These notes on the evolution and significance of the table throughout history refer to the social relationships that food or banquets provoke, the preparation, pomp and protocol of the same, the climate that comes to be created in them that always , or almost always, it is usually favorable. We believe that apart from what the table represents in home life, food is one of the fundamental moments of our daily existence. The primitive function of the great tables of antiquity is important, in Assyria and Babylon. In the Egyptian religion and in other ancient religions, the function of the table was strictly sacred, that is, that which invoked relations with the beyond, with the gods, the spirits and with their liturgies and rituals.
Greek symposia without women
Like so many things of our civilization, the institution of political, friendly or commercial food and especially the wise, begins at the table of classical Greece. It seems that of the city - states of Greece, the classic "cops", it was the Spartans who held banquets of a political and even intellectual type. This custom spread in other cities, especially in Athens. Very soon it prevailed among the citizens and the institutions, and any pretext was good to make a symposium. In fact, the word symposium etymologically meant a meeting of drinkers, which soon became a meal accompanied by wine, naturally.
As we have pointed out, everything was valid for the organization of the symposium. The family party, the celebrations of a city, the success achieved in a business or in a sporting, musical or theatrical contest, the arrival or departure of a friend. The Athenians perfectly distinguished the food destined solely to satisfy hunger, the daily diet, from the meeting in which they drank glasses of wine, imposing all kinds of distractions or discussions.
In a good start, these Greek banquets were only male. That is, free women were rigorously apart and only female servants appeared. Music, dancers or courtesans. That naturally, they served to distract diners, but did not eat with them. At these banquets a table chief was appointed, the "symposiarch," who was sometimes the host, but very often this ephemeral and honorary position was drawn. The main function of this character was to fix the proportions of the mixture of the wine and water and to decide how many glasses each diner had to empty. The symposiarch had to be obeyed blindly and whoever lacked his orders submitted to small and amusing punishments, dancing naked or carrying a flutist in her arms, turning the banquet table.
But the important thing is that he led the discussions, the controversy, where the Greeks displayed their intelligence, their formidable analytical and dialectical skills. Thus, it is not surprising that banquet literature soon appeared, that is, that philosophy, politics, business, were treated in them, and even that they received a literary form. This genre was called precisely symposium. Among the great pieces are Plato's, Xenophon's, Plutarch's banquets and the famous "Banquet of the Sophists", by the grammarian Athenaeum of Naucratis. If that of Plato and Xenophon are political and philosophical, that of Plutarch is historical and that of Athenaeum of Naucratis has become the great source of knowledge of all Hellenic gastronomy.
The Roman table, symbol of power
Rome largely inherited the tradition of deliberating at the table, of solving important things there. The literature of banquets ranging from that described by the poet Horacio to that of Petronio el Satiricón are more or less pleasant gastronomic banquets, but there are also politicians and, to give only one example, that the murder of Julius Caesar was decided upon. by Brutus and Cassius.
Perhaps the commemorative and exhibitionist banquets were invented by those who affirmed the power of political force. Thus, we know of a priestly and political banquet held in the year 74 before Jesus Christ to solemnize the taking of position of a maximum pontiff who was of extraordinary abundance.
Also Julio Cesar's when he was elected to the consulate. I cannot resist quoting the fabulous and varied catalog of that menu that senators and patricians devoured laying in "triclinium": The appetizers were presented in an altarpiece of sea urchins, fresh oysters at their discretion, two kinds of clams, thrushes with asparagus, fattened chickens, oyster and seafood pie, white sea dates and blacks; Then came various fish dishes or small birds such as papahigos and gardeners, deer and wild boar kidneys, breaded birds. The big dishes, that is, the pieces of respect were: pork quarter, the same pie, various roasts of wild boar and fish prepared in different ways, hares, roasted poultry. Sorry I can't give reference to desserts, because I have not found it in the text. The chronicler must have disdained them, but not the cooks or the diners. The Roman ostentatious luxury that was accentuated at the time of the Empire, Nero, Vitelio, Heliogábalos, who were spectacular and sumptuous banquet organizers. The table in them was luxury for luxury.
The barbarians eat sitting
Before the successive waves of the invading barbarians, the Roman civilization collapsed with a crash. On the other hand, the total and profound revolution that Christianity socially and religiously represented caused customs to change as well. The Europe of the High Middle Ages in the west, despite its so visible Roman heritage, was completely different from the material civilization that had preceded it. The glories of luxury, squandering, lavishness, passed to the empire of the East. Contastinople was heir if not to the immense riches of imperial Rome, if to its external envelope, to its commercial nerve, to its capacity for fantasy.
Among this external envelope, there were, obviously, the pleasures of the table that, as we pointed out previously, resided in the cosmopolis that was Rome, in its riches and above all in being the center of commerce of the entire ancient world. However, in terms of material civilization, the two civilizations, that of the invaders and the remains of the Roman structure, coexisted. Then, the Gallo-Romans, the Hispanic-Romans, the Italians, all the opulent provinces of the Empire were divided into different kingdoms and if the most ambitious barbarian courts, in their imperial moments, like those of Charles the Great, maintained a certain pageantry and To some extent they imitated the sumptuousness and rituals of the banquets of ancient Rome and Byzantium, the proud and natural calm of that luxury was never reborn. The impoverishment of agriculture, the bankruptcy of commerce, the rough and violent customs, the austerities of the Church and the constant struggles between the various invading peoples and the kingdoms that followed, totally ended that kitchen artificial, with agricultural traditions, with the memory of times past.
Gastronomically speaking, it was the Byzantines who settled, as golden and solemn owners, in the mysterious and baroque ceremonial of the great imperial tables. They saved dishes, preserved recipes, wasted condiments and spices, in the vast and underground kingdom of their kitchens. Constantine the Great occupied a high place, studded with precious and impure stones, the head of the banquet. He was the first Roman who ate upright, like the barbarians, seated, hieratic. As an icon. He renounced the Roman style of reclining eating: it was a symbol.
Moreover, the transformation is seen in the historical descriptions. The kitchen Roman was a kitchen minced meat, maceration, mincemeat, purées, croquettes, meatballs and fillings. Let's say this was very useful and necessary given the position of the Roman man who ate, as we have pointed out, lying on the bed and who could not cut, nor separate, nor carve.
La kitchen medieval, on the contrary it is, we repeat, great roasts. For the first time, the great pieces occupy a privileged place, typical of the invading peoples, of the wandering and warrior people that are the Vandals, the Alans, the Huns, the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the Swabians…. The new peoples coexist with the more or less romanticized natives and thus take large bleeding meats from their herds, large game roasts, and have a bare-bones agriculture.