Dec 242019
 

Today is called Aðfangadagur in Iceland, the center point of Yule (Jól). They have the common church tradition of lighting a candle per week for 4 weeks beforehand.

But they also have a custom of the Yule Lads, that is exactly symmetric around the 24th. (see http://www.bookofdaystales.com/threttandinn/ ). There are 13 Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir) sons of two trolls, Grýla and Leppalúði, living in the Icelandic mountains. They arrive one by one each night for 13 nights, and then depart after the 24th one by one – ending with Epiphany. Each of the Yule Lads is known for a different kind of mischief (for example slamming doors, stealing meat, stealing milk or eating the candles). I’ll place a poem about each one after the recipe. Yule Lads traditionally wear early Icelandic wool clothing but are now known for the more recognizable red and white suit. Starting 13 days before today, Icelandic children set out their shoes by the window for presents from the Yule Lads. Candle Stealer, last to come and leave, was recently voted the favorite, because, although he steals candles to eat them, he is also the most generous.

The Yule Lads’ mother, Grýla, likes to eat children that do not behave. She is often described with many tails, horns hooves, many heads and so on. She also has a huge cat called Jólakötturinn – the Christmas Cat – which eats children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas.

In Iceland people over the Yule holidays most often eat smoked lamb, ptarmigan, turkey, and pork.  But they also enjoy reindeer – which is the reason for this post.  Reindeer for Christmas is like rabbit for Easter — “Would you like another slice of Rudolf?”  Here’s a video for you.

 

Stekkjastaur – Sheep-Cote Clod

The first of them was Sheep-Cote Clod.
He came stiff as wood,
to prey upon the farmer’s sheep
as far as he could.
He wished to suck the ewes,
but it was no accident
he couldn’t; he had stiff knees
– not to convenient.

Giljagaur – Gully Gawk

The second was Gully Gawk,
gray his head and mien.
He snuck into the cow barn
from his craggy ravine.
Hiding in the stalls,
he would steal the milk, while
the milkmaid gave the cowherd
a meaningful smile.

Stúfur – Stubby

Stubby was the third called,
a stunted little man,
who watched for every chance
to whisk off a pan.
And scurrying away with it,
he scraped off the bits
that stuck to the bottom
and brims – his favorites.

Þvörusleikir – Spoon-Licker

The fourth was Spoon Licker;
like spindle he was thin.
He felt himself in clover
when the cook wasn’t in.
Then stepping up, he grappled
the stirring spoon with glee,
holding it with both hands
for it was slippery.

Pottaskefill – Pot-Scraper

Pot Scraper, the fifth one,
was a funny sort of chap.
When kids were given scrapings,
he’d come to the door and tap.
And they would rush to see
if there really was a guest.
Then he hurried to the pot
and had a scraping fest.

Askasleikir – Bowl-Licker

Bowl Licker, the sixth one,
was shockingly ill bred.
From underneath the bedsteads
he stuck his ugly head.
And when the bowls were left
to be licked by dog or cat,
he snatched them for himself
– he was sure good at that!

Hurðaskellir – Door-Slammer

The seventh was Door Slammer,
a sorry, vulgar chap:
When people in the twilight
would take a little nap,
he was happy as a lark
with the havoc he could wreak,
slamming doors and hearing
the hinges on them squeak.

Skyrgámur – Skyr-Gobbler

Skyr Gobbler, the eighth,
was an awful stupid bloke.
He lambasted the skyr tub
till the lid on it broke.
Then he stood there gobbling
– his greed was well known –
until, about to burst,
he would bleat, howl and groan.

Bjúgnakrækir – Sausage-Swiper

The ninth was Sausage Swiper,
a shifty pilferer.
He climbed up to the rafters
and raided food from there.
Sitting on a crossbeam
in soot and in smoke,
he fed himself on sausage
fit for gentlefolk.

Gluggagægir – Window-Peeper

The tenth was Window Peeper,
a weird little twit,
who stepped up to the window
and stole a peek through it.
And whatever was inside
to which his eye was drawn,
he most likely attempted
to take later on.

