Convivium: An Encounter with Roman Food

Last month, I happened to be in Monmouth IL for the national Eta Sigma Phi Conference, which was a blast.

In addition to presenting a paper, I won a prize for translating Greek. I also got to see a profusion of real antiquities up close and personal, which was wonderful.

I learned many things over that weekend about weapons and clothing, and also about food. I am pretty sure that the highlight of my experience there was the “Roman Banquet,” pictured below. I was able to capture almost all of the elements of this amazing feast:


This was probably one of the most fantastic meals I have ever eaten. It was especially memorable because we didn’t have forks. Trying to eat a game hen without a fork is very interesting, especially lacking knowledge of chicken anatomy as I do. Trying to eat everything else without a fork was unexpectedly difficult as well, though not impossible.

There was water cress and tuna, bread, lentils, dates, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, olives of course. Desert consisted of pears and some kind of jelly-like substance. No real wine, sadly, but ordinary grape juice and some kind of golden liquid that tasted vaguely wine-like, but didn’t actually have alcohol in it.

The Romans evidently had a saying, “ab ovo usque ad malum,” which means “from the egg to the apple.” This phrase refers to the usual order of the Roman feast, beginning with hard-boiled eggs and ending with apples (or fruit in general, I suppose). It had since become an expression that means something like, “from beginning to end.”

It’s always useful to be able to relate ancient expressions like that to real-life experiences.


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