From The Inns of Greece & Rome, and a history of Hospitality from the Dawn of Time to the Middle Ages, by W. C. Firebaugh, with an Introduction by Wallace Rice and Illustrations by Norman Lindsay, Chicago: Pascal Covici; 1928; pp. 205-224.
THE INNS OF GREECE AND ROME205
Display of foods in restaurants — Profuse in their use of garlic — Kitchen utensils — A Roman plebe — All night taverns — Romans fond of mellow wines and sweetened liquors — “A hot drink’s as good as an overcoat” — Hot water drinks become popular — The murrhine vase — Refrigeration — Snow and ice — An Athenian debauch — Age of gluttony — Cooks and scullions.
The restaurants often displayed their wares in the manner in which ours do today. Seneca uses the term oculiferium in that sense. Here they laid out the finest samples of their wares to catch the eyes and stimulate trade. Eggs, goose liver patés, sow vulvas, fowls, game, and the like, and they practised a refinement which is not appreciated amongst us, in that their samples were sometimes put together in a glass vase full of clear water or other crystal menstruum. The optical effect, as it was tortured by magnification or diminution, was sometimes startling to say the least, and Macrobius has devoted some little space and trouble to explain the various illusions and effects thus produced. We come at last to the quarters where foods, more or less fresh, were on display. It may be a goat, and the customer would be asked to believe that the poor beast had browsed in a pasture of myrtle and eucalyptus leaves, and was saturated with that relish because the bleeding cuts of meat are skewered with a branch of that wood, even as today some of the rural butchers in France, and in modern Greece as well, adorn with laurel some meat of dark and doubtful ancestry, and retail it to their credulous customers as the finest delicacy. Hence, in Greece, at lest, it is always well to insist that the butcher provide the hide and hair of the animal in question, and thus save future complications and dietetic regurgitations.206
Bits of pork and cheese are also displayed by the Roman eating-house keepers, even as was the case with Philemon and Baucis, and in the Moretum of Virgil.
“Quarters of pork (hams) salted and drying hang above the hearth, a rounded cheese with a blade of esparto grass run through its centre hangs suspended from the rafters and with it a bundle of fennel, well tied,” and we may add to this little picture the scene from Petronius in which Oenothea mounts upon the rotten stool to take down a piece of dried hog’s cheek, scored by a thousand slashes of a knife proverbially dull, a commodity coaeval with herself.
However, let us pass by the display at the doors of the restaurant and enter the interior where we shall probably find little in keeping with the display outside.
“No regard should be paid to such displays,” remarks Seneca, “mere bait thrown to the buyer who enters the place but once before he finds that the merchandise offered by the establishment is not at all in keeping with the samples hanging from above the doors.”
A glutton might have been well satisfied to have dined upon what was shown outside, but only a slave or some poverty stricken artisan would have been tempted by what was served inside — an excellent commentary upon the character and commercial honesty of the exhibitionists. Everything to put up a front — show without substance. The kitchens of these restaurants were, of course, under the supervision of slaves, and the menu was neither delicate nor various. They served, for example, lupines for the Greek cynics, a variety of coarse peas which were boiled in a great quantity of water, the resultant mess being an agglutinous substance of so peculiar a consistency that the patron might have been equally correct in his table technique whether he drank it or whether he ate it. They also had cicer (chick-peas), 207 a variety of vegetable sold either in porridge or fried. These latter were held in great esteem by the commoners, and candidates for the higher political offices frequently served them on the streets, hoping thereby to influence the political destinies of their parties. It is probable that from this custom we have derived that villainous delicacy known as the campaign cigar, which, but for the smell when ignited, might have been mistaken for tobacco. Such services in old Rome were often provocative of more black eyes than votes. The small peddlers sold chick-peas under the arcades and porticoes and at the games, as ours today sell popcorn and peanuts. Horace mentions a fellow who devoured chick-peas and nuts during a performance at the theatre. The customer in the eating-house need not confine himself to the humble chick-pea, however, he could have a plate of beans served in their pods, raw cabbage, or even worse, cabbage which had been cooked twice (crambe recocta) or (repetita), plenty of raw vegetables reeking with vinegar, and, on days of splendid extravagance, he might even establish contact with a boiled sheep’s head. Delicacies such as these, as Juvenal has informed us, were consumed in the riotous company of cobblers, hog reeves, and the like, characters of the sort to round out the society of the place and give it the spice of infinite variety. Sometimes there were beets, the unsavory tang of which had to be tempered with a sauce made from pepper and wine:
“To give the flavor to the wallowish beets, the food of artisans, the cook always asks for wine and pepper.” Martial Epigr. Lib. XIII, 13.