Gáttaþefur – Doorway Sniffer

Eleventh was Door Sniffer,
a doltish lad and gross.
He never got a cold, yet had
a huge, sensitive nose.
He caught the scent of lace bread
while leagues away still
and ran toward it weightless
as wind over dale and hill.

Ketkrókur Meat-Hook

Meat Hook, the twelfth one,
his talent would display
as soon as he arrived
on Saint Thorlak’s Day.
He snagged himself a morsel
of meet of any sort,
although his hook at times was
a tiny bit short.

Kertasníkir – Candle Beggar

The thirteenth was Candle Beggar
– ‘twas cold, I believe,
if he was not the last
of the lot on Christmas Eve.
He trailed after the little ones
who, like happy sprites,
ran about the farm with
their fine tallow lights.

Dec 232019
 

Today’s antiphon (last of the week) is O Emmanuel. The title photo is not quite right.  The correct transliteration of the syllable “with” should be /ngimma/ — no matter, you get the idea.

Latin:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

English:

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Isaiah had prophesied:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

The Hebrew  עִמָּנוּאֵל  is both simple and complicated. The translation is straightforward – “With us is God” (0r, more smoothly, God is with us).  I’ll spare you too much of the complex theology.  In brief, you can believe that God is this transcendent, unknowable, all-powerful otherness or you can believe that God is your pal (or perhaps both).  “God is with us” emphasizes the second.  It lies at the heart of the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Immanuel, which is a paraphrase of all the antiphons – with the last antiphon being first! Very Christian order.

Today’s recipe has to be my wife’s Kentucky eggnog.  She made it once for Christmas and once for New Year – religiously.  If you have not had homemade eggnog, you don’t know eggnog.  Be warned – this recipe calls for raw eggs, and some people have allergies. Be careful about your source too, and make sure the eggs are absolutely fresh. Use the best bourbon you can find.  Originally my wife used gold bonded Maker’s Mark but this is impossible to find now (when we were last at the distillery, they said that all gold bond has been bought by Japanese companies for years to come).

Kentucky Eggnog

12 very fresh eggs, separated
3 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 bottle bourbon
2 cups milk
6 cups heavy cream

fresh nutmeg

Instructions

In a large punchbowl beat the egg yolks until frothy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat again. Stir in the milk and cream. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the mixture very gently. Pour the bourbon in down the side of the bowl.  Stir gently with a ladle, and then pour out a cup immediately.  Top with some freshly grated nutmeg, and hold on to your hat as you drink it. It is potent. (You can reduce the amount of bourbon if you wish).

Merry Christmas

 

 

Dec 222019
 

Today’s antiphon is O Rex Gentium

Latin:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

English:

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Isaiah had prophesied:

“For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4

“But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Isaiah 64:8

King of all nations does not narrow things down a whole lot when it comes to picking a recipe. What would you serve a king if he came to dinner? Tough question since he is the king of ALL nations — no favorites.  He was a simple man, anyway.  But he did like to eat with people — a lot.  I made empanaditas today — with mincemeat. Two kinds — fried and baked.  These could be kind of universal — English mincemeat made in a Mexican and Argentine way.

 

Whipped cream makes them royal enough for me.

Dec 212019
 

Today we have the antiphon O Oriens

LATIN: O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol iustitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris et umbra mortis.

ENGLISH: O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Oriens is a complex Latin word. It can be translated as “dawn” or, sometimes, “daystar”.  The latter is more poetic.

Dawn or the daystar calls for breakfast, but I am not a fan of “breakfast” food. I don’t usually eat breakfast anyway, and when I do, I eat whatever I want – curry, strawberries, apple crumble, roast beef . . .  In Asia, breakfast food is simply food: rice, noodles, dumplings . . .whatever. Much more my speed.  I do like breakfast burritos (a modern invention, popular in New Mexico), and came across this twist which appeals.  Make a full English, but serve flour tortillas with it, and wrap the ingredients in the tortilla.  Rebellious magic I’d say.

Dec 202019
 

Today features the fourth O Antiphon, O Clavis David (O Key of David)

Latin:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

English:

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Isaiah had prophesied:

“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” Isaiah 22:22

“His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore.” Isaiah 9:7

“…To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” Isaiah 42:7.

