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.

 

Nov 242015
 

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Today is the birthday (1864) of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa usually known as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator whose immersion in the colorful and theatrical life of Paris in the late 19th century yielded a collection of exciting, elegant and provocative images of the modern and sometimes decadent life of those times. He is among the best-known painters of the Post-Impressionist period, much of his work instantly recognizable.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born at the Hotel du Bosc in Albi, Tarn in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France, the firstborn child of Comte Alphonse Charles de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa (1838–1913) and wife Adèle Zoë Tapié de Celeyran (1841–1930). His aristocratic family were descendants of the Counts of Toulouse and Lautrec and the Viscounts of Montfat. A younger brother was born in 1867, but died the following year. After the death of his brother, his parents separated and a nanny ended up taking care of him. At the age of eight, Henri went to live with his mother in Paris where he drew sketches and caricatures in his exercise workbooks. The family quickly realized that Henri’s talents lay in drawing and painting.

At the age of 13, Toulouse-Lautrec fractured his right thigh bone and, at 14, the left. The breaks did not heal properly and his legs ceased to grow, so that as an adult he was extremely short – he stood 4 ft 8 in (1.42 m) – with an adult-sized trunk and child-sized legs. Because he was physically unable to participate in many activities typically enjoyed by men of his age, Toulouse-Lautrec immersed himself in art. He became an important Post-Impressionist painter, art nouveau illustrator, and lithographer, and recorded in his works many details of the late-19th-century bohemian lifestyle in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec contributed a number of illustrations to the magazine Le Rire during the mid-1890s.

After initially failing college entrance exams, he passed at his second attempt and completed his studies. During a stay in Nice his progress in painting and drawing impressed Princeteau, who persuaded his parents to let him return to Paris and study under the acclaimed portrait painter Léon Bonnat. Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother had high ambitions and, with the aim of her son becoming a fashionable and respected painter, used the family influence to get him into Bonnat’s studio.

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Toulouse-Lautrec was drawn to Montmartre, the area of Paris famous for its bohemian lifestyle and the haunt of artists, writers, and philosophers. Studying with Bonnat placed him in the heart of Montmartre, an area he rarely left over the next 20 years. After Bonnat took a new job, Henri moved to the studio of Fernand Cormon in 1882 and studied for a further five years and established the group of friends he kept for the rest of his life. At this time he met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Cormon, whose instruction was more relaxed than Bonnat’s, allowed his pupils to roam Paris, looking for subjects to paint. In this period Toulouse-Lautrec had his first encounter with a prostitute (reputedly sponsored by his friends), which led him to paint his first painting of prostitutes in Montmartre, a woman rumored to be called Marie-Charlet. During this time, he discovered the intimate relations many of these sex workers had with one another. Depictions of these relationships become a focus of his work for a brief period.

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With his studies finished, in 1887 he participated in an exposition in Toulouse using the pseudonym “Tréclau”, the verlan of the family name ‘Lautrec’. He later exhibited in Paris with Van Gogh and Louis Anquetin. The Belgian critic Octave Maus invited him to present eleven pieces at the Vingt (the Twenties) exhibition in Brussels in February. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, bought ‘Poudre de Riz’ (Rice Powder) for 150 francs for the Goupil & Cie gallery.

From 1889 until 1894, Toulouse-Lautrec took part in the “Independent Artists’ Salon” on a regular basis. He made several landscapes of Montmartre. At this time the ‘Moulin Rouge’ opened. Tucked deep into Montmartre was the garden of Monsieur Pere Foret, where Toulouse-Lautrec executed a series of plein-air paintings of Carmen Gaudin, the same red-headed model who appears in The Laundress (1888). When the Moulin Rouge cabaret opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to produce a series of posters. His mother had left Paris and, though he had a regular income from his family, making posters offered him a living of his own. Other artists looked down on the work, but Toulouse-Lautrec ignored them. The cabaret reserved a seat for him and displayed his paintings. Among the well-known works that he painted for the Moulin Rouge and other Parisian nightclubs are depictions of the singer Yvette Guilbert; the dancer Louise Weber, known as the outrageous La Goulue (“The Glutton”), who created the “French Can-Can”; and the much more subtle dancer Jane Avril.

