From Greek to Roman art of cooking

To makle an excursus from Greek to Roman art of cooking we have to introduce some information about history. Roman rule over most of the known world (ecumene) meant that Rome was to spread and hand down to posterity the art and literature of Greece wonderful that everything tells us about his daily life and gives us, with news on its ancient dinners, from those of the Mycenaean (XIII century BC) to the imaginative banquets of Hellenistic rulers, including the ability gastronomy, its famous chefs (màgheiroi).

Almost all authors Hellenistic – historians, geographers, journalists, poets and playwrights – talk about food, banquets, wine. Some scholars compiled books that had as its only argument the kitchen and its ingredients expanding their curiosity to other peoples which, thanks to them, we know some culinary specialties.

Megasthene that lived in Asia Minor in the period of Alexander, in his History of India took charge, for example, the Indian cuisine. The oldest source of gastronomy of ancient Greece remains Ateneo, a greculo of Naukratis (Egypt), who lived in the third century  AD, who in Rome became librarian of a rich patrician descendant of Varro and owner of a well-stocked library. While in Rome, he wrote the Ateneo Deipnosophists (Wises people at a banquet), a colossal work in 15 books, full of very detailed information on nutrition and food of ancient Greece and the banquet in the Mediterranean basin.

The information gathered from Ateneo concern among others, the mysterious Etruscans that the Greeks believed very immoral. Most of the recipes that Ateneo has collected have flowed in the most famous Latin treatise of culinary topic, De re coquinaria of Marcus Apicius, who lived, as it seems, under Tiberius. It is the only cookbook handed down in the codes, which remains an issue abbreviated, probably of the fourth century. A.D., with many interpolations and alterations. This recipe, handed down even under the title of Ars magirica and then commonly as Apicius Culinarius great importance in all subsequent periods. Even Cato the Elder in his De Agri Cultura collects some recipes that probably are expressions of the most genuine culinary tradition Italic. It must be said in fact that Cato, in addition to being experienced more than two centuries before Apicius, had always been by nature and by conviction a supporter of the Italic tradition.

We must therefore believe that it was even in the area of the kitchen. Plautus is with humor coarse abuse at the table in his plays. It also speak Cicero, Horace, Virgil and then Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Seneca, Petronius, Persie, Juvenal, drawing, as well as to literature, to the experience of fine cooks (the famous màgheiroi fact) of Greeks, and especially in Sicily. The recipes in De re coquinaria are characterized by an incredible abundance of ingredients with such an abuse of seasonings and spices and such a variety in cooking processes as to suggest traditions Middle East.

Recipes made more to whet the appetite for the good health of the wealthy Romans. Which explains the frequent recourse to so-called “herbal teas” to restore the stomach. The fact is that the fame achieved by Apicius, always cited when it came to debauchery and culinary originality, determined the rise of imitators, so that his name became synonymous of cook. Whatever the history of its composition, the De re coquinaria remains therefore a text of which you can not do without the knowledge of the gastronomy of the Roman Empire. He passed through the centuries, but after the fall of the Roman Empire, the High Middle Ages seemed to have forgotten (though some rare Roman dish survived for some time and then disappear).

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