because its study presented unsurmountable difficulties, and the subject, per se, was a menial one. With this attitude of our potential chief witnesses defined, we have no occasion to further appeal to them here, and we might proceed to real business, to the sifting of the trustworthy material at hand. It is really a relief to know that we have no array of formidable authorities to be considered in our study. We have virgin field before us — i.e., the ruins of ancient greatness grown over by a jungle of two thousand years of hostile posterity.
Pompeii was destroyed in A.D. 79. From its ruins we have obtained in the last half century more information about the intimate domestic and public life of the ancients than from any other single source. What is more important, this vast wealth of information is first hand, unspoiled, undiluted, unabridged, unbiased, uncensored; — in short, untouched by meddlesome human hands.
Though only a provincial town, Pompeii was a prosperous mercantile place, a representative market-place, a favorite resort for fashionable people. The town had hardly recuperated from a preliminary attack by that treacherous mountain, Vesuvius, when a second onslaught succeeded in complete destruction. Suddenly, without warning, this lumbering force visited the ill-fated towns in its vicinity with merciless annihilation. The population, just then enjoying the games in the amphitheatre outside of the "downtown" district, had had hardly time to save their belongings. They escaped with their bare lives. Only the aged, the infirm, the prisoners and some faithful dogs were left behind. Today their bodies in plaster casts may be seen, mute witnesses to a frightful disaster. The town was covered with an airtight blanket of ashes, lava and fine pumice stone. There was no prolonged death struggle, no perceivable decay extended over centuries as was the cruel lot of Pompeii's mistress, Rome. There were no agonies to speak of. The great event was consummated within a few hours. The peace of death settled down of reign supreme after the dust had been driven away by the gentle breezes coming in from the bay of Naples. Some courageous citizens returned, searching in the hot ashes for the crashed‑in roofs of their villas, to recover this or that. Perhaps they hoped to salvage the strong box in the atrium, or a heirloom from the triclinium. But soon they gave up. Despairing, or hoping for better days to come, they vanished in the mist of time. Pompeii, the fair, the hospitable, the gay city, just like any individual out of luck, was and stayed forgotten. The Pompeians, their joys, sorrows, their work p6 and play, their virtues and vices — everything was arrested with one single stroke, stopped, even as a camera clicks, taking a snapshot.
The city's destruction, it appears, was a formidable opening blow dealt the Roman empire in the prime of its life, in a war of extermination waged by hostile invisible forces. Pompeii makes one believe in "Providence." A great disaster actually moulding, casting a perfect image of the time for future generations! To be exact, it took these generations eighteen centuries to discover and appreciate the heritage that was theirs, buried at the foot of Vesuvius. During these long dark and dusky centuries charming goat herds had rested unctuous shocks of hair upon mysterious columns that, like young giant asparagus, stuck their magnificent heads out of the ground. Blinking drowsily at yonder villainous mountain, the summit of which is eternally crowned with a halo of thin white smoke, such as we are accustomed to see arising from the stacks of chemical factories, the confident shepherd would lazily implore his patron saint to enjoin that unreliable devilish force within lest the dolce far niente of the afternoon be disturbed, for siestas are among the most important functions in the life of that region. Occasionally the more enterprising would arm themselves with pick-axe and shovel, made bold by whispered stories of fabulous wealth, and, defying the evil spirits protecting it, they would set out on an expedition of loot and desecration of the tomb of ancient splendor.
Only about a century and a half ago the archaeological conscience awoke. Only seventy-five years ago energetic moves made possible a fruitful pilgrimage to this shrine of humanity, while today not more than two-thirds but perhaps the most important parts of the city have been opened to our astonished eyes by men who know.
And now: we may see that loaf of bread baked nineteen centuries ago, as found in the bake shop. We may inspect the ingenious bake oven where it was baked. We may see the mills that ground the flour for the bread, and, indeed, find unground wheat kernels. We see the oil still preserved in the jugs, the residue of wine still in the amphorae, the figs preserved in jars, the lentils, the barley, the spices in the cupboard; everything awaits our pleasure: the taverns with their "bars"; the ancient guests' opinion of Mine Host scribbled on the wall, the kitchens with their implements, the boudoirs of milady's with the cosmetics and perfumes in the compacts. There are the advertisements on the walls, the foods praised with all the eclat of modern advertising, the election notices, the love missives, the bank deposits, the theatre tickets, law records, bills of sale.
Phantom-like yet real there are the good citizens of a good town, parading, hustling, loafing — sturdy patricians, wretched plebeians, stern centurios, boastful soldiers, scheming politicians, crafty law-clerks, timid scribes, chattering barbers, bullying gladiators, haughty actors, dusty travelers, making for Albinus', the famous host at the Via Abbondanza or, would he give preference to Sarinus, the son of Publius, who advertised so cleverly? Or, perhaps, could he afford to stop at the "Fortunata" Hotel, centrally located?
p7 There are, too, the boorish hayseeds from out of town trying to sell their produce, unaccustomed to the fashionable Latin-Greek speech of the city folks, gaping with their mouths wide open, greedily at the steaks of sacrificial meat displayed behind enlarging glasses in the cheap cook shop windows. There they giggle and chuckle, those wily landlords with their blasé habitués and their underlings, the greasy cooks, the roguish "good mixers" at the bar and the winsome if resolute copae — waitresses — all ready to go, to do business. So slippery are the cooks that Plautus calls one Congrio — sea eel — so black that another deserves the title Anthrax — coal.
There they are, one and all, the characters necessary to make up what we call civilization, chattering agitatedly in a lingo of Latin-Greek-Oscan — as if life were a continuous market day.
It takes no particular scholarship, only a little imagination and human sympathy to see and to hear the ghosts of Pompeii.
There is no pose about this town, no mise-en-scène, no stage-setting. No heroic gesture. No theatricals, in short, no lies. There is to be found no shred of that vainglorious cloak which humans will deftly drape about their shoulders whenever they happen to be aware of the camera. There is no "registering" of any kind here.
Pompeii's natural and pleasant disposition, therefore, is ever so much more in evidence. Not a single one of this charming city's movements was intended for posterity. Her life stands before our eyes in clear reality, in naked, unadorned truth. Indeed, there were many things that the good folks would have loved to point to with pride. You have to search for these now. There are, alas and alack, a few things they would have hidden, had they only known what was in store for them. But all these things, good, indifferent and bad, remained in their places; and here they are, unsuspecting, real, natural, charming like Diana and her wood nymphs.
Were it not quite superfluous, we would urgently recommend the study of Pompeii to the students of life in general and to those of Antiquity in particular. Those who would know something about the ancient table cannot do without Pompeii.
To those who lay stress upon documentary evidence or literary testimony, to those trusting implicitly in the honesty and reliability of writers of fiction, we would recommend Petronius Arbiter.
His cena Trimalchionis, Trimalchio's dinner, is the sole surviving piece from the pen of a Roman contemporary, giving detailed information on our subject. It is, too, the work of a great writer moving in the best circles, and, therefore, so much more desirable as an expert. Petronius deserves to be quoted in full but his work is too well-known, and our space too short. However, right here we wish to warn the student to bear in mind in perusing Petronius that this writer, in his cena, is not depicting a meal but that he is satirizing a man — that makes p8 all the difference in the world as far as we are concerned. Petronius' cena is plainly an exaggeration, but even from its distorted contours the student may recognize the true lines of an ancient meal.
There is, not so well-known, a beautiful picture of an Athenian dinner party which must not be overlooked, for it contains a wealth of information. Although Greek, we learn from it much of the Roman conditions. Anacharsis' description of a banquet at Athens, dating back to the fourth century B.C. about the time when the Periclean régime flourished, is worth your perusal. A particularly good version of this tale is rendered by Baron Vaerst in his book "Gastrosophie," Leipzig, 1854, who has based his version on the original translation from the Greek, entitled, Voyage du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce vers le milieu du quatrième siècle avant l'ère vulgaire par J. J. Barthélemy, Paris, 1824. Vaerst has amplified the excerpts from the young traveler's observations by quotations from other ancient Greek writers upon the subject, thus giving us a most beautiful and authentic ideal description of Greek table manners and habits when Athens had reached the height in culture, refinement and political greatness.
Anacharsis was not a Hellene but a Scythian visitor. By his own admission he is no authority on Grecian cookery, but as a reporter he excels.
This truly Hellenic discussion of the art of eating and living at the table of the cultured Athenians is the most profound discourse we know of, ancient or modern, on eating. The wisdom revealed in this tale is lasting, and, like Greek marble, consummate in external beauty and inner worth.
We thus possess the testimony of two contemporary writers which together with the book of Apicius and with what we know from Athenaeus should give a fair picture of ancient eating and cookery.
Apicius is our most substantial witness.
Unfortunately, this source has not been spared by meddlesome men, and it has not reached us in its pristine condition. As a matter of fact, Apicius has been badly mauled throughout the centuries. This book has always attracted attention, never has it met with indifference. In the middle ages it became the object of intense study, interpretation, controversy — in short it has attracted interest that has lasted into modern times.
When, with the advent of the dark ages, it ceased to be a practical cookery book, it became a treasure cherished by the few who preserved the classical literature, and after the invention of printing it became the object of curiosity, even mystery. Some interpreters waxed enthusiastic over it, others who failed to understand it, condemned it as hopeless and worthless.
The pages of our Apiciana plainly show the lasting interest in our ancient book, particularly ever since its presence became a matter of common knowledge during the first century of printing.
The Apicius book is the most ancient of European cookery books. However, Platina's work, de honesta uolvptate,º is the first cookery book to appear in print. Platina, in 1474, was more up‑to‑date. His book had a larger circulation. But its vogue stopped after a century while Apicius marched on through centuries p9 to come, tantalizing the scholars, amusing the curious gourmets if not educated cooks to the present day.
Who was Apicius? This is the surname of several renowned gastronomers of old Rome. There are many references and anecdotes in ancient literature to men bearing this name. Two Apicii have definitely been accounted for. The older one, Marcus A. lived at the time of Sulla about 100 B.C. The man we are most interested in, M. Gabius Apicius, lived under Augustus and Tiberius, 80 B.C. to A.D. 40. However, both these men had a reputation for their good table.
It is worth noting that the well-read Athenaeus, conversant with most authors of Antiquity makes no mention of the Apicius book. This collection of recipes, then, was not in general circulation during Athenaeus' time (beginning of the third century of our era), that, maybe, it was kept a secret by some Roman cooks. On the other hand it is possible that the Apicius book did not exist during the time of Athenaeus in the form handed down to us and that the monographs on various departments of cookery (most of them of Greek origin, works of which indeed Athenaeus speaks) were collected after the first quarter of the third century and were adorned with the name of Apicius merely because his fame as a gourmet had endured.
