Food in Antiquity
ARCHESTRATUS: THE LIFE OF LUXURY
John Wilkins and Shaun Hill (1994)
The Life of Luxury is a remarkable and almost unique work. When considering the ancient Greeks, the modern person may think of their temples, their tragedies, their philosophy and democracy. These best-known aspects of Greek culture are often specifically Athenian rather than Greek in general. Cookery books in ancient Greece do not readily come to mind; cookery in fact is credited by modern people wrongly to the Romans with their dormice and the cookery book ascribed to Apicius. Here we redress the balance by editing a Greek cookery book, not from Athens but from Gela in Sicily.
The Life of Luxury reveals much about Greek culture, and a great deal about the style of Greek food in antiquity. In travelling throughout the Greek world Greece, Southern Italy and Sicily, the coast of Asia Minor, the Black Sea Archestratus makes clear how cosmopolitan the Greeks were (rather like the British during the period of Empire). His influences ingredients, combinations of flavours, techniques are drawn from a wide Mediterranean background, taking in a diversity of ideas unrestricted by the topography of the Greek mainland.
Our commentary is concerned principally with the content of the poem, that is, the purchase and preparation of certain foods. Literary and other aspects of the poem have been investigated by Brandt (1888) and Degani (1990), and are considered by us only briefly.
Almost nothing if known about Archestratus other than that he was a Sicilian Greek, from Syracuse or Gela. The poem is conventionally dated to about 330 BC, partly in relation to the Pythagorean philosopher Diodorus of Aspendus mentioned in fragment 23, but whose dates are no more secure than Archestratus. Archestratus was known to Clearchus the philosopher (c. 340 c. 250 BC) and therefore cannot post-date his death.
The Life of Luxury was valued by Athenaeus in his Philosophers at Dinner (in Greek Deipnosophistai), which was composed about 200 AD. He is the only ancient author to preserve the 62 fragments of the poem, which says much. By contrast, lost works of ancient poetry are usually preserved in quotations by a number of authors for instance the multiple references drawn from the one hundred or more lost tragedies of Sophocles. This almost unique source for the poem may reflect the fact that Archestratus appears to employ little colourful or unusual vocabulary in the fragments: rare works are generally picked up by glossaries and grammarians. More likely, though, the lack of interest demonstrates the status of food books and recipe books: they are not high literature and are not carefully preserved in manuscripts for posterity. We would like to see the book on breadmaking by Chrysippus of Tyana or the book on salt fish by Euthydemus of Athens, but they survive only in the sparse references of Athenaeus. In Wilkins and Hill (1996) we discuss Mithaikos, an influential Syracusan predecessor of Archestratus, who survives only in four tiny fragments.
An exception to the general neglect of classical texts on cookery is de arte coquinaria of Apicius. This contains little of Apicius himself, being largely a compilation of recipes from different sources, but at least something has been preserved, and was thought worthy of preservation. There were many medieval copies made, and it was a scholarly favourite of the Renaissance.
It is evidently a risky business to attempt a reconstruction of the whole of Archestratus poem from a mere 62 fragments, and we do not attempt to guess more than to hazard it unlikely there was much if anything on cooking of meat, and that the bulk of the poem was devoted to fish [Wilkins (1993)]. There may have been something on desserts, since there clearly is something on simple hors doeuvre, and while Athenaeus has much to say on sweet pastries and desserts, it is impossible to discern if he ignored Archestratus or the sage was indeed dumb. The section on garlands and the organisation of the feats [fragments 59-62] may have been much larger, though we might guess that such detail would have given Athenaeus more ammunition with which to attack the supposed luxury of Archestratus and would be likely to by quoted. We would certainly expect detail on sauces to be quoted in Athenaeus, and on authorial vanity, since these would have been grist to Athenaeus mill. Their absence in Athenaeus implies their absence from the poem.
