Oct 272018
 

Several ancient Roman chroniclers say that on this date in 312, the emperor Constantine had a vision that marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. Modern historians doubt that Constantine actually became a Christian convert in the strict sense, but, rather, that he added Christianity to his bag of beliefs, and, in the process, halted the persecution of Christians. I covered the whole process of Constantine’s change of attitude towards Christians here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/edict-of-milan/  In this post I want to focus solely on the vision which occurred on the night before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge between Constantine and Maxentius on 28th October 312. It takes its name from the Milvian Bridge, an important route over the Tiber. Constantine won the battle and started him on the path of ending a period of multiple emperors and becoming the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.

It is commonly understood that on the evening of 27th October with the armies preparing for battle, Constantine had a vision which led him to fight under the protection of the Christian God. Some details of that vision, however, differ between the sources reporting it. Lactantius states that, during the night before the battle, Constantine was commanded in a dream to “delineate the heavenly sign on the shields of his soldiers” (On the Deaths of the Persecutors 44.5). He followed the commands of his dream and marked the shields with a sign “denoting Christ”. Lactantius describes that sign as a “staurogram”, or a Latin cross with its upper end rounded in a P-like fashion. There is no certain evidence that Constantine ever used that sign, as opposed to the better-known Chi-Rho sign described by Eusebius.

From Eusebius, two accounts of the battle survive. The first, shorter, one in the Ecclesiastical History makes the claim that the Christian God helped Constantine win the battle, but does not mention any vision. In his later Life of Constantine, Eusebius gives a detailed account of a vision and stresses that he had heard the story from Constantine himself. According to this version, Constantine with his army was marching (Eusebius does not specify the actual location of the event, but it clearly is not in the camp at Rome), when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words “Εν Τούτῳ Νίκα”, usually translated into Latin as “in hoc signo vinces”. The literal meaning of the phrase in Greek is “in this, conquer” while in Latin it is “in this sign, you shall conquer.” At first he was unsure of the meaning of the apparition, but during the night he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign against his enemies. Eusebius then continues to describe the Labarum, the military standard used by Constantine in his later wars against Licinius, showing the Chi-Rho sign.

The accounts of the two contemporary authors, though not entirely consistent, have been merged into a popular notion of Constantine seeing the Chi-Rho sign on the evening before the battle. Both authors agree that the sign was not widely understood to denote Christ (although among the Christians, it was already being used in the catacombs along with other special symbols to mark and/or decorate Christian tombs). Its first imperial appearance is on a Constantinian silver coin from c. 317, which proves that Constantine did use the sign at that time, though not very prominently. He made more extensive use of the Chi-Rho and the Labarum later, during the conflict with Licinius.

Some historians have considered the vision in a solar context (e.g. as a sun dog), which may have preceded the Christian beliefs later expressed by Constantine. Coins of Constantine depicting him as the companion of a solar deity were minted as late as 313, the year following the battle. The solar deity Sol Invictus is often pictured with a nimbus or halo.

Various emperors portrayed Sol Invictus on their official coinage, with a wide range of legends, only a few of which incorporated the epithet invictus, such as the legend SOLI INVICTO COMITI, claiming the Unconquered Sun as a companion to the emperor, used with particular frequency by Constantine. Constantine’s official coinage continues to bear images of Sol until 325/6. A solidus of Constantine as well as a gold medallion from his reign depict the Emperor’s bust in profile jugate with Sol Invictus, with the legend INVICTUS CONSTANTINUS. The official cults of Sol Invictus and Sol Invictus Mithras were popular amongst the soldiers of the Roman Army. Statuettes of Sol Invictus, carried by the standard-bearers, appear in three places in reliefs on the Arch of Constantine. Constantine’s triumphal arch was carefully positioned to align with the colossal statue of Sol by the Colosseum, so that Sol formed the dominant backdrop when seen from the direction of the main approach towards the arch.

Time for another recipe from Apicius. This time sala cattabia apiciana or aspic in the style of Apicius. The recipe comes from the section labeled Odds and Ends. I include it more for interest, and perhaps to get some ideas, rather than because I think you might actually make it. I’ve given my loose translation only, but you could check out the original online if you know a bit of Latin and Italian. It is in what is called vulgar Latin, the street language of the day, which is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) like Italian. The recipe calls for bread from Picenum, which was especially favored. It was made from alica, a valued form of coarsely-ground emmer wheat which, made a highly prized bread with a rough texture.  Both the poet Martial and Pliny the Elder sing the bread’s praises. The first sentence describes making a dressing that does not go in the mould, but is added as a garnish at the end. The instructions do not say that after chilling the aspic and letting it set, it should be unmoulded before adding the sauce.

Sala Cattabia

Put celery seed, dried pennyroyal, dried mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine into a mortar and crush them together. Place three pieces of Picenum bread in a mould, layered with pieces of chicken, calf or lamb sweetbreads, Vestinum cheese, pine nuts, pickled cucumbers, and finely chopped. Cover with rich aspic. Bury the mould in snow up to the rim. Sprinkle with the prepared sauce and serve.

Aug 132018
 

Today is the birthday (1666) of William Wotton, an English theologian, classical scholar and linguist, who is largely forgotten nowadays, but in his day was known for his involvement in what became called the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns. I’ll get to that in a minute. In Wales he is remembered as the collector and first translator of the ancient Welsh laws.

William Wotton was the second son of the Rev. Henry Wotton, rector of Wrentham, Suffolk. He was a child prodigy who could read verses from the Bible in English, Latin, Greek and Hebrew before he was 6 years old. In April 1676, when he was not yet 10 years old, he was sent to Catharine Hall, Cambridge, and sat for his B.A. in 1679 (13 years old). By this time Wotton had learned Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee, as well as a knowledge of logic, philosophy, mathematics, geography, chronology, and history. His parents died whilst he was still at Cambridge, and as a teenager he was taken into the household of Gilbert Burnet, later bishop of Salisbury. He was awarded a fellowship at St John’s College, where he received his M.A. in 1683 and earned a B.D. in 1691. In 1686 he was appointed curate of Brimpton in Berkshire and the following year he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In January 1689 he was appointed vicar of Lacock in Wiltshire, which he held until his resignation in 1693. Soon after ordination he was also appointed chaplain to Daniel Finch, Earl of Nottingham, and tutor to his family. Finch presented him with the rectory of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, in 1693.

Wotton began his scholarly career as the translator of Louis Dupin’s A new history of ecclesiastical writers, (13 vols. 1692–99). However, he is chiefly remembered for his share in the controversy about the respective merits of ancient and modern learning. In his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1694, and again 1697) he took the part of the moderns, although in a fair and judicial spirit.  The “ancients versus moderns” debate began in France in the early 16th century with a number of “moderns” claiming that the renewed interest in Classical arts and philosophy during the Renaissance, should not be slavish imitation of the ancients, but should be tempered with an awareness of the accomplishments of modern times. The “ancients” championed ancient learning over the modern. The “quarrel” got erudite and pedantic, and I am not going to dissect it for you. Do your own research. Simplistically, it can be boiled down to the importance of “authority.” Should we admire ancient authors as sacred (i.e. authorities), or should we move on? Medieval scholasticism got mired in authority. To be a scholar you had to first read all the authorities on a subject, learn them inside-out, and then add your own bits of wisdom without contradicting any of the authorities. The orthodox rabbinical tradition works this way, and my education at Oxford in the 1970s was not so very different. Every week I was given an essay topic, for example, “Was the author of Mark’s gospel Paul’s traveling companion, John Mark?” or “When was John’s gospel written?” My job for the week was to distill out all the arguments from the authorities, divide them into camps, and conclude with my decision as to which of the camps (authorities) was correct. This was not quite Medieval scholasticism in that the authorities were allowed to disagree with one another, but I was not allowed to disagree with them. You can guess what I think of this as a method of education.

Swift attacked Wotton for pedantry in The Battle of the Books and A Tale of a Tub, but Wotton was far from being a pedant. He had a thorough command of the arguments, and was fair in his assessments. Wotton responded calling Swift’s Tale “one of the profanest banters upon the religion of Jesus Christ, as such, that ever yet appeared.”

Wotton wrote a History of Rome in 1701 at the request of Bishop Burnet, which was later used by the historian Edward Gibbon. In recognition, Burnet appointed him as a prebend of Salisbury from 1705. In 1707 Wotton was awarded a Lambeth degree of Doctor of Divinity by Archbishop Thomas Tenison in recognition of his writings in support of the established Church of England against the Deists. Around 1713 Wotton also developed ideas concerning the relationship between languages introducing the concept of an early proto-language by relating Icelandic, the Romance languages, and Greek. This pre-dated Sir William Jones’ famous lecture comparing Sanskrit with the Classical languages, by more than 70 years. These theories were later published after Wotton’s death, as A discourse concerning the confusion of languages at Babel (1730).

Throughout his adult life, Wotton was said to be “a most excellent preacher, but a drunken whoring soul”. He was also very extravagant, transforming his rectory into a 32-room mansion. He was, however, able to borrow money against future expectations of ecclesiastical preferment as a result of his close friendship with William Wake, then bishop of Lincoln. Between the summer of 1711 and the Spring of 1712, Wotton appears to have experienced a mid-life crisis, and he scandalized the neighborhood on many occasions by being found drunk in public, or else was known to have spent prolonged periods in local brothels. As a result, he was initially warned about his behavior by Wake, who later broke off their friendship and rescinded his promise of providing an additional living in Buckinghamshire. As soon as it became known that the rector’s expectations had been dashed, local businesses began to press for the payment of their debts. In May 1714, Wotton was forced to abandon his rectory at Milton Keynes to avoid his creditors, and for 7 years he lived in Carmarthen in south-west Wales under the assumed name of Dr. William Edwards.

Whilst in Carmarthen, Wotton turned his life around and returned to his studies. He was also able to re-establish his friendship with Wake, who had become Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1715. Wotton began to study Welsh, and produced an important bilingual parallel text edition of the Welsh and Latin texts of the medieval Welsh laws traditionally attributed to Hywel Dda. To do this he had first to identify and obtain transcripts of around 15 known manuscripts in either Latin or Medieval Welsh, and establish an authoritative text, and then begin the difficult task of translating the Mediaeval Welsh terminology which appeared in both the Latin and Welsh versions, but the meaning of which had been lost by the 18th century. From 1721 Wotton was assisted by the Welsh scholar Moses Williams. Wotton lived to complete the translation but was working on an accompanying glossary when he died. This was completed by Williams, and the whole work was published in 1730 by his son-in-law William Clarke in a large folio edition under the title Leges Wallicae.

