Horace

Satires 2.8

 

translation and commentary by Matt Mahoney (’20) and Lilian Nguyen (’19)

Translation

“How did the dinner of blessed Nasidienus please you? Yesterday, it was said to me, when I was seeking a dinner guest, that you were drinking there since mid day.”

“In such a way that I never had a better time in life.”

“Tell me, if it is not troublesome, what dish first satisfied your angry stomach.”

“In the first place, a Lucanian boar: it was captured when a mild South Wind was blowing, so the host of the feast kept saying; around it were sharp turnips, lettuces, radishes – such things that provoke a weary stomach – parsnip((  The literal meaning is “skirret,” but parsnip is an equivalent in modern cooking.)), anchovies, and the dregs of Coan wine. (10) After these were removed, a properly dressed slave with a purple napkin wiped off the maple table. Another slave picked up whatever was lying around useless and whatever could offend guests. Like an Attic maiden carrying the sacred items of Ceres, an Indian slave approached (15) bearing Caecuban wine, and a slave named Alcon approached bearing Chian wine without sea brine. Here, the host said, ‘Maecenas, if Alban or Falernian wine delights you more greatly than those wines brought, we have both.’”

“How miserable is wealth! Fundanius, but who was dining there with you, that you should have such a good time? I am anxious to know.”

(20) I was in the highest position, and next to me was Viscus of Thurii, and below me, if I remember, was Varius; with Servilius Balatro was Vibidius, whom Maecenas had brought as shadow.  Nomentanus was above the host himself, Porcius below, who was ridiculous for swallowing whole flat-cakes at once; (25) Nomentanus was there for this purpose, so that if anything would go unnoticed, he would point with his forefinger; for the rest of the crowd, I mean us, we eat birds, oysters, and fish, which were concealing a juice far different from any we knew, as in fact, it became immediately clear, when he offered to me eggs of a sparrow-fish and eggs of a flat fish, they remained untasted. (30) After this, he taught me that honey apples are red when they are chosen during a waning moon. What a difference this makes, from him you would have learned better. Then Vibidius to Balatro says, ‘Unless we drink him bankrupt, we will die unavenged,’ and he demands larger cups. Then, paleness (35) spread over the face of the steward, he fearing nothing more than heavy drinkers,  because either because they slander more freely or because fiery wines dull the refined palate. Vibidius and Balatro pour whole wine-jars into Allifanian drinking cups, with everyone else following suit: the guests of the lowest couch did no harm to the flasks. (40) The lamprey is brought forth, outstretched in a shallow platter, between swimming shrimps. At this, the host said ‘This fish was captured pregnant, since it would be worse in its flesh after spawning. With these following ingredients, a sauce was mixed: (45) oil which  the best cellar of Venafrum pressed, garum from the juices of Spanish mackerel, five-year-old wine truly borne on this side of the sea (while it is cooking — after it is cooked Chian wine suits so well, so that nothing else is better) white pepper, and vinegar which turned the Methymnaean grape sour. (50) I first showed how to cook green arugula and bitter healing herbs into the sauce; Curtillus would use unwashed sea-urchins, since what the shell of the sea-urchin yields is better than the brine.’ Meanwhile, the suspended canopies made heavy ruin onto the dish, dragging as much black dust (55) as not the North Wind rouses onto the Campanian fields. We feared worse, but after we perceived no danger, we collected ourselves; Rufus, with his head hung down, wept as if his son had an untimely death.  That would have been the end, if wise Nomentanus had not lifted his friend in this way, saying (60) ‘Ah, Fortune, what god is crueler to us than you? You always rejoice when playing with human affairs!’ Varius was able, with difficulty, to restrain his laughter with a napkin. Balatro, raising his nose at everything was saying‘This is the condition of living, and so (65) Fame, which is equal to your labor, is never going to respond. So I may be accepted lavishly are you  twisted and tortured by every anxiety, lest the bread be burned, lest a badly-seasoned sauce be served, and so that all your slaves be properly dressed and ready to serve? (70) Add these misfortunes and, if the canopies would fall as they did just now, or if a lackey having slipped with his foot would break a plate. But difficult matters are accustomed to reveal the intelligence of the guest, as of the leader, while favorable conditions are accustomed to hide it.’ To this Nasidienus said, ‘May the gods give to you whatever you pray for (75) in good measure: you are such a good man and friendly guest’ and then he demanded his sandals. During that time, on the couch, you could see divided whispers whizzing secretly by ear.”

“I would prefer to have seen no games than these; but come now and tell us the things which you laughed at next.”