One later writer who had read Archestratus was the Roman poet Quintus Ennius, author of tragedies and the Annals, an historical poem in epic metre. Ennius was a Southern Italian who was born in 239 BC and learnt both Latin and Greek. For Romans of later centuries his work represented some of the finest poetry in early Latin, in a grand, rough style. One surviving fragment is a Latin adaptation of Archestratus fragment 56. Ennius probably learnt Greek at Tarentum in Southern Italy, indication that there at least, or somewhere very similar, The Life of Luxury was being read around the end of the third century BC and was made available to the Romans who at this period were heavily influenced by the Greek cities to the south.
A striking feature of The Life of Luxury is that it is written in verse. At the time of composition (fourth century BC), prose-writing had been known in the Greek world for over a century. Archestratus had the option to write in prose, as technical and scientific and philosophical writers in the sixth and early fifth centuries had not. This raises questions about his audience and the purpose of the poem. It was almost certainly not a hands-on cookery book but a volume to be enjoyed at a rich mans banquet and symposium. People rarely read in private in the Greek world: rather. They if they were the upper-class people regularly associated with literature in antiquity heard literature recited to them at banquets, in particular at the drinking session (symposium) after the meal. This was an occasion for men: they were apart from their wives and enjoyed the ministrations of women of low status, as well as literature, while other entertainments might include dancers or drunken games [Athenaeus, Book 15; Lissarrague (1990); fragment 3]. Such literature might be lyrical poems, songs, recited epic or drama or history, or sub-literary forms based on dance and mime.
Archestratus poem, then, is literature. The category of literature it falls into is parody, poetry with inappropriate characters or subject-matter. It is a parody of epic, the poetry of Homer and Hesiod about heroes and gods in hexameter verse. So one day at the symposium the entertainment might be a recitation of Hesiods Theogony, the story of the family history of the Olympian gods; the next day it might be the poem of Archestratus. He provides a pleasing contrast, and urbanely focuses on the very activity that the audience was enjoying. As they bit into their olive relishes, or took a mouthful of tuna, the hexameters celebrated the best kind of tuna that could be found and the best way in which it could be prepared.
There was a long tradition of the genre of parody before Archestratus, on topics such as the celebrated Battle of the Frogs and the Mice, but often in the area of food and its consumption. We have a fragment from the Parodies of the sixth / fifth century poet Xenophanes in hexameters on the subject of eating chickpeas at the symposium [Xenophanes fragment 18]; Hegemon of Thasos, a notable parodist of the late fifth century, and, Athenaeus tells us [407a], the poet who consoled the Athenians when they lost their army in Sicily in 413, identifies himself in one of his hexameter poems as foul Lentil Soup; at roughly the same date as Archestratus, Matro wrote his Attic Banquet, in whose hexameters an elaborate meal is described in an accomplished and comic way. [On the literature of parody in which inappropriate foods are blended with Homeric hexameters, and on Matro in particular see Degani (1990, 1991, 1995).
A flavour of Matro may be given by the following extract [Lloyd-Jones and Parsons (1983) 534.33-43 = Athenaeus 135c-d.]
The daughter of Nereus also came, Thetis of the silver feet,
The cuttlefish of the fair tresses, the dread goddess who speaks,
The only fish to distinguish white from black.
I saw too Tityus, glorious conger of the marshy lake,
Degani discusses such phrases as goddess with the white arms and argues that they are not mere travesties of Homer.
Parody, Athenaeus tells us [699b], was particularly enjoyed in Sicily, birthplace of Archestratus and home of the cookery book. But The Life of Luxury is quite unlike all the others in the collection of parodic poetry edited by Brandt in 1888. It is a poem which may have amusing touches but is first and foremost a work of instruction for the acquisition and preparation of good food. Although other interpretations, discussed by Degani (1995) and Gowers (1993), are possible and potentially valuable, we do not consider them here, beyond noting that Gowers, writing on food in roman literature, has shown how it is often a metaphor for a style of poetry. A light, elegant style of cooking, such as that promoted by Archestratus, could represent a similar style of poetry, which was indeed a prevailing style after 300 BC. Thus short witty poems were preferred to verbose epic, as sensitive seasoning might be preferred to pungent sauces.