Everything was highly seasoned, and rare indeed was the occasion when one would not almost have gagged himself with garlic and onions or some other garnish of an acid or peppery savor; some used asafoetida to fortify their meats, but all were profuse in their use of sauces.208
Everything was prepared by the cook, the master of the house, his woman, or by a special servant known as the focaria (from foca, a hearth), as the Digest informs us. A kitchen furnace, set up against one of the walls of the establishment, served the purposes of a modern range, while four great vases or urns of baked clay were mortised into a space behind the table which formed the front. They contained the cold foods prepared in advance and kept for any and all occasions. Behind the furnace, where the focaria labored at her tasks, were a series of stone or marble steps or terraces, three in number: on these steps were ranged the vases and measures used in the inn. The Digest contains a list of these vessels in which are found the following:
Calices, round cups, ancones, vases shaped like a cone, trullae, ladles or scoops, the sextaria were vessels which contained the sixth part of a congeum; Plautus refers to them in the Poenulus.
There were two back stalls in the establishment uncovered at Pompeii. Mazois has made an exhaustive study of it and we avail ourselves of his labors and scholarship. It is possible that these rooms were designed for vessels too huge to keep to the front, such, for instance, as the dolia, congiaria, and the like; diners were served there at two asses per capita, and all the idlers loafing about the establishment and rendering the proprietor an allegiance almost feudal had their reward of virtue in sitting down to table, welcoming the end of a perfect day, and spending a night in watching the posturings of a demi monde demi blonde dancer, sometimes to the harp, sometimes to the flute, or indulge their imaginations with obscene stories and puns. In the age of Ammianus Marcellinus (A. D. 360 circa), the cabaret was almost the only pastime of the proletariat at Rome. “The populace,” says he, “had no 209 other shelter at night than that of the taverns, or the awning stretched before the theatres; they gambled furiously with dice and made filthy noises with their nostrils.”
Let us conjure a picture of a Roman plebe out of the mists of the past; let us strip him of the glamour with which legend has invested him and see him as he actually was: he spent his nights on the wet straw of the Velabrum, or in the Esquiline or the Suburra, and when morning dawned, he came shambling along to the stone benches at the gate, to shake off his dull torpor along with his vermin. The heat in the inns and lodging-houses was suffocating, and more comfort was to be had in the streets; the plebe was insufferably filthy in spite of the magnificent baths: here you see an exemplar of the rulers of the world! What then must have been the pot-houses they frequented? The answer is easy: they swarmed with flies and mosquitoes, kept in motion by branches of laurel or palm, but the worst plague seems to have been the fleas. The gentle and soft spoken Pliny says, with becoming euphemism, “the insects jumping so during the summer, rendered the taverns unendurable,” and of course he refers to the flea. Still, Pliny would never have entered such sanctuaries as those that shielded the proletariat. There were also “all night taverns” which Juvenal designated by the term pervigiles. We must remember that the ancient cities were unlighted by night, and their streets were generally narrower than civic pride of today would countenance: the satirist counts the doors of these all night taverns, the lights of which cut into the murk and gloom of the outside like a friendly beacon on a rocky lee shore. Their watchful windows saw everything that passed in the night, some unwary and unsuspicious loiterer saluted with chambered bile from a second or third story window; it is like the old times in 210 Edinburgh when garde lieu was the password to dry immunity. Did Strap find it so, or had Smollett read Juvenal’s third satire? The taverns were always furnished with substantial shutters, as were also the other shops at Rome; features which are still characteristic of all the native shops in romantic countries and their colonies. By means of these heavy shutters the owner could make himself and his reasonably secure against the night and the menaces it held over him. The doors were exceedingly heavy and were fastened by means of a system of chains and bolts: a small trap-door served as a peep-hole. Juvenal has described these fastenings in his third satire:
And all is silent
When the grating chains have clanked into place
And the tavern is closed.