What Athenaeus knows about Apicius (one of three known famous eaters bearing that name) is the following:
"About the time of Tiberius [42 B.C.‑37 A.D.] there lived a man, named Apicius; very rich and luxurious, for whom several kinds of cheesecakes, called Apician, are named [not found in our present A.]. He spent myriads of drachms on his belly, living chiefly at , a city of Campania, eating very expensive crawfish, which are found in that place superior in size to those of Smyrna, or even to the crabs of Alexandria. Hearing, too, that they were very large in Africa, he sailed thither, without waiting a single day, and suffered exceedingly on his voyage. But when he came near the coast, before he disembarked (for his arrival made a great stir among the Africans) the fishermen came alongside in their boats and brought him some very fine crawfish; and he, when he saw them, asked if they had any finer; and when they said that there were none finer than those which they had brought, he, recollecting those at Minturnae ordered the master of the ship to sail back the same way into Italy, without going near the land. . . .
When the emperor Trajan [A.D. 52 or 53‑117] was in Parthia [a country in Asia, part of Persia?]a at a distance of many days from the sea, Apicius sent him fresh oysters, which he had kept so by a clever contrivance of his own; real oysters. . . ."
(The instructions given in our Apicius book, Recipe 14, for the keeping of p10 oysters would hardly guarantee their safe arrival on such a journey as described above.)
Athenaeus tells us further that many of the Apician recipes were famous and that many dishes were named after him. This confirms the theory that Apicius was not the author of the present book but that the book was dedicated to him by an unknown author or compiler. Athenaeus also mentions one Apion who wrote a book on luxurious living. Whether this man is identical with the author or patron of our book is problematic. Torinus, in his epistola dedicatoria to the 1541 edition expresses the same doubt.
Marcus Gabius (or Gavius) Apicius lived during Rome's most interesting epoch, when the empire had reached its highest point, when the seeds of decline, not yet apparent, were in the ground, when in the quiet villages of that far-off province, Palestine, the Saviour's doctrines fascinated humble audiences — teachings that later reaching the heart of the world's mistress were destined to tarnish the splendour of that autocrat.
According to the mention by various writers, this man, M. Gabius Apicius, was one of the many ancient gastronomers who took the subject of food seriously. Assuming a scientific attitude towards eating and food they were criticised for paying too much attention to their table. This was considered a superfluous and indeed wicked luxury when frugality was a virtue. These men who knew by intuition the importance of knowing something about nutrition are only now being vindicated by the findings of modern science.
M. Gabius Apicius, this most famous of the celebrated and much maligned bon-vivants, quite naturally took great interest in the preparation of food. He is said to have originated many dishes himself; he collected much material on the subject and he endowed a school for the teaching of cookery and for the promotion of culinary ideas. This very statement by his critics places him high in our esteem, as it shows him up as a scientist and educator. He spent his vast fortune for food, as the stories go, and when he had only a quarter million dollars left (a paltry sum today but a considerable one in those days when gold was scarce and monetary standards in a worse muddle than today) Apicius took his own life, fearing that he might have to starve to death some day.
This story seems absurd on the face of it, yet Seneca and Martial tell it (both with different tendencies) and Suidas, Albino and other writers repeat it without critical analysis. These writers who are unreliable in culinary matters anyway, claim that Apicius spent hundred million sestertii on his appetite — in gulam. Finally when the hour of accounting came he found that there were only ten million sestertii left, so he concluded that life was not worth living if his gastronomic ideas could no longer be carried out in the accustomed and approved style, and he took poison at a banquet especially arranged for the occasion.
In the light of modern experience with psychology, with economics, depressions, journalism, we focus on this and similar stories, and we find them thoroughly unreliable. We cannot believe this one. It is too melodramatic, too moralistic p11 perhaps to suit our modern taste. The underlying causes for the conduct, life and end of Apicius have not been told. Of course, we have to accept the facts as reported. If only a Petronius had written that story! What a story it might have been! But there is only one Petronius in antiquity. His Trimalchio, former slave, successful profiteer and food speculator, braggard and drunkard, wife-beater — an upstart who arranged extravagant banquets merely to show off, who, by the way, also arranged for his funeral at his banquet (Apician fashion and, indeed, Petronian fashion! for Petronius died in the same manner) and who peacefully "passed out" soundly intoxicated — this man is a figure true to life as it was then, as it is now and as it probably will continue to be. Last but not least: Mrs. Trimalchio, the resolute lady who helped him "make his pile" — these are human characters much more real, much more trustworthy than anything and everything else ever depicted by any ancient pen; they bring out so graphically the modernity of antiquity. Without Petronius and Pompeii the antique world would forever remain at an inexplicably remote distance to our modern conception of life. With him, and with the dead city, the riddles of antiquity are cleared up.
Many dishes listed in Apicius are named for various celebrities who flourished at a later date than the second Apicius. It is noteworthy, however, that neither such close contemporaries as Heliogabalus and Nero, notorious gluttons, nor Petronius, the arbiter of fashion of the period, are among the persons thus honored. Vitellius, a larger glutton, is well represented in the book. It is fair to assume, then, that the author or collector of our present Apicius lived long after the second Apicius, or, at least, that the book was augmented by persons posterior to M. Gabius A. The book in its present state was probably completed about the latter part of the third century. It is almost certain that many recipes were added to a much earlier edition.
We may as well add another to the many speculations by saying that it is quite probable for our book to originate in a number of Greek manuals or monographs on specialized subjects or departments of cookery. Such special treatises are mentioned by Athenaeus (cf. Humelbergius, quoted by Lister). The titles of each chapter (or book) are in Greek, the text is full of Greek terminology. While classification under the respective titles is not strictly adhered to at all times, it is significant that certain subjects, that of fish cookery, for instance, appear twice in the book, the same subject showing treatment by widely different hands. Still more significant is the absence in our book of such important departments as desserts — dulcia — confections in which the ancients were experts. Bakery, too, even the plainest kind, is conspicuously absent in the Apician books. The latter two trades being particularly well developed, were departmentized to an astonishing degree in ancient Greece and Rome. These p12 indispensable books are simply wanting in our book if it be but a collection of Greek monographs. Roman culture and refinement of living, commencing about 200‑250 years before our era was under the complete rule of Hellas. Greek influence included everybody from philosophers, artists, architects, actors, law-makers to cooks.
"The conquered thus conquered the conquerors."
Humelbergius makes a significant reference to the origin of Apicius. We confess, we have not checked up this worthy editor nor his successor, Dr. Lister, whom he quotes in the preface as to the origin of our book. With reference to Plato's work, Humelbergius says:
In our opinion, unfounded of course by positive proof, the Apicius book is somewhat of a gastronomic bible, consisting of ten different books by several authors, originating in Greece and taken over by the Romans along with the rest of Greek culture as spoils of war. These books, or chapters, or fragments thereof, must have been in vogue long before they were collected and assembled in the present form. Editions, or copies of the same must have been numerous, either singly or collectively, at the beginning of our era. As a matter of fact, the Excerpts by Vinidarius, found in the codex Salmasianus prove this theory and give rise to the assumption that the Apicius book was a standard work for cookery that existed at one time or other in a far more copious volume and that the present Apicius is but a fragment of a formerly vaster and more complex collection of culinary and medical formulae.
Thus a fragmentary Apicius has been handed down to us in manuscript form through the centuries, through the revolutionary era of Christian ascendancy, through the dark ages down to the Renaissance. Unknown agencies, mostly medical and monastic, stout custodians of antique learning, reverent lovers of good cheer have preserved it for us until printing made possible the book's wide distribution among the scholars. Just prior to Gutenberg's epoch-making printing press there was a spurt of interest in our book in Italy, as attested to by a dozen of manuscripts, copied in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Apicius may justly be called the world's oldest cookery book; the very old Sanskrit book, Vasavarayeyam, unknown to us except by name, is said to be a tract on vegetarian cookery.
The men who have preserved this work for future generations, who have made it accessible to the public (as was Lister's intention) have performed a service to civilization that is not to be underestimated. They have done better than the average archaeologist with one or another find to his credit. The Apicius book is a living thing, capable of creating happiness. Some gastronomic writers have pointed out that the man who discovers a new dish does more human it than the man who discovers a new star, because the discovery of a new dish affects the happiness of mankind more pleasantly than the addition of a new p13 planet to an already overcrowded chart of the universe. Viewing Apicius from such a materialistic point of view he should become very popular in this age of ours so keen for utilities of every sort.
The name of another personality is introduced in connection with the book, namely that of Coelius or Caelius. This name is mentioned in the title of the first undated edition (ca. 1483‑6) as Celius. Torinus, 1541, places "Caelius" before "Apicius"; Humelbergius, 1542, places "Coelius" after A. Lister approves of this, berating Torinus for his willful methods of editing the book: "En hominem in conjecturis sane audacissimus!" If any of them were correct about "Coelius," Torinus would be the man. (Cf. Schanz, Röm. Lit. Gesch., Müller's Handbuch d. klass. Altertums-Wissenschaft, V III, 112, p506). However, there is no raison d'être for Coelius.b1
His presence and the unreality thereof has been cleared up by Vollmer, as will be duly shown. The squabble of the medieval savants has also given rise to the story that Apicius is but a joke perpetrated upon the world by a medieval savant. This will be refuted also later on. Our book is a genuine Roman. Medieval savants have made plenty of Roman "fakes," for sundry reasons. A most ingenious hoax was the "completion" of the Petronius fragment by a scholar able to hoodwink his learned contemporaries by an exhibition of Petronian literary style and a fertile imagination. Ever so many other "fakers" were shown up in due time. When this version of Petronius was pronounced genuine by the scientific world, the perpetrator of the "joke" confessed, enjoying a good laugh at the expense of his colleagues. But we shall presently understand how such a "joke" with Apicius would be impossible. Meanwhile, we crave the indulgence of the modern reader with our mention of Coelius. We desire to do full justice to the ancient work and complete the presentation of its history. The controversies that have raged over it make this course necessary.
Our predecessors have not had the benefit of modern communication, and, therefore, could not know all that is to be known on the subject. We sympathize with Lister yet do not condemn Torinus. If Torinus ever dared making important changes in the old text, they are easily ascertained by collation with other texts. This we have endeavored to do. Explaining the discrepancies, it will be noted that we have not given a full vote of confidence to Lister.
Why should the mysterious Coelius or Caelius, if such an author or compiler of a tome on cookery existed affix the name of "Apicius" to it? The reason would be commercial gain, prestige accruing from the name of that cookery celebrity. Such business sense would not be extraordinary. Modern cooks pursue the same method. Witness the innumerable à la soandsos. Babies, apartment houses, streets, cities, parks, dogs, race horses, soap, cheese, herring, cigars, hair restorers are thus named today. "Apicius" on the front page of any ancient cookery book would be perfectly consistent with the ancient spirit of advertising. It has been p14 stated, too, that Coelius had more than one collaborator. Neither can this be proven.
