Apicius

From Academic Kids

Apicius was a name applied to three celebrated Roman epicures, the first of whom lived during the Republic; the second of whom, Marcus Gavius (or Gabius) Apicius—the most famous in his own time—lived under the early Empire; the third of whom, probably no relation, was the late 4th or early 5th century author of the one surviving Roman cookbook.

The famous "Apicius," M. Gavius Apicius, moved in the Imperial circle of Tiberius and his son Drusus (died AD 23) and was a close friend of Sejanus, according to Pliny's Natural History (Book 19:137) (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/19*.html#137). Pliny considered Apicius born to enjoy every extravagant luxury that could be contrived (ad omne luxus ingenium natus, in NH 9:66 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Pliny_the_Elder/9*.html#66)). According to Pliny, in his search for astounding delicacies (plates of nightingales' tongues and such), Apicius fed his pigs with dried figs and slaughtered them by means of overdoses of honeyed wine. If it is true that he had his geese force-fed with dried (figs?) and honey in order to enlarge their livers, this would indicate that the origins of foie gras are Greco-Roman, not French.

This Apicius invented various dishes and sauces in which refined delicacy was taken to eccentric extremes. According to Athenaeus (Deipn. I.7), having heard of the boasted size and sweetness of the shrimps taken near the Libyan coast, Apicius commandeered a boat and crew, but when he arrived, disappointed by the ones he was offered by the local fishermen, turned round and had his crew return him to Rome without going ashore. He is said to have kept a school, after the manner of a philosopher, to the disgust of the moralist Seneca (Consolatio ad Helviam) who saw him as a corrupter who infected the age with his example. But when Seneca links Apicius with the great literary patron and book collector Maecenas, the force of his diatribe in favor of the good old Roman ways is blunted for us.

Apicius is said to have written two books on cuisine, one (De condituriis) devoted to garum and other sauces, both fresh and fermented. The second one was aimed at the patron more than his cook, since it must have included more complicated recipes, to judge from the elaborate dishes denoted Apiciani ("in the style of Apicius") in the late 4th-century recipe repertory that we do have. In such "Apician" cuisine, complicated preparation were combined with rare ingredients like "a pinch of silphium," an herb from Libya that is now actually extinct, pepper and cassia (cinnamon), which came from India in the Red Sea trade that was also bringing frankincense. This Greek-derived luxury cuisine of the ancient world kept itself as remote as possible from the commonplace cooking of fresh, salted and dried local ingredients, used according to the season. The remnants of Apicius' cookbook might possibly form the nucleus of the later one that has survived.

Such pursuits for an upper-class Roman were considered so demeaning in the eyes of his contemporaries (and so scandalous to the ascetic Church fathers who succeeded to their position) that a legend grew up that, though he lived in the lap of luxury, with a more than comfortable fortune, he impoverished himself through his culinary extravagances to such an extent, that he became haunted enough by the fear of practically starving to death, —to poison himself to escape such a fate. The reader is cautioned to take this legend cum grano salis.

The well-known collection of Roman recipes for cooking that has been alluded to, in ten very brief little books, entitled De re coquinaria, ("The Art of Cooking") is of later date, the late 4th or early 5th century AD, written in a debased Latin that the epicure would have not approved and is conventionally attributed to one otherwise unknown "Caelius Apicius." It is likely that the real title was Caelii Apicius i.e. "the Apicius of Caelius". It shows that, like most of the sophisticated luxuries in Roman culture, Roman haute cuisine was founded on Greek originals.

The ten books are divided like modern cookbooks:

  1. Epimeles - The Chef
  2. Sarcoptes - Meats
  3. Cepuros - From the garden
  4. Pandecter - Various dishes
  5. Ospreos - Peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  6. Aeropetes - Fowl
  7. Polyteles - Fowl
  8. Tetrapus - Quadrupeds
  9. Thalassa - Seafood
  10. Halieus - Fish

Appended to the ten books is a very abbreviated epitome Apici Excerpta a Vinidario a "pocket Apicius" by a certain Vinidarius, made in the 5th century.

Once manuscripts surfaced, there were two early printed editions of Apicius, in Milan (1498) and Venice (1500). But in the flood of heavy tomes of pagan and Christian antiquity, it was delightful to read a Roman cookbook. Four more editions in the next four decades reflect the appeal of Apicius. In the long-standard edition of C. T. Schuch (Heidelberg, 1867), the editor added some recipes from a manuscript of the 7th century in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. The modern standard edition is by Mary Ella Milham (see link).

External links

fr:Marcus Gavius Apicius it:Apicio la:Apicius

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