Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Olive And The Caper by Susanna Hoffman

I’ve mentioned before that there are many joys to be found in reading cookery books, not just for the references to booze; a lot of them are also well written and contain much more than just recipes.


Hoffman’s homage to Greek cuisine is a rambling compendium of culinary history which often strays into culture and language. Wine has been an essential part of Greek life for millennia, and she devotes several pages to it, starting with amphora of the ancients, and running up to the modern day. A glass of local wine is now part of the main meal, however:

...in ancient times wine was reserved for the second part of the dinner, called the symposion, the time when conversation, games, and entertainment took over. There, after a first sip of undiluted wine taken as a libation to the gods, the wine was always diluted with water. Drinking undiluted wine was considered dangerous, with possible dire consequences.

The ritual of the symposion is described thus:

At the symposion, the wine part of the banquet, three kratirs, or mixing bowls, were thought the proper, moderate amount of wine to imbibe. The host was in charge of the pace of the drinking, and since rituals accompanied the first three bowls, he could even force guests to finish the number of bowls served. At some gatherings a wine watcher was in charge to see that all received an equal amount of wine. In a play by a writer named Euboulos, the god Dionysos describes the bowls: The first bowl, he says, is for health, the second for love and pleasure, the third for sleep. At this point wise drinkers go home. Should guests drink onward, the fourth bowl belongs to hubris, which in Greek means “boastful talk among males.” The fifth leads to shouting, the sixth to revelry, the seventh to black eyes, the eight to court summonses, the ninth to bile, and the tenth to madness and people throwing the furniture about.

They knew a thing or two did the Ancient Greeks. Along with wine, they were also known to imbibe beer, indeed, Aristotle notes its effects:

Aristotle compared the intoxication caused by beer to that of wine: Wine, he said, caused a drunk to pass out and fall face down, whereas beer caused one to fall belly up.

I think proof of this might require further research...

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