Wendy Mayer

title.none: Brubaker and Linardou, eds., Eat, Drink (Wendy Mayer)

identifier.other: baj9928.0810.003 08.10.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Wendy Mayer, Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Brubaker, Leslie and Kallirroe Linardou, eds. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Luke 12:19)-- Food and Wine in Byzantium. Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies Publications, v. 13. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. xxxv, 272. $99.95 978-0-7546-6119-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.10.03

Brubaker, Leslie and Kallirroe Linardou, eds. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Luke 12:19)-- Food and Wine in Byzantium. Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer. Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies Publications, v. 13. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007. Pp. xxxv, 272. $99.95 978-0-7546-6119-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Wendy Mayer
Centre for Early Christian Studies, Australian Catholic University

This is the thirteenth proceedings from the Annual Spring Symposium to be published by Ashgate in a series that showcases the work of UK Byzantinists and their colleagues. Each year the Symposium centres around a particular theme. In 2003 that theme was food and wine in the Byzantine world. A topic chosen to honour the founder of the Spring Symposium, Anthony Bryer, author of the definitive article on Byzantine porridge, the choice also coincided with a growing interest among scholars of Ancient, Late Antique, Mediaeval and Byzantine Studies in the topic of food. 2003 produced a bumper crop, as it were, with conferences independently organized in the UK (including a conference later that year on Mediaeval logistics), Australia and Europe. With the publication of this volume (the volumes from the Spring Symposia are typically slow to appear), the fruits of that year can now be enjoyed in full.

The articles that were selected for publication are divided into six categories: tributes to A.A.M. Byer; practicalities; dining and its accoutrements; ideology and representation; food and the sacred; and outside the empire. These sections are prefaced by a full bibliography of Anthony Bryer's publications, so that the first third of the volume is devoted to celebration of his contribution to Byzantine Studies per se, and the remaining two thirds to the conference theme. For those who have come in contact with Professor Bryer in the course of their career, the tributes from his former students (Joe Munitiz, Judith Herrin, Rosemary Morris, John Haldon, Margaret Mullett, and Catia Galatariotou, many now formidable Byzantinists in their own right) are warm and engaging and bring to life the down to earth conviviality and generosity of his character in a variety of ways. This section sits somewhat oddly with the rest of the volume, but if one considers it a sneaky way of assembling a Festschrift for someone opposed to the genre, which was clearly the editors' intent, then the disjunction between the two parts of the volume can be more readily overlooked.

Section 2 (practicalities) offers four articles on topics as varied as the processing of harvested produce ("Between the field and the plate: How agricultural products were processed into food," by Dionysios Stathakopoulos); storage ("Store in a cool and dry place: Perishable goods and their preservation in Byzantium," by Michael Grünbart); identification of aromatics ("Some Byzantine aromatics," by Andrew Dalby); and diet ("Stew and salted meat: Opulent normality in the diet of every day?," by Johannes Koder). Stathakopoulos, known for his work on pestilence and famine in the early Byzantine world, focuses here on two agricultural products--olives and cereals--and the means by which they were processed into oil and flour. He negotiates his way carefully through the methodological difficulties associated with such a study, while highlighting the value of the recent emphasis on ethno-archaeology. Grünbart's survey of domestic storage by category (storage facilities, fruits and plants, meat, other perishables), by contrast, relies in large part on literary evidence, without displaying the same degree of sensitivity to the limitations of the epistolary genre. Dalby, whose books on post-classical Greek food are well-known, offers a brief addendum to the phrasebook of foods and aromas that appeared in Flavours of Byzantium (Totnes, 2003). In his article he corrects misunderstandings and offers new detail concerning ambergris, storax, two species of jasmine and three types of sandalwood. Some of these are of interest more for their use in the preparation of pharmaceuticals than culinary recipes. Koder, in his analysis of what was extraordinary and ordinary in the everyday diet of non-elites, returns to a topic he tackled in part in his magisterial Gemüse in Byzanz (Vienna, 1993). In this article, inspired by Ptochoprodromos' dreams of stews and salted meats as plentiful, substantial and common, he sets out to determine whether this was really the case. By the end of his survey (again literary, but displaying a greater degree of sensitivity to the constraints) he is led to conclude that the poet's dream is largely fantasy. Such foodstuffs, while prized, were expensive and less commonly consumed; the basic diet relied instead upon bread and soup, supplemented by cheap vegetables, fruits, olives and inexpensive dairy products.