Mazois, however, after an exhaustive study of the Pompeian inn of which we have already spoken, is far more minute in his descriptions: “The gate of the place,” says he, “was made fast in a manner very like that in which the storehouses at Paris are secured: by means of a groove in the threshold of the door and of another complementary to it in the lintel of wood, they introduced bars whose ends glided at once into these two grooves; a wooden bar was then placed behind the other bars to hold them immobile; and lastly, as the door turned upon a pivot, fastened itself in that manner and closed the opening into the place.”
There were certain police regulations which forbade the taverns to remain open before certain hours or after a specified hour. Ammianus Marcellinus cites one such order issued by Ampelius, praefect of the city: in this instrument, the tavern-keepers are ordered not to open their places before the fourth hour.211
On days of religious feasts, joyous festivals, or occasions of public mourning, the taverns were compelled to remain closed. We know of few particular instances in which this was the case; we do not know the precise terms in which such injunctions were couched, but we do know that upon the occasion of an emperor’s death, or that of any member of his family, these injunctions were especially severe and those who evaded this rescription were sometimes punished with death for their pains. Cassius Dio, the malignant historian of the senatorial order, has informed us that Caligula thus rewarded the supplications of a poor devil who had kept a hot drink emporium open on the day set aside for the funeral of the emperor’s sister. The police made no distinctions between the tavern-keeper and the keeper of a thermopilium or hot water establishment. The regulation of Ampelius makes not the slightest distinction between them, and the restrictions which bound the tavern-keeper were no less binding upon the hot water seller; neither could open before the fourth hour.
The thermopolia which we have already seen established in Athens came to Rome along with the rest of the Greek world and when they came they also brought their own particular customs and usages. Their proprietors conducted a sort of acid drink emporium, they might, in fact, almost be called lemonade sellers, sellers of decoctions of liquorice or other sweet flavors, and it is highly probable that there was a special local name for each class of drinks and for the establishment in which they were sold. A painting in color at Pompeii represents one of these drinks and it is distinctly yellowish in color.
The Romans were always fond of mellow wines, and also of other sweetened liquors, some of which were distilled. From the beginning they were favorably disposed 212 towards thermopolia. In the time of Plautus such establishments were heavily patronized, not only by philosophers but also by all sorts and conditions of society. Nearly every character in the old dramatist may be said to have been at some time or other a guest of one of the thermopolia. In the Rudens, for instance, he makes one of his heroes, still dripping from shipwreck, say: “By Castor, but Neptune is a bather of the coldest. It’s certain he had no hand in inventing thermopolia because his drinks are salty and cold as ice.”
In the Pseudolus, a glutton cries out: “In drinking, there is so much spiced wine, so much boiled wine, so much must and hydromel that I commence to make an out and out thermopolium of my stomach.”
And in the Three Penny Bit (Trinummus) another, after having swilled the same beverages to excess, remarks: “You have made a thermopolium of my gullet (thermopotasti guttur).”
These passages should suffice to show how the stalls of the venders of hot drinks were patronized, but in addition we may also cite one from the Cena Trimalchionis: “A hot drink’s as good as an overcoat.” The wines were often toned down with honey, perfumed with myrrh and spices, or fortified with some feebly acidulous excipient, as, for instance, the flavor of cedar, so much in favor in the France and Italy of the seventeenth century. The lemonades still to be had in Naples, effervescent or flat, were also to be obtained in the ancient thermopolia. While such beverages are not specifically mentioned by the classical authors, there are passages in Pliny and Martial which furnish inferential evidence that they were sold, and we possess one bit of evidence which is beyond challenge: the traces of liquor remaining on the stone steps and in the vases in a hot drink emporium uncovered at Pompeii. Mazois speaks thus:213
“Just within the great gate of the building where the traces of the vessels still remain upon the marble of the counter, and the steps upon which rested the measures; here we have evidence as to the real nature of the beverages sold. In bringing the services of chemistry to our aid our doubts have been resolved. Such analysis points to acidulous drinks. At the door of the thermopolium are two benches exposed to the noonday sun to offer a comfortable loafing place in winter to the frequenters of the stall.”
