[Sca-cooks] roman feast / Apicius

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Thu Mar 20 18:04:07 PDT 2008

In this message i will be referring to information in:
"Apicius: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and English Translation"
by Christopher Grocock and Sally Grainger
Prospect Books (Totnes, Devon, Great Britain, 2006)
which i will call G&G

Let me remind folks that one can purchase both G&G's "Apicius" 
($80/L40) and Sally's "Cooking Apicius" ($19.95/L10) from Oxbow Books 
(UK) / David Brown Book Co (US) for $75/L40. Such a deal!

I wrote:
>>Going from memory here, ISTR that Vehling was using a very redacted 
>>(in the true sense) manuscript from the 15th? 16th? century. In 
>>other words, he was not using the oldest available source, but one 
>>which had undergone many changes over the centuries.

Emilio questioned:
>Could you please try to recall or to look up where you got this?

G&G critique Vehling briefly on p. 122: "Vehling may have been an 
excellent chef but his understanding of ancient cooking was defective 
in many ways and - despite the effusive testimonial to his ability 
which prefaces his work - his Latin was, to say the least, extremely 
limited. [in a footnote here they say they agree with F&R's 
assessment]. Vehling's interpretation is hampered by a complete 
misunderstanding as to the nature of garum and liquimen" (Vehling 
assumed they were anchovy paste, not the salty liquid they are)... He 
was also imbued with classical French cooking and attempted to 
understand the recipes by relating them to dishes familiar to him 
from French cooking. This of course led him up a great many false 
avenues of conjecture." No specific example is given here, but IIRC, 
he uses roux - i don't own Vehling so i cannot check. "His work was 
based on an eclectic text drawn at random from Torinus [1541], Lister 
[1709], and Giarratano-Vollmer [1922] with little or no critical 
judgment in evidence." Previously on p. 121 G&G had commented that 
the Giarratano-Vollmer edition "shows a preference for correcting 
what was considered 'barbarous' in the two principal manuscripts 
rather than accepting the validity of some of the readings where they 
do not conform to 'classical' norms."

They also critique Flower and Rosenbaum, although more kindly, on pp. 
122-123, saying they were limited because they were doing their work 
in a post-WWII British context and without the knowledge of 
Mediterranean cooking which "was to burst on the scene on the UK in 
the early 1960s under the influence of Elizabeth David. Flower and 
Rosenbaum were also somewhat in awe of Brandt and accepted his 
theories on the origin and date of the text without question." (p. 

Then they critique "The Roman Cookery of Apicius", 1984, by John 
Edwards (not the US politician) on p. 123, commenting that he went 
wrong much like Vehling with garum/liquamen: "He gives a 'fish 
pickle' recipe which is so far from the true nature of liquamen to be 
within the realms of fantasy," and that "he recommended many bizarre 
and entirely unsuitable substitutions..." And they conclude with: 
"his recipes... unfortunately... barely have a passing resemblance to 
Roman food."

>>The original manuscript is not in Classical Latin, which is what 
>>most people study
>  Which manuscript are you speaking about? Which one do you
>  consider the "original" one. The one in the New York
>  Academy of Medicine (ninth century), the one in the
>  Vatican library (ninth century) or the one in Paris (eighth
>  century). Certainly, there must have been older
>  manuscripts now lost.

I confess that when i said "original manuscript" i was not referring 
to some ur-Apicius, but the oldest known manuscript containing these 
recipes. I said it badly, and i thank you for taking me to task on 
this loose remark.

G&G say on p. 13: "The recipe text known as 'Apicius' is the sole 
survivor of a process of collecting recipes which began long before 
it reached the form in which we know it, and which certainly 
continued for a long time afterwards. It is certainly not the work of 
one author..." So in one sense, there is no original text - the 
recipe were collected from a number of texts, which F&R also believed.

G&G go on, "We can however be sure that the recipes were initially 
and primarily the work of cooks. The majority of recipes are written 
in a style and with a vocabulary that belongs to cooks alone... In 
order both to create and to understand the kind of recipes that 
survive in 'Apicius', hands-on culinary skills are a prerequisite. It 
is simply not possible to theorize a recipe without testing it, and 
this needs skill and experience."

On page 14, "The majority of surviving (or reported) literature about 
food in the ancient world appears to be narrative based...'Apicius' 
consists almost entirely of lists of recipes without a voice. Such a 
narrative-free collection is much more suited to the use of cooks and 
cookery schools than to that of gourmets..." [as some have surmised 
when believing it or its core to be the work of the historical 
gourmet/gourmand Apicius].

They go on to speculate that it is possible that it was "'informally' 
copied and distributed for many years among cooks and cookery schools 
before possibly being appropriated by the literary establishment, 
either in part or in full, for use in general cookery books compiled 
and distributed by the literary elite." (p. 15)

They point out that the "Excerpta Vinidarii", while having some 
similar recipes, appears to be from a different original source(s) 
and that the "Latin in the "Excerpta' is often of considerably poorer 
quality than that of 'Apicius'." They identify the 'Excerpta' as 
reflecting Late Latin, while the Latin of 'Apicius' is much earlier. 
They go on to point out a number of example from the 1st century CE 
(p. 15) and 2nd century (p. 16).

