Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Focus on Hearth-Side Dining
Manius Curius was the most rigid model of Roman frugality and the most perfect example of courage. When the Samnite envoys were brought in to see him, he was sitting on a rustic bench beside the fireplace and taking his dinner from a wooden bowl; you can imagine the kind of meal it was from its presentation. He thought nothing of the wealth of the Samnites, but they were amazed at his poverty. They had brought him a huge amount of gold presented by their state, and speaking kindly they invited him to accept it, but he burst out laughing and said at once, "You have been sent on a pointless, not to mention stupid, mission; tell the Samnites that Manius Curius would rather rule over rich men than become a rich man himself; take away that expensive gift, which was invented to do mischief to men, and remember that I cannot be defeated in battle or corrupted by money."Pliny the Elder, Natural History 19.26.87 (tr. H. Rackham):
М’. autem Curius, exactissima norma Romanae frugalitatis idemque fortitudinis perfectissimum specimen, Samnitium legatis agresti se in scamno adsidentem foco eque ligneo catillo cenantem—quales epulas apparatus indicio est—spectandum praebuìt. ille enim Samnitium divitias contempsit, Samnites eius paupertatem mirati sunt. nam cum ad eum magnum pondus auri publice missum attulissent, benignis verbis invitatus ut eo uti vellet, vultum risu solvit et protinus 'supervacuae', inquit 'ne dicam ineptae legationis ministri, narrate Samnitibus M'. Curium malle locupletibus imperare quam ipsum fieri locupletem, atque istud ut pretiosum, ita malo hominum excogitatum munus refertote, et mementote me nec acie vinci nec pecunia corrumpi posse'.
You might be sure that Manius Curius was not a native of Delphi, the general who is recorded in our annals to have been found by the enemy's envoys roasting a turnip at the fire, when they came bringing the gold which he was going indignantly to refuse.Seneca, On Providence 3.6 (tr. John W. Basore):
scires non ibi genitum M'. Curium imperatorem, quem hospitum legatis aurum repudiaturo adferentibus rapum torrentem in foco inventum annales nostri prodidere.
Is Fabricius unfortunate because, whenever he has leisure from affairs of state, he tills his fields? because he wages war not less on riches than on Pyrrhus? because the roots and herbs on which he dines beside his hearth are those that he himself, an old man and honoured by a triumph, grubbed up in cleaning off his land? Tell me, then, would he be happier if he loaded his belly with fish from a distant shore and with birds from foreign parts? if he aroused the sluggishness of his loathing stomach with shell-fish from the eastern and the western sea? if he had game of the first order, which had been captured at the cost of many a hunter's life, served with fruit piled high around?Seneca, To Helvia on Consolation 10.7-8 (tr. John W. Basore):
infelix est Fabricius, quod rus suum, quantum a re publica vacavit, fodit? quod bellum tam cum Pyrrho quam cum divitiis gerit? quod ad focum cenat illas ipsas radices et herbas quas in repurgando agro triumphalis senex vulsit? quid ergo? felicior esset, si in ventrem suum longinqui litoris pisces et peregrina aucupia congereret, si conchylis superi atque inferi maris pigritiam stomachi nausiantis erigeret, si ingenti pomorum strue cingeret primae formae feras, captas multa caede venantium?
 Our ancestors, of course, were unhappy—they whose virtue even to this day props up our vices, who by their own hands provided themselves with food, whose couch was the earth, whose ceilings did not yet glitter with gold, whose temples were not yet shining with precious stones. And so in those days they would solemnly take oath by gods of clay, and those who had invoked them would go back to the enemy, preferring to die rather than break faith.  And our dictator, he who, while he gave audience to the envoys of the Samnites, was busy at his hearth, cooking with his own hand the cheapest sort of food, with that hand that had often smitten the enemy before and had placed a laurel wreath upon the lap of Capitoline Jove—this man, of course, was living less happily than did Apicius within our own memory, who in this very city, which at one time the philosophers were ordered to leave, as being 'corruptors of youth,' as a professor of the science of the cook-shop defiled the age with his teaching.Juvenal 11.77-81 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
 scilicet maiores nostri, quorum virtus etiamnunc vitia nostra sustentat, infelices erant, qui sibi manu sua parabant cibum, quibus terra cubile erat, quorum tecta nondum auro fulgebant, quorum templa nondum gemmis nitebant; itaque tunc per fictiles deos religiose iurabatur: qui illos invocaverant, ad hostem morituri, ne fallerent, redibant.  scilicet minus beate vivebat dictator noster qui Samnitium legatos audiit cum vilissimum cibum in foco ipse manu sua versaret, illa qua iam saepe hostem percusserat laureamque in Capitolini lovis gremio reposuerat, quam Apicius nostra memoria vixit, qui, in ea urbe, ex qua aliquando philosophi velut corruptores iuventutis abire iussi sunt, scientiam popinae professus, disciplina sua saeculum infecit.
