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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Petronius (c. 27–66)

An Ingenious Cook

From “Trimalchio’s Banquet”

WE little thought, as the saying is, that after so many dainties we had another hill to climb; for the table being uncovered to a flourish of music, three muzzled white hogs were brought in, with bells hanging on their necks. The man leading them said one was two years old, the other three, and the last full grown. For my part, I took them for acrobats, and imagined the hogs were to perform some of the surprising feats practised at the circus. But Trimalchio broke in upon our expectation by asking us, “Which of these will you have dressed for supper? Cocks and pheasants are country fare, but my cooks have pans in which a calf can be roasted whole.” And immediately commanding a cook to be called, Trimalchio, without waiting for our choice, bade him kill the largest. He then inquired of the cook how he came by him, saying, “Were you bought, or were you born in my house?” “Neither,” replied the cook, “but left you by Pansa’s testament.” “Then see to it,” answered Trimalchio, “that this beast is prepared quickly, or I shall make you serve my footmen.”…

While our host was talking on, an overgrown hog was brought to table. We all wondered at the expedition which had been used, swearing a capon could not have been dressed in that time; and what increased our surprise was that this hog seemed larger than the boar which had been set before us. Trimalchio, after gazing steadfastly upon him, exclaimed, “What! have his entrails not been taken out? No, by Hercules, they have not! Bring in that rogue of a cook!” The cook, being dragged in before us, hung his head, excusing himself that he had forgotten. “Forgotten!” roared his master. “Strip the rascal! Strip him!” The poor man was stripped forthwith, and placed between two tormentors. We all interceded for him, alleging that such an error might occasionally happen, and therefore desired his pardon, protesting we would never speak for him if he repeated the same offense.

I thought he richly deserved his fate, and could not forbear whispering to Agamemnon, “This must certainly be a most careless rascal. How could any one forget to disembowel a hog? I would not have forgiven him, by Hercules, had he thus served up a dish for me!” Our host, resuming a pleasant look, said, “Come, now, you with the short memory, let us see if you can disembowel the animal before us.” Upon which the cook, having put his garments on again, took his knife, and with a trembling hand slashed the hog on both sides of the belly, when out tumbled a load of hog’s-puddings and sausages….

The dessert consisted of a blackbird pie, dried grapes, and candied nuts. There were also quinces, stuck so full of spices that they looked like so many hedgehogs. Yet all this might have been endured, had not the next dish been so monstrous and disgusting that we would rather have perished of hunger than touched it; for, it being placed upon the table, and, as we imagined, a good fat goose, with fish and all kinds of fowl round it, Trimalchio cried, “Whatever you see here is all made out of one body!” I, being a cunning spark, took a guess at what it might really be, and, turning to Agamemnon, “I wonder,” said I, “whether all this is not made of loam? I once remember seeing such an imaginary dish in the Saturnalia at Rome.” Scarce had I ended, when Trimalchio began to praise his cook:

“There is no cleverer fellow in the world. Out of the belly he’ll make you a dish of fish; a plover out of a piece of fat bacon; a turtle out of leg of pork; and a hen out of the intestines. And therefore, in my opinion, he has a very suitable name, for we call him Dædalus. Because he is such an ingenious fellow, a friend of his brought him a present of knives from Rome, of German steel; and immediately he called for them, and, turning them over, gave us the liberty to try the edges on his cheeks.”

Just then in rushed two servants in high dispute, as if they were quarreling about a yoke, from which hung two earthen jars. And when Trimalchio had judged between them, neither of them stood to the sentence, but each fell to club law, and broke the other’s jar. Amazed at the insolence of these drunken rascals, all our eyes were fixed on their conflict, when we perceived oysters and other shell-fish to fall from the broken jars, a boy collecting them in a charger and handing them about among the guests.

Nor was the cook’s ingenuity in the least unworthy of this extraordinary magnificence; for he brought us snails upon a silver gridiron, and with a shrill, unpleasant voice sang us a song…. We were almost pushed off our couches by the crowd of servants who rushed into the hall; and who should be seated above me but the ingenious cook, that had made a goose from a piece of pork, all reeking of pickles and kitchen slops. Not content with being seated at table, he began to act Thespis the Tragedian; and soon after he challenged his master to contend with him for the laurel wreath at the next chariot-races.