Ancient Sausages

The classical and ancient Greeks had sausages.  Just thought I'd mention that piece of trivia.

How do we know this?  Because one of the main characters in The Knights by Aristophanes is a sausage seller who plies his trade in the agora.

However the earliest known mention of sausage is in the Odyssey, believe it or not.  At one point our heroes make sausages from pork stomach filled with blood and fat.  This is described as a tasty meal that the warriors can't wait to tuck into.

Personally, I'd run away screaming.  I am not keen on blood sausage.

Beer through a straw

The earliest beer dates back to at least 3,000 B.C.   That's a minimum, because a pot of that age was found in the Middle East that, on analysis, was found to contain barley beer.

The Greeks were not into beer, not even slightly.  Beer was for barbarians.  The Greeks were however aware of a rather odd custom of early beer swillers.  There’s a fragment of a poem from the archaic poet Archilochos that includes the line:

“…as a Thracian or a Phrygian sucks his barley beer through a tube…”  

Yes, beer was originally drunk through a straw.  To make it more fun it was drunk from pots or, if you went to a party, from a communal vat.

So the process was, you arrived at the party, your host handed you a long straw, and then you all sat or stood around talking while you drank from the same pool of beer.

This image from the British Museum has Mesopotamian beer drinkers hanging out together, in the upper middle:

There's technically no reason why you couldn't try this at your next party!

A Cherry History

Cherries have been around since forever.  Cherry stones regularly appear at neolithic sites across Europe and the Middle East.  Back in those days of course they were all wild cherries.

The earliest mention of cultivating cherries comes from classical Greece.  It's in a book called Enquiry Into Plants by a chap named Theophrastus.  Theophrastus was a student of Aristotle (who was in turn taught by Plato, whose teacher was Socrates, who was taught by Diotima.)  This puts him about a hundred years after the time of Nico and Diotima.

It's clear from his text that cherry orchards have been around for some time.  The dating on the first cherry orchard can be bookended because cherries don't get a mention in Hesiod's book Works and Days.  Hesiod is more or less the same date as Homer, and Works and Days is like the archaic Greek version of The Dummy's Guide to Farming.  Cultivated cherries probably are a late archaic or a classical creation.

Zombie apocalypse begins at the Large Hadron Collider

You might recall when they discovered the Higgs Particle at the Large Hadron Collider, that I wrote about what is a Higgs particle and why does anyone care.

Now a group of PhD students who work there have made a zombie movie shot on site.  The premise goes that radiation from the Higgs experiments has turned a maintenance crew into zombies who now shamble through the maintenance corridors in search of brains, a food source which should, in theory, be quite plentiful at the LHC.

The movie is acted with all the skill that you would expect a bunch of nuclear physicists to bring to the thespian arts.  But they did a pretty good job on the production.

The movie's 75 minutes.  Here's the trailer:

Drink like a Greek: wine cups

Ancient wine was quite unlike the modern stuff.  To start with, they added spices, such as fenugreek, which these days you're more likely to find in a curry. They also added seawater, for a very good reason. In a world without sulphur, salt makes the next best preservative.

Wine was always drunk with water mixed in.  No exceptions, not ever.  To drink wine neat was the mark of the worst sort of dissolute barbarian.  The usual ratio was three water to one wine.  Since water filtration plants hadn't been invented yet, the practice might have begun so the alcohol could kill any bugs in the water.  The water and wine was mixed together in a large jar called a krater, and then served out into cups.

Wine at a party was served in a very wide, very flat cup called a kylix.  Here's one at the Metropolitan in New York:

Yes, the decoration on the outside is a naked woman drinking from a kylix.  Some of the decorations on these things would be rated XXX.  Speaking of which, here's a decoration on the inside of a cup.  This is what you'd see after you've drunk the wine:

The lady is playing a drinking game called kottabos.  That's why she's holding her cup in that funny way.  Here are the rules for kottabos:
  1. Drink your wine to the dregs.
  2. Hold cup as per lady in picture.
  3. Throw the dregs at the nearest wall.

Winners are judged for the most interesting patterns on the host's walls, or possibly the furniture or the fellow guests if someone's a bad shot.  

The other, more unusual cup for alcohol, is something much more associated with Vikings, but in fact comes from Persia.  The Greeks called it a rhyton, which is also the English word.  It's a cup in the shape of a horn:

These things were always made in the shape of an animal or some similar subject.  These are at the Getty Villa in L.A., as is this lion:

In The Ionia Sanction at one point I have Nico at a Persian party where he's given a rhyton to drink from in the shape of a boar.