The copyists have made many changes throughout the original text. Misspelling of terms, ignorance of cookery have done much to obscure the meaning. The scribes of the middle ages had much difficulty in this respect since medieval Latin is different from Apician language.
The very language of the original is proof for its authenticity. The desire of Torinus to interpret to his medieval readers the ancient text is pardonable. How much or how little he succeeded is attested to by some of his contemporary readers, former owners of our own copies. Scholars plainly confess inability to decipher Apicius by groans inscribed on the fly leaves and title pages in Latin, French and other languages. One French scholar of the 16th century, apparently "kidded" for studying an undecipherable cook book, stoically inscribes the title page of our Lyon, 1541, copy with: "This amuses me. Why make fun of me?" This sort of message, reaching us out of the dim past of bygone centuries is among the most touching reading we have done, and has urged us on with the good though laborious and unprofitable work.
Notwithstanding its drawbacks, our book is a classic both as to form and contents. It has served as a prototype of most ancient and modern books. Its influence is felt to the present day.
The book has often been cited by old writers as proof of the debaucheries and the gluttony of ancient Rome. Nothing could be further from the truth because these writers failed to understand the book.
The Apicius book reflects the true condition (partly so, because it is incomplete) of the kitchen prevailing at the beginning of our own era when the mistress of the Old World was in her full regalia, when her ample body had not yet succumbed to that fatty degeneration of the interior so fatal to ever so many individuals, families, cities and nations.
We repeat, our Apicius covers Rome's healthy epoch; hence the importance of the book. The voluptuous concoctions, the fabulous dishes, the proverbial excesses that have made decent people shudder with disgust throughout the ages are not known to Apicius. If they ever existed at all in their traditional ugliness they made their appearance after Apicius' time. We recall, Petronius, describing some of these "stunts" is a contemporary of Nero (whom he satirizes as "Trimalchio"). So is Seneca, noble soul, another victim of Caesarean insanity; he, too, describes Imperial excesses. These extremely few foolish creations are really at the bottom of the cause for this misunderstanding of truth Roman life. Such stupidity has allowed the joy of life which, as Epikuros and Platina believe, may be indulged in with perfect virtue and honesty to become a byword among all good people who are not gastronomers either by birth, by choice or by training.
With due justice to the Roman people may we be permitted to say that proverbial excesses were exceedingly rare occurrences. The follies and the vices p15 of a Nero, a boy Heliogabalus, a Pollio, a Vitellius and a few other notorious wasters are spread sporadically over a period of at least eight hundred years. Between these cases of gastronomic insanity lie wellnigh a thousand years of everyday grind and drudgery of the Roman people. The bulk was miserably fed as compared with modern standards of high living. Only a few patricians could afford "high living." Since a prosperous bourgeoisie (usually the economic and gastronomic background of any nation) was practically unknown in Rome, where the so‑called middle classes were in reality poor, shiftless and floating freedmen, it is evident that the bulk of the population because of the empire's unsettled economic conditions, was forced to live niggardly. The contrast between the middle classes and the upper classes seemed very cruel. This condition may account for the many outcries against the "extravagances" of the few privileged ones who could afford decent food and for the exaggerated stories about their table found in the literature of the time.
The seemingly outlandish methods of Apician food preparation become plain and clear in the light of social evolution. "Evolution" is perhaps not the right word to convey our idea of social perpetual motion.
Apicius used practically all the cooking utensils in use today. He only lacked gas, electricity and artificial refrigeration, modern achievements while useful in the kitchen and indispensable in wholesale production and for labor saving, that have no bearing on purely gastronomical problems. There is only one difference between the cooking utensils of yore and the modern products: the old ones are hand-made, more individualistic, more beautiful, more artistic than our machine-made varieties.
Despite his strangeness and remoteness, Apicius is not dead by any means. We have but to inspect (as Gollmer has pointed out) the table of the Southern Europeans to find Apician traditions alive. In the Northern countries, too, are found his traces. To think that Apicius should have survived in the North of Europe, far removed from his native soil, is a rather audacious suggestion. But the keen observer can find him in Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Baltic provinces today. The conquerors and seafarers coming from the South have carried the pollen of gastronomic flowers far into the North where they adjusted themselves to soil and climate. Many a cook of the British isles, of Southern Sweden, Holstein, Denmark, Friesland, Pommeraniaº still observes Apicius rules though he may not be aware of the fact.
We must realize that Apicius is only a book, a frail hand-made record and that, while the record itself might have been forgotten, its principles have become international property, long ago. Thus they live on. Like a living thing — a language, a custom, they themselves may have undergone changes, "improvements," alterations, augmentation, corruption. But the character has been preserved; a couple of thousand years are, after all, but a paltry matter. Our p16 own age is but the grandchild of antiquity. The words we utter, in their roots, are those of our grandfathers. And so do many dishes we eat today resemble those once enjoyed by Apicius and his friends.
Is it necessary to point the tenacity of the spirit of the Antique, reaching deep into the modern age? The latest Apicius edition in the original Latin is dated 1922!
The gastronomic life of Europe was under the complete rule of old Rome until the middle of the seventeenth century. Then came a sudden change for modernity, comparable to the rather abrupt change of languages from the fashionable Latin to the national idioms and vernacular, in England and Germany under the influence of literary giants like Luther, Chaucer, Shakespeare.
All medieval food literature of the continent and indeed the early cookery books of England prior to LaVarenne (Le Cuisinier François, 1654) are deeply influenced by Apicius. The great change in eating, resulting in a new gastronomic order, attained its highest peak of perfection just prior to the French revolution. Temporarily suspended by this social upheaval, it continued to flourish until about the latter part of last century. The last decades of this new order is often referred to as the classical period of gastronomy, with France claiming the laurels for its development. "Classic" for reasons we do not know (Urbain Dubois, outstanding master of this period wrote "La Cuisine classique") except that its precepts appeal as classical to our notion of eating. This may not correspond to the views of posterity, we had therefore better wait a century or two before proclaiming our system of cookery "classical."
Disposing of that old "classic," Apicius, as slowly as a conservative cooking world could afford to do, the present nations set out to cultivate a taste for things that a Roman would have pronounced unfit for a slave. Still, the world moves on. Conquest, discovery of foreign parts, the New World, contributed fine things to the modern table, — old forgotten foods were rediscovered — endless lists of materials and combinations, new daring, preposterous dishes that made the younger generation rejoice while old folks looked on gaping with dismay, despair, contempt.
Be it sufficient to remark that the older practitioners of our own days, educated in "classic" cuisine again are quite apprehensive of their traditions endangered by the spirit of revolt of the young against the old. Again and again we hear of a decline that has set in, and even by the best authorities alarmist notes are spread to the effect that "we have begun our journey back, step by step to our primitive tree and our primitive nuts" (Pennell. Does Spengler consider food in his "Decline of the West?").
It matters not whether we share this pessimism, nor what we may have to say pro or con this question of "progress" or "retrogression" in eating (or in anything else for that matter). In fact we are not concerned with the question here more than to give it passing attention.
If "classic" cookery is dying nowadays, if it cannot reassert itself that would be a loss to mankind. But this classic cookery system has so far only been the p17 sole and exclusive privilege of a dying aristocracy. It seems quite in order to it should go under in the great Götterdämmerung that commenced with the German peasants' wars of the sixteenth century, flaring up (as the second act) in the French revolution late in the eighteenth century, the Act III of which drama has been experienced in our own days.
The common people as yet have never had an active part in the enjoyment of the classic art of eating. So far, they always provided the wherewithal, and looked on, holding the bag. Modern hotels, because of their commercial character, have done little to perpetuate it. They merely have commercialized the art. Beyond exercising ordinary salesmanship, our maîtres d'hôtel have not educated our nouveaux riches in the mysteries and delights of gastronomy. Hotelmen are not supposed to be educators, they merely cater to a demand. And our new aristocracy has been too busy with limousines, golf, divorces and electricity to bemourn the decline of classic cookery.
Most people "get by" without the benefit of classic cookery, subsisting on a medley of edibles, tenaciously clinging to mother's traditions, to things "as she used to make them," and mother's methods still savor of Apicius. Surely, this is no sign of retrogression but of tenacity.
The only fundamental difference between Roman dining and that of our own times may be found in these two indisputable facts —
(First) Devoid of the science of agriculture, without any advanced mechanical means, food was not raised in a very systematic way; if it happened to be abundant, Roma lacked storage and transportation facilities to make good use of it. There never were any food supplies on any large, extensive and scientific scale, hence raw materials, the wherewithal of a "classic" meal, were expensive.
(Second) Skilled labor, so vital for the success of any good dinner, so imperative for the rational preparation of food was cheap to those who held slaves.
Hence, the culinary conditions of ancient Rome were exactly the opposite of today's state of affairs. Then, good food was expensive while good labor was cheap. Now, good food is cheap while skilled labor is at a premium. Somehow, good, intelligent "labor" is reluctant to devote itself to food. That is another story. The chances for a good dinner seemed to be in favor of the Romans — but only for a favored few. Those of us, although unable to command a staff of experts, but able to prepare their own meals rationally and serve them well are indeed fortunate. With a few dimes they may dine in royal fashion. If our much maligned age has achieved anything at all it has at least enabled the working "slave" of the "masses" to dine in a manner that even princes could hardly match in former days, a manner indeed that the princes of our own time could not improve upon. The fly in the ointment is that most modern people do not know how to handle and to appreciate food. This condition, however, may be remedied by instruction and education.
Slowly, the modern masses are learning to emulate their erstwhile masters in the art of eating. They have the advantages of the great improvements in provisioning as compared with former days, thanks chiefly to the great lines of p18 communication established by modern commerce, thanks to scientific agriculture, and to the spirit of commercial enterprise and its resulting prosperity.
There are two "Ifs" in the path to humanity's salvation, at least, that of its table. If the commercialization of cookery, i.e., the wholesale production of ready-made foods for the table does not completely enthrall the housewife and if we can succeed to educate the masses to make rational, craftsmanlike use of our wonderful stores of edibles, employing or modifying to this end the rules of classic cookery, there really should be no need for any serious talk about our journey back to the primitive nuts. Even Spengler might be wrong then. Adequate distribution of our foods and rational use thereof seem to be one of the greatest problems today.
Age-old mysteries surrounding our book have not yet been cleared up. Medieval savants have squabbled in vain. Mrs. Pennell's worries and the fears of the learned Englishmen that Apicius might be a hoax have proven groundless. Still, the mystery of this remarkable book is as perplexing as ever. The authorship will perhaps never be established. But let us forever dispel any doubt about its authenticity.