The innovation of hot water drinks had not been long introduced in Rome before it became very popular with both patrician and plebe. The patrician affected to perfume his drink with spices, such as myrrh, cinnamon, saffron, and the like, and a very curious passage in Lucan’s Pharsalia speaks of the jets of such perfumes (saffron), which spurted out and perfumed not only the air but also the breath of the theatre patrons. The patrician wanted his water hot, and, though he did not, and would not, demean himself by drinking from vessels other than the most expensive and beautiful, the commoner contented himself with the kernel of the matter by having recourse to common clay. The patrician had a decided preference for artificially cooled beverages and made use of snow for refrigerating purposes. There is a supposition that the rarest of these vases, I refer to the murrhine, which Petronius Arbiter is said to have smashed to prevent its falling into the hands of Nero after its owner’s suicide, had, within itself, the property of communicating some exquisite essence to whatever decoction was being digested in its opalescent depths, and some are of the opinion that there is a connection between the myrrh of antiquity and the properties said to have been inherent in this vase. There seems to be little doubt that the vase derived its name from the 214 myrrh of antiquity. It is composed of three huge sections of opal: the first forms the cup, the second the stem and the third the base. The cup is about nine and one-half inches high and about six inches in diameter at its greatest measurement. An exquisitely carved swan’s head dips into the bowl, a lovely allegorical allusion, and the bottom is chased with geometrical designs perfect throughout. The Prince of Biscari was written a monograph on the cup, which merits the study of all experts in porcelains and vessels. If we are safe in assuming that this exemplar is in fact genuine, the long mooted question of murrhine vases may be regarded as settled: they were of opal, and not of sardonyx or chalcedony, and they may have been steeped for years in tincture of myrrh to give them the exquisite qualities with which tradition has endowed them. In bringing this brief dissertation on murrhine vases to a close, I should add that the base of the exemplar described is about four inches in diameter, the stem about two and one-half inches in length, and the greatest diameter of the stem is about one and one-quarter inches.
Nor should we omit mentioning the hot drinks which were served in the thermopolia at Rome as well as at Athens, drinks which derived their names from Hellas. This was one of the first indications of their commerce and its scope. This hot drink service had not been long introduced at Rome before it had become as popular with the patrician as with the plebeian. The nobleman affected to perfume his posset with spices such as myrrh, cinnamon, saffron, and the like, and two very interesting passages attest the importance which had come to be accorded these adventitious excipients. Lucan in his Pharsalia speaks of the jets of saffron which spurted from devices in the theatres and perfumed the foyer and the breath of the patrons of the establishment, and 215 Petronius speaks of cinnamon as having displaced essences far more worthy, if a trifle more domestic. The patrician wanted his water hot and he rarely demeaned his dignity by drinking from vessels other than the most costly, whereas the commoner had to content his inclinations with mugs of clay baked to the hardness of tile. The wealthy also had a decided preference for cool beverages and used snow for refrigerating purposes. Huge pits were dug and the snow was stored up against the arrival of the hot season. A Roman, to get the right temperature, would mix very hot and very cold liquids, in accordance with Greek usage, and he imagined that by this technique, he was enabled to get the finest and subtlest tang which could be extracted. Aristaenetus has elegantly described the practice which, to modern tastes, would seem to be unhygienic, to say the least.
Ice or snow was heaped up upon the tables beside the steaming drinks, and Pliny the Elder, in one of those phrases of ostentatious antithesis which he loves to use, remarks, with epigrammatic force: “Snow they drink as well as ice, and their voluptuousness imposes a punishment upon mountains.” Seneca, in his Quaestiones Naturales, speaks in the same manner and to the same purpose. “See them, they are feeble, wrapped up in their mantles, sitting in the hall, pale and sick, not only drinking the snow, but eating it as well, and throwing the lumps out of their cups when they can drink no more.”
With such a demand it was but natural that there should arise at Rome a retail trade in refrigerants. They had an excellent example on which to go, if we are to believe Athenaeus.
“Chares of Mitylene, in his History of Alexander, has told us how we are to proceed in order to keep snow, when he is relating the siege of the Indian city of Petra. For he says that Alexander dug thirty large trenches close to 216 one another, and filled them with snow, and then he heaped on the snow branches of oak; for in that way more snow would last a long time.” (Lib. Iii, 97.)
A passage in Seneca also deals with the early history of refrigeration and refrigerants: “The Lacedaemonians,” says he, “hunted down the perfumers and ordered them to quit their territories without delay, because they had spoiled the oils, they who had operated these storehouses, these snow depots, these beasts of burden employed to transport the aqueous blocks whose savor and color suffered from the straw that covered them! So easy it is to assuage the thirst of health!”