Whilst in Carmarthen he also conducted surveys of the cathedrals of St David’s and Llandaff which were published by his friend Browne Willis in 1717 and 1718. He published Miscellaneous Discourses relating to the Traditions and Usages of the Scribes and Pharisees which included a translation of part of the Mishnah in 1718. Wotton had repaid his creditors and was able to return to Bath by October 1721 and London by June 1722 but was in very poor health. He was still working on his Leges Wallicae, when he died of dropsy in Buxted in Sussex, on 13th February 1727.

In the spirit of the quarrel of ancients and moderns we can put an ancient and modern recipe side by side. You would be forgiven for thinking that the modern recipe is superior. What you are not taking into account is that ALL recipes make assumptions about what the reader can be expected to know. If you read a modern recipe for a cake that begins “cream the butter and sugar” You probably know what “cream” means in this context, that is, if you have any baking experience. Someone reading the recipe 2,000 years from now might have no idea what it means, and think that 21st century recipes are incomplete. So, it’s not a question of saying that modern recipes are better than ancient ones, but, rather, that we know the implicit assumptions in modern recipes, but not in ancient ones.

Apicius gives this recipe for mussels in De re coquinaria (c. 1st century CE) and I have mentioned it before. Here’s the original Latin:

X. in metulis: liquamen porrum concisum cuminum passum satureiam, uinum; mixtum facies aquatius et ibi mitulos quoques.

Roughly translated:

10. For mussels: liquamen (fermented anchovy sauce), cut up leeks, cumin, passum (very sweet wine), savory, and wine. Mix these ingredients with water and add mussels.

On the surface this recipe does not seem much to go on, and a modern cook would normally want more detail, particularly as concerns quantities. The instructions are also pretty slim by modern standards. I could give a modern recipe thus:

Mussels

Ingredients

2 lb fresh mussels
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 leek, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chopped fresh savory
½ cup sweet sherry
½ cup dry white wine

Instructions

Make sure the mussels are thoroughly cleaned and beards removed. Discard any that are not tightly shut.

Place the ingredients, except the mussels, in a large saucepan. Add around 2 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, add the mussels and cover. Cook for several minutes and check to see that all the mussels have opened.

Remove the mussels with a slotted spoon, and place them in a serving bowl. Carefully pour the cooking juices over the mussels, but make sure not to pour out the last part, because it may contain grit.

You might think that my recipe is better than the ancient one. Really there is not much difference between the two. Apicius does not say you have to boil the mussels, he assumes that you know this. He is making a number of assumptions. But my modern recipe makes many assumptions also. Apicius actually gives you a lot more freedom than I do. Sure, you can vary my quantities at will, but most cooks will try the quantities as given first, and then adjust them later. With Apicius, you have to make decisions about quantities from the start.  I’d be happy, for example, to use 3 or 4 leeks, and serve the mussels on a bed of them, with or without the sauce. This idea would not occur to you with the modern recipe because you are thinking of a watery sauce for the mussels.

 

Jun 132016
 

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On this date in 313 the Edict of Milan was posted in Nicomedia. The precise dating of the Edict and its exact nature is still under dispute, but in general it was a Roman proclamation (one of several) to declare that Christians were to be treated fairly throughout the empire. It was originally devised in February of that year, but no other definitive dates are known, nor has the original document survived. Western Roman Emperor Constantine I, and Licinius, who controlled the Balkans, met in Milan and among other things, agreed to change policies towards Christians following the Edict of Toleration by Galerius issued 2 years earlier in Serdica. The Edict of Milan gave Christianity a legal status, but did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire.

The document we now call the Edict of Milan (Edictum Mediolanense) is found in Lactantius’ De Mortibus Persecutorum and in Eusebius of Caesarea’s History of the Church with marked divergences between the two. Whether or not there was actually a formal ‘Edict of Milan’  is debatable. The version found in Lactantius is not in the form of an edict. It is a letter from Licinius to the governors of the provinces in the Eastern Empire he had just conquered by defeating Maximinus later in the same year and issued in Nicomedia.

Ever since the fall of the Severan dynasty in 235, rivals for the imperial throne had bid for support by either favoring or persecuting Christians. The previous Edict of Toleration by Galerius had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and was posted at Nicomedia on 30 April 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence:

Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.

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Their confiscated property, however, was not restored until 313, when instructions were given for the Christians’ meeting places and other properties to be returned and compensation paid by the state to the current owners:

. . . the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception.

It directed the provincial magistrates to execute this order at once with all energy so that public order may be restored and the continuance of divine favor may “preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state.”

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The actual letters have never been retrieved. However, they are quoted at length in Lactantius’ On the Deaths of the Persecutors (De mortibus persecutorum), which gives the Latin text of both Galerius’ Edict of Toleration as posted at Nicomedia on 30 April 311 and of Licinius’s letter of toleration and restitution addressed to the governor of Bithynia and posted at Nicomedia on 13 June 313.

Eusebius of Caesarea translated both documents into Greek in his History of the Church (Historia Ecclesiastica). His version of the letter of Licinius must derive from a copy posted in the province of Palaestina Prima (probably at its capital, Caesarea) in the late summer or early autumn of 313, but the origin of his copy of Galerius’s Edict of 311 is unknown since that does not seem to have been promulgated in Caesarea. In his description of the events in Milan in his Life of Constantine, Eusebius eliminated the role of Licinius, whom he portrayed as the evil foil to his hero Constantine.

The Edict was actually directed against Maximinus Daia, the Caesar in the East who was at that time styling himself as Augustus. Having received the emperor Galerius’ instruction to repeal the persecution in 311, Maximinus had instructed his subordinates to desist, but had not released Christians from prisons or virtual death-sentences in the mines, as Constantine and Licinius had both done in the West. Following Galerius’ death, Maximinus was no longer constrained. He enthusiastically took up renewed persecutions in the eastern territories under his control, encouraging petitions against Christians. One of those petitions, addressed not only to Maximinus but also to Constantine and Licinius, is preserved in a stone inscription at Arycanda in Lycia:

Christians, who have long been disloyal and still persist in the same mischievous intent, should at last be put down and not be suffered by any absurd novelty to offend against the honor due to the gods.

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The Edict of Milan is popularly, but falsely, thought to concern only Christianity, and even to make Christianity the official religion of the Empire (which did not actually occur until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380). In fact, the Edict expressly grants religious liberty not only to Christians, who had been the object of special persecution, but goes even further and grants liberty to all religions:

When you see that this has been granted to [Christians] by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases; this regulation is made that we may not seem to detract from any dignity of any religion.

Because Licinius composed the Edict with the intent of publishing it in the east following his hoped-for victory over Maximinus, it expresses the religious policy accepted by Licinius, a pagan, rather than that of Constantine, who was already practicing some form of Christianity. Constantine’s own policy went beyond merely tolerating Christianity: he tolerated paganism and other religions, but he actively promoted Christianity.

People commonly point to the Edict of Milan as Constantine’s first great act as a Christian Emperor, although, it is unlikely that the Edict of Milan was an act of genuine Christian faith on Constantine’s part. The document instead should more accurately be seen as the first step in creating an alliance with the Christian God, whom Constantine considered the strongest deity – among many. Constantine at that time was more concerned about social stability and the protection of the empire from the wrath of the Christian God than he was for justice or care for the Christians. The Edict of Milan is more indicative of the Roman culture’s genuine desire for seeking the gods’ intervention – which ones might prove profitable –  than of Constantine’s or Licinius’ religious beliefs.

The Edict of Milan required that the wrong done to the Christians be righted as thoroughly as possible. From the state’s perspective all wrongs should be righted as it claims “it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever.” The edict further demanded that individual Romans right any wrongs towards the Christians as well. These provisions indicate that more than just the establishment of justice was intended. After stating that they should return what was lost to the Christians immediately, the edict states that this should be done so that “public order may be secured,” not for the intrinsic value of justice or even for the glory of God. The sense of urgently righting wrongs reflects the leaders’ desires to avoid unfavorable consequences, which in this case included social unrest and both internal and external weakness.

Constantine is known to have been superstitious and believed in the existence of a number of gods. Because Constantine actually revered all the gods worshiped in the Roman Empire at that time, his fear of, and desire to form an alliance with, the Christian God (as demonstrated in the Edict of Milan), is insufficient to claim he was actually a Christian in the conventional sense. He was just trying to cover all bases. Nonetheless, the Edict stopped the persecution of Christians, which many historians see as both a blessing and a curse.

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Constantine was first exposed to Christianity by his mother, Helena. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with the Christian symbol in accordance with a vision that he had had the night before. After winning the battle, Constantine was able to claim the emperorship in the West. How much Christianity Constantine had adopted at this point is difficult to discern. The Roman coins minted up to eight years subsequent to the battle still bore the images of Roman gods. Nonetheless, the accession of Constantine was a turning point for the Christian Church. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, built various basilicas, granted privileges such as exemption from certain taxes to clergy, promoted Christians to some high-ranking offices, and returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian.

Between 324 and 330, Constantine built, virtually from scratch, a new imperial capital that came to be named for him: Constantinople. It had overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls, and had no pagan temples. In accordance with a prevailing custom, Constantine was baptized on his deathbed.

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Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In 316, he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. More significantly, in 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea, the first Ecumenical Council. Constantine thus established a precedent for the emperor as responsible to God for the spiritual health of his subjects, and, thus, with a duty to maintain orthodoxy. The emperor was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold ecclesiastical unity. As far as I am concerned this is the curse.

Constantine’s son’s successor, known as Julian the Apostate, was a philosopher who upon becoming emperor renounced Christianity and embraced a Neo-platonic and mystical form of paganism shocking the Christian establishment. He began reopening pagan temples and, intent on re-establishing the prestige of the old pagan beliefs, he modified them to resemble Christian traditions such as the episcopal structure and public charity (previously unknown in Roman paganism). Julian’s short reign ended when he died while campaigning in the East.

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Subsequently Church Fathers such as Augustine, Gregory Nazianzus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan, Jerome, John Chrysostom and Athanasius published extensive theological texts, and argued non-stop about the correct interpretation of canonical texts including the gospels and the Pauline epistles. This all led to the entrenchment of the rigidly dogmatic and hierarchical Catholic Church that was opposed periodically by various elements, leading to the kaleidoscope of sects we have today. I suspect that the Christian Church was a great deal more faithful to the precepts of Jesus before the Edict of Milan than it ever was subsequently, even following the Protestant Reformation.

I could give a recipe from De Re Coquinaria of Apicius. The period is right (4th century) as well as the general provenance. But I’ve given quite a few already. Search for Apicius in the search box and you’ll find plenty. They are really very much all on the same theme and are not easy to understand. A lot of the time he just gives lists of ingredients which all seem to be limited to the same items, such as here:

Piper, cuminum frictum, ligusticum, mentam, uuam passam enucleatam aut Damascena, mel modice. uino myrteo temperabis, aceto, liquamen et oleo.

