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Dinnertime Philosophy with Athenaeus

The Greeks were intent on figuring out the key to living a good life. This usually involved a few essential things: good poetry, good philosophy, plenty of sports, and by no means the least of these, good food. This month, let’s take a look at what we know of ancient Greek cooking, and try out some recipes ourselves!


The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus depicting the Romans at war with the Goths (3rd century CE)
Symposium scene, circa 420 BC. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

DISCOVER


One of our most important records for ancient Greek recipes is the book Deipnosophists by Athenaeus. The title means “Dinnertime Philosophers”. This doesn’t just refer to people who discuss philosophy over dinner, but to philosophers and experts in the art of dining itself! In Greece, it was not enough to just serve a meal to one’s guests; the meal had to be perfectly chosen, the pottery had to be of the highest quality, and the conversation had to be witty, full of quotations from poetry wherever possible.


The Deipnosophists records one of the longest dinner parties in history, which, if it really took place, would have stretched over several days! In it are recorded some of the most surprising aspects and stories of ancient Greek history and daily life.


For example, Athenaeus tells the story of two philosophers, Anchimolus and Moschus, who are said to have drunk only water and eaten only figs their entire lives. While they were healthy and strong, their sweat had an unbearable odour that made everyone avoid them!


Athenaeus' recipe for staititai


Athenaeus also tells us about some recipes which were popular in ancient Greece. One of these recipes is for staititai. Sometimes known as “ancient pizza,” this recipe involves making your own bread and topping it with a perfect mix of sweet and savoury ingredients.


You can find Athenaeus’ recipe below, but when making your own, feel free to experiment!


 
Frieze of the Pergamon Altar depicting Nike and Athena battling Alkyoneus
One version of a staitites. Image via Historical Italian Cooking (https://historicalitaliancooking.home.blog/english/recipes/staitites-ancient-greek-sweet/).

CREATE


For this month's Create segment, why not have a go at making your own Staititai (“spelt flour cakes”)? Make sure to get the help of a parent or guardian when doing any cooking!


Ingredients:


  • Spelt flour

  • Honey

  • Sesame seeds

  • Cheese of your choice (we recommend marinated Goat's cheese!)


Method:


  1. Roast some sesame seeds in a frying pan, then place to one side.

  2. Prepare a batter with the flour and warm water, with a fairly liquid consistency.

  3. Pour some olive oil into the pan and add a ladle of the batter.

  4. Cook the staititai for a few minutes on both sides.

  5. Place each staitites on a plate, adding the cheese, pouring over the honey, and sprinkling roasted sesame seeds on top.


Enjoy! Once you’ve tried them out, let us know how you went in the comments below!


And finally, if you'd like to try even more ancient cooking, you can also try these other recipes that other history-buffs have put together:



Until next time,

λεῖος πλόος!

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