Section 3 (dining) constitutes another set of four articles, three accompanied by illustrations. These range from the elite ("Dazzling dining: Banquets as an expression of imperial legitimacy," by Simon Malmberg; "A sultan in Constantinople: The feasts of Ghiyâth al-Dîn Kay-Khusraw I," by Dimitri Korobeinikov; "From glittering sideboard to table: Silver in the well-appointed triclinium," by Marlia Mundell Mango) to the monastic setting ("Mealtime in monasteries: The culture of the Byzantine refectory," by Alice-Mary Talbot). Here two articles by senior scholars (Mundell Mango and Talbot) are balanced against two articles arising from post-graduate research. All four are thorough and offer useful insights in regard to their chosen theme. Malmberg, focusing on the early Byzantine period (but drawing on sources up to the tenth century), walks the reader through the semiotics of imperial banquets, showing how they served to reinforce traditional values, to invoke religious symbolism, to demonstrate hierarchy, to communicate continuity with the past, and display consensus. For the interested reader a complementary article by the same author ("Visualising hierarchy at imperial banquets") is published in the volume that accompanied the 2003 Australian conference (W. Mayer and S. Trzcionka, eds., Feast, Fast or Famine: Food and Drink in Byzantium, Brisbane, 2005, 11-24). Korobeinikov turns, by contrast, to the early thirteenth century and the reception of Seljuk sultans in Constantinople by the Byzantine imperial family. This is an historical piece, which seeks to tease out the facts behind the second visit of Kay-Khusraw I and his subsequent relationship with Alexios III, rather than focusing on the feasts per se. In this sense, its connection with the other articles in this section and with the volume theme is tangential, to say the least. On the other hand, when placed in the context of Korobeinikov's interest in Byzantine-Turkish relations, it cannot be faulted as a typically thorough piece of his research. Talbot, with her tightly focused article on the culture of the refectory in the Middle and Late Byzantine periods, firmly redirects the gaze of the reader to the conference theme. Here not just the monastic diet itself but the architecture and decoration of refectories, regulations about mealtimes and seating arrangements, inequalities in food and drink, readings during the meal, the refectory as a place of punishment, outside visitors and concluding ceremonial are all detailed on the basis of monastic foundation documents, saints' lives, penitentials, satirical essays and poetry. In the section's concluding piece, Mundell Mango draws on her substantial research on Late Antique and Byzantine silver to demonstrate the active (not merely decorative) role that silver plate and other domestic silver vessels played in dining practices inside and outside the dining hall. A discussion of a recently discovered set of ten silver plates of eleventh-century date, belonging to one Constantine the Alan, proedros, located towards the end of the article offers an important corrective to recent literature on the topic. One minor drawback is found among the illustrations. Not infrequent reference within the article is made to section a. or b. of a particular figure. From Figure 14.7 onwards, while they remain within the label to the figure, the designations a. or b. are no longer found within the illustration itself. It can take some time to work out which section of the illustration is indicated.