Pepper, roasted cumin seeds, mint, grapes or raisins, honey, myrtle wine, vinegar, liquamen (fermented fish sauce) and olive oil.

These are pretty standard seasonings for Apicius, and, trust me, I’ve searched his work extensively. What we’re looking at is a sauce that is sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. Could be classic Chinese!

Let’s take a small, and slightly anachronistic detour. The village of Gorgonzola is in the Milan district and gives its name to the famous blue cheese, which can be found easily throughout Lombardy, and is immensely popular. The cheese was probably not made until the 9th century at the earliest, so it does not fit the period of the Edict, but it is regionally suitable. Like Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses, I’m fond of a midday snack of a Gorgonzola sandwich because I usually have some on hand, and it’s quick and easy – nothing additional necessary because Gorgonzola is rich, complex, and tangy. Gorgonzola is a good addition to pasta sauces too.

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For a basic Gorgonzola sauce, heat one or two tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil in a wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Add some finely diced onion and cook gently until soft (2 to 3 minute). Add equal quantities of shredded gorgonzola and heavy cream, and stir until the cheese melts. Then add small cooked pasta, such as penne, farfalle, or conchiglie, and stir until the sauce coats the pasta completely. I like to add a little cooked spinach to the sauce for both color and flavor. Very traditional.

Feb 232016
 

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Today was once celebrated in ancient Rome as the Terminalia, a festival in honor of the god Terminus, who presided over boundaries. His “statue” was typically a stone or post stuck in the ground to mark property boundaries. His worship is reputed to have been instituted by Numa Pompilius (753–673 BCE), legendary successor to Romulus, who was credited with having instituted a number of important Roman civil and religious institutions.

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According to legend, Numa ordered that every landowner should mark the boundaries of his property by stones to be consecrated to Jupiter Terminalis, and at which, every year, sacrifices were to be offered at the festival of the Terminalia. On the festival the two owners of adjacent property crowned the “statue” with garlands and raised a crude altar, on which they offered up some corn, honeycombs, and wine, and sacrificed a lamb or a suckling pig. They concluded with singing the praises of the god. The public festival in honor of this god was celebrated at the sixth milestone on the road towards Laurentum, presumably because this was originally the extent of Roman territory in that direction.

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One of Numa’s first acts was the construction of a temple to Janus (also god of boundaries) as a symbol of peace and war. The temple was constructed at the foot of the Argiletum, a major road in the city. After securing peace with Rome’s neighbors, the doors of the temples were shut and remained so for all the duration of Numa’s reign, a unique case in Roman history. Closing the temple doors as a sign of peace remained important throughout the Roman Republic and Empire.

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Numa reportedly sought to instill in Romans respect of lawful property and non-violent relationships with neighbors. The cult of Terminus involved rejection of violence and murder. The god was a testament to justice and a keeper of peace. In a somehow comparable, more moral rather than legal fashion, Numa sought to associate himself with one of the roles of Vegoia, from the religious system of the neighboring Etruscans by deciding to set the official boundaries of the territory of Rome, which Romulus had never wanted, presumably with the same concern of preserving peace. This act is reminiscent of the proverb, “good fences make good neighbors.”

The festival of the Terminalia was celebrated in the Roman calendar as a. d. VII. Kal. Mart., that is, the 23d of February, or, the day before the Regifugium (“king’s flight”) whose precise nature is obscure. During a short period, Terminalia was the last day of the year in Rome, and Regifugium was the first of the new year. Thus, Terminalia signified both spatial and temporal boundaries.

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The central Terminus of Rome (the place to which all roads led) was the god’s ancient shrine on the Capitoline Hill. The temple of Jupiter, king of the gods, had to be built around it (with a hole in the ceiling since Terminus demanded open-air sacrifices) by the city’s last king, Tarquinius Superbus, who had closed down other shrines on the site to make room for his prestigious project. But the augurs had read into the flight patterns of birds that the god Terminus refused to be moved, which was taken as a sign of stability for the city.

Terminalia may have descendants in later customs, such as beating the bounds. In times past in Britain, especially because for centuries precise maps were unusual, it was common to make a formal perambulation of the parish boundaries on Ascension Day or during Rogation week. Knowledge of the limits of each parish needed to be handed down so that such matters as liability to contribute to the repair of the church, and the right to be buried within the churchyard were not disputed. The priest of the parish with the churchwardens and the parochial officials headed a crowd of boys who, armed with green boughs, usually birch or willow, beat the parish boundary markers with them. Sometimes the boys were themselves whipped or even violently bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking boys along was supposedly to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible. Priests would pray for the parish’s protection in the forthcoming year and often Psalms 103 and 104 were recited, and the priest would say such sentences as “Cursed is he who transgresseth the bounds or doles of his neighbour.”

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The ceremony had an important practical purpose. Checking the boundaries was a way of preventing encroachment by neighbors; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a folk memory of the true extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.

In England the custom dates from Anglo-Saxon times, as it is mentioned in laws of Alfred the Great and Æthelstan. In England a parish-ale, or feast, was always held after the perambulation, which assured its popularity, and in Henry VIII’s reign the occasion had become an excuse for so much revelry that it attracted the condemnation of a preacher who declared “these solemne and accustomable processions and supplications be nowe growen into a right foule and detestable abuse.”

Beating the bounds had a religious side in the practice which originated the term Rogation, the accompanying clergy being supposed to beseech (rogare) the divine blessing upon the parish lands for the ensuing harvest. This feature originated in the 5th century, when Mamertus, Archbishop of Vienne, instituted special prayers and fasting and processions on these days. This clerical side of the parish bounds-beating was one of the religious functions prohibited by the Royal Injunctions of Elizabeth I in 1559; but it was then ordered that the perambulation should continue to be performed as a quasi-secular function, so that evidence of the boundaries of parishes, etc., might be preserved.

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Some locations have maintained traditions of beating the bounds, although now they are merely a quaint holdover with vague religious overtones.

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For me as an anthropologist this is a highly significant holiday. It emphasizes physical boundaries (city limits, property lines etc.) and temporal boundaries (year’s end and beginning). Anthropologist Victor Turner used the term “liminal” for such boundaries – from the Latin, “limen,” a threshold. These are places and times of immense power and danger in all cultures, because on the cusp of them you are capable of mixing things up, and, thereby destroying the order of the world. Are dawn and dusk, day or night? They are both and neither. Which side are you on when you are “sitting on the fence”? Why is a bride in the West traditionally carried over the threshold? Boundaries are of immense importance to ALL cultures – although what counts as a boundary varies enormously.

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Chief offerings on Terminalia were bread, honey, wine, and lamb or suckling pig. This gives you abundant choice for a contemporary recipe. Apicius in De Re Coquinaria gives us this:

Porcellum assum tractomelinum: porcellum curatum a gutture extenteras, siccas. teres piperis unciam, mel, vinum, impones ut ferveat, tractam siccatam confringes et partibus caccabo permisces. agitabis surculo lauri viridis, tam diu coques, donec lenis fiat et impinguet. hac impensa porcellum imples, surculas, obduras charta, in furnum mittes, exornas et inferes.

The title, porcellum assum tractomelinum, means suckling pig “treated with honey” but there’s wine and bread involved as well. Loosely the text says:

Clean the pig through the neck and dry it. Crush pepper with honey and wine, and put it on the heat. Break up some toast and mix it with the sauce. Add bay leaves and mix until the paste is smooth and cooked. Fill the pig with this dressing and put it in the oven. Garnish and serve.

You’ll have to make of this what you will. There’s no indication of proportions of ingredients. For my tastes I’d use a lot of toast and just moisten it with wine and honey, mixed, seasoned with pepper and bay laurel.

Jan 142016
 

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Today is the birthday (83 BCE) of Marcus Antonius, commonly known in English as Mark or Marc Antony, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire – usually called the Roman Revolution. Mark Antony has shown up in posts here before, particularly as a critical player in the deaths of Cleopatra http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cleopatra-and-the-asp/ and Cicero http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cicero/ The waning moments of the Roman Republic were exceptionally turbulent times with powerful figures rising, then falling, left and right. Mark Antony, friend and ally of Julius Caesar, was the last of the shooting stars to ascend and burn out before Octavian/Augustus ultimately triumphed, making Rome a dictatorial, hereditary empire. This period is, without question, the most studied point in ancient Roman history.

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Antony was a supporter of Julius Caesar, and served as one of his generals during the conquest of Gaul and the Civil War with Pompey http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crossing-rubicon/ Antony was appointed administrator of Italy while Caesar eliminated political opponents in Greece, North Africa, and Spain. After Caesar’s murder by a faction – the Liberatores – led by Brutus and Cassius in 44 BCE, Antony joined forces with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another of Caesar’s generals, and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, forming a three-man dictatorship known to historians as the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirs defeated the Liberatores, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, and divided the government of the Republic between themselves. Antony was assigned Rome’s eastern provinces, including the client kingdom of Egypt, then ruled by Cleopatra VII Philopator, and was given the command in Rome’s war against Parthia.

Relations among the Triumvirs were strained as the various members sought greater political power. Civil war between Antony and Octavian was averted in 40 BCE, when Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Despite this marriage, Antony carried on a love affair with Cleopatra, who bore him three children, further straining Antony’s relations with Octavian. Lepidus was expelled from the triumvirate in 36 BCE, and in 33 BCE disagreements between Antony and Octavian caused a split between them. Their ongoing hostility erupted into civil war in 31 BCE, as the Roman Senate, at Octavian’s direction, declared war on Cleopatra and proclaimed Antony a traitor. Later that year, Antony was defeated by Octavian’s forces at the Battle of Actium. Defeated, Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide.

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With Antony dead, Octavian was the undisputed master of the Roman world. In 27 BCE, he was granted the title of Augustus, marking the final stage in the transformation of the Roman Republic into an empire, with himself as the first Roman emperor.

Antony features in two of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra. Julius Caesar, despite its title, focuses on Antony’s defeat of Brutus and the conspirators after Caesar’s murder, with Antony’s funeral oration being the most famous segment. In it Antony skillfully appears to condemn Caesar as a tyrant and praise Brutus as a man of the people, but in reality turns the crowd against Brutus and in favor of his own ambitions as successor to Caesar. Despite a certain degree of poetic license, Shakespeare stays fairly close to historical fact.

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Caesar’s funeral was held on 20th March (five days after his murder). Antony, as Caesar’s faithful lieutenant and reigning Consul, was chosen to preside over the ceremony and to recite the eulogy. During a demagogic speech, he enumerated the deeds of Caesar and, publicly read his will, which detailed the donations Caesar had left to the Roman people. Antony then seized the blood-stained toga from Caesar’s body and presented it to the crowd. Worked into a fury by the bloody spectacle, the assembly rioted. Several buildings in the Forum and some houses of the conspirators were burned to the ground. Panicked, many of the conspirators fled Italy. Under the pretext of not being able to guarantee their safety, Antony relieved Brutus and Cassius of their judicial duties in Rome and instead assigned them responsibility for procuring wheat for Rome from Sicily and Asia. Such an assignment, in addition to being unworthy of their rank, would have kept them far from Rome and shifted the balance towards Antony. Refusing such secondary duties, the two traveled to Greece instead.