So . . . keys are the symbol of the day.  When I checked online for recipes and “keys” I, of course, got recipes for the Florida Keys – duh!  All right. That means you can make key lime pie, or do something with conch. Or . . . try this popular favorite: broiled fish Matecumbe. Upper and Lower Matecumbe are part of the Keys that have given birth to the recipe.  Main idea is to make the marinade/ seasoning the day before and refrigerate. This is the basic recipe with my own twists.

Combine the following in a non-reactive bowl:

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8-ounce jar capers with vinegar
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Refrigerate overnight.

Next day, select 8 fish fillets. Heat the broiler and place the fillets in a broiling pan in one layer.  Cook on one side, turn carefully, and divide the marinade between the fillets – spreading evenly. Broil this side until the fish is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Dec 192019
 

Today features the third O Antiphon, O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

LATIN: O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.

ENGLISH: O Root of Jesse, that stands as a sign of the people, before whom kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.

Jesse is a slightly odd choice here as a name for Jesus, but it makes sense theologically. Jesse, also spelled Isai in the English translation of Hebrew Bible, was the father of king David, and the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. He was a farmer and sheep breeder in Bethlehem. David was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons. The fact that he was the youngest is ideologically important.  Throughout Biblical narratives, it is the youngest (or near youngest) son who inherits (Isaac, Jacob, Joseph etc.). David’s youngest son, Solomon, inherited the throne, and the reason the older ones did not is the main topic of much of the book of Samuel.  I have written about this oddity in my forthcoming book, The Genesis Option.  The issue is a little complicated and you should read the book when it is published for the full story.  Briefly, David was king of Judah, and Judah was subordinate to the larger kingdom of Israel. Yet . . . it was Judah that ultimately survived and prospered, whilst the nation of Israel (the northern 10 tribes) was utterly wiped out and dispersed by the Assyrian empire when it got too high and mighty and refused to pay tribute. These are now called the Lost Tribes of Israel. Judah – the smallest and least significant – just submitted and hunkered down until Assyria went away. Thus . . . the youngest (and weakest) is sometimes in the strongest position overall.

The root of Jesse makes choosing a recipe easy – root vegetables!!  I would make a roasted vegetable stew. The trick will be to have a good variety of vegetables, including unusual ones.  So . . . by all means use parsnips, carrots, and turnips.  But make sure to include something along the lines of parsley root (a great favorite), and celery root.

Cut the vegetables into bite-sized chunks and place them in one layer on a baking dish (or two if need be). Coat generously with olive oil, and roast for 45 minutes in a very hot oven – as hot as it will go. Turn frequently to ensure even browning.

Sauce for the stew is cook’s choice. For Christmas, I set a rich beef stock on a slow simmer in a heavy pot. Then I season it with cloves and allspice.  I also add leeks and garlic. Thicken with breadcrumbs and then add the vegetables. They do not need further cooking, just heating through. So, stir them thoroughly in the sauce and serve. This is a mighty dish for a winter night.

Dec 182019
 

Today features the second O Antiphon,  O Adonai (O Lord) 

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, Who didst appear to Moses in the flame of the burning bush, and didst give unto him the Law on Sinai: come and with an outstretched arm redeem us.

The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH). Owing to the Jewish tradition viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered it was replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai (“My Lord”), which was translated as Kyrios (“Lord”) in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. It is frequently anglicized as Yahweh or Jehovah. Ancient readers of the Hebrew Bible were signaled not to read YHWH aloud in the Masoretic text, by placing the vowels for Adonai (A O AI) under YHWH – making an impossible word YAHOWAIH. All readers understood that YHWH could not be spoken, but Adonai was acceptable. They did not write the word Adonai in the text itself because the text was sacred and unalterable.  Everyone understood.  Centuries later, non-Jews, who did not know the convention thought that YAHOWAIH was correct, and pronounced it Jehovah.  Jehovah has never been correct. In most English editions of the Bible YHWH is translated as “the LORD” (in caps).