(80) “While Vibidius was asking the boys whether the flask also was broken, because the wine had not been given when he was demanding it, there is laughter at fake subjects, with the help of Balatro, Nasidienus, you return with a changed brow, as if by skill you will correct misfortune; (85) then the male servants followed, bearing on a large charger: the plucked-apart limbs of a crane, seasoned with much salt and not without flour, and the liver of a white goose which was fed fat figs and the plucked-off arms of rabbits, which are so much sweeter than if someone eats them with the loins. (90) Then we saw also placed before us blackbirds with the breasts boiled and wood-pigeons without hindquarters.  Sweet things, if only the host was not narrating their causes and natures; whom thus we fled, avenged in that we tasted nothing at all, as if Canidia, worse than African serpents, had breathed on those things.’”

Commentary

(6) Lucania was an ancient area of Southern Italy. The region was home to a vast amount of pastures, mountains, and forests. These environments supported bears, wolves, and most significantly, wild boars. (Britannica 1911). Click here to see a 4th-century Lucanian fresco of boar hunting.

(6) The “mild South Wind” (leni austro) is a reference to Auster (Notos in Greek culture), the Roman god of southern wind. The name “Auster” comes from the wind’s tendency to “gather waters,” resulting in a thick and humid wind. In Greek, the name Notos comes from the wind’s tendency to “corrupt the air.” (Isidore, trans. by Barney 2010, 275). Perhaps the humid southern wind gave the boar a strange taste?

(9) The word “dregs” (faecula) refers to the sediment left at the bottom of a cup of unfiltered wine. In Greek culture, a game called kottabos would be played with these remains. The player would say the name of someone for whom they had love or lust, then throw the dregs from their kylix (cup). The intended target could be anything (such as a statue or vessel) or anyone. (Donnelly, 1999)

Example of a Greek kylix in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA 60.19). Notice the handles on the sides that are necessary to play kottabos.

(9-16) In lines 9-16, three wines are served (Coan, Caecuban, and Chian) and two more (Alban and Falernian) are offered to Maecenas:

Coan – a salty wine from the Greek Island of Kos. However, because of the sea water added to this wine, different regions were able to easily make knock-off versions. (Dalby 2002, 134-136)

Chian – a red wine from the Greek island of Chios. Regarded as one of the finest wines by Pliny the Elder. (Dalby, 2002, 136)

Alban – a famous red wine from the Alban Hills, less than 20 miles southeast of Rome. (Grout, 2004)

Falernian – a white wine from the region marked as “Falciano del Massico.” The wine was one of the most popular wines of ancient Rome, and one of the first to be exported from Italy. After it faded out of existence, a lawyer and professor at the University of Naples did extensive research on the wine and made the Falerno del Massico DOP region for Falerno wines. (Miquel 2018)

Caecuban – a bold wine that matured with time from the “ager Caecubus,” which is located in the modern day Pontine Marshes (Grout 2004). This region is symbolized by the marker between the Alban Hills and Falciano del Massico.

A map showing the origins of the five wines offered at the dinner party.

(11) The color purple (purpureo) signified status and wealth among the upper class of Roman society. Having a purple napkin showed this fact even more. Using such a precious cloth for cleaning remnants off of one’s mouth would have showed extravagant wealth (Schultz 2013).

(14) Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture. The slave who carries wine is thus carrying the product of Ceres. By being responsible for the harvest, she is also given credit for the existence of the wine (Geller 2018).

(20) The seating positions of Roman dining were very specific. There were typically three couches set up in a “U” shape. Going counterclockwise around the “U,” they were regarded as the high couch, the middle couch, and the low couch. Each couch had space for three attendees to recline in, and each space had its own name as well. Going counterclockwise around the “U” shape again, each couch had a high, middle, and low position. These names positions did not necessarily dictate who was able to sit there, but certain positions were generally held by certain people (such as the lowest position of the middle couch being occupied by the guest of honor) (Schmitt-Pantel 2006).

The typical arrangement of couches at a Roman dinner party as well as the positions that guests would have occupied (Brown, 2012)

(30) The act of picking apples during a “waning moon” is most likely a reference to a real method. As Ludovic Dervin’s tour at Mumm Napa describes, fruits have many characteristics at night time that are more desirable than during the day. Among these characteristics is the fact that the sugar levels drop, the skin becomes firm (and thus prevents unnecessary damage), and the acidity balances. This could be a reason to the reference to picking apples during a “waning moon.” On top of this, harvesters tend to prefer picking fruits such as apples and grapes at night so they can escape the oppressive sun.

(50) The bitter healing herb (eruca) is translated literally common rocket or arugula and is found in the Mediterranean region. In ancient Roman times, common rocket was used as a spice. Eaten raw with onions, it was considered to be an aphrodisiac (Hunemoorder 2006).

(52) Sea urchins and their eggs were eaten as delicacies in Roman times (Hunemorder 2006). Apicius notes several recipes for sea urchins, which were often poached or boiled. It is also seen in a mosaic depicting the floor of a triclinium.

(53) Canopies (aulaea) were hangings used to decorate the walls of Roman and Greek tents, houses, and palaces. Besides their decorative purposes, they also kept out rain or sun (Hurschmann 2006).

