Impressed by impending summer time picnics, Christmas lunch comas and the Carrie Bradshaw impersonator, we could not assist however marvel: why did the traditional Greeks and Romans eat whereas mendacity down?
A ceiling red-figure kylix (c. 490 BCE) attributed to Onesimos, depicting a girl reclining on a klinē enjoying kottabos, a well-liked ingesting sport at historical Greek symposia. Getty Museum 82.AE.14.
Have you ever ever seen what number of historical Greek and Roman artworks depict folks mendacity down whereas consuming? Numerous jars, vases, frescoes, wine cups and sculptures have been embellished with luxurious scenes of historical Greek symposiaRoman events and different informal banquets. However why precisely did they select to sit down again throughout these events and the way did they keep away from heartburn earlier than the trendy marvel QuickEze?
Mendacity = Social Standing
The observe of consuming whereas mendacity down is assumed to have began in historical Greece as early because the seventh century BC, earlier than being adopted by the Romans and spreading into the broader Mediterranean. Each historical Greek and Roman cultures positioned nice worth on communal meals, and the higher courses generally indulged in lavish, hour-long feasts as a approach to broadcast their wealth and standing. Particularly in historical Rome, these events would change into a spherical of one-upmanship, with every host serving up extra unique delicacies than the final – leading to dishes like parrot tongue stew and packed dormitories!
On this manner, consuming whereas mendacity down and being served by others was thought-about the final word expression of energy and luxurious. The customized was reserved for the elite, however in an historical equal of “maintaining with the Joneses,” it started to be imitated by members of the decrease courses—if they might afford it. Though it turned extra widespread, it was not out there to everybody; Greek ladies weren’t allowed to attend symposia until they have been courtesans, prostitutes, flute ladies, dancers, or the like employed for leisure in the course of the night. In distinction, Roman ladies (i.e. wives) may attend banquets, though they have been anticipated to sit down at a unique desk or upright subsequent to their husbands to point their standing.
A symposium scene on a fresco within the Tomb of the Diver from the Greek colony of Paestum, Italy, c. 480-470 BC
Well being is (additionally) wealth
The opposite perception that spurred the recognition of this tradition was its alleged digestive advantages. The concept of consuming whereas mendacity down would possibly evoke concern of heartburn for many of us right now, however the ancients believed they’d their posture all the way down to a science – and it was all in regards to the facet of the physique they lay on get on.
Sure, if you have not seen but, chances are you’ll now notice that the Greeks and Romans are (virtually) at all times pictured mendacity on their left facet. The rationale for this has been debated by historians and classicists for many years, however one argument is that the perspective works with human anatomy relatively than towards it. Mendacity fully flat could cause abdomen acid to splash upwards and trigger heartburn, however the abdomen curves itself and to the left. By mendacity on the left facet of the physique, the contents of the abdomen transfer furthest away from the esophageal opening, stopping reflux and creating extra room for meals – thus permitting the aged to take pleasure in bigger portions and luxury, no antacids required. This posture was then tailored barely by the Romans, who selected to eat whereas leaning a bit of extra on the abdomen, as this was thought to distribute the physique’s weight evenly for higher consolation and leisure.
Bacchus/Dionysus, at all times disturbed, reclines on his proper facet on this 1596-97 oil portray by Caravaggio
Mendacity down additionally allowed for the occasional nap between programs, to settle the abdomen. It has additionally been advised that mendacity on this facet frees the (extra generally dominant) proper hand for foods and drinks vessels; though some historical artworks depict revelers leaning on and eat with their left facet.
Both manner, the observe of mendacity down throughout meals continued all through the Mediterranean for 1000’s of years, so it will need to have been fairly snug! This summer time, as you sit again on grass and revel in a leisurely picnic or get up out of your post-Christmas lunch coma, assume: possibly we’re not so totally different from the outdated days in spite of everything?