There is little doubt that the wealthy had their icemen and their dealers in fresh sea foods who insured the quality of the product sold, and we ought not to be astonished that refrigeration had come to play an important part in domestic life when we reflect that rare fish were transported immense distances in the water of their native haunts and arrived at the table alive and in perfect condition. What applied to the establishments of the wealthy would also perforce apply to the sumptuous dining-rooms which they frequented, and if we find scanty mention of such refinements in the inns and taverns it is to be attributed to the haughty exclusiveness of the patrician class that entertained its cronies and the instruments of its pleasure and lubricity in its own sumptuous establishments where there were no ten commandments and where the most voracious thirst could and would be quenched temporarily by complete coma, an utter disgust for food and wine, a feeling that included women, and life itself. When a parvenu such as we have in mind uses his peacock feather to permit further exercise of the sense of taste it is either at home or in the house of a friend or host.
THE HOSTESS OF APULEIUS
Let us examine a portrait of the indulgence of a great 217 noble, which Lycon has drawn for posterity. Our Athenian, as was the case with many of the senators of Rome, was what we would call in modern times a solitary drinker, although he frequently debauched himself in company. He would totter from the chamber where he slept to the chamber where he drank, and back again. To have gone to a cabaret would have been wearisome and a disgrace. He spared himself the trouble of coming home, and by so doing, saved his vanity from the contempt and the grins of the populace as well.
“Stupefied by excesses,” says Lycon, “the dreamer slowly awakens from the torpor which indigestion and the incontinence of his waking hours have prolonged until noon; his eyes puffed with wine, clouded with humors, are scarcely able to endure the light of day for some little time after his discomfort has aroused him. He is sensible of extreme faintness as though his veins contained wine instead of blood, and he finds it beyond his power to lift himself up without support. At last, leaning upon two slaves, faint as though worn out by his slumber, he dons a simple tunic without an outer robe; clad in slippers as though just getting out of bed, his head wrapped up to protect him from the cold, his neck stooped, knees weak, color pale, he sets his yawning course from the bed chamber to the hall in which he will recline to banquet his friends and drink with them; there he will find certain convivial familiars of whom he is the chief, and who are animated by the same passions that move him. He hastens to expel by drinking some of the collywobbles with which his black melancholy has been deepened and embittered; he strives to regain a little of the animation and spirit of the rest, provoking them to drink and mocking their lack of capacity, believing that as much credit is to be had from such an engagement as from one on the field of battle. Time makes no account of drinking, it 218 comes and it goes, the fumes of the wine obscure all eyes and sets them all to weeping; every guest is drunk, recognizing neither himself nor anyone else; without the slightest cause one gets into an altercation with his neighbor, another would sleep but is forced to remain awake, a third, ‘even as was the case with the heroes of Petronius,’ attempts to make his escape and evade his troubles and his tormentors only to be brought back by the porter who has prevented him from leaving. By and by, another is ignominiously thrown out of doors; he totters, but his slave catches him and leads him off, and as he staggers along, he lets his cloak fall into the mud of the street. At last, our guttler is left alone in the room, monarch of all he surveys, nor does he quit the cup until he falls asleep with it in his hand or at his mouth, then weaving drunkenly, he has escaped from himself, and is asleep.”
