ART OF THE BANQUET
De triclinio, sive de modo convivandi apud priscos Romanos[Heidelberg], Officine de Saint-André, 1590
8vo, pp. (iv) 192 (xii), lacking two final blanks. Roman, Italic and Greek letter, printer’s device to t-p, four near full-page woodcuts depicting Roman banquet scenes. T-p a little bit dusty with early circular stamp and ms ex-libris erased, slight age browning (poorish paper), intermittent light marginal waterstain, contemporary marginalia to first two ll. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, missing ties. C20 label “Ex Libris C. Lacy Hulbert-Powell” to front paste-down.
Second edition of this entertaining and charmingly illustrated work on Roman dining and feasting customs.
‘De triclinio’, first published in Rome in 1588, is a fascinating study: quoting from numerous Latin and Greek authors – including Apicius, Cicero, Seneca, Petronius, Apuleius, Polybius and Svetonius – where Chacón explores every aspect of the aristocratic Roman banquet. ‘Triclinium’ was the dining room in Roman houses: this treatise begins with a presentation of the room, its various names and furniture. The author explains how the table was set (the wealthy could afford beautiful gold and silver tableware of ‘immense price’) and where men and women would sit, talks about food and dishes, and etiquette, as well as of all the diverse forms of entertainment (music, acting and dancing performances). Chacón mentions curious and extravagant banquets: one during which elephants were introduced in the room, and another one organised by Cesar with 22,000 dining couches and over 100,000 guests. A few pages are dedicated to the Last Supper. The second section contains an ‘Appendix’ by the historian Fulvio Orsini (1529-1600). This additional treatise, comprising more than half of the volume, covers the same topics in more detail. Orsini also discusses the appropriate clothes for dining, the dining habits of emperors, the profession of food tasters and bakers, the practice of playing games and gambling. Interesting pages are concerned with drinking and wine, e.g. in what proportions wine was mixed with water, how it was cooled, the role of the ‘magister bibendi’, and curious customs such as drinking as many glasses as the number of letters composing the name of a friend. A few woodcuts illustrate guests laying on dining couches while eating and talking, or sitting at a round table sharing bread, as well as actors dancing and playing music.
Pedro Chacón (1526-1581) was a Spanish theologian, mathematician, and professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca. Among his friends were the famous musician Francisco de Salinas and the poet Fray Luis de León. Around 1572, Chacón moved to Rome, where he worked on monographs and exegetical works mostly focusing on the Bible. He was appointed canon of Seville by Pope Gregory XIII. Regarded as ‘the Varro of his century’, Chacón is the author of numerous scholarly works, all published after his death.
The first edition of 1588 is extremely rare (no copies in Worldcat and USTC, we are aware of only one copy in the Biblioteca Casatanes of Rome). The second edition (here) – a reprint of the first without the dedications – is highly desirable and the earliest on the market, considerably less common than that of 1664.USTC 452366 and 452230; Adams; Vicaire p. 174: “On trouve dans cet ouvrage des documents fort intéressants sur les festins des anciens Romains et sur les moeurs épulaires de ce peuple”; Bitting p. 90; Oberlé 20; Bibl. Bacchica II, 311 (ed. 1588); Palau 66773; Brunet VI, 29179 (ed. 1664). Not in Graesse.