We conclude with two further stylistic considerations. Many of the fragments concern fish, which, as Athenaeus observes at the beginning of his work, are virtually absent from Homer. This may be due to the selection made by Athenaeus, but is probably not, and is a subtle way in which Archestratus can please his audience by taking over the Homeric verse-form and filling it with decidedly un-Homeric fish. Equally, if we compare Archestratus with Hesiod, as Athenaeus does [fragment 23], we can see a pleasing contrast between Hesiods insistence on the grinding work of the peasant in his Works and Days and Archestratus advice for good and elegant living.
The second point is that Archestratus might have been more credible if he had written in prose. Why this flirting with parody? Flirtation is the right word, for the quantity of Homeric and Hesiodic phraseology is small compared with Matro or Hegemon. A prose work may have convinced us that this was a book for chefs, not a pleasing poem for their dilettante employers. Equally, it would probably have condemned the work to oblivion, for it was the versification and playfulness that caught the eye of Athenaeus and seduced him into quoting 62 fragments. Contrast the fate of Mithaicos who, though influential enough to outrage Plato, wrote in prose and is scarcely mentioned by Athenaeus.
The content is clearly influenced by the form and tone of the medium. Yet, despite the fact that this is epic parody, the advice about the selection, purchase and preparation of food is first rate. The man has much to say, and much of value to say. Since chefs were of low status and unlikely to be sufficiently educated to write and epic-style poem, we presume that Archestratus was not a chef himself; but he has knowledge of quality produce and combination of flavours and use of heat in cooking. He is perhaps an equivalent of an Edwardian lady who supervised her kitchen and was concerned to try new dishes she had read about, but who was quite distinct from her cook below stairs.
The cook in antiquity was of low status, but the best chefs operated in a competitive mode, being hired out together with their brigade of assistants to the homes of the rich. Quality and fame mattered to them. The evidence for this is to be found in Greek comedy and therefore has to be treated with some caution, but we have argued elsewhere [Wilkins and Hill (1993)] that the comic chef bears a close relation to his counterpart in everyday life.
Writing about food in a practical way in ancient Greece was first and foremost a sub-division of medical writing. Food influenced the balance of the humours in the body. But eating is also a sensual experience: however basic the diet, senses of taste, smell and sight are necessarily involved. There is a hint of pleasure, directing wring on food towards the playful area of comedy. There are comic touches in Archestratus [fragments 9, 23, 35, 45], and there is some similarity between some of his advice and the advice found in speeches delivered by chefs in comedy.
The comic poets thought it desirable to have a comic chef as a stock character in their plays. The comic chef has to be recognizable in his comic guise, a caricature of his counterpart in the real world. As well as cooking methods, there are extravagant claims to reading, knowledge and excellence in the competitive world of the commercial chef. We offer two extracts.
A: Sophon of Arcarnania and Demoxenus of Rhodes were fellow pupils of each other in the chefs art, and Labdacus of Sicily was their teacher. These two wiped away the clichéd old seasonings from the cookbooks and did away with the mortar: no cumin, vinegar silphium, cheese, coriander seasonings which old Kronos used to have. They did away with all these and said the man who used them was only a tradesman. All they asked for, boss, were oil and a new pot and a fire that was hot and not blown too often. With such an arrangement every meal is straightforward. They were the first to do away with sneezing and a running nose at table: they cleared out the tubes of the eaters. Well, the Rhodian died from drinking a salt pickle, for such a drink was unnatural.
B: Quite so.
A: Sophon now runs things in Ionia, and has become my teacher, boss. I myself philosophize, and Im keen to leave behind me new books on the art of cooking.
B: O God! Its me youll be butchering, not the animal youre about to sacrifice.
A: First thing in the morning youll see me, books in hand, researching into foodways, in no way different from Diodorus of Aspendus.