Modern writers have never doubted the genuineness. To name but a few who believe in Apicius: Thudichum, Vollmer, Brandt, Vicaire, Rumohr, Schuch, Habs, Gollmer.
What matters the identity of the author? Who wrote the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Nibelungen-Lied? Let us be thankful for possessing them!
Apicius is a genuine document of Roman imperial days. There can be no doubt of that!
The unquestionable age of the earliest known manuscripts alone suffices to prove this.
The philologist gives his testimony, too. A medieval scholar could never have manufactured Apicius, imitating his strikingly original terminology. "Faking" a technical treatise requires an intimate knowledge of technical terms and familiarity with the ramifications of an intricate trade. We recommend a comparison of Platina's text with Apicius: the difference of ancient and medieval Latin is convincing. Striking examples of this kind have been especially noted in our dictionary of technical terms.
H. C. Coote, in his commentary on Apicius (cit. Apiciana) in speaking of pan gravy, remarks:
"Apicius calls this by the singular phrase of jus de suo sibi! and sometimes though far less frequently, succus suus. This phrase is curious enough in itself to deserve illustration. It is true old fashioned Plautian Latinity, and if other proof were wanting would of itself demonstrate the genuineness of the Apician text."
"The phrase is a rare remnant of the old familiar language of Rome, such as slaves talked so long, that their masters ultimately adopted it — a language of which Plautus gives us glimpses and which the graffiti may perhaps help to restore. When Varius was emperor, this phrase of the kitchen was as rife as when Plautus wrote — a proof that occasionally slang has been long lived."
Coote is a very able commentator. He has translated in the article quoted a number of Apician formulae and betrays an unusual culinary knowledge.
Modern means of communication and photography have enabled scientists in widely different parts to study our book from all angles, to scrutinize the earliest records, the Vatican and the New York manuscripts and the codex Salmasianus in Paris.
Friedrich Vollmer, of Munich, in his Studien (cit. Apiciana) has treated the manuscripts exhaustively, carrying to completion the research begun by Schuch, Traube, Ihm, Studemund, Giarratano and others with Brandt, his pupil, carrying on the work of Vollmer. More modern scientists deeply interested in the origin of our book! None doubting its genuineness.
Vollmer is of the opinion that there reposed in the monastery of Fulda, Germany, an Archetypus which in the ninth century was copied twice: once in a Turonian hand — the manuscript now kept in the Vatican — the other copy written partly in insular, partly in Carolingian — the Cheltenham codex, now in New York. The common source at Fulda of these two manuscripts has been established by Traube. There is another testimony pointing to Fulda as the oldest known source. Pope Nicholas V commissioned Enoche of Ascoli to acquire old manuscripts in Germany. Enoche used as a guide a list of works based upon observations by Poggio in Germany in 1417, listing the Apicius of Fulda. Enoche acquired the Fulda Apicius. He died in October or November, 1457. On December 10th of that year, so we know, Giovanni de' Medici requested Stefano de' Nardini, Governor of Ancona, to procure for him from Enoche's estate either in copy or in the original the book, entitled, Appicius de re quoquinaria (cf. No. 3, Apiciana). It is interesting to note that one of the Milanese editions of 1498 bears a title in this particular spelling. Enoche during his life time had lent the book to Giovanni Aurispa.
It stands to reason that Poggio, in 1417, viewed at Fulda the Archetypus of our Apicius, father of the Vatican and the New York manuscripts, then already mutilated and wanting books IX and X. Six hundred years before the arrival of Poggio the Fulda was no longer complete. Already in the ninth century its title page had been damaged which is proven by the title page of the Vatican copy which reads:
That's all! The New York copy, it has been noted, has no title page. This book commences in the middle of the list of chapters; the first part of them and the title page are gone. We recall that the New York manuscript was originally bound up with another manuscript, also in the library at Cheltenham. The missing page or pages were probably lost in separating the two manuscripts. It is possible that Enoche carried with him to Italy one of the ancient copies, very likely the present New York copy, then already without a title. At any rate, not more than twenty-five years after his book hunting expedition we find both copies in Italy. It is strange, furthermore, that neither of these two ancient copies were used by the fifteenth century copyists to make the various copies distributed by them, but that an inferior copy of the Vatican MS. became the vulgata — the progenitor of this series of medieval copies. One must bear in mind how assiduously medieval scribes copied everything that appeared to be of any importance to them, and how each new copy by virtue of human fallibility or self-sufficiency must have suffered in the making, and it is only by very careful comparison of the various manuscripts that the original text may be rehabilitated.
This, to a large extent, Vollmer and Giarratano have accomplished.c Vollmer, too, rejects the idea invented by the humanists, that Apicius had a collaborator, editor or commentator in the person of Coelius or Caelius. This name, so Vollmer claims, has been added to the book by medieval scholars without any reason except conjecture for such action. They have been misled by the mutilated title: Api. . . Cae. . .; Vollmer reconstructs this title as follows:
APIcii artis magiri- (or) opsartyti-
CÆ libri X
Remember, it is the title page only that is thus mutilated. The ten books or chapters bear the full name of Apicius, never at any time does the name of Coelius appear in the text, or at the head of the chapters.b2
The Archetypus, with the book and chapters carefully indexed and numbered as they were, with each article neatly titled, the captions and capital letters rubricated — heightened by red color, and with its proper spacing of the articles and chapters must once have been a representative example of the art of book making as it flourished towards the end of the period that sealed the fate of the Roman empire, when books of a technical nature, law books, almanacs, army lists had been developed to a high point of perfection. Luxurious finish, elaborate illumination point to the fact that our book (the Vatican copy) was intended for the use in some aristocratic household.
And now, from a source totally different than the two important manuscripts so much discussed here, we receive additional proof of the authenticity of p21 Apicius. In the codex Salmasianus (cf. III, Apiciana) we find some thirty formulae attributed to Apicius, entitled: Apici excerpta a Vinidario vir. inl. They have been accepted as genuine by Salmasius and other early scholars. Schuch incorporated the excerpta with his Apicius, placing the formulae in what he believed to be the proper order. This course, for obvious reasons, is not to be recommended. To be sure, the excerpta are Apician enough in character, though only a few correspond to, or are actual duplicates of, the Apician precepts. They are additions to the stock of authentic Apician recipes. As such, they may not be included but be appended to the traditional text. The excerpta encourage the belief that at the time of Vinidarius (got. Vinithaharjis) about the fifth century there must have been in circulation an Apicius (collection of recipes) much more complete than the one handed down to us through Fulda. It is furthermore interesting to note that the excerpta, too, are silent about Coelius.
We may safely join Vollmer in his belief that M. Gabius Apicius, celebrated gourmet living during the reign of Tiberius was the real author, or collector, or sponsor of this collection of recipes, or at least of the major part thereof — the formulae bearing the names of posterior gourmets having been added from time to time. This theory also applies to the two instances where the name of Varro is mentioned in connection with the preparation of beets and onions (bulbs). It is hardly possible that the author of the book made these references to Varro. It is more probable that some well-versed posterior reader, perusing the said articles, added to his copy: "And Varro prepared beets this way, and onions that way. . ." (cf. Book III, ). Still, there is no certainty in this theory either. There were many persons by the name so Commodus, Trajanus, Frontinianus, such as are appearing in our text, who were contemporaries of Apicius.
With our mind at ease as regards the genuineness of our book we now may view it at a closer range.
Apicius contains technical terms that have been the subject of much speculation and discussion. Liquamen, laser, muria, garum, etc., belong to these. They will be found in our little dictionary. But we cannot refrain from discussing some at present to make intelligible the most essential part of the ancient text.
Take liquamen for instance. It may stand for broth, sauce, stock, gravy, drippings, even for court bouillon — in fact for any liquid appertaining to or derived from a certain dish or food material. Now, if Apicius prescribes liquamen for the preparation of a meat or a vegetable, it is by no means clear to the uninitiated what he has in mind. In fact, in each case the term liquamen is subject to the interpretation of the experienced practitioner. Others than he would at once be confronted with an unsurmountable difficulty. Scientists may not agree with us, but such is kitchen practice. Hence the many fruitless controversies at the expense of the original, at the disappointment of science.
Garum is another word, one upon which much contemptuous witticism and p22 serious energy has been spent.Garum simply is a generic name for fish essence. True, garus is a certain and a distinct kind of Mediterranean fish, originally used in the manufacture of garum; but this product, in the course of time, has been altered, modified, adulterated, — in short, has been changed and the term has naturally been applied to all varieties and variations of fish essences, without distinction, and it has thus become a collective term, covering all varieties of fish sauces. Indeed, the corruption and degeneration of this term, garum, had so advanced at the time of Vinidarius in the fifth century as to lose even its association with any kind of fish. Terms like garatum (prepared with g.) have been derived from it. Prepared with the addition of wine it becomes oenogarum, — wine sauce — and dishes prepared with such wine sauce receive the adjective of oenogaratum, and so forth.
The original garum was no doubt akin to our modern anchovy sauce, at least the best quality of the ancient sauce. The principles of manufacture surely are alike. Garum, like our anchovy sauce, is the purée of a small fish, named garus, as yet unidentified. The fish, intestines and all, was spiced, pounded, fermented, salt, strained and bottled for further use. The finest garum was made of the livers of the fish only, exposed to the sun, fermented, somehow preserved. It was an expensive article in old Rome, famed for its medicinal properties. Its mode of manufacture has given rise to much criticism and scorn on the part of medieval and modern commentators and interpreters who could not comprehend the "perverse taste" of the ancients in placing any value on the "essence from putrefied intestines of fish."
However, garum has been vindicated, confirmed, endorsed, reiterated, rediscovered, if you please, by modern science! What, pray, is the difference in principle between garum (the exact nature of which is unknown) and the oil of the liver of cod (or less expensive fish) exposed to the beneficial rays of ultraviolet light — artificial sunlight — to imbue the oil with an extra large and uniform dose of vitamin D? The ancients, it appears, knew "vitamin D" to exist. Maybe they had a different name for "vitamins," maybe none at all. The name does not matter. The thing which they knew, does. They knew the nutritive value of liver, proven by many formulae. Pollio, one of the vicious characters of antiquity, fed murenas (sea-eel) with slaves he threw into the piscina, the fish pond, and later enjoyed the liver of the fish.
Some "modern" preparations are astonishingly ancient, and vice versa. Our anchovy sauce is used freely to season fish, to mix with butter, to be made into solid anchovy or fish paste. There are sardine pastes, lobster pastes, fish forcemeats found in the larder of every good kitchen — preparations of Apician character. A real platter of hors d'oeuvres, an antipasto is not complete unless made according to certain Apician precepts.