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Toulouse-Lautrec’s family were Anglophiles and although not as fluent as he pretended to be, he spoke English well enough to travel to London. While there, he was commissioned by the J.& E. Bella company to make a poster advertising their confetti, (which was later banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras) and the bicycle advert ‘La Chaîne Simpson’. While in London he met and befriended Oscar Wilde. When Wilde faced imprisonment in Britain, Toulouse-Lautrec became a very vocal supporter of his. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of Wilde was painted the same year as Wilde’s trial.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Le chaîne Simpson, 1896 Litografi, affisch 87,6 x 124,7 cm   Kunstindustrimuseet, Köpenhamn

He is reputed to have started drinking heavily because of mockery over his physical appearance, eventually becoming addicted to absinthe. The cocktail “Earthquake” or Tremblement de Terre is attributed to Toulouse-Lautrec: a potent mixture containing half absinthe and half cognac (in a wine goblet, three parts absinthe and three parts cognac, sometimes served with ice cubes or shaken in a cocktail shaker filled with ice). To ensure he was never without alcohol, Toulouse-Lautrec hollowed out his cane (which he needed to walk due to his underdeveloped legs) which he filled with liquor.

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By February 1899, Toulouse-Lautrec’s alcoholism began to take its toll, and he collapsed due to exhaustion and the effects of alcoholism. His family had him committed to Folie Saint-James, a sanatorium in Neuilly for three months. While he was committed, Toulouse-Lautrec drew 39 circus portraits. After his release, Toulouse-Lautrec returned to Paris studio for a time and then traveled throughout France. His physical and mental health began to decline rapidly due to alcoholism and syphilis which he reportedly contracted from Rosa La Rouge, a prostitute who was the subject of several of his paintings.

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On 9 September 1901, he died from complications due to alcoholism and syphilis at the family estate, Château Malromé, in Saint-André-du-Bois at the age of 36. He is buried in Cimetière de Verdelais, Gironde, a few kilometres from his family’s estate. Toulouse-Lautrec’s last words reportedly were: “Le vieux con!” (“The old fool!”). This was his goodbye to his father. Although in another version he used the word “hallali”, a term used by huntsmen for the moment the hounds kill their prey, “I knew, papa, that you wouldn’t miss the death.” (“Je savais, papa, que vous ne manqueriez pas l’hallali”).

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Besides being a renowned artist Toulouse-Lautrec was noted for his adventurous cooking and lavish dinner parties. You can find many of his recipes collected in The Art of Cuisine. Poet Paul Leclercq wrote, “He was a great gourmand… He loved to talk about cooking and knew of many rare recipes for making the most standard dishes… Cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours or preparing a lobster à l’Américaine held no secrets for him.” He enjoyed both outlandish cooking techniques and unusual ingredients. For example, one recipe calls for three sirloin steaks which you slather with Dijon mustard, pile one on top of the other on a grill heated by a vine wood fire, and cook until the outsides are blackened. Then throw away the top and bottom steaks and eat the one in the middle. His recipes call for heron, squirrel, kangaroo, and the like.

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This is perhaps his most famous recipe:

Stewed Marmots

 Having killed some marmots sunning themselves belly up in the sun with their noses in the air one sunrise in September, skin them and carefully put aside the mass of fat which is excellent for rubbing into the bellies of pregnant women, into the knees, ankles, and painful joints of sprains, and into the leather of shoes.

Cut up the marmot and treat it like stewed hare which has a perfume that is unique and wild.

For the less adventurous, here is his sole with white wine.

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500g/1lb whole Dover sole
knob of butter
500g/8oz mushrooms, sliced
500g/8oz shelled shrimp
6-8 cockles
12-16 mussels
120ml/4fl oz white wine
breadcrumbs
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

In a well-buttered, enameled earthenware dish lay out a handsome sole, belly upwards. Dot with butter. Garnish with mushrooms sautéed in butter, half a pound of shelled shrimp, a litre of mussels, half a litre of cockles – previously well washed, cooked and removed from their shells.

Reserve the liquid from the mussels to boil with the shrimp shells and some water to create a stock. Pour a good glass of white wine over the sole and then cover with the strained stock. Put it on the fire and let it simmer uncovered for 20 to 40 minutes, according to the size of the sole, and let the sauce reduce. At the last moment, dot the sole with butter, sprinkle with breadcrumbs worked with parsley, salt, pepper; use very little salt because of the salted liquid of the mussels.

Jul 192013
 

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Nero

Nero

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Today marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Fire of Rome.  The origins of the fire and its course have been the subject of considerable controversy because there were only two eye witnesses who have written anything about it: the historian Tacitus, who was 9 years old at the time, and Pliny the Elder who mentions it in passing (using it merely as a benchmark to indicate the age of some trees). The account by Tacitus is riveting and detailed but archeology has not entirely borne out his account, and there has to be a question, given his age at the time, concerning the degree to which what he writes is based on what he saw versus what others saw and he heard about. Clearly his account is drawn from other eyewitnesses, probably in the main. All other accounts of the fire were written by people who were not there at the time, and in many key points conflict with Tacitus.