Vastly different, this illustrious glutton who debases himself in secret orgies, from the man of the people, whether at Rome or elsewhere. The politician, if he indulged himself at all, would do so in the taverns and inns, where he could cater to publicity by treating. There his wit and good nature would have free scope, his delight lay in numbers, he is a past master at putting indigence at ease, and winning the confidence of the out-at-elbow rabble; blustering and roistering fit well into his designs and further his interests. Such a politician would hold his daily banquets in the popinae, on the occasion of a law suit, an election, and the like, to the accompaniment of the thousand noises of the Forum. At night he might indulge in one of the nympheae, in the name of the republic or the emperor, and lastly, on those occasions when the members of a century came together at table the scene was usually laid in one of the fine and sumptuous public halls set aside for the purpose. There he could comfort his poverty by a brief sojourn amid scenes of 219 decorative splendor, a willing worshiper of the god of things as they ought to be. These were great days for the commoner; his entertainment cost him nothing and he revelled in luxury and riot at the expense of policy. On occasions such as these, he could compare his lot to that of the great patrician, and the silver from which he ate and drank was but an added sop to political indirection and expediency. There is a passage excellently to the point in the Treatise on Rhetoricians, addressed to Herennius, and attributed to Cicero though it scarcely seems worthy of the best powers of that orator. We have here a very curious adventure, such an example of ostentation and bigoted vanity as Shakespeare or Molière might have envied. As a portrayal of Roman false pretenses it has few equals and it must have been traced by the hand of a master. In translating the episode we wish to call attention to the fact that it is a mine of information upon the subject and it may have been in Quevedo’s mind when he drew his Hablador. The character is the true and unmistakable ancestor of all the poseurs who have come after him. An advocate is speaking, probably one of the lumpy faced vulture species who haunted the Forum or the Market for Stolen Goods. Petronius has furnished us with an exquisite portrait of such a lawyer in his story of the stolen mantle. He it is who dresses down our fine gentleman, a debtor unable to pay, and certainly in no frame of mind to discuss the obligation, especially with such a specimen of humanity. The battle between Shylock and D’Artignan will ever be one of the most amusing and instructive.
“Look at the fellow,” says the lawyer, “he wants to pass for a rich man. How proud he is! See how he looks down on us, as if to say: ‘If it is not to much trouble I may give you what you want.’ And when he takes his mantle up with his left hand he imagines all the world is 220 dazzled by the gleam of his jewels and the glitter of his gold ring. Then he calls the only slave he owns, I know this, but you do not, he calls him first by one name and then by another. ‘Here, Sannio,’ says he, ‘come here, see to it that these barbarians don’t annoy me by crowding around’; he would have strangers think that he has chosen his slave from a crowd of them. He orders him to place couches before the tables, he tells him to go to his uncle and demand an Ethiopian to accompany him to the baths, or to lead a fine saddle horse to his door, or to prepare some fragile and tinselled pomp for his false glory. Then, in the hearing of all present, ‘make sure the silver is all accounted for before night, if possible,’ and the slave, well knowing the character of his master makes answer, ‘If your highness wants the stuff counted in a single day, you should send several slaves.’ ‘Very well, go and attend to it and take Libanus and Sosia with you. I want the thing done.’ It once came about that certain gentlemen waited upon him, gentlemen who had entertained him handsomely when he was travelling. He was a little put out because of this, but even then he did not recede from the evil propensity of his nature. ‘You have done well to come,’ said he, ‘but you would have done even better had you come to me straight away.’ ‘We would have done that,’ was the reply, ‘if we had known where your house was.’ ‘That is easily remedied, come along with me,’ They followed him. In the meantime, all his talk was taken up with ostentation and boasting. He lectured them on the state of the crops and informed them that he no longer went to his country places because all the houses were destroyed and he had not ventured to rebuild at Tusculum where he was even then restoring an ancient villa on its old foundations. As he was telling them this, he led them into a house where he was known to the owner and where he knew there was to be a banquet. 221 ‘Here’s where I’m staying,’ he informed them. Then he fell to examining all the silverware in sight, he inspected the table which was ready set and expressed his satisfaction with everything. A slave came and informed him privately that the master had arrived, and asked him to go about his business. ‘Well, come along, friends,’ said he, ‘my brother has just arrived from Salernum, and I want to meet him on the road. Please be good enough to return at the tenth hour.’ The strangers took their departure and he hastened away to hide in his own house. Then, at the appointed hour, as he had stipulated, they returned. They inquired for him and learned who really owned the mansion. They retired, in confusion, to an inn. Next day they found the fellow. They told him what had happened. They expostulated with him. They accused him. He made answer that they had mistaken either the house or the street and that he had waited for them till far into the night. He then commissioned Sannio his slave boy to get vases, vestments, and slaves together. The little servant, who did not lack ability, acquitted himself nobly and his master led his guests home. One of the finest houses was being prepared for a wedding and he told them he had loaned it to a friend who was to be the groom. His slave demanded the silver, for he was terrified at having acceded to the request. ‘Away with him,’ said he, ‘I’ve loaned him my house, I’ve given him my slaves, does he want my silver into the bargain? notwithstanding the fact that I too have guests? Well, let him have it, we will be beautifully served on Samian ware in spite of him.’ ” (Lib. IV, 50 and 51.)
