The Height of Luxury: How to Eat Birds Properly

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 15.8

If you think that your relatives are overly-critical of your tastes or eating habits this Thanksgiving, you may be comforted (or disheartened) to know that gastronomic snobbery is a phenomenon with solid ancient precedent, as attested by this passage from Favorinus (cited by Gellius) concerning the luxury of bird consumption among the elite:

“These words, which I have added, are those of Favonius: ‘The foremost exponents of culinary affairs and luxury deny that a dinner is elegant unless, when you are dining at the height of pleasure, your dish is taken away and replaced by a better and even richer one. This is now considered the flower of culinary excellence among those for whom expense and fastidiousness take the place of elegance, and who deem it unseemly to eat the whole of any bird except the figpecker. Concerning other birds, they think that a dinner is cheap and shabby if the birds are not of such richness that the guests can become full just from eating the rumps; and moreover, they think that those who eat the upper part of a bird have rather unsophisticated palates. If luxury continues to increase at this rate, what will be left but that they order their food to be eaten for them, lest they become exhausted by eating, while their couches are decked out with more gold, silver, and purple for the use of a few humans than for all the immortal gods?'”

Verba haec, quae adposuimus, Favoni sunt: “Praefecti popinae atque luxuriae negant cenam lautam esse, nisi cum lubentissime edis, tum auferatur et alia esca melior atque amplior succenturietur. Is nunc flos cenae habetur inter istos quibus sumptus et fastidium pro facetiis procedit, qui negant ullam avem praeter ficedulam totam comesse oportere; ceterarum avium atque altilium nisi tantum adponatur, ut a cluniculis inferiore parte saturi fiant, convivium putant inopia sordere, superiorem partem avium atque altilium qui edint, eos palatum parum delicatum habere. Si proportione pergit luxuria crescere, quid relinquitur, nisi ut delibari sibi cenas iubeant, ne edendo defetigentur, quando stratus lectuls auro, argento, purpura amplior aliquot hominibus quam dis inmortalibus adornatur?”


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