Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mission Statement

Petronius' description of Trimalchio's banquet in the Satyricon surpasses all modern versions of food porn, whether televised, photographed or lovingly described. I want to try dormice dipped in honey and sprinkled with poppy seeds. I want flour eggs baked in oil to come rolling onto my plate, having been hatched from a wooden hen. I would walk across a desert to taste hundred-year-old Falernian wine, however ridiculous and utterly false the label. Give me food representative of each sign of the zodiac, even if Virgo is matched with a barren sow's womb. Give me a pig overstuffed with sausages and blood pudding, quivering and about to burst -- that is the kind of packaged meat I want to eat.

And so begins my quest: I want to eat ancient food. I will experiment with recipes, eat anything with a Greco-Roman theme (although if you give me an ancient empanada, chances are I will take a little bite), eat anywhere with an ancient-looking bust as its mascot. If anyone out there has a pot sherd that may have been part of a wine amphora, I will happily lick it. I will try every kind of fish sauce that may approximate garum. I may not be able to replicate the savage meal of the Cyclops or find the evil drugs that Circe mixed into her swine-inducing potion, and perhaps my lack of squeamishness may stop there, but I will explore the issues that surround these famous meals and concoctions. What was repulsive? What was exotic? What was ordinary? I will wonder about the silly and the impossible, all of which I may very well attempt to nibble.

Some of what I eat may have no ancient roots, just clever advertising to lure me into a taste, but I shall not discriminate against Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, my beloved Neptune Diner in Astoria or any product with a cutesy toga-ed cartoon character. This is the best part about studying Classics -- finding the quirky, strange and oftentimes completely absurd classical references in random places.

What will I seek to find? Well, what does anyone invested in Classics hope to find, ever? We will never have definite answers to most questions in this field. We cannot resurrect the dead. We will never un-burn the library at Alexandria. Did Homer really exist and was he really blind? Does the croak of an ancient Greek frog really sound like brekekekex koax koax? Was Cleopatra actually hot? Scholarship will never cease to wonder, as "definitive" answers are renewed with every fresh crop of doctorate-waving classicists. I am not looking for answers (really, just something to do with the time I am not studying, teaching or sleeping). Armed with some handy research skills honed in graduate school and Mark Grant's Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens (and its very helpful bibliography), I will seek to never discover what has already been eaten before.

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