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Despite the provisions of Caesar’s will, Antony proceeded to act as leader of the Caesarian faction, including appropriating for himself a portion of Caesar’s fortune rightfully belonging to Octavian. Antony enacted the Lex Antonia, which formally abolished the Dictatorship, in an attempt to consolidate his power by gaining the support of the Senatorial class. He also enacted a number of laws he claimed to have found in Caesar’s papers to ensure his popularity with Caesar’s veterans, particularly by providing land grants to them. Lepidus, with Antony’s support, was named Pontifex Maximus to succeed Caesar. To solidify the alliance between Antony and Lepidus, Antony’s daughter Antonia Prima was engaged to Lepidus’s son, also named Lepidus. Surrounding himself with a bodyguard of over six thousand of Caesar’s veterans, Antony presented himself as Caesar’s true successor, largely ignoring Octavian. So the stage was set for Antony and Octavian to defeat the conspirators, and for Octavian subsequently to turn on Antony.

Here’s a recipe from Apicius that could have graced Antony’s table at some point. Molded aspics are attested in Roman texts as fancy centerpieces. I used to make a chicken aspic as a party piece once in a while when I was much younger. They weren’t very popular, so I stopped making them. The principle is simple – lightly grease a fancy mould with a clear oil. Pour a thin layer of aspic in the mould and let it gel slightly. For my aspic I used a clarified stock plus the requisite amount of gelatin dissolved in the warmed stock. Then put a decorative component on the bottom. Fill up the mould with meat, vegetables, or whatever, so that you have pretty layers – leaving a small gap between the filling and sides of the mould. Then fill up the mould with aspic and let set in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Unmould by immersing the mould in warm water for a few minutes, being careful not to let the water flow into the mould. Place a serving plate on top of the mould, say a prayer, and invert. With luck it will come out clean. Serve immediately.

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The following recipe is a translation which I have edited. It gives you some ideas for what you might use as a filling. If I were to use this recipe I would place the dressing in the base of the mould.

Salacattabia Apiciana (Apician Jelly)

Put in the mortar celery seed, dry pennyroyal, dry mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine; crush it together in order to make a dressing of it. Place 3 pieces of Picentian bread in a mould, interlined with pieces of cooked chicken, cooked sweetbreads of calf or lamb, [ewe’s] cheese, pine nuts, pickled cucumbers, finely chopped dried onions, covering the whole with jellified broth. Bury the mould in snow up to the rim; unmould, sprinkle with the above dressing and serve.

Jan 032016
 

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Today is the birthday of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the Roman equestrian order (lower than patricians, but not plebeians), and is widely considered one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists.

His influence on the Latin language was so immense that the subsequent history of prose in not only Latin but European languages up to the 19th century was said to be either a reaction against or a return to his style. According to Michael Grant, “the influence of Cicero upon the history of European literature and ideas greatly exceeds that of any other prose writer in any language.” Big words. Cicero introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary (with neologisms such as humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia) distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher.

When I was studying for the Advanced-Level exam in Latin in the sixth form in England I was required to write a Latin prose piece every week (which I hated), and it always had to be in the style of Cicero. Emulation of Cicero was so exacting that if I needed to use a new word, I had to look it up in an historical Latin dictionary and could use it ONLY if Cicero had (an ideal dating back to the humanist scholars of the Renaissance). All Latin, both before and after Cicero, was considered inferior by my teachers and the examiners. To tell the truth, I found Cicero dull and pedantic, and still do. I was happier with the likes of Virgil and Juvenal, because they dealt with battles and farming and feasting, not politics and rhetoric. I was even happier with Greek poetry and literature which just seemed to have more flow than their Latin counterparts. But I’ll give Cicero his due. He took an extremely workaday language and added some sparkles to enliven it – in the end, a lost cause in my humble and ignorant opinion.

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Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters is often credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance in public affairs, humanism, and classical Roman culture. Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński wrote, “Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity.” We need to be measured here, though. The philosophy of Plato and Aristotle were of much greater importance than that of Cicero, but Cicero opened the window through which his betters could be viewed. The peak of Cicero’s authority and prestige came during the 18th century, and his impact on leading Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, and Montesquieu was substantial. His works rank among the most influential in European culture, and today still constitute one of the most important bodies of primary material for Roman history, especially the last days of the Roman Republic.

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Though he was an accomplished orator and successful lawyer, Cicero believed his political career was his most important achievement. It was during his consulship that Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina) and his co-conspirators attempted to overthrow the government through an attack on the city by outside forces. Cicero suppressed the revolt by executing five conspirators without due process (commonplace in Rome).

During the chaotic latter half of the 1st century BCE, marked by civil wars and the dictatorship of Gaius Julius Caesar, Cicero championed a return to traditional republican government. Following Julius Caesar’s death Cicero became an enemy of Mark Antony in the ensuing power struggle, attacking him in a series of speeches. He was proscribed as an enemy of the state by the Second Triumvirate and consequently executed by soldiers operating on their behalf in 43 BCE after having been intercepted during attempted flight from the Italian peninsula. His severed hands and head were then, as a final act of revenge by Mark Antony, displayed in the Roman Forum. Octavian, Caesar’s heir and later the first emperor, Augustus, is believed to have argued vehemently against the proscription, but ultimately conceded to Mark Antony’s wishes. However when Octavian subsequently turned on, and defeated, Mark Antony, he showed deep remorse for his part in Cicero’s death, and tried to make amends by protecting and supporting his son (Marcus Minor) despite the latter’s ever-changing political views.

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My assessment here of Cicero’s legacy, while derivative, is fair, I believe, although perhaps tainted slightly by the years I spent laboring over his speeches as a teenager. Cicero has been traditionally considered the master of Latin prose, with Quintilian declaring that Cicero was “not the name of a man, but of eloquence itself.” Julius Caesar praised Cicero’s achievement by saying “it is more important to have greatly extended the frontiers of the Roman spirit (ingenium) than the frontiers of the Roman empire.” According to John William Mackail, “Cicero’s unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which nineteen centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered.”

Cicero wrote a great deal on a variety of subjects. His writing was readily available and widely used in schools in classical antiquity, and, because of its fame, survived into the modern world with a relatively small percentage lost. A graffito found at Pompeii states, “You will like Cicero, or you will be whipped” – work of a disgruntled student, no doubt. Cicero was greatly admired by influential Church Fathers such as Augustine of Hippo, who credited Cicero’s lost Hortensius for his eventual conversion to Christianity, and St. Jerome, who had a feverish vision in which he was accused of being “follower of Cicero and not of Christ” before the judgment seat. This influence further increased after the Early Middle Ages in Europe, which more of his writings survived than any other Latin author. Medieval philosophers were influenced by Cicero’s writings on natural law and innate rights. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters provided impetus for searches for ancient Greek and Latin writings scattered throughout European monasteries, and the subsequent rediscovery of Classical Antiquity led, in part, to the Renaissance.

His voluminous correspondence, much of it addressed to his friend Atticus, has been especially influential, introducing the art of refined letter writing to European culture. Cornelius Nepos, the 1st century BCE biographer of Atticus, remarked that Cicero’s letters contained such a wealth of detail “concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals, and the revolutions in the government” that their reader had little need for a history of the period. Following the invention of the printing press, De Officiis was the second book to be printed, after the Gutenberg Bible. Historians also note Cicero’s influence on the rebirth of religious toleration in the 17th century.

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While Cicero the humanist deeply influenced the culture of the Renaissance, Cicero the republican inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution. John Adams said of him “As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.” Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of “the common sense” basis for the right of revolution. Camille Desmoulins said of the French republicans in 1789 that they were “mostly young people who, nourished by the reading of Cicero at school, had become passionate enthusiasts for liberty.”

On the other hand, no other ancient personality has inspired as much venomous dislike as Cicero, especially in more modern times. His commitment to the values of the Republic accommodated a hatred of the poor and persistent opposition to the advocates and mechanisms of popular representation. Friedrich Engels referred to him as “the most contemptible scoundrel in history” for upholding republican “democracy” while at the same time denouncing land and class reforms. Cicero has faced criticism for exaggerating the democratic qualities of republican Rome, and for defending the Roman oligarchy against the popular reforms of Caesar. Michael Parenti admits Cicero’s abilities as an orator, but finds him a vain, pompous and hypocritical personality who, when it suited him, could show public support for popular causes that he privately despised. Parenti presents Cicero’s prosecution of the Catiline conspiracy as legally flawed at the very least, and possibly unlawful. I have no trouble seeing Cicero as vain, arrogant and self serving. The First Catiline Oration is a model of pompous self-aggrandizement. He suffered the fate that all politicians deserve who switch allegiance based on self interest rather than principle. No doubt his defenders will disagree.

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By default I turn, as always, to Apicius’ De re coquinaria for a Roman recipe. No doubt Cicero would shudder at the Latin in this cookbook written several centuries after his death in what is basically street Latin of the 4th or 5th century. You can get the gist without much trouble (assuming you read Latin), but there are obscure words in the text, and the precise nature of some ingredients is obscure. Here are a couple of recipes for sausages that could easily fit into the modern Italian kitchen. Modern cooks use SE Asian fermented fish sauce as a substitute for liquamen. Laser is an unknown ingredient although it is conjectured that it was asafoetida. From Apicius we know that laser was extremely expensive, but prized in cooking. I’d go with asafoetida as a substitute. My translations here are not terribly literal, but I hope they get the point across. Sausage making has not changed a whole lot in two millenia.

First is a recipe for brain sausage. Brains continue to be used for stuffed pastas in Italy, and I have made such quite often. Using brains as a stuffing, rather than “as is,” tends to soften the outcries of the squeamish. I parboil the brains when I use them, and prefer a meat grinder or food processor to a mortar. The method of boiling then frying sausages is one I use.

Farcimina.

Ova et cerebella teres, nucleos pineos, piper, liquamen, laser modicum, et his intestinum implebis. Elixas, postea assas et inferes.

Sausages

Pound eggs and brains, pine nuts, pepper, liquamen and a little laser, and use this mix to fill your casings (intestines). Boil the sausages, then fry them and serve.

Lucanian sausages are highly seasoned and then smoked. Use of ground fatty pork as the main ingredient has to be inferred because the text is not clear. Here’s an image of one of my efforts (using a big casing).

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Lucanicae.

