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Lecture 4: Food: an overview of the cultural context

One of the main features to emerge from a look at the agricultural cycle is that it is very different from that with which Northern Europeans are familiar: Note especially that First Ploughing Festivals are at the end of the Summer and First Grains are offered at the Thargelia at the end of May.

Greek Months

Rhythms: agricultural year, famines, tuna-schools, sacrifice, festivals and symbolic food

Spaces: distinctions between kinds of food: drink, sitos, opson. Food and gender, the dinners, the andron, the Athenian tholos, deipnon vs. ariston

Reading: Xenophon Memorabilia 3.14

Hymn to Demeter Gregory Nagy’s translation:

Menander, Dyskolos, esp. Act III

Some fragments concerning symbolic cakes:

Heraclides of Syracuse Peri Thesmon, ap. Ath.14.647a: `in Syracuse on the day of Completion (Panteleia) in the festival of Thesmophoria cakes of sesame and honey are moulded in the shape of the female pudenda. They are called, throughout the whole of Sicily, `mylloi' and carried about in honour of the goddesses.'

Iatrocles On Cakes ap. Ath. 14.647bc: `the pyramous, as it is called, is not different from the so-called pyramid cake; for this is made from wheat roasted and soaked in honey. They are offered as prizes to he who has stayed awake during the night festivals.'

Sosibios On Alcman book three ap. Ath. 14.646: On Kribanai (Pot-baked cakes) `in shape they resemble breasts, and the Spartans use them at women's feasts (hestiaseis), carrying them around whenever the girls who follow in the choir are ready to sing the hymn of praise prepared for the maiden.'

Philitas on Irregular Words ap. Ath. 14.645d. On the kreion, a cake or loaf which the Argives carry from the bride to the bridegroom: `It is baked on charcoal and the friends are invited to partake of it. It is served with honey'

Ath. 14.645a: Amphiph n (Light-about cake) `A plakous (flat-cake) dedicated to Artemis, having lighted candles all about it. Philemon in Beggarwoman or Woman of Rhodes: "Artemis, my dear mistress, this amphiphon I bring for you, o mistress and offerings for a libation." It is mentioned also by Diphilus in Hecate. Philochorus attests the name amphiphon and says it was carried to the temples of Artemis and also to the crossroads, because on that day (Munichion 16) the moon, just as it sets, is overtaken by the rising sun, so that the sky is lighted doubly (amphiph s).'

Secondary Material

A. Dalby, Siren Feasts chapter 1

*idem `Food and Sexuality in Classical Athens' in G.Mars and V.Mars edd. Food, Culture and History I (London, 1993), 165-190

*W. Burkert, Greek Religion (Oxford, 1985) II.1 On sacrifice III.2.6, 9, 10 on Demeter, Dionysus, Artemis

*J.Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes (London, 1997) c.1

*M.Jameson `Sacrifice and Animal Husbandry in Classical Greece' in C.R.Whittaker ed. Pastoral Economies in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge 1988) = Proceedings of Cam. Philological Soc. Supp. 14

*M.Detienne `Violence of Well-born Ladies' in Cuisine of Sacrifice

*O.Murray in J-P. Vernant ed. The Greeks


In what ways do the Greeks differ from us in their appetites and tastes? In what ways was food symbolic? In what ways was consumption ritualised? How did they separate potos, sitos and opson? What role did food play in Greek culture and society? How does the study of myth help us to understand the meaning of Greek food?