Muria is salt water, brine, yet it may stand for a fluid in which fish or meat, fruit or vegetables have been pickled.
The difficulties of the translator of Apicius who takes him literally, are unconsciously but neatly demonstrated by the work of Danneil. Even he, seasoned p23 practitioner, condemns garum, muria, asa foetida, because professors before him have done so, because have forgets that these very materials still form a vital part of some of his own sauces only in a different shape, form or under a different name. Danneil calls some Apician recipes "incredibly absurd," "fabulous," "exaggerated," but he thinks nothing of the serving of similar combinations in his own establishment every day in the year.
Danneil would take pride in serving a Veal Cutlet à la Holstein. (What have we learned of Apicius in the Northern countries?). The ancient Holsteiner was not satisfied until his piece of veal was covered with a nice fat herring. That "barbarity" had to be modified by us moderns into a veal cutlet, turned in milk and flour, eggs and bread crumbs, fried, covered with fried eggs, garnished with anchovies or bits of herring, red beets, capers, and lemon in order to qualify for a restaurant favorite and "best seller." Apicius hardly has a dish more characteristic and more bewildering.
What of combinations of fish and meat?
De gustibus non est disputandum. It all goes into the same stomach. May it be sturdy one, and let its owner beware. What of our turkey and oyster dressing? Of our broiled fish and bacon? Of our clam chowder, our divine Bouillabaisse? If the ingredients and component parts of such dishes were enumerated in the laconic and careless Apician style, if they were stated without explicit instructions and details (supposed to be known to any good practitioner) we would have recipes just as mysterious as any of the Apician formulae.
Danneil, like ever so many interpreters, plainly shared the traditional belief, the egregious errors of popular history. People still are under the spell of the fantastic and fanciful descriptions of Roman conviviality and gastronomic eccentricities. Indeed, we rah believe in the insanity of these descriptions than in the insane conduct of the average Roman gourmet. It is absurd of course to assume and to make the world believe that a Roman patrician made a meal of garum, laserpitium, and the like. They used these condiments judiciously; any other use thereof is physically impossible. They economized their spices which have caused so much comment, too. As a matter of fact, they used condiments niggardly and sparingly as is plainly described in some formulae, if only for one good and sufficient reason that spices and condiments which often came from Asia and Africa were extremely expensive. This very reason, perhaps, caused much of the popular outcry against their use, which, by the way, is merely another form of political propaganda, in which, as we shall see, the mob guided by the rabble of politicians excelled.
We moderns are just as "extravagant" (if not more) in the use of sauces and condiments — Apician sauces, too! Our Worcestershire, catsup, chili, chutney, walnut catsup, A I, Harvey's, Punch, Soyer's, Escoffier's, Oscar's (every culinary coryphee endeavors to create one) — our mustards and condiments in their different forms, if not actually dating back to Apicius, are, at least lineal descendants from ancient prototypes.
To readers little experienced in kitchen practice such phrases (often repeated p24 by Apicius) as, "crush pepper, lovage, marjoram," etc., etc., may appear stereotyped and monotonous. They have not survived in modern kitchen parlance, because the practice of using spices, flavors and aromas has changed. There are now in the market compounds, extracts, mixtures not used in the old days. Many modern spices come to us ready ground or mixed, or compounded ready for kitchen use. This has the disadvantage in that volatile properties deteriorate more rapidly and that the goods may be easily adulterated. The bavarians, under Duke Albrecht, in 1553 prohibited the grinding of spices for that very reason. Ground spices are time and labor savers, however. Modern kitchen methods have put the old mortar practically out of existence, at the expense of quality of the finished product.
The enviable Apicius cared naught for either time or labor. He gave these two important factors in modern life not a single thought. His culinary procedures required a amount of labor and effort on the part of the cooks and their helpers. The labor item never worried any ancient employer. It was either very cheap or entirely free of charge.
The selfish gourmet (which gourmet is not selfish?) almost wonders whether the abolition of slavery was a well-advised measure in modern social and economic life. Few people appreciate the labor cost in excellent cookery and few have any conception of the cost of good food service today. Yet all demand both, when "dining out," at least. Who, on the other hand, but a brute would care to dine well, "taking it out of the hide of others?"
Hence we moderns with a craving for gourmandise but minus appropriations for skilled labor would do well to follow the example of Alexandre Dumas who cheerfully and successfully attended to his own cuisine. Despite an extensive fiction practice he found time to edit "Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine" and was not above writing mustard advertisements, either.
The appetite of the ancients was at times successfully curbed by sumptuary laws, cropping out at fairly regular intervals. These laws, usually given under the pretext of safeguarding the morals of the people and accompanied by similar euphonious phrases were, like modern prohibitions, vicious and virulent effusions of the predatory instinct in mankind. We cannot give a chronological list of them here, and are citing them merely to illustrate the difficulty confronting the prospective ancient host.
During the reign of Caesar and Augustus severe laws were passed, fixing the sums to be spent for public and private dinners and specifying the edibles to be consumed. These laws classified gastronomic functions with an ingenious eye for system, professing all the time to protect the public's morals and health; but they were primarily designed to replenish the ever-vanishing contents of p25 the Imperial exchequer and to provide soft jobs hordes of enforcers. The amounts allowed to be spent for various social functions were so ridiculously small in our own modern estimation that we may well wonder how a Roman host could have ever made a decent showing at a banquet. However, he and the cooks managed somehow. Imperial spies and informers were omnipresent. The market places were policed, the purchases by prospective hosts carefully noted, dealers selling supplies and cooks (the more skillful kind usually) hired for the occasion were bribed to reveal the "menu." Dining room windows had to be located conveniently to allow free inspection from the street of the dainties served; the passing Imperial food inspector did not like to intrude upon the sanctity of the host's home. The pitiable host of those days, his unenviable guests and the bewildered cooks, however, contrived and conspired somehow to get up a banquet that was a trifle better than a Chicago quick lunch.d
How did they do it?
In the light of modern experience gained by modern governments dillydallying with sumptuary legislation that has been discarded as a bad job some two thousand years ago, the question seems superfluous.
Difficile est satyram non scribere! To make a long story short: The Roman host just broke the law, that's all. Indeed, those who made the laws were first to break them. The minions, appointed to uphold the law, were easily accounted for. Any food inspector too arduous in the pursuit of his duty was disposed of by dispatching him to the rear entrance of the festive hall, and was delivered to the tender care of the chief cook.
Such was the case during the times of Apicius. Indeed, the Roman idea of good cheer during earlier epochs was provincial enough. It was simply barbaric before the Greeks showed the Romans a thing or two in cookery. The methods of fattening fowl introduced from Greece something unheard‑of! It was outrageous, sacrilegious! Senators, orators and other self-appointed saviors of humanity thundered against the vile methods of tickling the human palate, deftly employing all the picturesque tam-tam and élan still the stock in trader of ever so many modern colleagues in any civilized parliament. The speeches, to be sure, passed into oblivion, the fat capons, however, stayed in the barnyards until they had acquired the saturation point of tender luscious calories to be enjoyed by those who could afford them. How the capon was "invented" is told in a note on the subject.
Many other so‑called luxuries, sausage from Epirus, cherries from the Pontus, oysters from England, were greeted with a studied hostility by those who profited from the business of making laws and public opinion.
Evidently, the time and the place was not very propitious for gastronomic over-indulgence. Only when the ice was broken, when the disregard for law and order had become general through the continuous practice of contempt for an unpopular sumptuary law, when corruption had become wellnigh universal chiefly thanks to the examples set by the higher-ups, it was then that the torrent p26 of human passion and folly ran riot, exceeding natural bounds, tearing everything with them, all that is beautiful and decent, thus swamping the great empire beyond the hopes for any recovery.
Most of the Apician directions are vague, hastily jotted down, carelessly edited. One of the chief reasons for the eternal misunderstandings! Often the author fails to state the quantities to be used. He has a mania for giving undue prominence to expensive spices and other (quite often irrelevant) ingredients. Plainly, Apicius was no write, no editor. He was a cook. He took it for granted that spices be used within the bounds of reason, but he could not afford to forget them in his formulae.
Apicius surely pursues the correct culinary principle of incorporating the flavoring agents during the process of cooking, contrary to many moderns who, vigorously protesting against "highly seasoned" and "rich" food, and who, craving for "something plain" proceed to inundate perfectly good, plain roast or boiled dishes with a deluge of any of the afore-mentioned commercial "sauces" that have absolutely no relation to the dish and that have no mission other than to grant relief from the deadening monotony of "plain" food. Chicken or mutton, beef or venison, finnan haddie or brook trout, eggs or oysters thus "sauced," taste all alike — sauce! To use such ready-made sauces with dishes cooked à l'anglaise is logical, excusable, almost advisable. Even the most ascetic of men cannot resist the of spicy delights, nor can he for any length of time endure the insipidity of plain food sans sauce. Hence the popularity of such sauces amongst people who do not observe the correct culinary principle of seasoning food judiciously, befitting its character, without spoiling but rather in enhancing its characteristics and in bringing out its flavor at the right time, namely during coction to give the kindred aromas a chance to blend well.
Continental nations, adhering to this important principle of cookery (inherited from Apicius) would not dream of using ready-made (English) sauces.
We have witnessed real crimes being perpetrated upon perfectly seasoned and delicately flavored entrées. We have watched ill-advised people maltreat good things, cooked to perfection, even before they tasted them, sprinkling them as a matter of habit, with quantities of salt and pepper, paprika, cayenne, daubing them mustards of every variety or swamping them with one or several of these commercial sauce preparations. "Temperamental" chefs, men who know their art, usually explode at the sight of such wantonness. Which painter would care to see his canvas varnished with all the hues in the rainbow by a patron afflicted with such a taste?
Perhaps the craving for excessive flavoring is an olfactory delirium, a pathological case, as yet unfathomed like the excessive craving for liquor, and, being a problem for the medical fraternity, it is only of secondary importance to gastronomy.
p27 To say that the Romans were afflicted on a national scale with a strange spice mania (as some interpreters want us to believe) would be equivalent to the assertion that all wine-growing nations were nations of drunkards. As a matter of fact, the reverse is the truth.
Apicius surely would be surprised at some things we enjoy. Voilà, a recipe, "modern," not older than half a century, given by us in the Apician style or writing: Take liquamen, pepper, cayenne, eggs, lemon, olive oil, vinegar, white wine, anchovies, onions, tarragon, pickled cucumbers, parsley, chervil, hard-boiled eggs, capers, green peppers, mustard, chop, mix well, and serve.