So i stand (or rather sit before my computer) corrected.

Then they say, still on p. 16, "Dating these recipes with any 
precision is therefore impossible. We can only say that the names 
with which these recipes are associated may be linked with 
individuals identified in the historical record over a long period, 
spanning the second and third (and occasionally the fourth) 

So here i am vindicated.

"Because the recipe collection appears to have been developed over a 
long period of time, the unclassical stylistic features and spelling 
preserved in the MSS cannot be used as evidence for dating the 
recipes as first devised, though they may indicate the period in 
which the recipe collection stopped growing. In any case, many of the 
unclassical Latin features are not definitely time-specific, and may 
be better considered the kind of vulgar Latin spoken and written by 
the lower classes throughout the Roman era."

And again i am sitting corrected. On the other hand, they are talking 
about the origins of the recipes, and not the language of the 
surviving manuscripts. But we'll get to more about the language below.

 From page 18 to 22 G&G critique the 1927 study of Brandt, whose 
hypotheses are clearly reflected in F&R (see my previous message in 
this thread). G&G sometimes agree and sometimes disagree.

I baldly stated:
>  > > in which words might look familiar but would have
>  > > different meanings from the Classical, as well as new words
>  > > whose meanings would not be in one's standard Classical
>  > > Latin dictionary.

And Emilio queried:
>  >  Could you please provide a few examples?

And i dithered:
>I don't know if i can. I have to trust my source, which, as i said,
>i'll have to check later today. The single best source of information
>on the existing manuscripts i know of is :
>Apicius: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and English Translation.
>by Christopher Grocock
>published by Prospect Books in 2006 - September, IIRC.
>From my personal experience:
>I studied Classical Latin in high school (1963-1965), after which i
>transferred to a boarding school that didn't offer Latin (which made
>me very sad). Within the past 15 years i've tried reading some
>Medieval Latin, and it was quite clear that word order and word usage
>had changed from the Classical, and certain words were in use that
>did not exist in Classical Latin (i have a Casell's Classical Latin
>dictionary, which is generally considered decent). I did, however,
>understand the Latin used in that awful movie "The 13th Warrior"
>without reading the subtitles (should i be proud of that, or ashamed?
>Seeing it was my SCA consortly duty). I don't think i've read any
>Late Antique Period Latin other than the Apician cookbook (and
>cookbooks use specialized language), but i assume that between Caesar
>and the more northerly European 14th C. stuff i was reading, there
>were quite a few changes.

Of course, in my studies, i was not taught vulgar Latin of any Roman 
period. This nonclassical vulgar Latin, however, is for the most part 
the "language" of the Apician cookbook, according to F&R and G&G.

G&G go into a great deal of analysis of the language and grammar of 
the mss. in a section titled "The style and grammar of Apicius" on 
pp. 95-106. I certainly won't go through it all here.

G&G begin, "The Latinity of 'Apicius', as preserved in the two 
principal manuscripts [i.e., Vatican and NY Academy of Medicine], is 
extremely varied. Some of the recipes incorporate grammar and syntax 
which, for all its simplicity, is classical in style; others are 
redolent of Vulgar Latin. While we use the term "vulgar" to describe 
these features, this should not be taken as indication of a later 
date for particular recipes, since in both syntax and spelling they 
mirror the language found in inscriptions from relatively early 
periods in the empire, and even the late republic... The quality of 
the Latinity of any given recipe might be an indication of date, but 
it might equally reflect the writer's ability to write or spell 
since, as will be detailed in the notes which follow, many of the 
departures from what might be termed 'normative' Latin of the 
classical and imperial periods co-existed with more learned 
registers. The presence of 'vulgarisms' does not argue against our 
conclusions about the extended time-span during which the collection 
was assembled..." (p. 95)

Apparently some scholars think the vulgar Latin of the texts point to 
a late period of origin for the text of the mss. Clearly, since there 
are references to 4th century personages, the text is that late, but 
its original sources are varied, and many are quite early (1st c. CE)

On p. 96, G&G quote Roger Wright, "in a recent collection of studies, 
it might well be the case 'that spoken Imperial Latin was ... more 
like the Romance languages than we usually give it credit for'. " The 
footnote here points to Wright's work, "Latin and the Romance 
Languages in the Early Middle Ages" (University Park PA, 1996).

There is a great deal more analysis of the format of the recipes, the 
specifics of cooking terminology and how to interpret and translate 
them, the vagaries of grammar and syntax, etc.

I hope this clarifies what i said. I know that somewhere i read the 
assumption that because the texts are in vulgar Latin that whoever 
wrote it assumed they were Late Anitque Period (4th to 6th C) but i 
don't recall where that was. Clearly G&G do not think this is the 
case. They do note the differences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, 
and usage between classical and vulgar Latin and standard and cooks 
vocabulary, such that the meanings would not be in one's standard 
Classical Latin dictionary. And G&G provide many examples, both 
within "Apicius" and in other texts spanning quite a few centuries. I 
can only recommend the book rather than boring the list with more 
lengthy quotes.

Or, write me off-list, Emilio, and i will copy more out for you.
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

My LibraryThing

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