De Arte Coquinaria


Many teachers of classics include in their curriculum a unit on Roman dining, whether through reading Petronius’ Cena Trimalchonis at the upper levels, or a story inspired by this piece in Cambridge Latin Course’s Stage 32, or Ecce Romani chapters 32-34, or Lingua Latina’s Chapter 30.  Teachers may also incorporate some kind of actual Roman banquet into their year, perhaps combining it, as I do, with an awards ceremony.

What I’d like to propose in this article is to take this to the next level, and to present an idea to focus on food and cooking per se, where students will have the chance to explore in greater detail ancient foods, their preparation, stories and myths having to do with food, and at the same time be able to use Latin actively to explain an authentic activity (i.e. cooking).

Depending on the year, I use this project to fulfill a number of linguistic and cultural goals:

  • accusative case review (including in + acc vs. in + abl.)
  • commands (imperatives or subjunctives, depending on level)
  • future tense
  • purpose clauses
  • improving food and dining vocabulary
  • practicing both presentational speaking and listening skills
  • examination of herbs, plants, and animals – their mythology and relationship to food
  • exploring the Cena Trimalchionis
  • myths that include food / hospitality (Baucis and Philemon, innumerable scenes in the Aeneid, Erischthon, etc.)
  • Planning a convivium for an awards night

The idea is for students to make a video that showcases a particular recipe, perhaps in the style of a Food Network cooking series.  Students must explain in Latin (appropriate to their level) how to cook their recipe and must name all the ingredients to be used.  During the video they must also share a story that relates to some ingredient included in their dish.  My own students have done, as examples, the apple of discord, Cato’s warning to the Romans about how close Carthage is by ‘accidentally’ dropping a fresh fig from his toga in the Senate, Appius Claudius and the drowning of the sacred chickens, or a medieval story about how the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary once had her paralysis cured by a hermit who suggested she soak rosemary in wine and then rub it into her limbs.

Videos tend to be about 10 minutes long and can be quite creative!  Here’s an example from one of my Latin 3’s scripts this year (written entirely by students with some suggestions):

E: quid primum faciemus?


G: primum, calefacite furnum ad trecentesimum septuagesimum quintum gradum. deinde, farinam in catillo ponite, et salem aeratum addite. farinam et salem aeratum cochleare miscite.


E: quid tum faciemus?


G: deinde, miscite amygdalam in frusta secata, cinnamum, et ros marinum. tum miscite succum ex uvis, succum malorum granatorum, et mel in poculo. lac addite.


E:pulchre fecisti Giuditta! auxilium visne?


G: sic! (Electrae dicit) funde primam mixturam in secundam mixturam et misce. feram atroptam rotundam novem unicarum.


E: bene redolet!


G: quidem!  (omnibus dicit) nunc fundite mixturam in ferculum et triginta minutas cibum in furno coquite.


E: Malum granatum esse signum Proserpinae scisne?


G: certe?


E: sic! Quando Proserpina puella erat, Hades puellam abstulit. Hades Proserpinam in Tartarum tulit, quod Proserpinam amavit. Dum in tartaro, Proserpina sex semina mali granati edit. Ergo puella ad terram revenire non potest.

After the videos are made, students vote for the best one, which we then make, using the Latin instructions, in our school kitchen.  In past years, we’ve watched the NLE’s Forum Romanum episode on Apicius while we eat.

I hope that this sparks some ideas for using food in some way in your own classes.  Please share in the comments section anything that you’ve done or resources that you find useful when teaching about food or Roman dining customs.

iubeo te bene coquere et esse!

Further Resources

  • Piper Salve, a German neo-Latin textbook which has in the back several dialogues pertaining to cooking as well as extensive useful vocabulary.
  • Anna Andresian’s Vocabula Picta, which includes a chapter on vocabulary in the kitchen.


Links for the week of 3 February

An opinion piece from the New York Times about the difficulties of translation:

A recipe for an ancient Greek and Roman pork dish: (via @carolemadge)

A piece from the New Yorker on memorizing poetry: (via @bretmulligan)

Information about the excavations at Portus: (via @stephenjohnkay)

The British Library is crowdsourcing a project to match up old maps with modern Google Earth ones: (via @Culture24)

The AIRC is offering academic credit for summer and semester programs of study in Rome: (via @etclassics)

Last Tuesday, you learned what two teachers have in their bags. This is what an archaeologist has: (via @AIRomanCulture)

Current events in Ancient Greek: (via @DHSBClassics)

A list of things for children to do around Naples and Pompeii: (via @CarolineLawrenc)

Pompeii is to be restored very soon: (via @DrKillgrove)

Prize money for the best visualizations of Classical data: (via @apaclassics)

Roman Army School in Durham, UK in March: (via @rogueclassicist)

All 2012 articles in the Cambridge Journals will be available online: (via @DrKillgrove)

The APA is accepting applications for Public Fellows: (via @apaclassics)

Links for the Week of 27 January

The APA is offering monetary awards to teachers: (via @rogueclassicist et al.)

CONVENTICULUM Bostoniense 2013 will run July 27-August 4th. See for more details.

A new issue of Teaching Classical Languages is out:

A new edition of PRIMA is out: (via @etclassics)

360 degree image of Leptis Magna: (via @ahencyclopedia)

Pictures and recipe for Roman libum: (via @carolemadge)

Roman pork and apples recipe and pictures: (via @Nihil_Novi_Net and @rogueclassicist)

Roman air pollution (via @brevkin)

In Our Time episode about Romulus and Remus: (via @ancientblogger and @jntribolo )

Nero’s changing profile: (via @ancientblogger)

Roman armor found at Caerleon dig: (via @ManchurianDevil)

Roman soldiers of African descent at Hadrian’s Wall: (via @HistoryNeedsYou)