Friday, April 26, 2013


Barbarians, Butter, and Trousers

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 18.27.105 (tr. H. Rackham):
Some use eggs or milk in kneading the dough, while even butter has been used by races enjoying peace, when attention can be devoted to the varieties of pastry-making.
In Latin:
quidam ex ovis aut lacte subigunt, butyro vero gentes etiam pacatae, ad operis pistorii genera transeunte cura.
Richard T. Bruère, Classical Philology 48 (1953) 119, objected to Rackham's rendering:
But Pliny wishes to say that barbarian tribes (gentes), even after they have been subdued and incorporated into the Empire (pacatae), persist in using butter, actually employing it in pastry-making, a practice to which in their new status they have begun to turn their attention [presumably from petty warfare and marauding], much as an Eskimo, after learning about baking cakes from contact with white men, might nevertheless remain faithful to his traditional seal blubber, shortening his pastry with it, rather than with lard or Mazola.
I wonder if Pliny might have written bracatae (trousered) instead of pacatae (pacified). Barbarians have odd customs, like wearing trousers and eating butter. Take the Thracians, for example. Anaxandrides, fragment 42, line 8 (preserved in Athenaeus 4.131 b) calls the Thracians ἄνδρας βουτυροφάγους (butter-eating men), and Ovid, in exile among the Thracians, mentions their trousers (e.g. Tristia 3.10.19: pellibus et sutis arcent mala frigora bracis, and 4.6.47: vulgus adest Scythicum bracataque turba Getarum). Among the trouser-wearing Gauls (Cicero, Letters to His Friends 9.15; Diodorus Siculus 5.30.1; etc.), the Burgundians smeared butter on their hair as a pomade (Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina 12.7: infundens acido comam butyro), and Anthimus, in his treatise De Observatione Ciborum, addressed to Theudoric, a Frankish king in the vicinity of Rheims, recommended butter as a cure for consumption (77: similiter et de butiro recente si acceperit pthisicus). On the Gallic provenance of Anthimus' treatise see J.N. Adams, The Regional Diversification of Latin 200 BC - AD 600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 329-335.

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