Adonai (אֲדֹנָי, lit. “My Lords”) is actually the plural form of adon (“Lord”) along with the first-person singular pronoun enclitic (“my”). As with Elohim [lit. “Gods” but referring to ONE God], Adonai’s grammatical form is usually explained as a plural of majesty (same as, “we are not amused”). In the Hebrew Bible, it is nearly always used to refer to God (approximately 450 occurrences). Owing to the expansion of chumra (the idea of “building a fence around the Torah”), Adonai itself has come to be too holy to say for Orthodox Jews, leading to its replacement by HaShem (“The Name”). The singular forms adon and adoni (“my lord”) are used in the Hebrew Bible as royal titles, and for distinguished persons. Using Adonai as a name for Jesus signals that he is also God.

I am not sure why, but in the US the use of Adonai in a business’s same usually signals that it is owned by an evangelical Christian.  I think this is an example:

Here is a recipe from a website called Adonai Natural Health (edited). http://adonaihealth.com.au/category/adonai/recipes/  It’s for a quick version of “baked” beans.  It’s not too bad.  I prefer slow-baked beans, but this can work. Anything homecooked is better than canned. By that token, the recipe calls for canned beans, but cooking dried beans yourself is better.

Ingredients

1 onion, peeled and finely diced
3 slices lean bacon, finely diced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
1 tomato, finely diced
1 tsp yellow mustard powder
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups cooked canellini or butter beans
2 cups cooked red kidney beans
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley

olive oil

Instructions

In a saucepan heat a small amount of olive oil. Cook the onion until it softens then add the bacon and stir for 1 minute. Add the bell pepper and tomato and cook for 2 minutes or until just soft Add the mustard and tomato paste and allow the mixture to simmer for another 2 minutes. Add the beans and parsley to the pot and stir until combined and heated through.

To Serve: Top with sliced avocado or a poached egg.

 

Dec 172019
 
Dec 162019
 

The Bill of Rights 1689 is a landmark Act in the constitutional law of England that sets out certain basic civil rights and clarifies who would be next to inherit the Crown. It received the Royal Assent on this date in 1689 and is a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William III and Mary II in February 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. The Bill of Rights lays down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. It sets out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and reestablished the right of Protestants to have arms for their defense within the rule of law. It also includes no right of taxation without Parliament’s agreement. Furthermore, the Bill of Rights described and condemned several misdeeds of James II of England.

These ideas reflected the political views of John Locke and they quickly became popular in England. The Bill also sets out – or, in the view of its drafters, restates – certain constitutional requirements of the Crown to seek the consent of the people, as represented in Parliament. In the United Kingdom, the Bill of Rights is further accompanied by Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act 1679 and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 as some of the basic documents of the uncodified British constitution. A separate but similar document, the Claim of Right Act 1689, applies in Scotland. The Bill of Rights 1689 was one of the models for the United States Bill of Rights of 1789 (including the notorious 2nd Amendment), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, and the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950.

Here is a recipe for rich meat broth from A True Gentlewomans Delight of 1653 that is not only contemporary with the English Bill of Rights, but also puts me in mind of classic Christmas recipes, such as mincemeat.  Although it is a recipe for meat broth to be served as a savory dish, it contains currants, raisins, and prunes and spiced with mace, nutmeg, and cinnamon. It also has a great deal of sugar.  The recipe calls for Saunders which is red sandalwood (giving a yellowish-red tint).  If you do replicate this dish, you might want to reduce the quantities.

DESCRIPTION: How to make a rich broth of lamb or beef

To make stewed Broth.

Take a neck of Mutton, or a rump of Beef, let it boyle, and scum your pot clean, thicken your pot with grated bread, and put in some beaten Spice, as Mace, nutmegs, Cinnamon, and a little Pepper, put in a pound of Currans, a pound and a half of Raisins of the Sun, two pounds of Prunes last of all, then when it is stewed, to season put in a quart of Claret, and a pint of Sack, and some Saunders to colour it, and a pound of Sugar to sweeten it, or more if need be, you must seeth some whole Spice to garnish your dish with all, and a few whole Prunes out of your pot.

