Dinner With Demosthenes

Sarah Jane Evans examines the eating habits of the Ancient Greeks.

As a student of Classics I was always aware that the Greeks drank (viz. the references to the 'wine-dark sea'), but it never really occurred to me that they ate. There was ambrosia, of course, and honey from Hymettus, and presumably grapes (produced along with wine). Although that might satisfy the gods, it was hardly enough to keep mortal body and soul together. But my studies were more concerned with the fact that there were feasts than with what was eaten there.

Now, however, a classical scholar has turned his attention to exactly that question. He looks at Ancient Greece, and at fourth and fifth century BC Athens in particular, and examines what the Greeks ate, where and with whom. He throws particular light on the differences between the sexes, and highlights the limitations on women's activity.

For instance, while women were allowed to bake bread, and to sell fruit and vegetables, bread and wine, they were not butchers or fishmongers. Similarly, in sacrifices they could pour wine, but not shed blood. Only the sexually promiscuous hetairai could eat with men in the men's dining room, the andron. It was expected that women would eat together, and would not go out to dinner with their husbands. Only husbands could eat with their wives; no male friends could accompany the husband when eating with his wife. 'Wives often served their husbands, either eating before them, or afterwards, eating whatever was left.

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