Section 4 (ideology and representation) again comprises four articles. These range from questions of purity ("What was kosher in Byzantium?," by Barbara Crostini) to the moral consequences of overindulgence ("Eat, drink and pay the price," by Antony Eastmond and Liz James) to changes in the use of table equipment ("The changing dining habits at Christ's table," by Joanita Vroom) and the status of Venetian ware in late Byzantine Crete ("Fish on a dish and its table companions in fourteenth-century wall-paintings on Venetian-dominated Crete," by Angeliki Lymberopoulou). Strictly speaking, only the first of these deals with ideology; in the remainder written and pictorial representation are more dominant. Crostini opens the section with a response to Tia Kolbaba's The Byzantine Lists (Urbana, IL, 2000) on the question of unclean foods, a debate revived in the eleventh century in the wake of the azymite controversy. For Crostini the renewed discussion is about identity formation and the symbolism of Byzantine Christian culture. It was a means by which Byzantine Christianity sought to define itself as a universal faith. Eastmond and James turn to the moral symbolism of food, choosing to focus on overindulgence, its consequences and symbolic associations. Here, with the occasional glint of humour and appropriate illustration, overeating and vomit (regurgitation) are explored in detail across religious and secular literature and pictorial representation. Vroom, by contrast, takes a vast topic, changes in dining utensils from the fifth to fifteenth century, and trims it down to a preliminary investigation intended simply to establish whether combining pictorial, written and archaeological evidence constitutes a fruitful line of approach. Choosing pictorial representations of the Last Supper as her case study she convincingly shows that such depictions were not static and do indeed appear to reflect contemporary tableware and dining habits, at least in more elite circles. The article provides important context for Mundell Mango's piece on silverware, as well as supporting some of the conclusions re diet of Koder. In closing this section Lymberopoulou turns briefly to the question of what the incorporation of Venetian wares in Byzantine-Christian iconography on Crete in the fourteenth century indicates about the interaction between the Venetians and Cretans at this period, as well as the status enjoyed by Venetians and their artefacts on the island. While the identification of the glassware and the status it enjoyed are reasonably well demonstrated, other conclusions are less well developed and the reader is left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. There is, on the other hand, some useful crossover with Vroom's article in that one of the images selected is of the Last Supper.

Section 5 (food and the sacred) comprises just two articles, the second of which is extremely brief. In the first ("Divine banquet: The Theotokos as a source of spiritual nourishment") Mary Cunningham details the culinary images of the Virgin that prevail in Byzantine hymns and homilies. Mary is the literal nourisher of Christ (galaktotrophousa), who in metaphor and typology becomes the fruitful earth, and even the banqueting table that contains the life-giving bread, Christ. The second piece ("Being a potential saint," by Patricia Karlin-Hayter) is little more than two anecdotes about feasting excerpted from the life of St Antony the Younger prior to his adoption of that name. These are recounted in an entertaining way without any accompanying analysis.

The final section (outside the empire) brings together two articles on Byzantine food and wine beyond the empire's margins ("More Malmsey, your Grace? The export of Greek wine to England in the later Middle Ages," by Jonathon Harris; and "Record of Byzantine food in Chinese texts," by Chen Zhiqiang). Harris documents the taste among the English for Malmsey and Rumney, two types of sweet wine produced in Greece, a market that appeared to be dominated by Venetian and Genoese traders into the sixteenth century. He goes on to show that there was a less well recognized secondary role played by Byzantine exporters via the lease of Italian-owned ships and that their reach extended as far as England. In the final article, Chen Zhiqiang fulfills the double role of demonstrating the rising interest in Byzantine Studies in China in recent years as well as documenting a single aspect of the contact that took place between the Byzantine empire and that region. The citations of descriptions of Byzantine plants, foodstuffs, and pharmaceutical ingredients he presents represent a partial survey of Chinese records on the subject prompted at the time by trade contact and curiosity about exotic countries.

To sum up, the volume exhibits some of the inevitable failings of any conference proceedings (occasionally patchy quality, and the uncomfortable clustering of articles under categories), to which its dual purpose as proceedings of a themed conference and also Festschrift contributes. As a tribute to the person and work of Anthony Bryer, however, it faithfully reflects the character and breadth of his legacy among UK Byzantinists, not to mention the degree to which he is both admired and loved. On the topic of food and wine in Byzantium, a number of the articles will become standard references for scholars who touch upon the subject in years to come.