Do you recognize it? This formula sounds as phantastic, as "weird" and as "vile" as any of the Apician concoctions, confusing even a well-trained cook because we stated neither the title of this preparation nor the mode of making it, nor did we name the ingredients in their proper sequence. This mystery was conceived with an illustrative purpose which will be explained later, which may and may not have to do with the mystery of Apicius. Consider, for a moment, this mysterious creation No. 2: Take bananas, oranges, cherries, flavored with bitter almonds, fresh pineapple, lettuce, fresh peaches, plums, figs, grapes, apples, nuts, cream cheese, olive oil, eggs, white wine, vinegar, cayenne, lemon, salt, white pepper, dry mustard, tarragon, rich sour cream, chop, mix, whip well.
Worse yet! Instead of having our aroused the very perusal of this quasi-Apician mixtum compositum repels every desire to partake of it. We are justly tempted to condemn it as being utterly impossible. Yet every day hundreds of thousand portions of it are sold under the name of special fruit salad with mayonnaise mousseuse. The above mystery No. 1 is the justly popular tartar sauce.
Thus we could go on analyzing modern preparations and make them appear as outlandish things. Yet we relish them every day. The ingredients, obnoxious in great quantities, are employed with common sense. We are not mystified seeing them in print; they are usually given in clear logical order. This is not the style of Apicius, however.
We can hardly judge Apicius by what he has revealed but we rather should try to discover what he — purposely or otherwise — has concealed if we should get a good idea of the ancient kitchen. This thought occurred to us at the eleventh hour, after years of study of the text and after almost despairing of a plausible solution of its mysteries. And it seems surprising that Apicius has never been suspected before of withholding information essential to the successful practice of his rather hypothetical and empirical formulae. The more we scrutinize them, the more we become convinced that the author has omitted vital directions — same as we did purposely with the two modern examples above. Many of the Apician recipes are dry enumerations of ingredients supposed to belong to a given dish or sauce. It is well-known that in chemistry (cookery is but applied chemistry) the knowledge of the rules governing the quantities and p28 the sequence of the ingredients, their manipulation, either separately or jointly, either successively or simultaneously, is a very important matter, and that violation or ignorance of the process may spell failure at any stage of the experiment. In the kitchen this is particularly true of baking and soup and sauce making, the most intricate of culinary operations.
There may have been two chief reasons for concealing necessary information. Apicius, or more likely the professional collectors of the recipes, may have considered technical elaboration of the formulae quite superfluous on the assumption that the formulae were for professional use only. Every good practitioner knows, with ingredients or components given, what manipulations are required, what effects are desired. Even in the absence of detailed specifications, the experienced practitioner will be able to devine correct proportions, by intuition. As a matter of fact, in cookery the mention in the right place of a single ingredient, like in poetry the right word, often suffices to conjure up before the gourmet's mental eye vistas of delight. Call it inspiration, association of ideas or what you please, a single word may often prove a guide, a savior.
Let us remember that in Apicius' days paper (parchment, papyrus) and writing materials were expensive and that, moreover, the ability of correct logical and literary expression was necessarily limited in the case of a practising cook who, after all, must have been the collector of the Apician formulae. This is sufficiently proven by the lingua coquinaria, the vulgar Latin of our old work. In our opinion, the ancient author did not consider it worth his while to give anything but the most indispensable information in the tersest form. This he certainly did. A comparison of his literary performance with that of the artistic and accomplished writer of the renaissance, Platina, will at once show up Apicius as a hard-working practical cook, a man who knew his business but who could than tell what he knew.
Like ever so many of his successors, he could not refrain from beginning and concluding many of his articles with such superfluities as "take this" and "And serve," etc., all of which shows him up as a genuine cook. These articles, written in the most laconic language possible — the language of a very busy, very harassed, very hurried man, are the literary product of a cook, or of several of them.
The other chief motive for condensing or obscuring his text has a more subtle foundation. Indeed, we are surprised that we should possess so great a collection of recipes, representing to him who could use them certain commercial and social value. The preservation of Apicius seems entirely accidental. Experienced cooks were in demand in Apicius' times; the valuation of their ministrations increased proportionately to the progress in gastronomy and to the prosperity of the nation. During Rome's frugal era, up to 200 B.C. the primitive cooks were just slaves and household chattels; but the development of their trade into an art, stimulated by foreign precepts, imported principally from Greece, Sicily and Asia Minor, opened up to the practitioners not only the door to freedom from servitude but it offered even positions of wealth with social and political standing, p29 often arousing the envy, satire, criticism of bona-fide politicians, journalists, moralists, satirists and of the ever-present hordes of parasites and hangers-on. Some cooks became confidants, even friends and advisors of men in high places, emperors, (cf. life of Vitellius) and through their subtle influence upon the mighty they may have contributed in no mean measure to the fate of the nation. But such invisible string-pullers have not been confined to those days alone. (Take Rasputin! Take the valet to William I, reputed to have had more "say" than the mighty Bismarck, who, as it developed, got "the air" while the valet died in his berth.)
Such being the case, what potential power reposed in a greasy cookery manuscript! And, if so, why bare such wonderful secrets to Tom, Dick and Harry?
Weights and measures are given by Apicius in some instances. But just such figures can be used artfully to conceal a trap. Any mediocre cook, gaining possession of a choice collection of detailed and itemized recipes would have been placed in an enviable position. Experimenting for some time (at his master's expense) he would soon reach that perfection when he could demand a handsome compensation for his ministrations. Throughout antique times, throughout the middle ages down to the present day (when patent laws no longer protect a secret) strict secrecy was maintained around many useful and lucrative formulae, not only by cooks, but also by physicians, alchemists and the various scientist, artisans and craftsmen. Only the favorite apprentice would be made heir to or shareholder in this important stock in trade after his worthiness had been proven to his master's satisfaction, usually by the payment of a goodly sum of money — apprentice's pay. We remember reading in Lanciani (Rodolfo L.: Ancient Rome in the Light of Recent Discoveries) how in the entire history of Rome there is but one voice, that of a solitary, noble-minded physician, complaining about the secrecy that was being maintained by his colleagues as regards their science. To be sure, those fellows had every reason in the world for keeping quiet: so preposterous were their methods in most cases! This secrecy indeed must have carried with it a blessing in disguise. Professional reserve was not its object. The motive was purely commercial.
Seeing where the information given by Apicius is out of reason and unintelligible we are led to believe that such text is by no means to be taken very literally. On the contrary, it is quite probable that weights and measures are not correct: they are quite likely to be of an artful and studied unreliability. A secret private code is often employed, necessitating the elimination or transposition of certain words, figures or letters before the whole will become intelligible and useful. If by any chance an uninitiated hand should attempt to grasp such veiled directions, failure would be certain. We confess to have employed at an early stage of our own career this same strategy and time-honored camouflage to protect a precious lot of recipes. Promptly we lost this unctuous manuscript, as we feared we would; if not deciphered today, the book has long since been discarded as being a record of the ravings of a madman.
The advent of the printing press changed the situation. With Platina, ca. p30 1474, an avalanche of cookery literature started. The secrets of Scappi, "cuoco secreto" to the pope, were "scooped" by an enterprising Venetian printer in 1570. The guilds of French mustard makers and sauce cooks (precursors of modern food firms and manufacturers of ready-made condiments) were a powerful tribe of secret mongers in the middle ages. English gastronomic literature of the 16th, 17th and even the 18th century is crowded with "closets opened," "secrets let out" and other alluring titles purporting to regale the prospective reader with profitable and appetizing secrets of all sorts. Kitchen secrets became commercial articles.
These remarks should suffice to illustrate the assumption that the Apicius book was not created for publication but that it is a collection of abridged formulae for private use, a treasure chest as it were, of some cook, which after the demise of its owner, collector, originator, a curious world could not resist to play with, although but a few experienced masters held the key, being able to make use of the recipes.
In perusing Apicius only one or two instances of cruelty to animals have come to our attention (cf. recipes No. 140 and 259). Cruel methods of slaughter were common. Some of the dumb beasts that were to feed man and even had to contribute to his pleasures and enjoyment of life by giving up their own lives often were tortured in cruel, unspeakable ways. The belief existed that such methods might increase the quality, palatability and flavor of the meat. Such beliefs and methods may still be encountered on the highways and byways in Europe and Asia today. Since the topic, strictly speaking does not belong here, we cannot depict it in detail, and in passing make mention of it to refer students interested in the psychology of the ancients to such details as are found in the writings of Plutarch and other ancient writers during the early Christian era. It must be remembered, however, that such writers (including the irreproachable Plutarch) were advocates of vegetarianism. Some passages are inspired by true humane feeling, but much appears to be written in the interest of vegetarianism.
The ancients were not such confirmed meat eaters as the modern Western nations, merely because the meat supply was not so ample. Beef was scarce because of the shortage of large pastures. The cow was sacred, the ox furnished motive power, and, after its usefulness was gone, the muscular old brute had little attraction for the gourmet. Today lives a race of beef eaters. Our beef diet, no doubt is bound to change somewhat. Already the world's grazing grounds are steadily diminishing. The North American prairies are being parcelled off into small farms the working conditions of which make beef raising expensive. The South American pampas and a strip of coastal land in Australia now furnish the bulk of the world's beef supply. Perhaps Northern Asia still holds in store a large future supply of meat but this no doubt will be claimed by p31 Asia. Already Northern America is acclimating the Lapland reindeer to offset the waning beef, to utilize its Northern wastes.
With the increasing shortage of beef, with the increasing facilities for raising chicken and pork, a reversion to Apician methods of cookery and diet is not only presbytery but actually seems inevitable. The ancient bill of fare and the ancient methods of cookery were entirely guided by the supply of raw materials — precisely like ours. They had no great food stores nor very efficient marketing and transportation systems, food cold storage. They knew, however, to take care of what there was. They were good managers.
Such atrocities as the willful destruction of huge quantities of food of every description on the one side and starving multitudes on the other as seen today never occurred in antiquity.
Many of the Apician dishes will not appeal to the beef eaters. It is worthy of note that much criticism was heaped upon Apicius some 200 years ago in England when beef eating became fashionable in that country. The art of Apicius requires practitioners of superior intellect. Indeed, it requires a superior clientèle to appreciate Apician dishes. But practitioners that would pass the requirements of the Apician school are scarce in the kitchens of the beef eaters. We cannot blame meat eaters for rejecting the average chef d'oeuvre set before them by a mediocre cook who has learned little besides the roasting or broiling of meats. Once the average man has acquired a taste for the refined compositions made by a talented and experienced cook, say, a composition of meats, vegetables or cereals, properly "balanced" by that intuition that never fails the real artist, the fortunate diner will eventually curtail the preponderant meat diet. A glance at some Chinese and Japanese methods of cookery may perhaps convince us of the probability of these remarks.
Nothing is more perplexing and more alarming than a new dish, but we can see in a reversion to Apician cookery methods only a dietetic benefit accruing to this so‑called white race of beef eaters.