Dec 152019
 

Today is the birthday (37CE) of the Roman emperor Nero (Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was adopted by his great-uncle Claudius (on the urging of his mother Agrippina the Younger), who was Claudius’ fourth wife, and became Claudius’ heir and successor. Agrippina may have hastened Nero’s inheritance by poisoning Claudius, but the evidence is not clear. Nero became emperor at the age of 16, and during the early years of his reign, Nero was content to be guided by his mother, his tutor Lucius Annaeus Seneca, and his Praetorian prefect Sextus Afranius Burrus. There is no question that Agrippina was a scheming, powerful woman, and her ambition seems to have been to rule Rome by making sure her son became emperor at a young age, so that she could hold sway as dowager. After five years of this, however, Nero had her killed so that he could rule in his own right.

I had to mull things over for several years before deciding in favor of celebrating Nero on his birthday because I have a tacit rule against posting about unpleasant people. In reviewing Nero’s life and career carefully, I have decided to give him his moment in the sun, not because he was a wonderful man and emperor, but because he was not all bad, and he was certainly not as bad as history paints him. He was about average for his time and culture.  The main contemporary historians, Suetonius, Tacitus, and Cassio Dio associate Nero’s rule with tyranny and extravagance. They offer overwhelmingly negative assessments of his personality and reign. Tacitus, for example, claims that the Roman people thought him compulsive and corrupt. Suetonius reports that many Romans believed that the Great Fire of Rome http://www.bookofdaystales.com/great-fire-of-rome/  was instigated by Nero to clear the way for his planned palatial complex, the Domus Aurea.

If you read my post on the fire you will see that I believe that Tacitus tried to be even handed about Nero and the fire, although his dislike of him shows through.  He does acknowledge that the legend of Nero playing the lyre whilst the city burned was certainly false, and he notes that he opened up his own personal lands for the dispossessed, and prevented the price gouging of food in the aftermath of the fire to protect the poor. Yet Tacitus also seems to accept the belief that Nero had the fire started so that he could rebuild the city to his own liking, including a massive palatial structure and gardens.  According to Tacitus, Nero was said to have seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and burned them alive, seemingly motivated not by public justice but by personal cruelty.

Modern judgment of Nero is more measured.  There is evidence of his popularity among the Roman commoners, especially in the eastern provinces of the Empire, where a popular legend arose that Nero had not died and would return. At least three leaders of short-lived, failed rebellions presented themselves as “Nero reborn” to enlist popular support. It seems to be the case that Nero made many enemies among the ruling classes, but was mostly liked by the average citizens.  It is not average citizens who write histories, however, nor do they have great influence over the opinions of high-born historians.

After his mother’s death, Nero started to play a more active and independent role in government and foreign policy. During his reign, general Corbulo conducted a successful war and negotiated peace with the Parthian Empire. His general Suetonius Paulinus crushed a major revolt in Britain, led by the Iceni queen, Boudica. In 59, Prasutagus, leader of the Iceni, and a client king of Rome’s during Claudius’ reign, died. The client state arrangement was unlikely to survive the death of Claudius. Prasutagus’ will leaving control of the Iceni to his wife Boudica was denied, and, when procurator Catus Decianus scourged Boudica and raped her daughters, the Iceni revolted. They were joined by the Trinovantes, and their uprising became the most significant provincial rebellion of the 1st century CE. Under Boudica the towns of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans) were burned and a substantial percentage of legion infantry killed. Suetonius Paulinus, governor of Britannia, assembled his remaining forces, defeated the Britons, and restored order. But for a while Nero considered abandoning the province. Julius Classicianus replaced Decianus as procurator. Classicianus advised Nero to replace Paulinus, who continued to punish the population even after the rebellion was over. Nero decided to adopt a more lenient approach to governing the province, and appointed a new governor, Petronius Turpilianus.

Nero focused much of his attention on diplomacy, trade and the cultural life of the empire, ordering theatres built and promoting athletic games. He made public appearances as an actor, poet, musician and charioteer. In the eyes of traditionalists, this undermined the dignity and authority of his person, status, and office. His extravagant, empire-wide program of public and private works was funded by an increase in taxes that was much resented by the upper classes. In contrast, his populist style of rule remained very popular among the lower classes of Rome and the provinces until his death and beyond. Various plots against his life were revealed; the ringleaders, most of them Nero’s own courtiers, were executed.

