Food and drink habits in a given society are important aspects of cultural identity. Different foods and drinks are consumed in a different civilization and different historic times. The differences in the feeding habits amongst various civilizations are affected by a variety of factors such as geographical placing that determines which foods can be produced in certain places. Travel and trade also influence the food and drink varieties available to the community. Trading expeditions may introduce new foods and drinks, but also with their interaction with the cultures they trade with, different feeding and drinking routines. Despite the cultural uniformity of these habits and identities, there may be individual variations within the same society on how individuals go about their food and drink. These differences may arise out of social and economic standing of the individual, which affects their ability to obtain these necessities. The availability or lack of thereof, food and drink also influences its consumption habits and rituals. In consideration of the cultural relevance that food and drink hold in society, this paper seeks to establish the ancient patterns adopted by the Romans in relation to food and drink by utilizing the novel ‘The Satyricon’, by Petronius Arbiter.
The novel ‘The Satyricon’ by Petronius Arbiter is a classical Roman literature pieced together from books written around the years 6 A.D. and 34 A.D. It is based in what is present day Italy, and what was then regarded as the Roman Empire. Its assertions and insinuations, therefore, are assumed to have been common practices of Roman people around the time it was written. It has useful insights on the food and drink habits of the roman people going by its commentary style of writing. May the events chronicled by the author are actual events that happening to them, or are a model of the contemporary living of the Roman people at that time. Chapter 27 titled ‘the dinner of trimalchi’ for instance holds a wealth of information on the contemporary dining habits of a noble man, and the way people were expected to behave around dinners hosted by such men.
Use of drinks as portrayed in the ‘Satyricon’
Drinking in the as shown in Satyricon was an imbedded habit of the Roman culture. Drinking was a pastime enjoyed by the Romans in their formal parties and their orgies too. In chapter twenty, Enclopius and his companions Ascyltos and the boy Giton are subjected to innumerable harassing by their captor Quartilla. In a bid to engage in sexual activity with them, as a hypothetical cure for Quartilla, the maids give alcohol to the men aimed at making them drunk, and subsequently having their way with them (Petronius pg 59). The use of alcoholic drinks by the women to have men engage in sexual activity with them represents a culture of extensive use of alcohol in partying and social orgies as was the culture of the Romans. The narrator reveals this particular context of alcohol use by his description of the event's characteristic of the night they were held captive. In chapter twenty-four, in the same scene during the night, Quartilla, herself clearly drunk in the Falernian wine they engaged in the banquet, fondles the boy’s member, a disgusting act for a woman to do on a young boy as Giton is described to be. Further, she declares of her intention to use the boy in whetting her appetite, but only after the narrator and Ascyltos who are described as ‘choice fish’. Therefore, the circumstance in which drink is utilized in this passage indicates its use as a main ingredient of spicing up social gatherings and initiating sexual contact.
Further use of drink Manifests in the novel, as an accompaniment to ordinary dining. In ‘The dinner of Trimalchio’, drink, in particular wine is used as an item in the dinner servings presented to the guests. The use of wine in this way shows its respectability among the Romans, and is used in this context to indicate bounty, success, and longevity in that bounty. This notion is contrived from the musings of Trimalchio who opines, ‘Ah me! To think that wine lives longer than poor little man. Let's fill 'em up! (Petronius pg 74) In this statement, Trimalchio is in a reflective state mourning how short a man’s life is. His longevity is compared to that of wine with his inability to match the longevity of wine being chided on. In this regard, the ability of wine to the outlive man is celebrated. His lively manner in which he calls for the filling up of the wine glasses indicates the anticipatory manner he was in at drinking his wine. The transition from a somber reflection on man’s mortality to a livened anticipation of wine indicates a hope that he would borrow at least some of the qualities held by wine, and in this case, longevity to enjoy his bounty.
Differences in use of food between the rich and the poor
The contrast in the use of food and the mode of dining was used as means by which people of means used in flaunting their wealth. The opposite is true where meal time for the lowly was an event relegated as a necessity of life. This conclusion is present in the meal enjoyed by Enclopius and his sojourners in the inn. Enclopius describes their dinner as ‘We had just disposed of the supper prepared by Giton, when there came a timid rapping at the door (Petronius pg 56).’ The mention of the meal is mentioned in passing showing the relegated place the meal held in the mind of the narrator. In this instance, the meal is used as a marker in the chronology of events and not as important event in its own. Further meal and meal times is a matter of urgency to the hungry, which in many instances are often the poor. In this respect, the disposition of the meal described by Enclopious in the passage above indicates the hurry in which they were in at feeding to satisfy their hunger. Further, in a scene where Enclopious finds himself in the company of the priestess, in a bid to heal him of his dysfunctional member, is requested to shell beans as part of the procedure. While he went about the task deft fully, the priestess snatched the beans from him and quickly shelled them splattering them on the floor. The description given by Enclopious of the event shows the association given to food. By the nature of the place, it was poverty ridden, and by the way the priestess shelled the beans and splattered them on the floor, Enclopious drew a parallel in the manner of handling the food, and the poverty characteristic of the place.
Food as is a necessity, finds some interesting uses in the ‘The Satyricon’. Consumption of food in this novel is depicted as varying from the different circumstance to the next. In the diner of Trimalchio, food is ostentatious used and presented as an indication of his means. In this regard, people of means used dining as indication of their affluence. Trimalchio, for instance, remarks at the end of the dinner that the dinner they enjoyed currently paled in comparison to the previous day’s dinner (Petronius pg 79). In this declaration, Trimalchio attempts at elaborating to his guests his ability to sustain them. Additionally, the manner in which the foods were served indicated a superfluous show of liberty in handling a resource as important as food. The foods are presented in various shapes, ranging from a bar to a recreation of an egg (Petronius pg 73). The attempt here is to mystify the guests on the level of sophistication the host enjoys, with stretched diner rituals enjoyed by the well-to-do. The detail given on to this dinner is in stark contrast to the dinner taken by the narrator and his friends at the inn. Prior to their capture, the narrator mentions of a dinner they had enjoyed, but devoid of fanfare. This contrast in the use of food by the rich and the average that stands out; while the poor can hardly remember their meals, the well-off revel in the excesses of food they have.
Food and drink in this analysis appear as central indicators of the life and cultures of the roman people during the time of writing of ‘The Satyricon’. Analysis of literary works reveals the nature of culture in a given society. By use of ‘The Satyricon’, we are able to make many important conclusions about the food and drink habits of the Romans during its creation.
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