Jul 152016
 

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According to Roman historians (most notably, Livy), the first temple to Castor and Pollux in ancient Rome was dedicated on this day in 484 BCE. It was originally built in gratitude for victory at the Battle of Lake Regillus. Castor and Pollux, the twins of Gemini (Dioscuri), sons of Zeus/Jupiter and Leda were believed to have played a role in the battle. Their cult came to Rome from Greece via Magna Graecia and the Greek culture of Southern Italy.

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Both Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus state the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), and his allies, the Latins, waged war on the infant Roman Republic some time around 496 BCE. Historical details are a bit cloudy and mixed with legend. Supposedly, Tarquin had been expelled as king in 509 BCE and a republic established. The battle of Lake Regillus was his last ditch effort to regain his throne. Before the battle, the Roman dictator Aulus Postumius Albus Regillensis vowed to build a temple to the Dioscuri if the Republic were victorious. According to legend Castor and Pollux appeared on the battlefield as two able horsemen in aid of the Republic, and after the battle had been won they again appeared in the Forum in Rome watering their horses at the Spring of Juturna and announcing the victory. The temple was built on the supposed spot of their appearance. One of Postumius’ sons was elected duumvir (magistrate) in order to dedicate the temple on 15 July (the ides of July) 484 BC.

In Republican times the temple served as a meeting place for the Roman Senate, and from the middle of the 2nd century BCE the front of the podium served as a speaker’s platform. During the imperial period the temple housed the office for weights and measures, and was a depository for the state treasury.

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The archaic temple was completely reconstructed and enlarged in 117 BCE by Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus after his victory over the Dalmatians. Gaius Verres restored this second temple in 73 BCE. In 14 BCE a fire that ravaged major parts of the forum destroyed the temple, and Tiberius, the son of Augustus by a previous marriage of Livia and the eventual heir to the throne, rebuilt it. Tiberius’ temple was dedicated in 6 CE. The remains visible today are from the temple of Tiberius, except the podium, which is from the time of Metellus.

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The temple was probably already falling apart in the 4th century CE, when a wall in front of the Lacus Juturnae was erected from reused material. Nothing is known of its subsequent history, except that in the 15th century only three columns of its original structure were still standing. The street running by the building was called via Trium Columnarum (three columns street).

In 1760, the Conservatori, finding the columns in a state of imminent collapse, erected scaffolding to effect repairs. Both Piranesi and the young English architect George Dance the Younger were able to climb up and make accurate measurements. Dance reported to his father that he had “a Model cast from the finest Example of the Corinthian order perhaps in the whole World.”

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Today the podium survives without the facing, as do the three columns and a piece of the entablature, one of the most famous features in the Forum. Originally the temple had eight Corinthian columns (octastyle) at the short sides and eleven on the long sides. There was a single cella (inner chamber) paved with mosaics. The podium measures 32 m × 49.5 m (105 ft × 162 ft) and 7 m (23 ft) in height. The building was constructed in opus caementicium (Roman cement) and originally covered with slabs of tuff (volcanic ash rock) which were later removed. According to ancient sources, the temple had a single central stairway to access the podium, but excavations have identified two side stairs.

I could provide another Roman recipe to celebrate the day but the sources are from the late imperial period at best and so are not especially relevant to the cuisine of the early Republic. Instead, I thought I’d be a little more creative. Gemini (Castor and Pollux) is an astrological sign and, as such, people born under this sign have been assigned traditional qualities. Among these qualities, which tend to be reasonably well agreed upon, are food suggestions, which are, at best, fanciful, and range far and wide depending on who you read. This list is far from definitive, but appeals to me for purely aesthetic reasons:

Meat: Poultry

Fruits: Apricots, Pomegranates

Vegetables: Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery

Nuts: Almonds, Brazil Nuts, Filberts, Pecans, Pistachios

Herbs & Spices: Anise, Cardamom, Chamomile, Chicory, Cinnamon, Citron, Cloves, Ginseng, Licorice, Maple, Nutmeg, Sage, Sarsaparilla, Sassafras, Saffron, Sesame, Spearmint, Thyme

There’s certainly plenty to choose from here. I decided to pick chicken and apricots as the main ingredient, flavored with thyme. If you wanted to spice it up a little you could use a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and saffron instead. Almonds could also be added. Whatever you choose, I suggest adding balsamic vinegar to contrast with the sweetness of the apricots. Such a balance of sweet and sour accords with ancient Roman recipes (although they would have used liquamen) and is also in keeping with the oppositional duality of Gemini.

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©Apricot Chicken

Ingredients

1 chicken (3 lbs) cut in 8 pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
20 small apricots, halved and pitted
½ cup apricot preserves
1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the chicken pieces to a golden brown on all sides. If necessary you can do this in batches.

Add the onion and balsamic vinegar to the chicken pieces and let the liquid reduce for about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, preserves, apricots, and thyme and stir to make sure everything is thoroughly mixed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer covered for 10 minutes, then uncover and let the sauce reduce. You can add a little cornstarch dissolved in water if the sauce is too thin, but reduction is a better option.

Serve with plain boiled white rice.

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