Lucanicas similiter ut supra scriptum est: Lucanicarum confectio teritur piper, cuminum, satureia, ruta, petroselinum, condimentum, bacae lauri, liquamen, et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur. Cum liquamine admixto, pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies in intestinum perquam tenuatim perductum, et sic ad fumum suspenditur.

Lucanian sausages

Lucanian sausages are made in the same way as above: grind up pepper, cumin, savory, rue, parsley, condiment [condimentum], laurel berries and liquamen. Make sure the paste [pulpa] is thoroughly mixed and blended [with minced pork]. To this mixture add whole peppercorns and nuts, fill your casings, and hang the sausages to smoke.

Jun 132015
 

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Today is the birthday (40 CE) of Gnaeus Julius Agricola,a Gallo-Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. The De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae (Concerning the Life and Death of Agricola or, more usually, simply Agricola), written by his son-in-law the Roman historian Tacitus, is the primary source for most of what is known about him. (see http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/tacitus-agricola.asp )There is also detailed archaeological evidence from northern Britain.

Agricola began his military career in Britain, serving under governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Subsequently he served in a variety of positions. He was appointed quaestor (financial officer) in Asia province in 64, then tribune of the plebs (largely a ceremonial position) in 66, and praetor (state legal and military official) in 68. He supported Vespasian during the Year of the Four Emperors, and was given a military command in Britain when the latter became emperor. When his command ended in 73, he was made patrician (noble) in Rome and appointed governor of Gallia Aquitania. He was made consul and governor of Britannia in 77. While there, he completed the conquest of what is now Wales and northern England, and led his army to the far north of Scotland, establishing forts across much of the Lowlands. He was recalled from Britain in 85 after an unusually lengthy service, and thereafter retired from military and public life.

Agricola was born in the colonia of Forum Julii, Gallia Narbonensis (now Fréjus in France). Agricola’s parents were from noted Gallo-Roman political families of senatorial rank, his ancestors were Romanized Gauls of local origin. Both of his grandfathers served as imperial governors. His father, Lucius Julius Graecinus, was a praetor and had become a member of the Roman Senate in the year of Agricola’s birth. Some time between August 40 and January 41, the Roman emperor Caligula ordered his death because he refused to prosecute the Emperor’s second cousin Marcus Junius Silanus.

His mother was Julia Procilla. Tacitus describes her as “a lady of singular virtue”. Tacitus states that Procilla had a fond affection for her son. Agricola was educated in Massilia (Marseille), and showed what was considered an unhealthy interest in philosophy: one of his father’s passions.

He began his career in Roman public life as a military tribune, serving in Britain under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus from 58 to 62. He was probably attached to the Legio II Augusta, but was chosen to serve on Suetonius’s staff and thus almost certainly participated in the suppression of Boudica’s (Boadicea) uprising in 61. Returning from Britain to Rome in 62, he married Domitia Decidiana, a woman of noble birth. Their first child was a son. Agricola was appointed as quaestor for 64, which he served in the province of Asia under the corrupt proconsul Lucius Salvius Otho Titianus. While he was there, his daughter, Julia Agricola, was born, but his son died shortly afterwards. He was tribune of the plebs in 66 and praetor on June 68, during which time he was ordered by the governor of Spain, Galba, to take an inventory of the temple treasures.

In June 68, the emperor Nero was deposed and committed suicide, and the period of civil war known as the Year of the Four Emperors began. Galba succeeded Nero, but was murdered in early 69 by Otho, who took the throne. Agricola’s mother was murdered on her estate in Liguria by Otho’s marauding fleet. Hearing of Vespasian’s bid for the empire, Agricola immediately gave him his support. Otho meanwhile committed suicide after being defeated by Vitellius.

After Vespasian had established himself as emperor, he appointed Agricola to the command of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, stationed in Britain, in place of Marcus Roscius Coelius, who had stirred up a mutiny against the governor, Marcus Vettius Bolanus. Britain had suffered revolt during the year of civil war, and Bolanus was a mild governor. Agricola reimposed discipline on the legion and helped to consolidate Roman rule. In 71, Bolanus was replaced by a more aggressive governor, Quintus Petillius Cerialis, and Agricola was able to display his talents as a commander in campaigns against the Brigantes in northern England.

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When his command ended in 73, Agricola was enrolled as a patrician and appointed to govern Gallia Aquitania. There he stayed for almost three years. In 76 or 77, he was recalled to Rome and appointed suffect (replacement) consul, and betrothed his daughter to Tacitus. The following year, Tacitus and Julia married. Agricola was appointed to the College of Pontiffs, and returned to Britain for a third time, as its governor (Legatus Augusti pro praetore).

Arriving in midsummer of 77, Agricola found the Ordovices of north Wales had virtually destroyed the Roman cavalry stationed in their territory. He immediately moved against them and defeated them. He then moved north to the island of Mona (Anglesey), which Suetonius Paulinus had failed to subjugate in 60 because of the outbreak of the Boudican rebellion, and forced its inhabitants to sue for peace. He established a good reputation as an administrator, as well as a commander, by reforming the widely corrupt corn taxes. He introduced Romanizing measures, encouraging communities to build towns on the Roman model and educating the sons of the native nobility in the Roman manner.

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He also expanded Roman rule north into Caledonia (modern Scotland). In the summer of 79, he pushed his armies to the estuary of the river Taus, usually interpreted as the Firth of Tay, virtually unchallenged, and established some forts. Though their location is left unspecified, the close dating of the fort at Elginhaugh in Midlothian makes it a possible candidate.

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In 81, Agricola “crossed in the first ship” and defeated peoples unknown to the Romans until then. Tacitus, in Chapter 24 of Agricola, does not tell us what body of water he crossed, although most scholars believe it was the Clyde or Forth. The text of the Agricola has been emended here to record the Romans “crossing into trackless wastes”, referring to the wilds of the Galloway peninsula. Agricola fortified the coast facing Ireland, and Tacitus recalls that his father-in-law often claimed the island could be conquered with a single legion and auxiliaries. He had given refuge to an exiled Irish king whom he hoped he might use as the excuse for conquest. This conquest never happened, but some historians believe the crossing referred to was in fact a small-scale exploratory or punitive expedition to Ireland, though no Roman camps have been identified to confirm such a suggestion.

Irish legend provides a striking parallel. Tuathal Teachtmhar, a legendary High King, is said to have been exiled from Ireland as a boy, and to have returned from Britain at the head of an army to claim the throne. The traditional date of his return is 76–80, and archaeology has found Roman or Romano-British artifacts in several sites associated with Tuathal.

The following year, Agricola raised a fleet and encircled the tribes beyond the Forth, and the Caledonians rose in great numbers against him. They attacked the camp of the Legio IX Hispana at night, but Agricola sent in his cavalry and they were put to flight. The Romans responded by pushing further north. Another son was born to Agricola this year, but he died before his first birthday.

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In the summer of 83, Agricola faced the massed armies of the Caledonians, led by Calgacus, at the Battle of Mons Graupius. Tacitus estimates their numbers at more than 30,000. Agricola put his auxiliaries in the front line, keeping the legions in reserve, and relied on close-quarters fighting to make the Caledonians’ unpointed slashing swords useless as they were unable to swing them properly or use thrusting attacks. Even though the Caledonians were put to rout and therefore lost this battle, two thirds of their army managed to escape and hide in the Highlands, or the “trackless wilds,” where they engaged in continuous guerrilla war. Battle casualties were estimated by Tacitus to be about 10,000 on the Caledonian side and 360 on the Roman side.

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A number of historians have reckoned the battle to have occurred in the Grampian Mounth within sight of the North Sea. The site of the battle may have been Kempstone Hill, Megray Hill or other knolls near the Raedykes Roman camp; these points of high ground are near the Elsick Mounth, an ancient trackway used by Romans and Caledonians for military maneuvers. However, following the discovery of the Roman camp at Durno in 1975, most scholars now believe that the battle took place on the ground around Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

Satisfied with his victory, Agricola took hostages from the Caledonian tribes. He may have marched his army to the northern coast of Britain, as evidenced by the discovery of a Roman fort at Cawdor (near Inverness). He also instructed the prefect of the fleet to sail around the north coast, confirming (allegedly for the first time) that Britain was in fact an island.

Agricola was recalled from Britain in 85, after an unusually long tenure as governor. Tacitus claims Domitian ordered his recall because Agricola’s successes outshone the Emperor’s own modest victories in Germany. He re-entered Rome unobtrusively, reporting as ordered to the palace at night. The relationship between Agricola and the Emperor is unclear; on the one hand, Agricola was awarded triumphal decorations and a statue (the highest military honors apart from an actual triumph). On the other hand, Agricola never again held a civil or military post, in spite of his experience and renown. He was offered the governorship of the province of Africa, but declined it, whether due to ill health or (as Tacitus claims) the machinations of Domitian. In 93, Agricola died on his family estates in Gallia Narbonensis aged fifty-three. Rumors circulated attributing the death to a poison administered by the Emperor Domitian, but no positive evidence for this claim was ever produced.

Tacitus wrote as a eulogy (underscoring the notion that Agricola was an honest man in a corrupt world):

Under Domitian, it was the principal part of our miseries to behold and to be beheld: when our sighs were registered; and that stern countenance, with its settled redness, his defense against shame, was employed in noting the pallid horror of so many spectators. Happy, O Agricola! not only in the splendor of your life, but in the seasonableness of your death. With resignation and cheerfulness, from the testimony of those who were present in your last moments, did you meet your fate, as if striving to the utmost of your power to make the emperor appear guiltless. But to myself and your daughter, besides the anguish of losing a parent, the aggravating affliction remains, that it was not our lot to watch over your sick-bed, to support you when languishing, and to satiate ourselves with beholding and embracing you. With what attention should we have received your last instructions, and engrave them on our hearts! This is our sorrow; this is our wound: to us you were lost four years before by a tedious absence. Everything, doubtless, O best of parents! was administered for your comfort and honor, while a most affectionate wife sat beside you; yet fewer tears were shed upon your bier, and in the last light which your eyes beheld, something was still wanting.

If there be any habitation for the shades of the virtuous; if, as philosophers suppose, exalted souls do not perish with the body; may you repose in peace, and call us, your household, from vain regret and feminine lamentations, to the contemplation of your virtues, which allow no place for mourning or complaining! Let us rather adorn your memory by our admiration, by our short-lived praises, and, as far as our natures will permit, by an imitation of your example.

The Romans introduced a great many foods to Britain including garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. They also domesticated wild fruits such as apples, and imported cherries, mulberries, and grapes. Amongst the many herbs that they introduced to Britain were rosemary, thyme, bay, basil and savory, and the spices pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Famously, they cultivated oysters at Colchester.

