Three Roman Meals
- Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
- paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
- si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
- cenam, non sine candida puella
- et vino etsale et omnibus cachinnis.
- haec, si inquam, attuleris, venuste noster,
- cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
- plenus sacculus est aranearum.
- sed contra accipies meros amores
- seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
- nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
- donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
- quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis,
- totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.
You will dine well at my place, Fabullus, in a few days, if the Gods take care of you–if you bring with you a nice big dinner, and don’t forget a pretty girl, wine and wit and laughter. If you bring these, my fine-feathered friend, you will dine well. For Catullus’ wallet is full of cob-webs. But you will receive in return my unmixed affection and something sweeter and more elegant [if that is possible]: I will give you perfume which Venus and the Loves gave to my girl; and when you take a whiff of it, you will pray to the Gods, Fabullus, to make you ALL NOSE! Catullus, 13
C. Plinius Septicio Claro Suo S.
Heus tu promittis ad cenam nec venis! Dicitur ius: ad assem inpendium reddes, nec id modicum. Paratae erant lactucae singulae, cochleae ternae, ova bina, alica cum mulso et nive [nam hance quoque computabis, immo hanc in primis, quae periit in ferculo], olivae, betacei, cucurbitae, bulbi, alia mille non minus lauta. Audisses comoedos vel lectorem vel lyristen vel, quae mea liberalitas, omnes. At tu apud nescioquem ostrea, vulvas, echinos, Gaditanas maluisti. Dabis poenas, non dico quas. Dure fecisti: invidisti, nescio an tibi, certe mihi, sed tamen et tibi. Quantum nos lusissemus, ridissemus, studuissemus! Potes apparatius cenare apud multos, nusquam hilarius simplicius incautius. In summa, experire, et nisi postea te aliis potius excusaveris, mihi semper excusa. Vale. Pliny, Letters I, xv
My Dear Septicius Clarus,
Look here, you accepted my invitation to dinner and then did not show up. You will be assessed for the costs, to the last penny, and they are not small. You will have to foot the bill for all these preparations: lettuce, one head per head; snails, three apiece; eggs, two each; pasta [to wit: spelt grits]; all the above served with mulsum and snow–yes, you will pay the tab for the snow too, in fact especially for the snow, because it died on the dish as a result of your negligence; then olives, boiled beets, gourds, onions, and one thousand other items no less elegantly prepared.
You would have heard comic skits, or a reader, or a musician, or–considering my generosity–all three. But you preferred oysters, stuffed sow’s womb, sea urchins, and Spanish bombshells, at whose home, I for one cannot imagine. But you will pay your debt…. You have acted with malice aforethought, maybe not to yourself, but certainly to me, but yes, to yourself as well. How much fun we would have had, how we would have laughed, how serious we would have been too. You can dine at many homes with more pomp and circumstance, but nowhere with more fun, candor, and openness. In short: come to my next party, and unless you prefer to make your excuses to others in future, make your excuse to me forever.
- Si tristi domicenio laboras,
- Torani, potes esurire mecum.
- non desunt tibi, si soles propinein,
- viles Cappadocae gravesque porri,
- divisis cybium latebit ovis.
- ponetur digitis tenendus ustis
- nigra coliculus virens patella,
- algentem modo qui relquit hortum
- et pultem niveam premens botellus,
- et pallens faba cum rubente lardo.
- mensae munera si voles secundae,
- marcentes tibi porrigentur uvae
- et nomen pira quae ferunt Syrorum,
- et quas docta Neapolis creavit,
- lento castaneae vapore tostae:
- vinum tu facies bonum bibendo. . . .
- parva est cenula (quis potest negare?)
- sed finges nihil audiesve fictum
- et voltu placidus tuo recumbes;
- nec crassum dominus leget volumen…
Martial V, 78
If you are worried about a gloomy dinner at home, Toranius, you can come starve with me. If you are in the habit of having hors d’oeurves with your cocktails, you will get cheap Cappadocian lettuce and pungent leeks, and a tuna salad buried under sliced eggs.
Green cabbage–hot enough to burn your fingers when you pick it up, but fresh from the cool garden–will be served on a black plate, and a sausage lying heavily on a white porridge, and pasty beans with red bacon.
And if you want some dessert, you will be offered grapes in the latter stages of decay, and a type of pears called Syrian, and chestnuts roasted in a slow fire, raised in learned Naples: the wine you will make good by drinking it.
If after all this, Bacchus stimulates your appetite as he usually does, noble olives will come to your aid, and roasted chick peas and hot lupins. My little feast is meagre [who can deny it?], but you will not have to put on airs, nor will any be put on for you: you can relax and just be yourself… Martial, v.78
Roman Dining on a Shoestring — Menus & Recipes
M. = Martial v.78 P. = Pliny i.15
Gustum: served with mulsum [wine sweetened with honey, an additive which as Cato says can “make a cheap wine taste expensive”]
M. lettuce, leeks, sliced eggs, tuna
P. lettuce, eggs, snails, alica
M. cabbages, porridge with sausages, beans with bacon
P. olives, boiled beets, gourds, onions [etc.]
M. grapes, pears, chestnuts
M. wine with olives, lupins, chickpeas and a fluteplayer
P. comic skits, a reader, a musician
Lettuce salad [from Columella]
savory, mint, rue, coriander, parsley, chives or green onion, lettuce leaves, colewort, thyme and green fleabane
Epityrum [from Cato]
- Pit green, black, and mottled olives; chop them up; add olive oil, vinegar, coriander, cumin, fennel, rue, mint.
- Pour oil over the mixture.
Porridge (puls punica) [from Apicius]
- Soak a pound of spelt well in water.
- Add three pounds of fresh cheese, 1/2 pound of honey, one egg. Mix thoroughly. Pour into a pot and cook.
Alica [from Apicius]
- To mashed pepper add honey, wine, passum, rue.
- Mix in pinenuts, nuts, boiled spelt.
- Top with toasted hazelnuts and serve.
Hard boiled eggs [from Apicius]
serve with liquamen, oil, and honey.
Fish sauce [from Apicius]
pepper, lovage, rue, honey, pinenuts, vinegar, wine, liquamen,alittle oil:heat and pour over sauteed or grilled fish.
Sausage [from Apicius]
mix onion, diced leek, blood with 6 hard boiled egg yolks & chopped pinenuts; stuff into casing; add liquamen and wine and cook.