Anaxippus Behind the Veil, fragment 1.1-26KA
[Athenaeus 403e-f; this is Athenian comedy of the fourth / third century BC]
Anyone can prepare dishes, carve, boil up sauces and blow on the fire, even a mere commis. But the chef is something else. To understand the place, the season, the man giving the meal, the guest, when and what fish to buy, that is not a job for just anyone. You will get the same kind of thing just about all the time, but you will not get the same perfection in the dishes or the same flavour. Archestratus has written his book and is held in esteem by some, as if he has said something useful. But he is ignorant of most things and tells us nothing.
Dionysius The Law Maker, fragment 2.15-26KA
[Athenaeus 405a-b: this is Athenian comedy of the fourth century BC]
In these comic passages we have a rejection of earlier techniques, consideration of location and season, an air of authority, all redolent of Archestratus. The first passage refers to Diodorus of Aspendus [see fragment 23]; Sophon of Archanania is an influential chef mentioned elsewhere in Athenaeus; Archestratus himself appears in the second passage. These comedies and The Life of Luxury appear to draw on the same world of food preparation and writing about cooking.
These comedies, like The Life of Luxury, derive from the chefs of the Greek world in the fourth century. Comedy in Greek culture is an appropriate place for food and cooking to be commented on, perhaps because aspects of the real chefs life verge on the comic: complex and menial skills are combined in cooking; there is a sharp contrast between the heat of the kitchen and the calm of the banquet where the food is presented; there is an element of entertainment in the presentation of food, which might be mocked. Another parallel may be drawn between cooking and war: the kitchen is organised like a military operation, and indeed some military terminology is used. Then too, food has something in common with sex in being the object of pleasure [fragment 3].
The Greeks at Table
Upper-class Greeks ate while they reclined on couches, putting food to their lips with one hand and leaning on the other arm. This has implications for the style of food. If it was eaten one-handed, then it needed to be presented on the plate in bite-sized portions. Even if it was a fish head [cf. fragments 18 and 20], it should be prepared for one-handed consumption. Knives were available, though almost certainly not spoons and certainly not forks. If the reclining posture were to be maintained, the easiest tool to supplement the human hand was bread; and if the bread was to act as a kind of scoop, then flat bread like modern pitta appears eminently suitable, while a raised bread might be better for absorbing soups. We do not hear a great deal about raised breads in Athens at this period (we do at least hear about it, though), and the need for pitta-style scoops may account for Archestratus praise of barley [fragment 4]. (He may of course be speaking in ignorance or in jest, but that is not our interpretation.)
They ate two sets of courses, all the while reclining on couches. In the first set, identified as the dinner (deipnon), appetisers with strong flavours [fragments 6-7] were followed by dishes based on fish and meat [fragments 8-58]. These dishes might be served several at a time. The second set of dishes accompanied the drinking session (symposium) [fragment 62]. This order of foods may be seen in Matros Attic Banquet [quoted by Athenaeus 134d-137c], and is adopted for the fragments of Archestratus, down to the provision of breads for the meal at the outset.
Courses were based on a carbohydrate element (sitos) stomach-filling barley and wheat with strong flavours (opsa) to provide extra proteins and vitamins and interest the palate. These opsa ranged from the best sea bass to a salad of bitter herbs or cheese and onions. Greedy people might eat too much carbohydrate, luxurious people too many opsa, particularly highly-prized fish. After the food, the diners went into the drinking session (symposium) and were entertained.
The fragments, as we have seen, concentrate on fish cooking (49 out of 62 fragments). It is our belief that fish was more highly valued by chefs than meat because meat was closely connected with other rituals, rituals of worship and sacrifice. The slaughter of animals in sacrifice and the butchering of the meat was the task of the mageiros (the Greek word for chef, butcher and sacrificer of animals): he divided the meat between the worshippers. It was possible to incorporate such worship with a banquet, but meat cookery appears only occasionally in cookery books. In Archestratus meat is represented only by hare (not a sacrificial animal) [fragment 57], goose [fragment 58] and sows womb as a relish [fragment 62]. There may well have been more meat in the full poem and Athenaeus may have distorted the picture by his own lack of interest in meat; Greek culture nevertheless associated fish-eating (quality fish as opposed to small fry) with luxury and meat-eating with the gods. The full poem of Matro confirms the bias towards fish. This is in striking contrast with Christian Europe where fish is reserved for fast (that is, non-meat) days.
