food in the arts



In ancient Greece, the Athenians believed that mealtime afforded an opportunity to nourish the spirit as well as the body. They reclined on couches while eating and accompanied their repasts with music, poetry, and dancing. The Greeks provided a philosophical basis for good living, Epicureanism. It held that pleasure was the main purpose of life; but pleasure was not intended to imply the self-indulgence that it connotes today. The Epicureans believed that pleasure could best be achieved by practicing self-restraint and indulging as few desires as possible. Today the epicure is defined as one who is “endowed with sensitive and discriminating tastes in food and wine.”

The ancient Greeks practiced moderation in all things, but the Romans were known for their excesses. Ordinary citizens subsisted on barley or wheat porridge, fish, and ground pine nuts (edible pine seeds), but the Roman emperors and wealthy aristocrats gorged themselves on a staggering variety of foods. They staged lavish banquets where as many as 100 different kinds of fish were served, as well as mountainous quantities of beef, pork, veal, lamb, wild boar, venison, ostrich, duck, and peacock. They ordered ice and snow hauled down from the Alps to refrigerate their perishable foods, and they dispatched emissaries to outposts of the Roman Empire in search of exotic delicacies. Mushrooms were gathered in France, and the Roman author Juvenal, writing in the late first and early 2nd century AD, describes a dinner at his patron's house where mullet from Corsica and lampreys from Sicily were served.

Yet, whereas the Romans placed great value on exotic delicacies, they were not gastronomes in the true sense of the word. The term implies a sensitivity and discrimination that they lacked. The unbridled appetites of the Roman emperors and nobles often carried them to wild extremes. The emperor Caligula drank pearls that had been dissolved in vinegar. Maximus reportedly consumed 60 pounds of meat in a day, and Albinus was alleged to have eaten 300 figs, 100 peaches, 10 melons, and vast quantities of other foods all at a single sitting. Lucullus was an immensely wealthy man who entertained so lavishly that his name became a symbol both for extravagance and for culinary excellence.

The vulgarity and ostentation of Roman banquets were satirized by Petronius in the Satyricon, written in the 1st century AD. A former slave named Trimalchio entertains at a gargantuan feast at which the guests are treated to one outlandish spectacle after the other. A donkey is brought in on a tray, encircled with silver dishes bearing dormice that have been dipped in honey. A huge sow is carved and live thrushes fly up from the platter. A chef cuts open the belly of a roast pig, and out pour blood sausages and blood puddings.

film and food

literature and food

music and food

photography and food
Italian influence on French cuisine



Circus Maximus -

Satires -

Studies in Ancient Technology: Cosmetics and Perfumery in Antiquity; Food, Alcoholic Beverages, Vinegar; Fermented Beverages 500 B.C.-500 A.D.; ... Paints, Pigments, Inks and Varnishes v. 3