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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.