Archestratus cooks the fish simply, boiling roasting or grilling, with light seasoning and oil added if it is quality fish, stronger flavours if poor quality [see fragments 13, 31, 45, 49]. Freshness and quality are his watchwords, and these features must not be damaged by strong sauces based on cheese and pungent herbs [fragment 45]. An earlier (or possibly alternative) style of cooking is deprecated [fragment 45] and a light, elegant style recommended. There is much interest in texture, both in parts of the fish, for instance head meat [fragments 18, 20, 22, 26, 33], fin [fragment 22], tail [fragments 26, 37, 40], and belly [fragment 23] as well as in varieties of fish.
Archestratus favourite fish tend to have firm-textured and strongly-flavoured meat rather than mild tasting flesh like the white fish which are used now in France and Britain as vehicles for sauces. And of course, he shows as much interest in eels, the common eel, the conger and the moray [fragments 8, 16, 19]. He emphasises flavour and the oil / fat of the fish where flavour is to be found [fragments 8, 12, 17, 18, 19, 30, 36, 45, 49]. Archestratus presentation of fish has something in common with the Chinese approach as described in the modern manual of Yan-kit So. Comparisons with Far Eastern or South-East Asian cuisine are as appropriate as anything in Europe. An holistic approach to meal-time with emphasis on balance yin and yang in China, humours in Greece is common to both. The four humours, blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile were to be kept in the right proportion and quality (hot, cold, wet, and dry) by eating food that would provide that balance and the required qualities.
Sauces of cheese or herb pickles are added to inferior fish, but in general this not sauce-based cooking, the preference being for additions of oil and light herbs to the fish juices. This is striking, and to be contrasted with the strong flavours added to Roman foods (though our principal informant is Apicius from the fourth century AD) and the meat-based sauces from Asia Minor which appeared in most other Greek cookery books: Athenaeus [516c-d] gives a list of books with one such recipe, and Archestratus is notable for the absence of such sauces.
Meats are prepared with equal simplicity [fragments 57, 58] and an eye to essential juices. There is no interest (in the fragments at least) in comparatively new introductions to the Mediterranean, such as pheasant and chicken.
Strong flavours are recommended at the beginning and end of the meal, in the form of olives, barley breads, small birds and pickled sows womb. Vegetable dishes are deprecated in fragment 7 (whether as starters or in general is unclear). We do not have enough information on the presence of vegetables in the poem, but they may not have figured largely if associations with poverty, found elsewhere, were thought important to Archestratus. His views on chickpeas and other desserts [fragment 62] lend some support to this suggestion, as does the dismissive remark at the end of fragment 23.
There is little more to say about the flavours in the poem for it relies principally on fresh produce, from the sea, which has changed less since antiquity than other products, certainly than farmed animals and plants. The product is cooked with little flavouring, and apart from the salt fish of fragment 38 and the occasional reference to silphium (the relative of the sulphurous asafoetida) there is little evidence of the predominate flavour we have found in ancient Greek food, that is a rank, slightly rotting quality. Often this is balanced with the sweetness of honey or olive oil to provide an equivalent harmony to more familiar couplings such as Stilton and sweet port wine or roast mutton and red currant jelly [Wilkins and Hill (1993)]. Anyone in the modern world who cooked from Archestratus would not find the flavours as strange as much ancient Greek food.
