Epic Appetites: Images of Food in Ancient Greece and Rome


Epic Appetites: Images of Food in Ancient Greece and Rome

By Jenifer Neils

Paper given at the Western Reserve Studies Symposium (2000)

Introduction: Although there exist many accounts describing food, its production, consumption and trade in the ancient Mediterranean world, there is nothing like a painting or sculpture or mosaic to bring these texts to life and flesh out our understanding of the role of food in past societies. From ancient Pompeii, for example, there remains not only the bakery with its lava flour grinding mills and brick ovens, but also a wall painting of the baker himself selling his bread. Many ancient Roman sites preserve a macellum or market building, complete with stalls and countertops, but we can also find the butcher hacking away at a joint of meat commemorated on this marble funerary relief. Exquisite examples of silver table vessels have been uncovered in excavations all over the Roman empire, but only images like this tomb painting where they are set out on a table illustrate how they were used in antiquity. There also exist magnificent images of the food itself from simple painted still-lifes of fruit to elaborate mosaics depicting the

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