In 68 CE, Vindex, governor of the Gaulish territory Gallia Lugdunensis, rebelled. He was supported by Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis. Vindex’s revolt failed in its immediate aim, but Nero fled Rome when Rome’s discontented civil and military authorities chose Galba as emperor. Nero fled Rome with the intention of going to the port of Ostia and, from there, to take a fleet to one of the still-loyal eastern provinces. According to Suetonius, Nero abandoned the idea when some army officers openly refused to obey his commands, responding with a line from Virgil’s Aeneid: “Is it so dreadful a thing then to die?” Nero then toyed with the idea of fleeing to Parthia, throwing himself upon the mercy of Galba, or appealing to the people and begging them to pardon him for his past offences “and if he could not soften their hearts, to entreat them at least to allow him the prefecture of Egypt”. Suetonius reports that the text of this speech was later found in Nero’s writing desk, but that he dared not give it from fear of being torn to pieces before he could reach the Forum.

Nero returned to Rome and spent the evening in the palace. After sleeping, he awoke at about midnight to find the palace guard had left. Dispatching messages to his friends’ palace chambers for them to come, he received no answers. Upon going to their chambers personally, he found them all abandoned. When he called for a gladiator or anyone else adept with a sword to kill him, no one appeared. He shouted, “Have I neither friend nor foe?” and ran out as if to throw himself into the Tiber. Returning, Nero sought a place where he could hide and collect his thoughts. An imperial freedman, Phaon, offered his villa, located 4 mi (6.4 km) outside the city. Travelling in disguise, Nero and four loyal freedmen, Epaphroditos, Phaon, Neophytus, and Sporus, reached the villa, where Nero ordered them to dig a grave for him.

At this time, a courier arrived with a report that the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy, that it was their intention to execute him by beating him to death, and that armed men had been sent to apprehend him for the act to take place in the Roman Forum. The Senate actually was still reluctant and deliberating on the right course of action, as Nero was the last member of the Julio-Claudian family. Indeed, most of the senators had served the imperial family all their lives and felt a sense of loyalty to the deified bloodline, if not to Nero himself. The men actually had the goal of returning Nero back to the Senate, where the Senate hoped to work out a compromise with the rebelling governors that would preserve Nero’s life, so that at least a future heir to the dynasty could be produced. Nero, however, did not know this, and at the news brought by the courier, he prepared himself for suicide, pacing up and down muttering Qualis artifex pereo (“What an artist dies in me”). Losing his nerve, he begged one of his companions to set an example by killing himself first.

At last, the sound of approaching horsemen drove Nero to face the end. However, he still could not bring himself to take his own life but instead he forced his private secretary, Epaphroditos, to do the deed. When one of the horsemen entered and saw that Nero was dying, he attempted to stop the bleeding, but efforts to save Nero’s life were unsuccessful. Nero’s final words were “Too late! This is fidelity!” He died on 9th June 68, the anniversary of the death of his wife, Octavia, and was buried in the Mausoleum of the Domitii Ahenobarbi, in what is now the Villa Borghese (Pincian Hill) area of Rome. His death ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty, sparking a brief period of civil wars known as the Year of the Four Emperors.

It is the third Sunday of Advent today (2019), so I have hauled out this quasi-recipe from when I was living in Lombardy at this time of year.  Lentils were common in ancient Rome, and this would have worked for Nero’s chefs:

I had no idea what to make for dinner this evening, so I went out to the market to get some ideas. By chance I found a piece of meat called “reale di vitello” which is obviously veal, but I had no idea what cut. A lot of digging eventually uncovered the fact that “reale,” which can mean “real” or “royal,” is a cut of veal similar to chuck in beef. So I treated it the same way with slow braising. To make it suitable for Christmas I used a braising stock laced with allspice and ginger. For accompaniment I made lentils with the usual additions – mushrooms and leeks – but I added sultanas, as well as some allspice, ginger, and hot pepper. It’s just a spur of the moment thing, but may give you some ideas.