I thought for a change of pace I might give Tacitus’ account in its entirety (Loeb translation):

Tacitus Annals XV

38 There followed a disaster, whether due to chance or to the malice of the sovereign (Nero) is uncertain — for each version has its sponsors — but graver and more terrible than any other which has befallen this city by the ravages of fire. It took its rise in the part of the Circus touching the Palatine and Caelian Hills; where, among the shops packed with inflammable goods, the conflagration broke out, gathered strength in the same moment, and, impelled by the wind, swept the full length of the Circus: for there were neither mansions screened by boundary walls, nor temples surrounded by stone enclosures, nor obstructions of any description, to bar its progress. The flames, which in full career overran the level districts first, then shot up to the heights, and sank again to harry the lower parts, kept ahead of all remedial measures, the mischief travelling fast, and the town being an easy prey owing to the narrow, twisting lanes and formless streets typical of old Rome. In addition, shrieking and terrified women; fugitives stricken or immature in years; men consulting their own safety or the safety of others, as they dragged the infirm along or paused to wait for them, combined by their dilatoriness or their haste to impede everything. Often, while they glanced back to the rear, they were attacked on the flanks or in front; or, if they had made their escape into a neighboring quarter, that also was involved in the flames, and even districts which they had believed remote from danger were found to be in the same plight. At last, irresolute what to avoid or what to seek, they crowded into the roads or threw themselves down in the fields: some who had lost the whole of their means — their daily bread included — chose to die, though the way of escape was open, and were followed by others, through love for the relatives whom they had proved unable to rescue. None ventured to combat the fire, as there were reiterated threats from a large number of persons who forbade extinction, and others were openly throwing firebrands and shouting that “they had their authority” — possibly in order to have a freer hand in looting, possibly from orders received.

39 Nero, who at the time was staying in Antium, did not return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the Gardens of Maecenas. It proved impossible, however, to stop it from engulfing both the Palatine and the house and all their surroundings. Still, as a relief to the homeless and fugitive populace, he opened the Campus Martius, the buildings of Agrippa, even his own Gardens, and threw up a number of extemporized shelters to accommodate the helpless multitude. The necessities of life were brought up from Ostia and the neighboring municipalities, and the price of grain was lowered to three sesterces. Yet his measures, popular as their character might be, failed of their effect; for the report had spread that, at the very moment when Rome was aflame, he had mounted his private stage, and typifying the ills of the present by the calamities of the past, had sung the destruction of Troy.

40 Only on the sixth day, was the conflagration brought to an end at the foot of the Esquiline, by demolishing the buildings over a vast area and opposing to the unabated fury of the flames a clear tract of ground and an open horizon. But fear had not yet been laid aside, nor had hope yet returned to the people, when the fire resumed its ravages; in the less congested parts of the city, however; so that, while the toll of human life was not so great, the destruction of temples and of porticoes dedicated to pleasure was on a wider scale. The second fire produced the greater scandal of the two, as it had broken out on Aemilian property of Tigellinus and appearances suggested that Nero was seeking the glory of founding a new capital and endowing it with his own name. Rome, in fact, is divided into fourteen regions, of which four remained intact, while three were laid level with the ground: in the other seven nothing survived but a few dilapidated and half-burned relics of houses.

41 It would not be easy to attempt an estimate of the private dwellings, tenement-blocks, and temples, which were lost; but the flames consumed, in their old-world sanctity, the great altar and chapel of the Arcadian Evander to the Present Hercules, the shrine of Jupiter Stator vowed by Romulus, the Palace of Numa, and the holy place of Vesta with the Penates of the Roman people. To these must be added the precious trophies won upon so many fields, the glories of Greek art, and yet again the primitive and uncorrupted memorials of literary genius; so that, despite the striking beauty of the re-arisen city, the older generation recollects much that it proved impossible to replace. There were those who noted that the first outbreak of the fire took place on the nineteenth of July, the anniversary of the capture and burning of Rome by the Senones: others have pushed their researches so far as to resolve the interval between the two fires into equal numbers of years, of months, and of days.

42 However, Nero turned to account the ruins of his fatherland by building a palace, the marvels of which were to consist not so much in gems and gold, materials long familiar and vulgarized by luxury, as in fields and lakes and the air of solitude given by wooded ground alternating with clear tracts and open landscapes. The architects and engineers were Severus and Celer, who had the ingenuity and the courage to try the force of art even against the veto of nature and to fritter away the resources of a Caesar. They had undertaken to sink a navigable canal running from Lake Avernus to the mouths of the Tiber along a desolate shore or through intervening hills; for the one district along the route moist enough to yield a supply of water is the Pomptine Marsh; the rest being cliff and sand, which could be cut through, if at all, only by intolerable exertions for which no sufficient motive existed. Nonetheless, Nero, with his passion for the incredible, made an effort to tunnel the height nearest the Avernus, and some evidences of that futile ambition survive.