This would already have been a luxurious feast long ago, even for our Senate. With his own hands Curius used to cook on his modest hearth the humble vegetables he'd picked in his own garden. These days, a filthy ditchdigger in his huge shackles would turn up his nose at such vegetables, all the while reminiscing about the taste of tripe in the steaming diner.Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder 2.102 (tr. Bernadotte Perrin):
haec olim nostri iam luxuriosa senatus
cena fuit. Curius parvo quae legerat horto
ipse focis brevibus ponebat holuscula, quae nunc
squalidus in magna fastidit conpede fossor,
qui meminit calidae sapiat quid volva popinae.
 Near his fields was the cottage which had once belonged to Manius Curius, a hero of three triumphs. To this he would often go, and the sight of the small farm and the mean dwelling led him to think of their former owner, who, though he had become the greatest of the Romans, had subdued the most warlike nations, and driven Pyrrhus out of Italy, nevertheless tilled this little patch of ground with his own hands and occupied this cottage, after three triumphs.  Here it was that the ambassadors of the Samnites once found him seated at his hearth cooking turnips, and offered him much gold; but he dismissed them, saying that a man whom such a meal satisfied had no need of gold, and for his part he thought that a more honourable thing than the possession of gold was the conquest of its possessors. Cato would go away with his mind full of these things, and on viewing again his own house and lands and servants and mode of life, would increase the labours of his hands and lop off his extravagancies.[Sextus Aurelius Victor], On Famous Men 33.7 (on M'. Curius Dentatus; my translation):
 Ἦν δὲ πλησίον αὐτοῦ τῶν ἀγρῶν ἡ γενομένη Μανίου Κουρίου τοῦ τρὶς θριαμβεύσαντος ἔπαυλις. ἐπὶ ταύτην συνεχῶς βαδίζων καὶ θεώμενος τοῦ τε χωρίου τὴν μικρότητα καὶ τῆς οἰκήσεως τὸ λιτόν, ἔννοιαν ἐλάμβανε τοῦ ἀνδρὸς ὅτι Ῥωμαίων μέγιστος γενόμενος καὶ τὰ μαχιμώτατα τῶν ἐθνῶν ὑπαγαγόμενος καὶ Πύρρον ἐξελάσας Ἰταλίας, τοῦτο τὸ χωρίδιον αὐτὸς ἔσκαπτε καὶ ταύτην τὴν ἔπαυλιν ᾤκει μετὰ τρεῖς θριάμβους.  ἐνταῦθα πρὸς ἐσχάρᾳ καθήμενον αὐτὸν ἕψοντα γογγυλίδας εὑρόντες οἱ Σαυνιτῶν πρέσβεις ἐδίδοσαν πολὺ χρυσίον, ὁ δ' ἀπέπεμψε φήσας οὐδὲν χρυσίου δεῖν ᾧ δεῖπνον ἀρκεῖ τοιοῦτον, αὐτῷ μέντοι τοῦ χρυσίον ἔχειν κάλλιον εἶναι τὸ νικᾶν τοὺς ἔχοντας. ταῦθ' ὁ Κάτων ἐνθυμούμενος ἀπῄει, καὶ τὸν αὑτοῦ πάλιν οἶκον ἐφορῶν καὶ χωρία καὶ θεράποντας καὶ δίαιταν, ἐπέτεινε τὴν αὐτουργίαν καὶ περιέκοπτε τὴν πολυτέλειαν.
To the Samnite ambassadors, who offered him gold when he was roasting turnips on the hearth, he said, "I prefer to eat these in my earthenware dishes and to rule over those who have gold."
legatis Samnitium aurum offerentibus cum ipse in foco rapas torreret, malo, inquit, haec in fictilibus meis esse et aurum habentibus imperare.
Curius Dentatus and the Turnips