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Ancient Cookery, And Cooks
by [?]

The memorable grand dinner given by the classical doctor in Peregrine Pickle, has indisposed our tastes for the cookery of the ancients; but, since it is often “the cooks who spoil the broth,” we cannot be sure but that even “the black Lacedaemonian,” stirred by the spear of a Spartan, might have had a poignancy for him, which did not happen at the more recent classical banquet.

The cookery of the ancients must have been superior to our humbler art, since they could find dainties in the tough membranous parts of the matrices of a sow, and the flesh of young hawks, and a young ass. The elder Pliny records, that one man had studied the art of fattening snails with paste so successfully, that the shells of some of his snails would contain many quarts.[1] The same monstrous taste fed up those prodigious goose livers; a taste still prevailing in Italy. Swine were fattened with whey and figs; and even fish in their ponds were increased by such artificial means. Our prize oxen might have astonished a Roman as much as one of their crammed peacocks would ourselves. Gluttony produces monsters, and turns away from nature to feed on unwholesome meats. The flesh of young foxes about autumn, when they fed on grapes, is praised by Galen; and Hippocrates equals the flesh of puppies to that of birds. The humorous Dr. King, who has touched on this subject, suspects that many of the Greek dishes appear charming from their mellifluous terminations, resounding with a floios and toios. Dr. King’s description of the Virtuoso Bentivoglio or Bentley, with his “Bill of Fare” out of Athenaeus, probably suggested to Smollett his celebrated scene.

The numerous descriptions of ancient cookery which Athenaeus has preserved indicate an unrivalled dexterity and refinement: and the ancients, indeed, appear to have raised the culinary art into a science, and dignified cooks into professors. They had writers who exhausted their erudition and ingenuity in verse and prose; while some were proud to immortalise their names by the invention of a poignant sauce, or a popular gateau. Apicius, a name immortalised, and now synonymous with a gorger, was the inventor of cakes called Apicians; and one Aristoxenes, after many unsuccessful combinations, at length hit on a peculiar manner of seasoning hams, thence called Aristoxenians. The name of a late nobleman among ourselves is thus invoked every day.

Of these Eruditae gultae Archestratus, a culinary philosopher, composed an epic or didactic poem on good eating. His “Gastrology” became the creed of the epicures, and its pathos appears to have made what is so expressively called “their mouths water.” The idea has been recently successfully imitated by a French poet.[2] Archestratus thus opens his subject:–

I write these precepts for immortal Greece,
That round a table delicately spread,
Or three, or four, may sit in choice repast,
Or five at most. Who otherwise shall dine,
Are like a troop marauding for their prey.

The elegant Romans declared that a repast should not consist of less in number than the Graces, nor of more than the Muses. They had, however, a quaint proverb, which Alexander ab Alexandro has preserved, not favourable even to so large a dinner-party as nine; it turns on a play of words:–

Septem convivium, Novem convicium facere.[3]

An elegant Roman, meeting a friend, regretted he could not invite him to dinner, “because my number is complete.”

When Archestratus acknowledges that some things are for the winter, and some for the summer, he consoles himself, that though we cannot have them at the same time, yet, at least, we may talk about them at all times.

This great genius seems to have travelled over land and seas that he might critically examine the things themselves, and improve, with new discoveries, the table-luxuries. He indicates the places for peculiar edibles and exquisite potables; and promulgates his precepts with the zeal of a sublime legislator, who is dictating a code designed to ameliorate the imperfect state of society.