Monday, April 27, 2009

Circe's potion kind of worked

"She led them in and sat them on couches and chairs and stirred cheese, barley and pale honey with Pramnian wine for them, and she mixed evil drugs into the food, so that they would forget their fatherland entirely. Immediately after she struck them with her wand, she confined them to pigsties. They had the heads, voices, bristles and bodies of swine, but their human minds remained as they were before" (Odyssey 10.233-240).

Bolstered by my success with Hecamede's kykeon, I finally decided to try my hand at Circe's potion. Odysseus' comrades drink it down willingly, so it must have been familiar to their palates, and Homer treats it as beautifully as the other food described in the Odyssey. But somehow the mixture does not sound delicious to me. Barley, cheese, honey and wine? Seriously? The constituent parts all sound good but ... all mixed together?

A couple of years ago, several students from my Great Books class took it upon themselves to cook up versions of the potion and bring them to class. Being the teacher, I felt morally obligated to taste the concoctions made from oatmeal, various types of cheese (whatever they had lying around -- usually cheddar), grape juice (so they wouldn't get in trouble for bringing alcohol to school). They were nasty, even though the some went through the trouble of decorating their containers with glitter to make the potion somewhat more appealing. One bottle of their Circe's potion is still displayed on my bookshelf (in my collection of classically themed liquids, alongside Ajax dish detergent and Ethos water). I like to think of it as inspirational.

Thus inspired, Amy and I made two batches of potion, one using ricotta and the other feta. I had used semolina for Hecamede's kykeon, but Circe's called for barley. I had found a bag of peeled barley at m2m on Third Ave., cooked it as I would rice and mixed it, still hot, with cheese. Meanwhile, Amy heated up the kosher wine I had lying around from a tasting I did a few weeks ago (I figured the heat would negated any need for the wine to have Pramnian origins) and stirred in some honey (I didn't have any ancient Greek honey nor do I keep bees, so we had to use the kind that comes out of the plastic bear). Mixing honeyed wine with cheesy barley was impossible; they could not be incorporated, even when put through the food processor (which Homer does not mention).

Both potions were by now a sickly pink color. The one made with feta was closer to the baby food consistency of Hecamede's kykeon, but far lumpier. The ricotta potion was much like bubble tea -- the barley sank to the bottom like tapioca pearls in liquid. We left out the evil drugs because I couldn't decide what modern equivalent I could substitute in. Tylenol? Not nearly evil enough. Not evil at all, actually.

Amy and I tasted both potions and decided that neither was revolting and if we were hungry enough from sailing around Greece and being shipwrecked, we would probably go ahead and eat them. But they really weren't good; they tasted sickly pink.

We didn't forget our fatherlands and we didn't turn into pigs, but being female, we decided that we weren't the best guinea pigs for this experiment, so we forced a bit down my boyfriend's throat. He declared the potion gross but not that gross and ultimately, nothing happened.

...Until about five hours later when I found him on the bathroom floor vomiting up every last trace of the potion and shouting, "Circe got me!"

It was horrendous; he was sick for two whole days. He didn't turn into a pig but he only seemed a little shy of total metamorphosis. I guess I should have discovered what moly was before I inflicted the power of Circe upon him.

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