Apicius certainly excels in the preparation of vegetable dishes (cf. his cabbage and asparagus) and in the utilization of parts of food materials that are today considered inferior, hardly worth preparing for the table except by the very careful and economical housekeeper. Properly prepared, many of these things are good, often more nutritious than the dearer cuts, and sometimes they are really delicious.
One has but to study the methods of ancient and intelligent people who have suffered for thousands of years under the perennial shortage of food supplies in order to understand and to appreciate Apician methods. Be it far from us to advocate their methods, or to wish upon us the conditions that engendered such methods; for such practices have been pounded into these people by dire necessity. They have graduated from the merciless school of hunger.
Food materials, we repeat, were never as cheap and as abundant as they are today. But who can say that they always will be so in the future?
We must not overlook the remarkable intuition displayed by the ancients in giving preference to foods with body- and blood-building properties. For instance, the use of liver, particularly fish liver already referred to. The correctness of their choice is now being confirmed by scientific re-discoveries. The young science of nutrition is important enough to an individual who would stimulate or preserve his health. But since constitutions are different, the most carefully conceived dietary may apply to one particular individual only, provided, however, that our present knowledge of nutrition be correct and final. This knowledge, as a matter of fact, is being revised and changed constantly.
If dietetics, therefore, were important enough to have any bearing at all upon the well-defined methods of cookery, we might go into detail analyzing ancient methods from that point of view. To call attention to the "economy," the stewardship, or craftsmanship, in ancient methods and to the truly remarkable intuition that guided the ancient cooks is more important. Without these qualities there can be no higher gastronomy. Without high gastronomy no high civilization is possible. The honest and experienced nutrition expert, though perhaps personally opposed to elaborate dining, will discover through close study of the ancient precepts interesting pre-scientific and well-balanced combinations and methods designed to jealously guard the vitamins and dietetic values in dishes that may appear curiously "new" to the layman that would nevertheless receive the unqualified approval of modern science.
We respect the efforts of modern dietitians and food reformers; but we are far removed from the so‑called "simple" and "plain" foods advocated by some well-meaning individuals. With the progress of civilization we are farther and farther drifting away from it. Even barbaric and beastly food is not "simple."
This furtive "intuition" in cookery (in the absence of scientific facts because of the inability of cooks to transform empirical traditions into practical rules emanating from understood principles) still prevails today. It guides great chefs, saves time spent in scientific study.
The much criticized "unnatural union of sugar and meats" of the ancients still exists today in many popular examples of cookery: lamb and mint sauce, steak and catsup, mutton and currant jelly, pork and apples (in various forms), oyster cocktail, poultry and compote, goose with apple and raisin dressing, venison and Cumberland sauce, mince pie, plum pudding — typical survivals of ancient traditions. "Intuition" is still preceding exact science, and "unnatural unions" as in social, political and any other form of life, seem to be the rule rather than the exception.
Apicius is often blamed for his endeavor to serve one thing under the guise of another. The reasons for such deceptions are various ones. Fashion dictated it. Cooks were not considered "clever" unless they could surprise guests with a commonplace food material so skillfully prepared that identification was difficult p33 or impossible. Another reason was the absence of good refrigeration, making "masking" necessary. Also the ambition of hosts to serve a cheaper food for a more expensive one — veal for chicken, pork for partridge, and so on. But do we not indulge in the same "stunts" today? We either do it with the intention of deceiving or to "show off." Have we not "Mock Turtle Soup," Mouton à la Chasseur, mutton prepared to taste like venison, "chicken" salad made of veal or of rabbit? In Europe even today much of the traditional roast hare in caught in the alley, and it belongs to a feline species. "Roof hare."
There is positive evidence of downright frauds and vicious food adulterations in the times of Apicius. The old rascal himself is than above giving directions for rose wine without roses, or how to make a spoiled honey marketable, and other similar adulterations. Those of our readers with sensitive gastronomic instinct had better skip the paragraphs discussing the treatment of "birds with a goatish smell." But the old food adulterators are no match for their modern successors.
Too, some of our own shams are liable to misinterpretation. In centuries to come our own modern recipes for "Scotch Woodcock" or "Welsh rabbit" may be interpreted as attempts on our part to hoodwink guests by making game birds and rabbits out of cheese and bread, like Trimalchio's culinary artists are reputed to have made suckling pigs out of dough, partridges of veal, chicken of tunny fish, and vice versa. What indeed would a serious-minded research worker a thousand years hence if unfamiliar with our culinary practice and traditions make of such terms as de nonne as found in many old French cookery books, or of the famous suttelties (subtleties) — the confections once so popular at medieval weddings?
The ramifications of the lingua coquinaria in any country are manifold, and the culinary wonderland is full of pitfalls even for the experienced gourmet.
Like in all other branches of ancient endeavor, cookery had reached a state of perfection around the time of Apicius when the only chance for successful continuation of the art lay in the conquest of new fields, i.e., in expansion, generalization, elaboration and in influence from foreign sources. We have witnessed this in French cookery which for the last hundred years has successfully expanded and has virtually captured the civilized parts of the globe, subject however, always to regional and territorial modifications.
This desirable expansion of ancient cookery did not take place. It was violently and rather suddenly checked principally by political and economic events during the centuries following Apicius, perhaps principally by the forces that caused the great migration (the very quest of food!). Suspension ensued instead. The heirs to the ancient culture were not yet ready for their marvelous heritage. Besides their cultural unpreparedness, the cookery of the ancients, like their p34 humor, did not readily appeal to the "Nordic" heirs. Both are so subtle and they depend so much upon the psychology and the economic conditions of a people, and they thus presented almost unsurmountable obstacles to the invaders. Still lo! already in the fifth century, the Goth Vinithaharjis, started to collect the Apician precepts.
The usefulness in our days of Apicius as a practical cookery book has been questioned, but we leave this to our readers to decide after the perusal of this translation.
If not useful in the kitchen, if we cannot grasp its moral, what, then, is Apicius? Merely a curio?
The existing manuscripts cannot be bought; the old printed editions are highly priced by collectors, and they are rare. Still, the few persons able to read the messages therein cannot use them: they are not practitioners in cookery.
None of the Apician editors (except Danneil and the writer) were experienced practising gastronomers. Humelbergius, Lister, Bernhold were medical men. Two serious students, Schuch and Wustermann, gave up academic positions to devote a year to the study of modern cookery in order to be able to interpret Apicius. These enthusiasts overlooked, however, two facts: Apicius cannot be understood by inquiring into modern average cookery methods, nor can one complete mastery of cookery, practical as well as theoretical, including the historical and physiological aspects of gastronomy be acquired in one year. Richard Gollmer, another Apicius editor, declares that the results of this course in gastronomy were negative. We might add here that Schuch's edition of Apicius, apart from the unwarranted exclusion of the excerpta of Vinidarius is the least reliable of all editions.
Gollmer published a free version of Apicius in German in 1909. If he did not render the original very faithfully and literally, it must be said in all fairness that his methods of procedure were correct. Gollmer attempted of interpret the ancient text for the modern reader. Unfortunately he based his work upon that of Schuch and Wustemann and Lister. A year or so later Eduard Danneil published a version of his own, also based on Schuch. This editor is a practising chef, — Hof-Traiteur or caterer to the court of one of the then reigning princes of Germany. Dannel's preface is dated 1897, though the date of publication is 1911. In view of the fact that Gollmer had covered the ground and that Danneil added nothing new to Apician lore, his publication seems superfluous. Danneil's translation differs in that the translator adhered literally to the questionable Schuch version whereas Gollmer aspired to a free and readable version for an educated public.
A comparison reveals that the one au is not a cook while the other is not a savant.
Like the scholars who tried their hand at cookery, there are a number of worthy and ambitious practitioners of cookery who have endeavored to reach p35 the heights of scholarship, among them Carême and Soyer, men of great calibre. Unfortunately, the span of human life is short, the capacity of the human mind is limited. Fruitful achievements in widely different fields of endeavor by one man are rare. This is merely your illustrate the extreme difficulty encountered by anyone bent on a venturesome exploration of our subject and the very narrow chances of success to extricate himself with grace from the two-thousand year old labyrinth of philosophical, historical, linguistical and gastronomical technicalities.
This task will become comparatively easy, however, and surely interesting and with a foreboding of many delights and surprises if we penetrate the jungle aided by the experience of predecessors, steadfastly relying on the "theory of evolution" as a guide, and armed with the indispensable equipment for gastronomical research, i.e., the practical and technical knowledge of cookery, mastery of languages, and last but not least, if we are obsessed with the fixed idea that so menial a subject is worth all the bother.
We have purposely refrained from presenting here a treatise in the customary scientific style. We know, there are repetitions, digressions, excursions into adjacent fields that may be open to criticism. We really do not aim to make this critical review an exhibition of scholarly attainments with all the necessary brevity, clarity, scientific restraint and etiquette. Such style would be entirely out of our line. Any bookish flavor attaching itself to our work would soon replace a natural fragrance we aim to preserve, namely our close contact with the subject. Those interested in the scholarly work that has been contributed to this cause are referred to modern men like Vollmer, Giarratano, Brandt and others named in the bibliography. Of the older scientists there is Martinus Lister, a man whose knowledge of the subject is very respectable and whose devotion to it is unbounded, whose integrity as a scientist is above reproach. His notes and commentaries together with those of Humelbergius, the editor-physician of Zürich, will be enjoyed and read with profit by every antiquary. The labors of Bernhold and Schuch are meritorious also, the work, time, and esprit these men have devoted to the subject is enormous. As for Torinus, the opinions are divided. Humelbergius ignores him, Gryphius pirates him, Lister scorns him, we like him. Lister praises his brother physician, Humelbergius: Doctus quidem vir et modestus! So he is! The notes by Humelbergius alone and his word: Nihil immutare ausi sumus! entitles him to all the praise Lister can bestow. Unfortunately, the sources of his information are unknown.
Lacking these, we have of course no means of ascertaining whether he always lived up to his word that he is not privileged to change. Humelbergius and Lister may have made contributions of value from a philological point of view but their work appears to have less merit gastronomically than that of Torinus. To us the Basel editor often seems surprisingly correct in cases where the gastronomical character of a formula is in doubt.
In rendering the ancient text into English we, too, have endeavored to follow p36 Humelbergius' example; hence the almost literal translation of the originals before us, namely, Torinus, Humelbergius, Lister, Bernhold, Schuch and the latest, Giarratano-Vollmer which reached us in 1925 in time for collating. We have wavered often and long whether or not to place alongside this English version the original Latin text, but due to the divergencies we have finally abandoned the idea, for practical reasons alone.
