A Day in Old Rome: A Picture of Roman Life

By William Stearns Davis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
FOOD AND DRINK. HOW THE DAY IS SPENT. THE DINNER

81. Romans Fond of the Table. Gourmandizing. The Famous Apicius. -- Seldom can there be another age when the importance of good eating and drinking occupies the place that it does in Rome. Vast numbers of coarse-grained people devoid of the least ability to criticize fine bronzes or to comprehend Homer or Virgil can go into ecstasies over superior oysters. Epicurean philosophers can argue that "the true, the beautiful and the good" are to be as genuinely apprehended by the enjoyment of ravishing tastes as by ravishing music. Gastronomy has become a kind of supreme science and art, and no slaves sell for better prices than truly expert cooks.

Repeatedly huge fortunes have been ruined merely because their possessors wished to surpass all rivals with the extravagant refinements of gluttony. Since 69 A.D. and the coming to power of the simpler Flavian Cæsars there has been a fortunate decline in many absurdities, but there are still plenty of people who admire and envy the fame of Apicius, the true example for the gourmand.

Marcus Apicius flourished in Tiberius's age; and he developed a positive genius for inventing new sources of culinary delight. Every quarter of the Roman world was ransacked to find strange objects whereon to whet his appetite. In Hadrian's day people continue to eat Apician cakes and Apician sauces, such as are described in his encyclopædic cook books. But although he inherited a hundred million ses-

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