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?
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!
- 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.
- Videos from the Latin Listening Project that pertain to food – Esne perita coquendi? (Latin Listening Project) et Esne peritus coquendi? (Latin Listening Project); also, more tangentially Quomodo fiat cibus e manutergio (Latin Listening Project – Ecclesiastical Pronunciation)
- NLE’s Forum Romanum episode “de arte coquinaria”
- liber Apicii ipse
- Another unit on food, designed for Ecce Romani Book II by Amy Barnett Cena Optima (The Best Dinner) [9th grade]
- Pass the Garum – a great website where various ancient recipes (or inspired by antiquity) are tried and modified.