Mention should also be made of the fact that the caterers of such banquets as those of which we have spoken were no less vain and boastful, no less difficult to manage than the parasite whom we have described. For 222 many years they had little or no consideration, but with the decline of republican severity and austerity, the calling which had formerly been regarded as vile (vilissimum antiquis mancipium is the expression used by Kivy), came more and more into prominence with increase of luxury and the questionable refinement of the standards of living, and the haughty patrician was compelled perforce to put up with more abuse and insolence from his cook and his caterer than would have been thought possible. Insolence was the order of the day, but a good cook, then as now, was difficult to obtain and it was thought worth all the inconvenience if he could be held. The stern age that had produced a Cincinnatus or a Fabius was above giving the slightest consideration to such matters, but when Rome had succumbed to the tastes and refinement of Lucullus, and the age of gluttony had dawned, slaves who were specialists in catering and cooking were very costly, more so in fact than those serving as short-hand writers or copyists. One hundred thousand ases was by no means an exorbitant price for a slave with such qualifications, in witness whereof I would cite the figure at which Sallust purchased the famous Dama, who had formerly been the property of Nomentanus. Whenever an elaborate entertainment was in prospect it was necessary to procure the services of some such caterer at once, and by any means necessary to insure the desired result, and the host often had to bear in silence the insolence of a specialist who knew his craft was indispensable. It was never the custom to haggle over the price which such a culinary artist set on his services, and this was especially true if the prospective employee had received the title “archimagirus,” carried in his belt the traditional carving knife, and commanded a numerous horde of scullions. Those who haggled, or refused to pay the amount demanded, were reduced to the 223 lowest terms by some cook of nine days’ experience, and the waste accruing from his ministrations was staggering.
As Plautus has it:
“That fellow’s a nine-day cook; on the ninth day
He will go about his business — cooked.”
The explanation lies in the Roman customs at funerals. The scullions prepared the lentils and porridge on the ninth day after a funeral, and another explanation a trifle more recondite is that they were competent to prepare the repasts during the nine days following a funeral when their employers would not be so testy as usual. On the tenth day, however, tragedy was certain to stalk abroad in the land, and the consequences of red-eyed fury suffering from indigestion could only be prevented by the hasty departure of the entire kitchen staff.
We need not speak of the cooks and scullions in the establishments of the small vendors of sausages (botularii) who ran hither and yon with their smoking ovens (tomacula fumantia), as Martial aptly calls them:
“You are a buffoon, Caecilius. You are like the fellow who sells pea soup to the idle crowd, like the vile boys of the sellers of salt, like the hoarse cook who carries smoking sausages in his pans.” (Lib. I, 42.)
Hawkers of short-order food stuffs went among the crowds in the streets, in the porticoes and arcades, in the tiers of seats in the amphitheatre, in fact, wherever there was a prospect of business, and peddled their wares. There were also portable ovens for bread, and one of the keenest memories which the writer has of old Seville and other Spanish cities is the high, resonant singsong cry — P—A—N, that echoed and re-echoed in the dim darkness of the narrow and crooked streets where the acoustics were excellent and the echoes persisted long after their cause had vanished in the distance. It is as much a 224 survival of culture as is the custom of advertising lodgings by twining palm fronds or newspapers around the baranillas under Spanish windows; a usage which goes back to the Middle Ages and which, in its primal simplicity, meant sanctuary.
As such peddlers continually encroached upon the preserves of the proprietors of eating-houses and thermopolia there was perpetual hostility between the factions they represented. No gathering could escape the attentions of these peripatetic hucksters, who promptly betook themselves and their stocks in trade to the meeting. The eating-house keeper and his vassals would then make a sortie upon the enemy and attempt to drive them to a stand in front of the inn or tavern. It might have been thought that these petty dealers were in Seneca’s mind when he coined the term “institores popinarum,” hawkers of the eating-houses. The strident cries of these retailers in merchandising their wares were among the causes which contributed to the perpetual noisy uproar of Rome. And in all this garish hurlyburly not the least strident were the cries of the ragged old hags who sold herbs, she who led Encolpius into evil ways, as described by Petronius, and she of whom Persius speaks in passant — crying her herbs to attract the slaves.