Oysters were in very high demand in Rome and, because of this, supplies became limited. The Roman chef Apicius reports that oysters were shipped to Rome from all over the empire although his description for preserving them for travel would not have worked. He gives several recipes for oysters including a sauce that appears to be a kind of mayonnaise. Ingredients are pepper, lovage, egg yolks, vinegar, broth, olive oil and wine, with honey optional. He also gives one that is a kind of vinaigrette using pepper, lovage, parsley, dried mint, cumin, honey, vinegar and broth. His recipe for oyster croquettes could easily be replicated:

Cook the firm parts of oysters, remove the hard and objectionable parts, mince the meat very fine, mix this with cooked spelt [or flour] and eggs. Season with pepper, shape into croquettes and fry. Underlay a rich fish sauce.

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The mayonnaise from Apicius would make a good dipping sauce. For me, I’ll stick with a dozen Colchester oysters on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon.

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Jan 102015
 

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On this date in 49 BCE Julius Caesar and his army crossed the river Rubicon thus initiating civil war with Pompey given that it was an illegal act of insurrection for a provincial general to lead an army into Italy.

The Great Roman Civil War (49–45 BCE), also known as Caesar’s Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire. It began as a series of political and military confrontations, between Julius Caesar (100–44 BCE), his political supporters (broadly known as Populares), and his legions, against the Optimates (or Boni), the politically conservative and socially traditionalist faction of the Roman Senate, who were supported by Pompey (106–48 BC) and his legions. The idiom “crossing the Rubicon” now means passing the point of no return, especially when undertaking a risky enterprise.

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The Rubicon (Latin: Rubico, Italian: Rubicone) is a shallow river in northeastern Italy just south of Ravenna, about 80 kilometers long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective rubeus, meaning “red”. The river was so named because its waters are colored red by mud deposits.

Because the course of the river has changed much since then, it is impossible to confirm exactly where the Rubicon flowed when Caesar and his legions crossed it, even though most evidence links it to the river officially so named. The river is perhaps most known as the place where Julius Caesar uttered the famous phrase “alea iacta est” – the die is cast.

During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-east and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its allies) to the south. On the north-western side, the border was marked by the river Arno, a much wider and more important waterway, which flows westward from the Apennine Mountains (its source is not far from Rubicon’s source) into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with imperium (roughly, “right to command”) in their province(s). The governor would then serve as the general of the Roman army within the territory of his province(s). Roman law specified that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium within Italy. Any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium and was therefore no longer legally allowed to command troops.

Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was also a capital offence. If a general entered Italy whilst exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.

In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he (deliberately) broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable. This the description given by the historian Suetonius:

Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: ‘Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, – and nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’

Even as he hesitated this incident occurred. A man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the “Advance!” with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!’ [ALEA IACTA EST]

It was reported that Caesar dined with his military leaders after the crossing, but no report of what they ate, otherwise I would give recipes.

The phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase “passing the point of no return.” Caesar’s decision for swift action forced Pompey, the lawful consuls (C. Claudius Marcellus and L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus), and a large part of the Roman Senate to flee Rome in fear. Caesar’s subsequent victory in Caesar’s civil war ensured that punishment for the infraction would never be rendered.

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After Caesar’s crossing, the Rubicon was a geographical feature of note until about 42 BCE, when Octavian merged the province of Gallia Cisalpina into Italia and the river ceased to be the extreme northern border of Italy. The decision robbed the Rubicon of its importance, and the name gradually disappeared from the local geography.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, and during the first centuries of the Middle Ages, the coastal plain between Ravenna and Rimini was flooded many times. The Rubicon, like other small rivers of the region, often changed its course during this period. For this reason, and to supply fields with water after the revival of agriculture in the late Middle Ages, during the 14th and 15th centuries, hydraulic works were built to prevent other floods and to regulate streams. As a result of this work, these rivers started to flow in straight courses, as they do today.

With the revival of interest in the topography of ancient Roman Italy during the 15th century, the matter of identifying the Rubicon in the contemporary landscape became a topic of debate among Renaissance humanists. To support the claim of the Pisciatello, a spurious inscription forbidding the passage of an army in the name of the Roman people and Senate, the so-called Sanctio, was placed by a bridge on that river. The Quattrocento humanist Flavio Biondo was deceived by it; the actual inscription is conserved in the Museo Archeologico, Cesena. As the centuries went by, several rivers of the Adriatic coast between Ravenna and Rimini have at times been said to correspond to the ancient Rubicon.

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The Via Aemilia (National Road № 9) still follows its original Roman course as it runs between hills and plain; it would have been the obvious course to follow as it was the only major Roman road east of the Apennine Mountains leading to and from the Po Valley. Attempts to deduce the original course of the Rubicon can be made only by studying written documents and other archaeological evidence such as Roman milestones, which indicate the distance between the ancient river and the nearest Roman towns.

The starting point of a Roman road (some kind of “mile zero”), from which distances were counted, was always the crossing between the Cardo and the Decumanus, the two principal streets in every Roman town, running north-south and east-west respectively. In a section of the Tabula Peutingeriana, an ancient document showing the network of Roman roads, a river in north-eastern Italy labeled “fl. Rubicū” is shown at a position 12 Roman miles (18 km) north of Rimini along the coastline; 18 km is the distance between Rimini and a place called “Ad Confluentes”, drawn west of the Rubicon, on the Via Aemilia. However, the riverbed shape which is observed today in Pisciatello and Rubicone river, well below Roman age soil layers, is likely to indicate that any possible course modification of rivers could have occurred only very close to the coastline, and therefore only slight. Furthermore, the features of today’s Rubicone river (North-South course, orthogonal to the Emilia road) and Emilia road itself (a straight reach before and after the crossing, and a turn just passing by San Giovanni in Compito, so marking a possible administrative boundary) are common to typical geographical oriented limits of Roman age, being this a clue of actual identification of today Rubicone with Fiumicino.

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In 1933, after various efforts spanning centuries, the Fiumicino, crossing the town of Savignano di Romagna (now Savignano sul Rubicone), was officially identified as the former Rubicon. The final proof confirming this theory came only in 1991, when three Italian scholars (Pignotti, Ravagli, and Donati), after a comparison between the Tabula Peutingeriana and other ancient sources (including Cicero), showed that the distance from Rome to the Rubicon river was 200 Roman miles. Key elements of their work are:

The locality of San Giovanni in Compito (now a western quarter of Savignano) has to be identified with the old Ad Confluentes (compito means “road junction” and it is synonymous with confluentes)

The distance between Ad Confluentes and Rome, according to the Tabula Peutingeriana, is 201 Roman miles

The distance from today’s San Giovanni in Compito and the Fiumicino river is 1 Roman mile (1.48 km)

Today there is very little evidence of Caesar’s historical passage. Savignano sul Rubicone is an industrial town and the river has become one of the most polluted in the Emilia-Romagna region. Exploitation of underground waters along the upper course of the Rubicon has reduced its flow—it was a minor river even during Roman times (“parvi Rubiconis ad undas” as Lucan said, roughly translated “to the waves of [the] tiny Rubicon”)—and has since lost its natural route, except in its upper course between low and woody hills.

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I will turn to Apicius once again for a fish sauce which you can use with river trout as a commemoration of the Rubicon where trout thrive. This is from De Re Coquinaria IX, x, 7. This is for grey mullet but it, like other fish sauces from Apicius, can be used for most fish.

Aliter ius in mugile salso: piper, origanum, erucam, mentam, rutam, calvam, caryotam, mel, oleum, acetum et sinape.

Another Sauce for Salted Grey Mullet: Pepper, oregano, colewort, mint, rue, filbert nuts, dates, honey, olive oil, vinegar and mustard.

There are no instructions on how to use the sauce, but a great deal of Apicius’ fish recipes involve baking the fish. So here’s my interpretation. If I had a kitchen I would experiment; this has to be hypothetical, but it should work. A few of the herbs are not easy to find. I had all of them in my herb garden in New York. Colewort is wild mustard, so just double up on the mustard powder if need be.

Roman Baked Trout

2 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tbsp mint leaves

1 or 2 leaves of rue

2 tbsp finely-chopped hazelnuts

2 tbsp dates, finely chopped

2 tsp runny honey

¼ tsp dried colewort

¼ tsp mustard powder

80ml extra-virgin olive oil

40ml white wine vinegar

Instructions:

Pulse together all the ingredients in a food processor until they are blended together well but so they retain their integrity. Or, you can pound the dry ingredients in a mortar and then whisk them together with wet ones.

This sauce can be used hot or cold.

For cold:

Bake trout fillets in a 450°F oven until they are cooked but not dry (about 20 minutes).

Let the fish cool, and then chill.

Arrange on a serving platter and pour the sauce over them.

For hot:

Place trout fillets in a baking tray and pour the sauce over them.

Bake in a 350°F oven until they are cooked. Do not overcook and be sure the sauce does not dry out.

Oct 152014
 

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Today is the birthday (70 BCE) of Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil in English, an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. A number of minor poems, collected in the Appendix Vergiliana, are sometimes attributed to him, but they are likely not authentic.

Virgil is traditionally ranked as one of Rome’s greatest poets. His Aeneid has been deemed the national epic of ancient Rome from the time of its composition to the present day. It was modeled after Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, following the Trojan refugee Aeneas as he struggles to fulfill his destiny and arrive on the shores of Italy where he founded Rome. Virgil’s work has had wide and deep influence on Western literature, most notably the Divine Comedy of Dante, in which Virgil appears as Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory.

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Virgil’s biographical tradition is thought to depend on a lost biography by Varius, Virgil’s editor, which was incorporated into the biography by Suetonius and the commentaries of Servius and Donatus, the two great commentators on Virgil’s poetry. Although the commentaries no doubt record much factual information about Virgil, some of their evidence can be shown to rely on inferences made from his poetry and allegorizing; thus, Virgil’s biographical tradition remains problematic.

The tradition holds that Virgil was born in the village of Andes, near Mantua in Cisalpine Gaul. Scholars suggest Etruscan, Umbrian, or even Celtic descent by examining the linguistic or ethnic markers of the region. Analysis of his name has led to beliefs that he descended from earlier Roman colonists. Modern speculation ultimately is not supported by narrative evidence either from his own writings or his later biographers. Macrobius says that Virgil’s father was of a humble background; however, scholars generally believe that Virgil was from an equestrian landowning family which could afford to give him an education. He attended schools in Cremona, Mediolanum, Rome and Naples. After considering briefly a career in rhetoric and law, the young Virgil turned his talents to poetry.

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According to the commentators, Virgil received his first education when he was five years old and he later went to Cremona, Milan, and finally Rome to study rhetoric, medicine, and astronomy, which he soon abandoned for philosophy. From Virgil’s admiring references to the neoteric (new poets) writers Pollio and Cinna, it has been inferred that he was, for a time, associated with Catullus’ neoteric circle. However schoolmates considered Virgil extremely shy and reserved, according to Servius, and he was nicknamed “Parthenias” or “maiden” because of his social aloofness. Virgil seems to have suffered bad health throughout his life and in some ways lived the life of an invalid. According to the Catalepton, while in the Epicurean school of Siro the Epicurean at Naples, he began to write poetry. A group of small works attributed to the youthful Virgil by the commentators survive collected under the title Appendix Vergiliana, but are largely considered spurious by scholars. One, the Catalepton, consists of fourteen short poems, some of which may be Virgil’s, and another, a short narrative poem titled the Culex (“The Gnat”), was attributed to Virgil as early as the 1st century CE.

