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Foods and Culinary Utensils of the Ancients

Both men and women Herodotus and Plutarch


of the vases have never yet been surpassed in daintiness of ornamentation. The most remarkable were those fashioned from porcelain which was made of a fine sand or grit, loosely fused and covered with a thick silicious glaze of a blue, green, white, purple or yellow color. The blue tints obtained have never been equalled in modern times.

Herodotus tells us that, after the heavier part of a banquet, it was the custom to have a man carry round a coffin containing a wooden image in exact imitation of a corpse. Showing this to each of the revelers, the bearer would say: "Look upon this and then drink and enjoy yourself, for when dead you will be like unto this." A rather weird observance, which might be traced back to the death of Osiris.

If the phrases are correctly reported, we must suppose the figure, brought in after the eating was ended and when the drinking began, was for the purpose of stimulating the guests to still greater conviviality. But if that were the case when Herodotus visited Egypt it must have been originated with a very different intention. The Egyptians were too much inclined to excesses in eating and drinking, both men and women (Herodotus and Plutarch), and the priests probably endeavored to thus check their too riotous mirth without personally interfering. Plutarch said concerning it:

"The skeleton which the Egyptians appropriately introduce at their banquets,

exhorting the guests to remember that they shall soon be like him, though he comes as an unwelcome and unseasonable boon companion, is nevertheless in a certain degree seasonable, if he exhorts them not to drink too deeply or indulge only in pleasures, but to cultivate mutual friendship and affection and not to render life, which is short in duration, long by evil deeds."

[Illustration: EGYPTIAN PARTY. (From a Tomb at Thebes.)

Host and hostess receiving presents. Dancing girls. Slaves waiting on guests. Placing collars of lotus around their necks. Slaves preparing bouquets. Scribe. Butchers cutting up ox. Carrying trays of meat. Man clapping hands and singing. Guitar player. Harpist. Slave carrying head and haunch. Stick custodian rewarded.]

After the skeleton, there was sung a doleful song in honor of Maneros, whose identity is clouded by traditional disputes.

Next, music and songs of more mirthful character were resumed. Sometimes jugglers, male and female, were hired for the occasion. They amused their audience with ball tossing, turning somersaults, leaping and wrestling. Occasionally, games, resembling our draughts or checkers, served to amuse those present (Ibid.), but as a rule the fumes of wine prevented any such quiet occupation, and the festival in many cases ended with a most riotous carousal.

The foregoing is probably a true picture of a banquet in ancient Egypt--except that, according to some writers, the diners were seated on the floor and ate from very low stools or tables.

Yet, in spite of all, the moral code of the early Egyptians was purer than that of contemporary nations. And commerce and war carried abroad the advanced thoughts, great learning and luxurious tastes of these ancient people, to be the foundations in after years of divers civilizations, amongst them our own.


The vegetable kingdom of ancient Egypt may be roughly divided into four great classes--trees and shrubs, esculent plants, grains and artificial grasses.

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