Ever wonder what a well off Roman might dine on during the 1st Century AD?
In one of his many letters Pliny the Younger details a rather high end dinner, while at the same time ticking off a friend for not appearing to eat it. Bad show! Since Pliny had gone to some expense to provide food and entertainment for the dinner party, no small feat, for Pliny was not a man who enjoyed excesses, the least Septitius Clarus could have done was put in an appearance.
Excerpt From: the Younger Pliny. “The Letters of Pliny the Younger.” iBook abailable on iBooks via Project Gutenberg, Chapter XI
“To Septitius Clarus
You are a pretty fellow! You make an engagement to come to supper and then never appear. Justice shall be exacted;—you shall reimburse me to the very last penny the expense I went to on your account; no small sum, let me tell you. I had prepared, you must know, a lettuce a-piece, three snails, two eggs, and a barley cake, with some sweet wine and snow, (the snow most certainly I shall charge to your account, as a rarity that will not keep.) Olives, beet-root, gourds, onions, and a thousand other dainties equally sumptuous. You should. likewise have been entertained either with an interlude, the rehearsal of a poem, or a piece of music, whichever you preferred; or (such was my liberality) with all three. But the oysters, sows’-bellies, sea-urchins, and dancers from Cadiz of a certain — I know not who, were, it seems, more to your taste. You shall give satisfaction, how, shall at present be a secret.
Oh! you have behaved cruelly, grudging your friend, —had almost said yourself ;—and upon second thoughts I do say so ;—in this way: for how agreeably should we have spent the evening, in laughing, trifling, and literary amusements! You may sup, I confess, at many places more splendidly; but nowhere with more unconstrained mirth, simplicity, and freedom: only make the experiment, and if you do not ever after excuse yourself to your other friends, to come to me, always put me off to go to them. Farewell.”
Pliny the Younger(61 AD – ca. 112 AD) was a lawyer, author and magistrate of ancient Rome, who was an eye witness the the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. His uncle Pliny the Elder, a victim of that disaster, was famous for his observations on Natural History, helped to raise and educate him.