Much has been written about the Aeneid, but I am going to pass over it in favor of the Georgics. I studied both in Latin in school, and without hesitation I will assert that I find the Aeneid dull for several reasons. To begin with it pales in comparison with Homer in my estimation. The imagery is forced and leaden where Homer is bright and spontaneous. Second, its obvious fawning admiration for the emperor Augustus and the attempt to link his glory with the founding of Rome leaves me cold. By contrast I find the Georgics fascinating in large part because of their insights into Roman agriculture and husbandry (perfectly pertinent for a foodie blog).

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After the publication of the Eclogues (probably before 37 BCE), Virgil became part of the circle of Maecenas, Octavian’s capable agent d’affaires who sought to counter sympathy for Antony among the leading families by rallying Roman literary figures to Octavian’s side. Virgil seems to have made connexions with many of the other leading literary figures of the time, including Horace, in whose poetry he is often mentioned, and Varius Rufus, who later helped finish the Aeneid.

At Maecenas’ insistence (according to the tradition) Virgil spent the ensuing years (perhaps 37–29 BC) on the longer didactic hexameter poem called the Georgics (from Greek, “On Working the Earth”) which he dedicated to Maecenas. The ostensible theme of the Georgics is instruction in the methods of running a farm. In handling this theme, Virgil follows in the didactic (instructive) tradition of the Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days and several works of the later Hellenistic poets.

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The four books of the Georgics focus respectively on raising crops and trees (1 and 2), livestock and horses (3), and beekeeping and the qualities of bees (4). Significant passages include the beloved Laus Italiae of Book 2, the prologue description of the temple in Book 3, and the description of the plague at the end of Book 3. Book 4 concludes with a long mythological narrative, in the form of an epyllion, a short discrete narrative within a longer work, which describes vividly the discovery of beekeeping by Aristaeus and the story of Orpheus’ journey to the underworld. Ancient scholars, such as Servius, conjectured that the Aristaeus episode replaced a long section in praise of Virgil’s friend, the poet Gallus, who was disgraced by Augustus and committed suicide in 26 BC. Augustus is supposed to have ordered the section to be replaced.

A major critical issue in considering the Georgics is the assessment of tone; Virgil seems to waver between optimism and pessimism, sparking a great deal of debate on the poem’s intentions. With the Georgics Virgil is credited with laying the foundations for later didactic poetry. The biographical tradition says that Virgil and Maecenas took turns reading the Georgics to Octavian upon his return from defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.

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Book One

Virgil begins his poem with a summary of the four books, followed by a prayer to various agricultural deities as well as Augustus himself. It takes as its model the work on farming by Varro, but differs from it in important ways. Numerous technical passages fill out the first half of Book 1; of particular interest are lines 160–175, where Virgil describes the plough. In the succession of ages, whose model is ultimately Hesiod, the age of Jupiter and its relation to the golden age and the current age of man are crafted with deliberate tension. Of chief importance is the contribution of labor to the success or failure of mankind’s endeavors, agricultural or otherwise. The book comes to one climax with the description of a great storm in lines 311–50, which brings all of man’s efforts to naught. After detailing various weather-signs, Virgil ends with an enumeration of the portents associated with Caesar’s assassination and civil war; only Octavian offers any hope of salvation.

Book Two

Prominent themes of the second book include agriculture as mankind’s struggle against a hostile natural world, often described in violent terms, and the ages of Saturn and Jupiter Like the first book, it begins with a poem addressing the divinities associated with the matters about to be discussed: viticulture, trees, and the olive. In the next hundred lines Virgil treats forest and fruit trees. Their propagation and growth are described in detail, with a contrast drawn between methods that are natural and those that require human intervention. Three sections on grafting are of particular interest: presented as marvels of man’s alteration of nature, many of the examples Virgil gives are unlikely or impossible. Also included is a catalogue of the world’s trees, set forth in rapid succession, and other products of various lands. Perhaps the most famous passage of the poem, the Laudes Italiae or Praises of Italy, is introduced by way of a comparison with foreign marvels: despite all of those, no land is as praiseworthy as Italy. A point of cultural interest is a reference to Ascra in line 176, which an ancient reader would have known as the hometown of Hesiod. Next comes the care of vines, culminating in a vivid scene of their destruction by fire; then advice on when to plant vines, and therein the other famous passage of the second book, the Praises of Spring. These depict the growth and beauty that accompany spring’s arrival. The poet then returns to didactic narrative with yet more on vines, emphasizing their fragility and intensive care. A warning about animal damage provides occasion for an explanation of why goats are sacrificed to Bacchus. The olive tree is then presented in contrast to the vine: it requires little effort on the part of the farmer. The next subject, at last turning away from the vine, is other kinds of trees: those that produce fruit and those that have useful wood. Then Virgil again returns to grapevines, recalling the myth of the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs in a passage known as the Vituperation of Vines. The remainder of the book is devoted to extolling the simple country life over the corruptness of the city.

Book Three

The third book is chiefly and ostensibly concerned with animal husbandry. It consists of two principal parts, the first half is devoted to the selection of breed stock and the breeding of horses and cattle. It concludes with a description of the furor induced in all animals by sexual desire. The second half of the book is devoted to the care and protection of sheep and goats and their byproducts. It concludes with a description of the havoc and devastation caused by a plague in Noricum. Both halves begin with a short prologue called a proem. The poems invoke Greek and Italian gods and address such issues as Virgil’s intention to honor both Caesar and his patron Maecenas, as well as his lofty poetic aspirations and the difficulty of the material to follow. Many have observed the parallels between the dramatic endings of each half of this book and the irresistible power of their respective themes of love and death.

Book Four

Book four, a tonal counterpart to Book two, is divided approximately in half; the first half (1–280) is didactic and deals with the life and habits of bees, supposedly a model for human society. Bees resemble humans in that they labor, are devoted to a leader, and give their lives for the sake of the community, but they lack the arts and love. In spite of their labor the bees perish and the entire colony dies. The restoration of the bees is accomplished by bugonia, spontaneous rebirth from the carcass of an ox. This process is described twice in the second half (281–568) and frames the Aristaeus epyllion beginning at line 315. The tone of the book changes from didactic to epic and elegiac in this epyllion, which contains within it the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Aristaeus, after losing his bees, descends to the home of his mother, the nymph Cyrene, where he is given instructions on how to restore his colonies. He must capture the seer, Proteus, and force him to reveal which divine spirit he angered and how to restore his bee colonies. After binding Proteus (who changes into many forms to no avail), Aristaeus is told by the seer that he angered the nymphs by causing the death of the nymph Eurydice, wife of Orpheus. Proteus describes the descent of Orpheus into the underworld to retrieve Eurydice, the backward look that caused her return to Tartarus, and at last Orpheus’ death at the hands of the Ciconian women. Book four concludes with an eight-line sphragis or seal in which Virgil contrasts his life of poetry with that of Octavian the general.

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To celebrate Virgil I give you a recipe from Apicius, the late 4th century Roman cook book that I have used before. Apicius is a text to be used in the kitchen. In the earliest printed editions, it was most usually given the overall title De re coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) and attributed to an otherwise unknown Caelius Apicius, an invention based on the fact that one of the two manuscripts is headed with the words “API CAE”.

The foods described in the book are useful for reconstructing the dietary habits of the ancient world around the Mediterranean Basin, since many of the foods identified with that region today—tomatoes, pasta—were not available in antiquity. But the recipes are geared for the wealthiest classes, and a few contain what were exotic ingredients at that time (e.g., flamingo).

Here is a recipe for lamb or goat stew incorporating ingredients whose cultivation and husbandry are described in Georgics:

ALITER HAEDINAM SIVE AGNINAM EXCALDATAM: mittes in caccabum copadia. cepam, coriandrum minutatim succides, teres piper, ligusticum, cuminum, liquamen, oleum, vinum. coques, exinanies in patina, amulo obligas. [Aliter haedinam sive agninam excaldatam] <agnina> a crudo trituram mortario accipere debet, caprina autem cum coquitur accipit trituram.

HOT KID OR LAMB STEW. Put the pieces of meat into a pan. Finely chop an onion and coriander, pound pepper, lovage, cumin, liquamen, oil, and wine. Cook, turn out into a shallow pan, thicken with wheat starch. If you take lamb you should add the contents of the mortar while the meat is still raw, if kid, add it while it is cooking.

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Not having a kitchen at the moment I cannot make an effort to recreate this dish, but it looks fairly straightforward. Cut the meat into bite sized chunks. Make a marinade of onion, cilantro, peppercorns, lovage, cumin, liquamen substitute (1 tablespoon of Asian fermented fish sauce in a cup of water), extra virgin olive oil, and Italian red wine in a blender, and marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator (see “marinating” under my Hints tab). I’m not sure why Apicius suggests this for lamb but not for kid. If you want to be authentic you can omit this step for kid. Bring the meat and marinade to a slow simmer and skim off any scum at the outset. Simmer covered for about 2 hours, or until the meat is fully tender. Thicken the sauce with a slurry of flour and water if necessary. Serve with your choice of Old World vegetables and crusty Italian bread. You will find my Roman recipe for broad beans here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/ovid/

 

Mar 152014
 

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The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martii or Idus Martiae) is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It was marked by several religious observances, and became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. The death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history, as one of the events that marked the transition from the historical period known as the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

Although March (Martius) was the third month of the Julian calendar, in the oldest Roman calendar it was the first month of the year. The holidays observed by the Romans from the first through the Ides often reflect their origin as new year celebrations. The Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st) of the following month. The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July, and October. Thus for example, the Romans would not say “11th of May” but, rather, “4 days before the Ides of May.”

Flamen Dialis

Flamen Dialis

The Ides of each month were sacred to Jupiter, the supreme deity of the Romans. The Flamen Dialis, Jupiter’s high priest, led the “Ides sheep” (ovis Idulius) in procession along the Via Sacra to the arx, where it was sacrificed. In addition to the monthly sacrifice, the Ides of March was also the occasion of the Feast of Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year whose festival originally concluded the ceremonies of the new year. The day was enthusiastically celebrated among the plebeians (common people) with picnics, drinking, and revelry.

Anna Perenna

Anna Perenna

One source from late antiquity also places the Mamuralia on the Ides of March. This observance, which has aspects of scapegoat or ancient Greek pharmakos ritual, involved beating an old man dressed in animal skins and perhaps driving him from the city. The ritual may have been a new year festival representing the expulsion of the old year.