A comment on silphium is in order. It was the prestige flavour of antiquity. It was eaten more rarely than the strong Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, but was a much-desired flavour. It grew in North Africa in the area around Cyrene and there is little evidence for its growth elsewhere. The plant is one of the giant fennels which needed special conditions for its cultivation [Theophrastus History of Plants 6.3.1-7]. The root was eaten, but the main products were two juices, one derived from the root, the other from the stem. The export of silphium was an important part of Cyrenes trade in some periods. By the time of Nero the production was said by Pliny to be extinct, and the flavour thereafter was provided by asafoetida, another giant fennel, from Persia. Ancient sources on the enigmatic but pungent silphium have been discussed recently by Alice Arndt and Andrew Dalby in their papers listed in the bibliography.
Athenaeus and Archestratus
The attitude of Athenaeus himself is an interesting one, and for this reason we have quoted the context of each citation as well as Archestratus words themselves. Athenaeus work, like Archestratus, is modelled on the banquet and symposium, and it explicitly introduces foods and rituals of the banquet as diners progress through their meal [1b]. The ultimate literary model for a work of art based on the banquet and symposium is, Athenaeus tells us [2a], Plato (he means Platos Symposium). Archestratus is mentioned by name early in the work, and his book is reported to have various titles [4e = fragment1], implying that circulation was wide. Other food books are not given this prominence, thought it must be said that the first two and a half books of Athenaeus have only survived in digest form and may have mentioned others in the longer original.
Archestratus appears among a mass of quotation from poets and philosophers, and before the account of the extraordinary diet of Homers heroes, given near the beginning because the Iliad and Odyssey are considered the earliest recording of eating in Greece and purveyors of meals consisting almost entirely of meat.
There is an important ambivalence in Athenaeus, a belief that in a sense Archestratus is worth quoting because he has something to say about food, but that at the same time something disreputable is creeping into the text from which Athenaeus must distance himself. Archestratus seems treated as authoritative at one moment, only to be disparaged later [fragments 2, 3, 38, 44].
Athenaeus is at times even hostile. He needs to use the poem for its detailed discussion of foods, particularly of fish, but at the same time deprecates the luxurious associations the foods carry in Greek culture, and especially in the philosophical tradition of the Stoics exemplified in fragment 3. A recurring criticism is Archestratus excessive eye for detail, exemplified in fragment 2 or in the term kimbix, penny-pincher or stickler for detail in the introduction to fragment 37.
If we were to consider fresh produce for its own sake, there could be no objection to precision of location and species and preparation. The objection of course is not to the detail but to the luxurious subject matter, which also, amusingly enough, is the subject matter of Athenaeus own work.
A further objection is to the way Archestratus specified season by astronomical detail [fragment 3]. If we are only considering food, then the fish or plant may reasonably be eaten in its season [fragments 26, 36], when it is at its optimum. Aristotle for example shows how important season and location can be in fish [History of Animals 571a22-6]: in short, fish of the same species will not have the same season for impregnation, pregnancy, birth and general good condition in different places. Location and condition of fish is what Archestratus considers, but an hostile observer may see this as an inappropriate and rather comic application of scientific detail to an unworthy area, the preparation of food. It may appear as over-fussy or over-credulous, as may the bio-dynamic approach to organic viticulture in the 1990s to its critics. Some such idea lies behind the phrase Daedalus of tasty dishes which describes Archestratus in the introductions to fragments 9, 22, 25, 35, 57, 62.
Athenaeus is not always negative. We said above that Archestratus was writing in the tradition of Hesiod [cf. fragment 23] but without the miserable peasant lifestyle portrayed by that poet. As in Hesiod, there is much knowledgeable detail; but by contrast, poverty is absent, as is a moralising tone in the style of Theognis, another early poet with whom Archestratus is ironically compared in the introduction to fragment 23. Comparison with these poets makes clear what Archestratus poem is not. But in the following passage [101f], it is debatable whether Athenaeus tone is sincere or sardonic. We may well admire Archestratus, who gave us the excellent advice above [fragment 62]. He was a guide in pleasure for Epicurus the wise, and give his advice memorably, like the poet from Ascra [Hesiod], and tells us not to listen to some, but to attend to him himself, and tells us not to eat this and this, leaving out nothing that the cook has in Damoxenus the comic poet. The passage is sardonic when judged in context of the places where Archestratus is criticised for offering pleasure [fragments 2, 3, 16].
