[Sca-cooks] fork

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Sat Jun 23 20:26:56 PDT 2007

The sources of all this are probably, Giblin, James Cross. From Hand to 
Mouth. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1987, and Henisch, Brigit Anne. Feast 
and Fast; food in medieval society. University Press, PA: Pennsylvania 
University Press, 1976.

The information as it usually appears on the web is something like this:

"A Byzantine princess introduced the table fork to Europe in the eleventh 
century. The story varies slightly depending on the source, but the essence 
is that a nobleman, probably Domenico Selvo (or Silvio), heir to the Doge of 
Venice, married a princess from Byzantium. This Byzantine princess brought a 
case of two- tined table forks to Venice as part of her luggage. Forks seem 
to have been novelties in Byzantium, but not unknown. Many examples can be 
found in Byzantine art, according to Boger and Henisch.

The princess outraged the populace and the clergy by refusing to eat with 
her hands:

  "Instead of eating with her fingers like other people, the princess cuts 
up her food into small pieces and eats them by means of little golden forks 
with two prongs."[Giblin]
  "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks - his fingers. 
Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for 
them when eating."[Giblin]

The princess apparently died before very long, of some wasting disease, 
prompting Peter Damian, Cardinal Bishop of Ostia to write,

  "Of the Venetian Doge's wife, whose body, after her excessive delicacy, 
entirely rotted away"[Henisch] "
The problems with all this are (1) Domenico Selvo, then Doge of Florence, 
married Teodora Doukaina (AKA Ducas) in 1075, (2)  Saint Peter Damian, 
Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, died in 1072, and (3) the quotes do not appear to 
be attributable to any 11th Century source.  I have also been unable to 
locate any Biblical prohibition against forks or locate any Medieval 
reference to a prohibition against forks.

My current opinion is that many of these "facts" are apocryphal and that 
they may be an artifact of Victorian imagination, but I haven't been able to 
chase sources far enough as yet.


> As new members pointed out I too am getting a complex about being one of
> them. I ask a question which in the end rightfully is not published for
> in 2000 you raked the issue to death and Stefan, I later find, published
> it in his files and one of you wrote a very complete article which after
> reading them today,  I have few problems left. The first is a reference
> with a source I cannot locate is that in the 11th Century at least it
> was thought that the Bible prohibited the use of the fork.  I understand
> that at that time it was thought that only the devil used forks (a pitch
> fork for hay mind you) but I'd like to know what passage in the Bible
> made the Church think that metal could not be used to transmit organic
> food to the mouth while a fruit fork was ok because it does not come
> from an animal. Why can't eggplants be eaten with a fork as other
> vegetables in the Christian world? Also in my search I came across a
> statement that 'this prohibition lasted 70 years' so we are talking like
> 1180? Do we have documentation to this effect? Further, the fruit fork
> was perfectly admissible as Villena says but after that in 1430 in Spain
> Suero Quinones offered them at a banquet at his tournament in Leon but
> that was a revolutionary item! Don't understand. Too if the transmission
> of food to the mouth with metal was a problem for the Church why was the
> knife used?  Why weren't wooden utensils used? When did the metal spoon
> come in? Why did it come in long before the fork as per my gut feeling?
>    Finally my neighbor who moved into this 30 year apartment house
> three and a half years ago as I asks when will we become 'old' in this
> community? As a joke I ask the same of SCA??? Don't answer that - its
> great to feel young!
> Suey
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