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c. 29 BC / Rome

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Catius:                                             And no one
Can claim to have mastered the art of good dining until
He has acquired a detailed knowledge of the subtle theory
Of flavors, become, as it were, a brilliant savorant.
It’s not quite enough, for example, to sweep up the fish
From the most expensive fish stalls if you don’t know which
Go better with sauce and which, when served up broiled,
Will make your jaded guest sit up and take notice.
          The host who wants to avoid serving tasteless meat
Will hold out for the Umbrian boar that, fattened on acorns
From the holm oak, makes the platter bend under his weight;
The Laurentian boar, who lives on marsh grass and reeds,
Tastes poor. Roes raised in vineyards are not always edible.
Your true epicure will be found to favor the forelegs
Of the prolific hare. As for fish and fowl, I’m the first
Whose palate has made unquestionably clear what age
And what quality they should be. Some gourmets are gifted
Only in finding new sweets. But, heroes, I swear
It is not heroic enough to lavish your care
On one point—as if, for instance, someone took pains
To see that his wines were perfect but was quite indifferent
To the type of oil poured over his fish.

©1959 by the University of Chicago Press. Used with permission of the University of Chicago Press.

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About the Author

Horace, from the Satires. The son of a freed slave, Horace attended lectures at the Academy in Athens around 46 BC, joined the faction of Brutus after Caesar’s assassination, and around 39 BC moved to Rome, where as a poet he aligned himself with Augustus, lamenting the degeneration of Roman virtue. In his Odes, published in 23 BC, he asserted that he would be remembered as “the first to have brought / Greek song into Latin numbers.”

American table manners are, if anything, a more advanced form of civilized behavior than the Europeans, because they are more complicated and further removed from the practical result, always a sign of refinement.
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