Pleasure is the key. Archestratus poem is after all called The Life of Luxury [fragment1], and the sensual areas of luxury and pleasure had for centuries before Athenaeus been condemned by most philosophical systems as indicators of the uncontrolled and non-philosophical mind. Athenaeus dwells at length on this subject at 510a to 554f. When setting up the dietary system in his ideal state, Plato prescribes a simple vegetarian diet [Republic 372-3]; when it is objected that this food fit for pigs, and that meat and couches to recline on are required, the response is Ah! It seems we are not describing how to establish a city, but how to establish a luxurious city. Dancing girls, sweet cakes and other luxuries are then added, with grave fears for justice in the city. In his dialogue Gorgias, Plato sets up a structure of genuine and false skills with cooking as the lowest and most meretricious [463e5-466a3]. Ideas such as these pervade later thought, of which Athenaeus is an undistinguished example. Further examples can be seen in Macrobius, Saturnalia (fourth / fifth century AD), where in one passage Plato and Aristotle are quoted on the dangers of pleasure [2.8.7-15], and in another a doctor considers whether drinking or eating is more pleasurable [7.12.20]. Medical texts are of course very different from philosophical texts on ethics. The body clearly does experience pleasure: it is a scientific and medical fact. Galen, the most eminent of the ancient doctors, sometimes notes without comment a food as giving pleasure, while at others advises nutrition in preference to pleasure. (This latter attitude would have pleased Plato who in the Gorgias passage sees the doctor as prescribing the nasty medicines required and the cook offering sweet tastes which do no good.) [For an accessible analysis of Greek concepts of pleasure see Foucault (1985).] Archestratus alludes slyly to the moral debate about pleasure in fragments 23 and 31.
Archestratus, then, is a kind of figurehead, an Escoffier as it were, who, in Athenaeus survey of Greek cooking epitomizes and represents all aspects of it. If he has a certain austerity, then that can be used against him as easily as if he were a boaster or led a dissipated life. It is always possible of course that the world had moved on by the time of Athenaeus, and Archestratus was considered noteworthy but laughably old-fashioned.
Archestratus and the Greek World
Archestratus comes from Gela. His provenance is significant. In the fifth and fourth centuries the Greek mainland was generally considered by its inhabitants to be agriculturally poor (Greece proper did not include the more fertile plains of Thrace and Macedonia); envious and disapproving eyes were cast to east and west, to the Greek cities on the Aegean coast of Turkey where there was the influence from the oriental empires of Persians and others, and to the fertile lands of Sicily and southern Italy. In this rich western location with good land, wealthy monarchs in some cities, and a perceived higher standard of living, good cooking developed.
Gela is a good example of a city in a fertile plain which became influential in the century before Archestratus (though monarchical government proved a mixed blessing). The ingredients of sufficient produce, sufficient interest and sufficient wealth to allow choice combined to create an inventive experimentation with food, comparable perhaps with France in certain periods. Sicily is often referred to in poetry as an island of many fruits; Sybaris, Croton and Tarentum were cities of legendary luxury; local agriculture was fertile [Varro On Agriculture 1.4.4, Strabo Geography 6.1.12]. Epicharmus the Syracusan comic poet of the early fifth century had long lists of foods in some of his plays, fragments of which survive. In the best-preserved, The Marriage of Hebe, dozens of fish are listed. Aristophanes in the late fifth century identifies Sicily with good eating; we hear of Sicon (a Sicilian?), either a chef or a food writer; Plato [Epistle 7] deplores Sicily as a gluttonous place where men eat two banquets a day and never sleep alone at night [for the moralizing combination of food and sex see fragment 3]. Plato cites the Sicilian Mithaicos as an early writer of a cookery book and Sicily as a place obsessed with food [Gorgias 518b]; at Republic 404d, Socrates speaks of those refinements of Sicilian cookery for which the tables of Syracuse are famous. All this before Archestratus.