43 In the capital, however, the districts spared by the palace were rebuilt, not, as after the Gallic fire, indiscriminately and piecemeal, but in measured lines of streets, with broad thoroughfares, buildings of restricted height, and open spaces, while colonnades were added as a protection to the front of the tenement-blocks. These colonnades Nero offered to erect at his own expense, and also to hand over the building-sites, clear of rubbish, to the owners. He made a further offer of rewards, proportioned to the rank and resources of the various claimants, and fixed a term within which houses or blocks of tenement must be completed, if the bounty was to be secured. As the receptacle of the refuse he settled upon the Ostian Marshes, and gave orders that vessels which had carried grain up the Tiber must run down-stream laden with débris. The buildings themselves, to an extent definitely specified, were to be solid, untimbered structures of Gabine or Alban stone, that particular stone being proof against fire. Again, there was to be a guard to ensure that the water-supply — intercepted by private lawlessness — should be available for public purposes in greater quantities and at more points; appliances for checking fire were to be kept by everyone in the open; there were to be no joint partitions between buildings, but each was to be surrounded by its own walls. These reforms, welcomed for their utility, were also beneficial to the appearance of the new capital. Still, there were those who held that the old form had been the more salubrious, as the narrow streets and high-built houses were not so easily penetrated by the rays of the sun; while now the broad expanses, with no protecting shadows, glowed under a more oppressive heat.

To my mind Tacitus is being fairly even handed here towards Nero, and has clearly done his homework about the course of the fire and its aftermath.  He points out, for example, that Nero opened up his own lands for the homeless and organized shelters for them, quickly brought in food supplies, and kept the price of wheat low so that people could eat.  Yet Tacitus also acknowledges that many people thought Nero started the fire in order to remodel the city featuring a gigantic palace and estate for his own pleasure.  He is skeptical about Nero “fiddling while Rome burned” (it would have been the lyre), and seems to believe that the rebuilt city is more glorious than the old one, whilst acknowledging that some older people preferred the way it used to be.  I find it a most compelling and complex account.

We know a fair bit about classical Roman foodways from multiple descriptions of meals, banquets, and so forth in contemporary writings.  We even have a cookbook, of sorts, from the late empire (4th to 5th century), De Re Coquinaria (“On the Subject of Cooking”) by an anonymous author given the pseudonym Caelius Apicius. The recipes are very short and not enough in themselves to reconstruct the original.

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Here is one:

IX. In mitulis: liquamen, porrum concisum, cuminum, passum, satureiam, vinum, mixtum facies aquatius et ibi mitulos coques.

9. Mussels: liquamen, chopped leeks, cumin, passum, savory, wine. Dilute the mixture with water, and boil the mussels in it.

This reminds me an awful lot of the classic French Mediterranean dish moules marinières, so I think it is easy enough to make something of it along those lines.  Two ingredients need explaining.  Liquamen was a ubiquitous seasoning.  It was a sauce made from fermented fish, and was used primarily for its salt content.  You’ll see it in Apicius as often as salt in modern recipes. As a substitute you can use a SE Asian fish sauce such as the Vietnamese n??c m?m (nuoc-mam). If you have nothing else you can just use salt to taste without great harm done. Passum was a sweet white wine, a variety of which, vino santo, is still produced in Italy. The cumin adds a surprising twist to a classic dish. I prefer to eat this dish with my fingers as the Romans would have done. One useful tip is to eat the mussel from a nice springy shell and then use the empty shell like tweezers to remove the meat from the others. Use bread like a sponge to sop up the sauce.

Mitules in genere Romanae (Mussels in the Roman manner)

1.5kg (3 ¼ lb) or 4 liters (7 pints) mussels
1 leek, white part sliced in thin rings
½ cup (100 ml) dry white wine
½ cup (100 ml) vino santo or sweet white wine
1 cup (200 ml) water
1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh savory (divided in two)
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp liquamen substitute

Instructions:

Wash the mussels in plenty of cold water. Scrape away any barnacles with a short-bladed knife as best you can without damaging the shell. Pull off all the beards and wash the mussels again. Discard any that are open and do not close when tapped sharply.

Take a large lidded pot that is big enough to hold all the mussels. Add the mussels, liquids, leek, cumin, and half the savory, and set over high heat, tightly covered. Turn the mussels over every now and then as they start to open. Keep the lid on the pot in between turning them. When they are all open, remove the pot from the heat and leave for 30 seconds or so to let all the grit settle.

Scoop out the mussels with a slotted spoon and divide them between four large, deep soup plates. Pour all the juices from the pan over the mussels, but pour gently and stop before the last tablespoon, which will be gritty. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped savory over the mussels and serve.

Good crusty bread is a must.  The Romans ate sourdough bread made with a mix of two different flours.

Serves 4