Thursday, March 01, 2007

Apicius: Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome

This morning, I was pleased to find a $2 copy of Apicius' Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome in the Dover Edition. Classical Studies have long been an interest of mine, and Apicius provides a look into a rather unusual aspect of Roman life (hummingbird tongues, anyone?). To be sure, there was a difference between the eating habits of the patricians and the plebians. I suspect Apicius leans towards the former in his book of cookery. My interest in Ancient Rome has been rekindled recently as I've been watching HBO's series "Rome" on DVD (interesting series, with the usual liberties taken with known facts and chronology, but still fun).

Now, I'm aware that this particular edition has a bit of controversy. The translation was made in 1936, and the translator apparently had no problem diverging from the original text and making his own substitutions for ingredients. Probably not a big problem if you are actually trying to make these dishes in your kitchen and need some accessible ingredients, but I can see it bothering those (like me) who really want accuracy in translation. But $2 sure beats the $250 editions.

Dover Editions are treasures, especially if you can find them used and in good shape. My copy of Mayhew's London Labor and the London Poor that I mentioned in a previous entry is a very nice unabridged 4 volume edition. The down side is that they are often older translations in the public domain, many of which have been superseded by recent scholarship. The Wallis Budge books on Egyptology, for instance, are nice but irredeemably inaccurate. All would be forgiven if they would bring back Aurel Stein's Travels in Desert Cathay.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Huzza! Huzza! The Devil's dead. Now we can all do as we like!

Ladies and gentlemen, pray how you do?
If you all happy, me all happy too.

The Last Days of Mr. Punch by D.H. Myers

This slim 1971 volume purporting to be the memoirs of Mr. Punch (nee Pulcinella) of Punch and Judy fame is in large measure compiled from a variety of sources. Paramount among these is Henry Mayhew's massive and entertaining 1861 London Labour and the London Poor. Myers illustrates his book with some amusing old Punch drawings. The little bugger didn't get by on his looks.

On the end flap, the author presents Punch, a comic trickster figure, philosophically as "the problem of whether it is a good thing to wipe out evil...The a certain controllable shape and size to evil, and if you kill him, then evil may truly run rampant." In some versions of the show, Mr. Punch, a character with a very low threshold for anger, kills the Devil.

I tended to read this book more as light comic fare, rather than as a dissertation on the nature of evil. Punch is clearly from a time when sociopathic violence and casual cruelty were seen as acceptable fare for audiences of all ages, not that things have changed much. Giving philosophical sophistication to one puppet beating the bejezzuz out of another comes perilously close to accepting the sociocultural value of the Three Stooges, which I'm not prepared to do.

This was simply a nice slim palate cleanser to read as a chaser to a truly disturbing novel (The Road).

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Let's Return the Cake

So I was at my 6 year old's school this morning for a "Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss" assembly. The kids were getting ready to recite various books and poems. The teacher had just explained that "Dr. Seuss" was turning 65 this week, when one of the moms raised her hand excitedly and blurted out "Isn't he dead?!"

The teacher then explained that it is the Dr. Seuss character that is turning 65.

The school psychologist probably spent the rest of the day conducting grief counseling sessions.