Painting of a convivium with canopies in the background, from the House of the Triclinium at Pompeii.

(55) Aquilo, the North Wind is one of the four wind gods. He is the “stormy wind” that brings darkness and snow (Hünemörder 2006).

(55) Campania is a region located in southern Italy. Modern day Naples is located there. It appears to be a windy place, as six wind farms are located there today.

(56) One commentator suggests that the guests’ fear references an incident reported in Callimachus’ Aetia, where the roof collapsed during the convivium. With the exception of one diner, all the guests were killed. Thus, the “worse thing” was the potential collapse of the ceiling itself (Sharland 2011). Horace may have also intended the collapsing canopy as a literary device to symbolize Nasidienus’ failing dinner.

(57) Horace is making a joke here by making Nasidienus’s full name “Nasidienus Rufus.” Rufus is Latin for red or red-headed. Nasidienus is translated at nose. Thus, Nasidienus Rufus is “Mr. Red Nose.” Commentators have suggested this defining physical feature would be appropriate for his overindulgence in wine (Sharland 2011).  However, commentators do not believe Nasidienus to have been based on a real person.

(60) Nomentanus blames the Roman deity Fortune (Fortuna) for the canopies falling. Fortuna, the deity of both good and bad luck, often appeared on amulets, as ancient Romans believed that these amulets would bring the bearer good luck and bounty. She also ruled the wheel of fortune (rota fortunae). Horace suggests that Fortuna would cause the curtains to drop due to Nasidienus’ extravagance and false pride (Caston 1997).

(65) Fame (Fama) is variously represented as either a goddess or personification of public speech and rumors, both good and bad (Nunlist 2006). This may be a reference to lines 72-73 or lines 76-77.

(69) In ancient Rome, slaves were not given enough money to buy clothes, much less nice clothes. Typically, slave masters would provide the slave with “a tunic every year, and a cloak and a pair of wooden shoes every two years” (Johnston 1903). By wishing that Nasidienus’ slaves are properly rich, Balatro is subtly commenting on Nasidienus’ wealth.

(76) If attending a convivium, the diner would walk in shoes known as calcei. However, he would also bring a pair of slippers or sandals called soleae. In the dining-room, the soleae would be worn. Before the dinner guest would recline, a slave would remove his sandals to avoid dirtying the couch covering. When the triclinium was over, the guest would call for the slave to put on his shoes. Nasidienus is asking for his solaea, suggesting either his early departure or the coming end to the banquet (Anthon 1862, 292).

Painting of a convivium showing a slave taking off or putting on a guest’s shoes, from the House of the Triclinium, Pompeii

(78) “Games” (lūdus) refers to the entertainment that would be present during a convivium. Entertainment ranged from literary readings, poem recitals, musical performances, and dancing girls (Sallaberger et al. 2006). Here, Horace is suggesting that the “food and its elaborately theatrical presentation – is itself the entertainment, ready-made material for Fundanius’s subsequent comic narration” (Habinek and Schiesaro 1997, 99).

(85) A “charger” (mazonomon) was originally a wooden plate for barley bread; by Horace’s time, mazonomon described a serving plate for poultry (Hurschmann, 2006).

(86) Birds such as crane and parrots were eaten in ancient Roman times. In fact, Apicius has several crane recipes in his cookbook. Crane was often prepared by being boiled and served with vegetables such as turnips. The combination of salt and barley/flour, however, alludes to a “sacrifice, and a sacrilegious one at that” (Sharland 2011, 93). This speaks to the questionable character of the dinner host.

(87) “Liver of a white goose” refers to foie gras or pâté, a delicacy still enjoyed today. Apicius created a method for making foie gras. The animals – often pigs and geese – were starved before being “stuffed” with dried figs in order to enlarge their livers. This would often cause acute indigestion, killing the animals.

(94) Canidia is mentioned in six of Horace’s poems (Satire 1. 8, Satire 2.1.48, Satire 2.2.95, Epode 3.8, Epode 5 and Epode 17). Horace is believed to have modeled this character after a perfume-seller named Gratidia, from Naples. She was rumoured to be a witch, who engaged in magical rites of “questionable morality,” such as animal blood sacrifice. Therefore, Canidia was seen as highly immoral and inhumane, suggesting that Canidia’s food is poisonous. Thus, Horace is expressing how averse the dinner guests are to the host’s food (Paule et al. 2012).

(94) In Roman times, snakes and snake venom were closely associated with witchcraft (Ogden 2002), and even snake breath was believed to be poisonous (Sharland 2011, 94). While Horace does not specify the type of African serpent, in Odes 3.10.18, he mentions Mauretanian snakes (94). Two of Mauritania’s most well known snakes are the Sahara sand viper and the African Puff Adder. Both snake species are venomous (Kimutai 2017). Thus, Horace suggests that if Canidia had breathed on the food, it would have been worse than if even these poisonous snakes had breathed on them.

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