In the later Imperial period, the Ides of March began a “holy week” of festivals for Cybele and Attis. The Ides was the day of Canna intrat (“The Reed enters”), when Attis was born and exposed as an infant among the reeds of a Phrygian river. He was discovered—depending on the version of the narrative—by either shepherds or the goddess Cybele, who was also known as the Magna Mater, “Great Mother.” A week later, on 22 March, the day of Arbor intrat (“The Tree enters”) commemorated the death of Attis under a pine tree. A college of priests called “tree bearers” cut down a tree, suspended from it an image of Attis, and carried it to the temple of the Magna Mater with lamentations. The day was formalized as part of the official Roman calendar under Claudius. A three-day period of mourning followed, culminating with the rebirth of Attis on 25 March, the date of the vernal equinox on the Julian calendar.

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Nowadays people remember the Ides of March as the day Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE.  Tensions had been mounting in the senate for some time because Caesar seemed to be intent on dismantling the democratic foundations of the Roman Republic which had been in place for hundreds of years. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy with a revolt against the last king Tarquin the Proud, traditionally dated around 509 BCE, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and advised by a senate. A complex constitution gradually developed, centered on the principles of a separation of powers and checks and balances. Except in times of dire national emergency, public offices were limited to one year, so that, in theory at least, no single individual wielded absolute power over his fellow citizens. When consuls left the senate after a year they were required to leave Rome and take up a governorship in one of the provinces.

During his early career, Caesar had seen how chaotic and dysfunctional the Roman Republic had become. The republican machinery had broken down under the weight of imperialism, the central government had become powerless, the provinces had been transformed into independent principalities under the absolute control of their governors, and the army had replaced the constitution as the means of accomplishing political goals. With a weak central government, political corruption had spiraled out of control, and the status quo had been maintained by a corrupt aristocracy, which saw no need to change a system that had made its members rich.

In the 50’s BCE Caesar had built up a strong army in the provinces and had vastly expanded Roman territories in the Western parts of Europe – notable Gaul. He had even invaded Britain although he could not sustain a Roman province there. By 49 BCE he was determined to return to Rome with his army and seize power.  The momentous occasion occurred in 49 BCE when he crossed the Rubicon river, the traditional boundary separating Rome from the provinces.  Once he was in Roman territory with an army it was clear that he was going to take power and could not turn back.  Hence “crossing the Rubicon” now means making a decisive and irreversible move. Between his crossing of the Rubicon  and his assassination in 44 BCE, Caesar established a new constitution, which was intended to accomplish three separate goals. First, he wanted to suppress all armed resistance out in the provinces so that what he did could not be repeated, and thus bring order back to the empire. Second, he wanted to create a strong central government in Rome. Finally, he wanted to knit together the entire empire into a single cohesive unit.

Biographers describe tension between Caesar and the Senate, and his possible claims to the title of king. These events were the principal motive for Caesar’s assassination. The Senate named Caesar dictator perpetuo (“dictator in perpetuity”). Roman mints produced a denarius coin with this title and his likeness on one side, and with an image of the goddess Ceres and Caesar’s title of Augur Pontifex Maximus on the reverse. While minting the title of dictator was not controversial, Caesar’s image was, as it was unusual to feature living consuls and other public officials on coins during the Republic.

According to Cassius Dio, a senatorial delegation went to inform Caesar of new honors they had bestowed upon him in 44 BC. Caesar received them while sitting in the Temple of Venus Genetrix, rather than rising to meet them (sitting being symbolic of kingship). Suetonius wrote (almost 150 years later) that Caesar failed to rise in the temple, either because he was restrained by Cornelius Balbus or that he balked at the suggestion he should rise. Suetonius also gave the account of a crowd assembled to greet Caesar upon his return to Rome. A member of the crowd placed a laurel wreath on the statue of Caesar on the Rostra. The tribunes Gaius Epidius Marcellus and Lucius Caesetius Flavus ordered that the wreath be removed as it was a symbol of Jupiter and royalty. Caesar had the tribunes removed from office through his official powers.According to Suetonius, he was unable to dissociate himself from the royal title from this point forward. Suetonius also gives the story that a crowd shouted to him rex (“king”), to which Caesar replied, “I am Caesar, not Rex”. Also, at the festival of the Lupercalia, while he gave a speech from the Rostra, Mark Antony, who had been elected co-consul with Caesar, attempted to place a crown on his head several times. Caesar put it aside to use as a sacrifice to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

Plutarch and Suetonius are similar in their depiction of these events, but Dio combines the stories writing that the tribunes arrested the citizens who placed diadems or wreaths on statues of Caesar. He then places the crowd shouting “rex” on the Alban Hill with the tribunes arresting a member of this crowd as well. The plebeian protested that he was unable to speak his mind freely. Caesar then brought the tribunes before the senate and put the matter to a vote, thereafter removing them from office and erasing their names from the records.

Suetonius adds that Lucius Cotta proposed to the Senate that Caesar should be granted the title of “king” for it was prophesied that only a king would conquer Parthia. Caesar intended to invade Parthia, a task that later gave considerable trouble to Mark Antony during the second triumvirate.

His many titles and honors from the Senate were ultimately merely that, honorary. Caesar continually strove for more power to govern, with as little dependence as possible on honorary titles or Senate. The placating ennobling of Caesar did not allay ultimate confrontation, as the Senate was still the authority, granting to Caesar his titles. Formal power resided in them, in tension with Caesar.

Brutus

Brutus

Cassius

Cassius

Brutus began to conspire against Caesar with his friend and brother-in-law Gaius Cassius Longinus and other men, calling themselves the Liberatores (“Liberators”). Many plans were discussed by the group, as documented by Nicolaus of Damascus:

The conspirators never met exactly openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each other’s homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favorite walks. Another idea was to do it at the elections, during which he had to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius. Someone proposed that they draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that was, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen. The majority opinion, however, favored killing him while he sat in the Senate. He would be there by himself, since only Senators were admitted, and the conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.

Nicolaus writes that in the days leading up to the assassination, Caesar was told by doctors, friends, and even his wife, Calpurnia, not to attend the Senate on the Ides for various reasons, including medical concerns and troubling dreams Calpurnia had had:

…his friends were alarmed at certain rumors and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, ‘What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honored you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.’ This swayed Caesar and he left.

Caesar had been preparing to invade the Parthian Empire (a campaign later taken up by his successor, Mark Antony) and planned to leave for the East in the latter half of March. This forced a timetable on to the conspirators. Two days before the actual assassination, Cassius met with the conspirators and told them that, should anyone discover the plan, they were to turn their knives on themselves. His successors did attempt the conquests of Parthia and Germania, but without lasting results.

On the Ides of March of 44 BCE, the conspirators staged a gladiatorial games at Pompey’s theatre. The gladiators were provided by Decimus Brutus in case their services were needed. They waited in the great hall of the theatre’s quadriportico. Mark Antony, having vaguely learned of the plot the night before from a terrified Liberator named Servilius Casca, and fearing the worst, went to head Caesar off at the steps of the forum. However, the group of senators intercepted Caesar just as he was passing the Theatre of Pompey, located in the Campus Martius (now adjacent to the Largo di Torre Argentina), and directed him to a room adjoining the east portico.

Casca

Casca

According to Plutarch, as Caesar arrived at the Senate, Lucius Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition to recall his exiled brother. The other conspirators crowded round to offer their support. Both Plutarch and Suetonius say that Caesar waved him away, but Cimber grabbed Caesar’s shoulders and pulled down Caesar’s tunic. Caesar then cried to Cimber, “This is violence!” (“Ista quidem vis est!”). At the same time, Casca produced his dagger and made a glancing thrust at the dictator’s neck. Caesar turned around quickly and caught Casca by the arm. According to Plutarch, he said in Latin, “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Casca, frightened, shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek (“adelphe, boethei”). Within moments, the entire group, including Brutus, was striking out at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away, but, blinded by blood, he tripped and fell; the men continued stabbing him as he lay defenseless on the lower steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, around 60 or more men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Suetonius relates that a physician who performed an autopsy on Caesar established that only one wound (the second one to his chest) had been fatal. This autopsy report (the earliest known post-mortem report in history) describes that Caesar’s death was mostly attributable to blood loss from the multiple stab wounds.

The dictator’s last words are a contested subject among scholars and historians and people alike. Suetonius reports that others have said Caesar’s last words were the Greek phrase “καὶ σύ, τέκνον” (transliterated as “Kai su, teknon?”: “You too, my son?” in English). However, Suetonius himself says Caesar said nothing. But Suetonius was writing in 122 AD about events on March 15, 44 BCE. Plutarch also reports that Caesar said nothing, pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators. The version best known in the English-speaking world is the Latin phrase “Et tu, Brute?” (“You too, Brutus?”); this derives from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1599), where it actually forms the first half of a macaronic line: “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” It has no basis in historical fact, and Shakespeare’s use of Latin here is not from any assumption that Caesar would have been using the language, but because the phrase was already popular at the time the play was written.

According to Plutarch, after the assassination, Brutus stepped forward as if to say something to his fellow senators not involved in the plot; they, however, fled the building. Brutus and his companions then marched to the Capitol while crying out to the city: “People of Rome, we are once again free!” They were met with silence, as the citizens of Rome had locked themselves inside their houses as soon as the rumor of what had taken place had begun to spread. Caesar’s dead body lay where it fell on the Senate floor for nearly three hours before other officials arrived to remove it.

A wax statue of Caesar was erected in the Forum displaying the 23 stab wounds. A crowd who had amassed there started a fire, which badly damaged neighboring buildings. In the ensuing years a series of civil wars resulted with the end of the Republic and the rise of imperial Rome under Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, who took the imperial name, Augustus.  The supreme irony, therefore, is that the conspirators, while trying to maintain the republic, ended up causing its demise.

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This is a recipe for saffron chickpeas that is alluded to several times in ancient literature, and Apicius provides a recipe in De Re Coquinaria. (See here too)  It originated in ancient Greece but was apparently quite popular in Rome for several centuries.  This is my adaptation of Apicius.  I decided to mash the end product because I am currently in a phase of serving fried fish on something mashed.  This dish would be at home in ancient Rome because fried fish was very popular.

© Saffron Chickpeas

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Combine in a large saucepan 14 ozs/400g of dried chickpeas, ½ cup olive oil, ½ tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tbsp ground coriander. Cover with light stock and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook the chickpeas until they are very tender (about 3 hours).  Top up the stock as necessary.

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Towards the end of the cooking process let the liquid reduce and add ¼ tsp of powdered saffron.

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Mash with a fork or use a food processor. I use a fork because I like the mash to retain some texture.

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Use as a base for meat or fish, or serve as a side dish.