Horace, Satires 2.8

translation by Matt Mahoney and Lilian Nguyen

“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 – parsnip1  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.’”

Notes   [ + ]

1.   The literal meaning is “skirret,” but parsnip is an equivalent in modern cooking.