By Johannes Koder
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, Luke 12:19: Food and Wine in Byzantium: Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer, edited by Leslie Brubaker and kallirroe Linardou (Ashgate, 2007)
Introduction: The title of my paper needs some explanation. Stew, μονόκυθρον (Τὸ ἐκ τῆς χύτρας συντεθὲν μονόκυθρον, as it is briefly defined by Eustathios), seems to have been the favourite luxury food of Ptochoprodromos, who dreams of the aromatic smell of the stew: ‘The little stew gives off fumes and smells wonderful.’ In his poems he conveys the impression that the term monokythron stands for a type of popular festive hot meal, which is not prepared every day, but is not reserved exclusively for the imperial court or the rich.
The same seems to be true for τὰ παστὰ, which principally means every foodstuff that is conserved by adding salt (τὸ ἐπιτιθέναι ἅλας πρὸς ταριχείαν), such as salted fish or salted meat, but also pickled vegetables. In Byzantium, only conservation by drying (in the sun) and/or salting was well known, the salting of vegetables often being in combination with vinegar, under the name toursi. In particular, I have not found any explicit reference to smoked meat or fish in the Byzantine period. The only Byzantine author who mentions κρέα καπνιστά is Eustathios of Thessalonike. But he only quotes Athenaios (second century ad), who on his part quotes Poseidonios (second century bc), who in fact says that the Romans (the ancient, real Romans) on festive occasions used to eat bread, ‘boiled smoked meat’ and ‘amply roasted fresh meat from sacrificial animals’ (τῶν προσϕάτως καθιερευθέντων ὀπτὰ δαψιλῆ). Obviously, Eustathios no longer understood the original sense of ‘smoked meat’ because he explained the verb kapnizein as ‘to light a fire on the occasion of a feast’.