Later food writers associated with the area are: Heracleides of Syracuse (there are two writers with this name), Dionysius of Syracuse, Agis of Syracuse, Hegisippus of Tarentum. We cannot of course assume that because Archestratus came from Gela he lived there all his life [fragments 34 and 35].
It is very clear that much of the poem concerns not the cooking and the recipes but the selecting and purchase of the best produce that could be found. The imagined audience for the poem takes a gastronomic tour, like Egon Ronay or the editor of the Good Food Guide. In this situation, the gastronome does not stay at home and hire the best chef in town; rather he the intended recipients of this advice are almost certainly men travels to whichever city offers the best of a desired produce, and there ensures that the produce is prepared in the correct way.
Travel in the Greek world was widespread for certain groups of people. Traders above all led contacts between cities with non-Greek peoples like the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Egyptians. They were men of fairly low status, but of great importance, especially in the areas of foods such as wines, grains, and salted products like fish, and luxury goods [McKechnie 91989) 178-203]. Much of the poem concerns the buying of food in markets, albeit in this case locally produced.
In the fourth century mercenaries also travelled widely [McKechnie (1989) 79-10]. Archestratus refers to mercenaries in fragment 61. A further category of traveller was the expert, the skilled worker, the doctor, the poet, the philosopher, the teacher of rhetoric [McKechnie (1989) 142-77]. Known travels of poets and philosophers such as Aeschylus and Plato imply much movement in the fifth and fourth centuries.
Archestratus poem is clearly not influenced by Alexander the Great whose expeditions to the east introduced Asia and Asian products all the more strongly to the Greeks. Archestratus travels widely, but remains firmly in the Mediterranean and Black Sea with no exotic influences, except for the bakers of Phoenicia and Lydia [fragment 5] and the wine of Byblos [fragment 59], products which had been known to the Greeks for centuries.
Andrew Dalby (1995) would date the poem some 30 years earlier, in other words, to precede the destruction of Olynthus by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, in 348 BC. How else can the reader be advised to buy grey-fish at Olynthus [fragment 20]? Dalby may be right: the traditional date of 330 BC, referred to at the outset, certainly has little authority. It should be borne in mind, though, that Archestratus may have gathered his information over a long period: there is no necessary link between the date of a visit and the date of the composition of the poem. If this is the case then Archestratus appears as well-travelled, but not within a short space of a year or two. Dalby [1995, and in his unpublished thesis Unequal Feasts. Food and its Social Context in Early Greece (Birkbeck College, London 1993] has much useful comment on cities visited by Archestratus.
Dalby (1995) also describes the Mediterranean in the fourth century as a dangerous place, with Carthaginians marauding in Sicily and Italy, Dionysius of Syracuse meting out destruction in Italy, Persia threatening cities in Asia Minor such as Erythrae, the Macedonians taking over Greek cities in the Aegean. We find his dating convincing, his description of danger less so. There were upheavals, not least in the domination of the Macedonians and Alexander the Great in the Aegean area, but travel was still possible, as it always had been.
Gela itself was a dangerous place in the first half of the fourth century, as a focus of Syracusan and Carthaginian ambitions, but sailing from Italy to Greece and from city to city was what Greeks had always done, and what Archestratus recommends in nearly every fragment. He is not wistfully proposing an unrealistic itinerary: we should think of the cities mentioned as accessible.
The poem takes us to some out-of-the-way places. Ambracia [fragments 15, 25, 30, 56] in western Greece is striking (though note Sophon of Arcarnania, a chef from a similar area quoted in a comic passage above), Anthedon in Boeotia [fragment 14] perhaps less so. This type of place is to be contrasted with a city like Byzantium which is traditionally associated with all kinds of fish, or Miletus which traditionally supplies good sea bass in Aristophanes and the comic tradition.