In translating we have endeavored to clear up mysteries and errors; this interpretation is a work quite apart and independent of that of the translation. It is merely the sum and substance of our practical experience in gastronomy. It is not to be taken as an attempt to change the original but is presented in good faith, to be taken on its face value. This interpretation appears in the form of notes directly under each article, for quick reference and it is our wish that it be of some practical service in contributing to the general understanding and appreciation of our ancient book.
For the sake of expediency we have numbered and placed a title (in English) on each ancient recipe, following the example of Schuch. This procedure may be counted against us as a liberty taken with the text. The text has remained inviolate. We have merely aimed at a rational and legible presentation — knew within the province and the duty of an editor-translator and technical expert.
We do not claim credit for any other work connected with the task of making this most unique book accessible to the English-speaking public and for the competition for scholastic laurels we wish to stay hors de combat. We feel we are not privileged to pass final judgment upon the excellent work done by sympathetic and erudite admirers of our ancient book throughout the better part of four centuries, and we cannot side with one or the other in questions philological, historical, or of any other nature, except gastronomical. We are deeply indebted to all of our predecessors and through conversations and extensive correspondence with other modern researchers, Dr. Edward Brandt and Dr. Margaret B. Wilson, we are enabled to predict new developments in Apician research. The debates of the scientists, it appears, are not yet closed.
As a matter of fact, the various differences of opinion in minor questions are of little import to us as compared with the delightful fact that we here possess an Apicius, not only a genuine Roman, but an "honest-to‑goodness" human being besides. A jolly fellow is Apicius with a basketful of happy messages for a hungry world. We therefore want to make this work of ours the entertainment and instruction the subject deserves to be. If we succeed in proving that Apicius is not a mummyfied, bone-dry classic but he has "the goods," namely some real human merit we shall have accomplished more than the savants to whom this popularization of our hero has been denied so far.
After all, we live in a practical age, and it is the practical value, the matter-of horse fact contribution to our happiness and well-being by the work of any man, ancient or modern, which counts in these days of materialism.
So let us tell the truth, and let us sum up in a few words:
We do not know who Apicius is. We do not know who wrote the book bearing p37 his name. We do not know when it was written, or whether it is of Greek or of Roman origin. Furthermore, we do not understand many of its precepts!
We do know, however, that it is the oldest work dealing with the food and the cookery of the ancient world's greatest empire, and that, as such, it is of the utmost interest and importance to us.
In this sense we have endeavored to treat the book.
Past attempts to dine à l'Apicius invariably have ended disastrously. Eager gourmets, ever on the look-out for something new and curious scholars have attempted to prepare dishes in the manner prescribed by Apicius. Most of such experimenters have executed the old precepts literally, instead of trying to enter into their spirit.
"Das Land der Griechen mit der Seele suchen!" says Goethe. The friends of Apicius who failed to heed this advice, also failed to comprehend the precepts, they were cured of their curiosity, and blamed the master for their own shortcomings. Christina, queen of Sweden, was made ill by an attempt of this kind to regale her majesty with a rare Apician morsel while in Italy as the guest of some noble. But history is dark on this point. Here perhaps Apicius is blamed for a dastardly attempt on the royal lady's life for this daughter of the Protestant Gustavus Adolphus was in those days not the only crowned head in danger of being dispatched by means of some tempting morsel smilingly proffered by some titled rogue. A deadly dish under the disguise of "Apicius" must have been particularly convenient in those days for such sinister purposes. The sacred obligations imposed upon "barbarians" by the virtue of hospitality had been often forgotten by the super-refined hosts of the Renaissance.
But Apicius continued to prove unhealthful to a number of later amateurs. Lister, with his perfectly sincere endeavor to popularize Apicius, achieved precisely the opposite. The publication of his work in London, 1705, was the signal for a number of people, scholars and others, to crack jokes, than at the expense of Apicius, as they imagined, but to expose their own ignorance. Smollet, Dr. W. King ("Poor starving wit" — Swift), Dr. Hunter and others. More recently, a party of English dandies, chaperoned, if we remember correctly, by the ponderous George Augustus Sala, fared likewise badly in their attempt to stage a Roman feast, being under the impression that the days of Tiberius and the mid-Victorian era may be joined with impunity, à la minute, as it were.
Even later, in one of the (alas! not so many) good books on gastronomy, "Kettner's Book of the Table," London, 1877, the excellent author dismisses Roman cookery with a few lines of "warning." Kettner, admirer of Sala, evidently was still under the baneful influence. Twenty years later, Danneil, colleague of Kettner's, joined the chorus of "irreverent critics." They all based their judgment on mere idle conversation, resulting from disappointments in ill-fated attempts to cook in the Apician style. Even the best experts, it appears, may fall victims to the mysterious spell surrounding, protecting things of sacred p38 antiquity, hovering like an avenging angel over them, to ward off all "irreverent critics" and curious intruders.
After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This homely solid wisdom is literally true of our good old Apicius. We have tested many of his precepts, and have found them practical, good, even delightful. A few, we will say, are of the rarest beauty and of consummate perfection in the realm of gastronomy, while some others again are totally unintelligible for reasons sufficiently explained. Always remembering Humelbergius, we have "laid off" of these torsos, recommending them to some more competent commentator. Many of the ancient tried have our unqualified gastronomic approval.
If our work has not differed from that of our predecessors, if it shows the same human frailties and foibles, we have at least one mark of distinction among the editors in that we have subjected the original to severe practical tests as much as this is possible with our modern food materials. We experienced difficulty in securing certain spices long out of use. Nevertheless, the experience of actually sampling Apician dishes and the sensation of dining in the manners of the Caesars are worth the trouble we took with Apicius. This is a feeling of partaking of an entirely new dish, met with both expectancy and with suspicion, accentuated by the hallowed traditions surrounding it which has rewarded us for the time and expense devoted to the subject. Ever since we have often dined in the classical fashion of the ancients who, after all, were but "folks" like ourselves.
If you care not for the carnal pleasures in Apician gastronomy — for gulam —, if you don't give a fig for philosophy, there still is something healthy, something infinitely soothing and comforting — "educational" — in the perusal of the old book and in similar records.
When we see Apicius, the famous "epicure" descending to the very level of a common food "fakir," giving directions for making Liburnian oil that has never seen that country. . . .
When we note, with a gentle shudder, that the grafters of Naples, defying even the mighty Augustus, leveled the "White Earth Hill" near Puteoli because an admixture of plaster paris is exceedingly profitable to the milling profession. . . .
When Apicius — celebrated glutton — resorts to the comparatively harmless "stunt" of keeping fresh vegetables green by boiling them in a copper kettle with soda. . . .
When we behold hordes of ancient legislators, posing as dervishes of moderation, secretly and openly breaking the prohibition laws of their own making. . . .
When we turn away from such familiar sights and, in a more jovial mood, heartily laugh at the jokes of that former mill slave, Plautus (who could not pay his bills) and when we wonder why his wise cracks sound so familiar we remember that we have heard their modern versions only yesterday at the Tivoli on State Street. . . .
p39 When finally, in the company of our respected Horatius we hear him say in the slang of his day: Ab ovo usque ad mala, and compare this bright saying with our own dear "From Soup to Nuts." . . .
Then we arrive at the comforting conclusion that we moderns are either very ancient and backward or that indeed the ancients are very modern and progressive and it is our only regret that we cannot decide this perplexing situation to our lasting satisfaction.
Very true, there may be nothing new under the sun, yet nature goes on eternally fashioning new things from old materials. Eternally demolishing old models in a manner of an economical sculptor, nature uses the same old clay to create new specimens. Sometimes nature slightly alters the patterns, discarding what is unfit for her momentary enigmatic purposes, retaining and favoring that which pleases her whimsical fancy for the time being.
Cookery deals exclusively with nature's works. Books on cookery are essentially books on nature's actions and reactions.
In the perpetual search for perfection, life has accomplished one remarkable thing: the development of man, the animal which cooks. Gradually nature has revealed herself to man principally through the food he takes, cooks and prepares for the enjoyment of himself and his fellow men.
The gastronomer is the highest development of the cooking animal.
He — artist, philosopher, metaphysician, religionist — stands with his head bared before nature: overawed, contemplating her gifts, feasting his eyes on beauteous forms and colors, inhaling intoxicating fragrances, aromas, odors, matching them all artistically, partaking only of what he needs for his own subsistence — eternally marveling at nature's inexhaustible resources and inventiveness, at her everlasting bounty born of everlasting fierce struggles.
The gastronomer is grateful for the privilege of holding the custodianship of such precious things, and he guards it like an office of a sacred rite — ever gratefully, reverently adoring, cherishing the things before him . . . ever marveling . . . ever alone, alone with nature.
As for the overwhelming majority of the cooking animals, they behave much more "naturally." They are a merry crowd, ever anticipating a good time, ever jolly, eager, greedy. Or, they are cranky, hungry, starved, miserable, and they turn savage now and then. Some are gluttonous. Many contract indigestion — nature's most subtle punishment.
If they were told that they must kill before they may cook — that might spoil the appetite and dinner joy of many a tender-hearted devourer of fellow-creatures.
Heaven forbid! Being real children of nature, and behaving naturally, nature likes them, and we, too, certainly are well pleased with the majority.
The only fly in the ointment of life is that we don't know what it is all about, and probably never will know.
b1 b2 The Historia Augusta — late 4c masquerading as 3c — refers to the recipes of "Apicius Caelius" (Ael. V.9). As a raison d'être, it's a poor one since the Historia Augusta is a tissue of lies; but it's a very old tissue of lies, and undermines Vehling's entire argument (unless Caelii in that passage is a modern emendation, something I've been unable so far to determine).
d From halfway across the planet maybe, gentle reader, that heavy, irregular breathing you hear is your Chicago-based editor restraining himself from batting this guy right between the eyes; at my house, we eat pretty well, even at lunch. (Wait a minute though, "Chicago Quick Lunch" made it into contemporary newspapers:
Fined for disorder.
Charles L. Matlock, Colored, Before Mayor For Making Trouble in Restaurant.
Charles L. Matlock, colored, arrested on a drunk and disorderly charge following an altercation in the Chicago Quick Lunch at Eleventh avenue and Seventeenth street, was accorded a hearing yesterday afternoon before Mayor Charles E. Rhodes, the defendant being fined $5 and costs.
John Lutz, arrested for permitting his horse to destroy shade trees along the avenue, forfeited his security of $5 by failing to put in an appearance in police court yesterday.
John Ickes was taken into custody last evening at 7:25 o'clock at Bridge street by Cornerman Mock on a drunk charge. Thom Goodall was picked up during the afternoon at Broad avenue and Twenty-fourth street for the same offense. Both will face the mayor today.
[Altoona Tribune, Saturday morning, August 3, 1918, page 6]
So it was the name of a nationwide chain of diners in the early 20c . . . Chicagoans are also known for being light on the trigger, I guess.)
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