Prospect £12 (152pp) £10.80 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Taste Of Taboo: Dietary Choices In Antiquity, By Michael Beer
Friday 11 June 2010
"Drawing parallels between the ancient and modern world is a perilous endeavour," warns Beer, but it is hard not to feel strong resonances in this study of classical pickiness. We learn that the young Nero, keen to forge a career on the stage, "tried to keep excessive flab at bay by repeated use of enemas".
The elevation of fish from "despised and marginal" to "symbol of luxury" also sounds familiar. Though vegetarianism was advocated by a few ancient moralists, "it is likely that thoughts about [it] never entered the minds of the majority."
Other aspects of consumption seem far from the modern world. Beer says it is "quite startling" that concern about alcohol was limited to its effect on the ruling elite. Equally odd is a taboo on beans.
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