UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
Especially was the Imperial gastric juice a solvent of tremendous power. From the
time of Augustus the tables of the royal triclinia or dining-rooms groaned more
and more under their load. The world was put under contribution to supply the
pampered appetites of the Caesars. The greatest gourmand of them all was
Vitellius, who, in order to appease the unappeasable, sent out detachments of
hunters into foreign parts to scour unexplored forests for game, and dispatched
squadrons to drain the sea if by any means he might be filled.
To the fish, oysters, and crabs thus supplied were added such delicacies as
mussels and snails, which were highly prized by the Roman epicure. It was a
custom of the time to bring such creatures to the table alive, in order that
their freshness might not be suspected. Great care was given to the preparation
of poultry. Fowls were fattened in the dark, under the belief that the quality of
the flesh was thereby improved. Ducks and geese were stuffed with figs and dates
for a like purpose of adding to the flavor.
Almost every extravagance of conceit was practiced in the selection and
preparation of food. Caprice would seize upon some bird or beast, perhaps
hitherto regarded as unclean, and devote it to the table as a delicacy. The
higher life of Rome became bestial to a degree never equaled in the case of a
people equally civilized. Several of the Emperors were genuine swine. Their
gluttony was hardly redeemed by the slight flavor of Epicurean decency which
pervaded it. The revenues of kingdoms, backed by the resources of unscrupulous
power, were scarcely sufficient to maintain the style of living which was adopted
by the later Caesars. Apicius feasted on the tongues of flamingoes, and
Elagabalus on their brains. Peacocks, storks, and cranes, and nearly all the
other uneatable were taken with gusto on the Roman table. But the flesh of bird
and fowl was by no means enough in strength and flavor to satisfy the animal
appetite of him to whom dyspepsia was a stranger and satiety impossible. He must
have pig. From the mere pig of Campania to the wild boar whose frothing jaws had
champed for twenty years in the forests of Asia, the swine race was devoured by
the race of swine. The royal gluttons could tell by the flavor from what country
a given boar had been taken, notwithstanding the more than fifty ways in which he
might be dressed.