Pandora’s stories: Black Broth

Black Broth
Remember what Herodotus tells us about what happened after the battle of Plataea:
It is said that Xerxes on his retreat from Greece left his tent with Mardonius. When Pausanias saw it … he summoned Mardonius’ bakers and cooks and told them to prepare a meal of the same sort as they were accustomed to prepare for their former master. The order was obeyed; and when Pausanias saw … everything prepared for the feast with great magnificence, he could hardly believe his eyes … and just for a joke ordered his own servants to get ready an ordinary Spartan dinner. The difference between the two meals was indeed remarkable … Pausanias laughed … saying ‘[behold] the folly of the Persians who, living in this style, came to Greece to rob us of our poverty.’

Recipe for Spartan Black Broth melas zomos (μέλας ζωμός)

It is an acquired taste. Contemporary non-Spartan Greeks with an excess of curiosity ask cooks to produce a dish of it for them to try. Upon tasting it, one ancient food critic spat it straight back out, while another commented, ‘Now I understand why the Spartans do not fear death.”
Unfortunately (or perhaps it might be more fitting to say, fortunately) the original recipe for the dish has been lost but we do know it contains at least the following ingredients:

Boiled pigs’ legs

Below, we offer one possible (and entirely untested!) reconstruction of the recipe. [The recipe is based partly on dinuguan, a Filipino blood stew.] If you are vegetarian or cannot eat pork, please substitute ingredients where necessary.

500g* offal (eg lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout)
OR thinly sliced bacon/pork mince
300ml pork blood OR black pudding and water [blitzed together in a food processor]
250 ml vinegar
8g powdered gelatine
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
……………………………… If you are a real Spartan, you will not add any of the ingredients below this line.
……………………………… If you are sane, you will definitely add the ingredients below this line.
1 medium sized onion, chopped finely
1 tbsp garlic, chopped finely
1½ tbsp brown sugar
1 stock cube

With the olive oil, sauté the garlic and onion in a deep pan.
Add the pork and sauté for about 5 mins, then simmer.
Add the pork blood and mix well.
Add the vinegar. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the brown sugar and stock cube, and simmer for 2 minutes.
Hydrate the powdered gelatine and add to the mixture.
Serve hot.

Enjoy your meal! 😉


Pandora’s stories: The agoge

You are very lucky to live in Athens, especially you Theodoros, for in Sparta your life would be very different.

In Sparta they have the agoge (ἀγωγή) which is a rigorous state education and training regime compulsory for all male Spartan citizens from the age of seven, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses. The training involves learning stealth, cultivating loyalty to the Spartan group, military training (including pain tolerance), hunting, dancing, singing and social preparation.

The aim of the system is to produce physically strong males to serve in the Spartan army. It encourages conformity, the importance of the Spartan state over personal interest, and generates the future elites of Sparta. The men will become the ‘walls of Sparta’ because Sparta is the only Greek city with no defensive walls. Discipline is very strict and the males are encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group.

Although some Greeks admire the system, and many aristocratic families from other cities vie to send their sons to Sparta to participate in the agoge for varying periods of time, I would not want to lose you. There is more to life than the army, and who would want to be given one cloak a year and be deliberately starved? In Athens we prefer to encourage free-thinking and debate. You wouldn’t want to be a ‘thigh-shower’ would you, Chloe?


Pandora’s stories: Mount Ithome

Remember what happened in Messenia some years ago [462 BC]:

The Spartans tried to capture the stronghold of Mount Ithome in Messenia, where a large force of rebellious helots [enslaved Messenians] had taken refuge. The Spartans asked their allies from the Persian Wars, including the Athenians who were skilled in siege operations, to help. Our leader Cimon sought the support of Athens’ citizens to provide help for Sparta. Although his political opponent Ephialtes maintained that Sparta was Athens’ rival for power and should be left to look after itself, Cimon’s view prevailed. Cimon then led 4,000 hoplites to Mount Ithome.

After an attempt to storm Mount Ithome failed, the Spartans started to distrust the Athenians amid growing concerns that they might take the side of the helots and attempt some political changes. Keeping their other allies, the Spartans sent Cimon and his men home. This offensive rebuff caused the collapse of Cimon’s popularity at Athens, where outrage over the dismissal swung Athenian opinion towards Ephialtes’ views. They made an alliance with Sparta’s enemy Argos, and Ephialtes passed a law in the Athenian ecclesia (assembly) which reformed the conservative Areopagus, limiting its power to judging cases of homicide and religious crimes.

Mount Ithome in the distance

Mount Ithome in the distance

Pandora’s stories: Lord of the Flies

I hope that Philippos will be safe on his travels. My instincts tell me to worship Myiagros (‘He Who Chases the Flies’).

An Elean myth tells of how Herakles was troubled by flies when he was trying to sacrifice at Olympia, and was instructed in how to sacrifice to the Zeus who shoos away flies (Ἀπόμυιος), so that the flies were at once driven across the Alpheus. The Eleans make sacrifices either to the flies themselves, or to Zeus Apomyios or a god named Myiodes or Myiakores. There is a similar ritual among the Akarnanians. The intention is to ward off flies in advance of an animal sacrifice, but in some places flies are a problem at other times too.

Mosquito - this and other biting insects probably caused illnesses which were not understood

Mosquito – this and other biting insects probably caused illnesses which were not understood in classical Greece 

Pandora’s stories: Sappho

I’m not sure which of the many stories about Sappho to believe, but whatever the truth she is my favourite poet. Remember how Alcaeus described her: “Violet-haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho” (Alcaeus fragment 384)

How fresh her poetry is:

Some say horsemen, some say warriors,
Some say a fleet of ships is the loveliest
Vision in this dark world, but I say it’s
What you love.

It’s easy to make this clear to everyone,
Since Helen, she who outshone
All others in beauty, left
A fine husband,

And headed for Troy
Without a thought for
Her daughter, her dear parents…
Led astray….

And I recall Anaktoria, whose sweet step
Or that flicker of light on her face,
I’d rather see than Lydian chariots
Or the armed ranks of the hoplites.



Pandora’s stories: Just deserts?

Sometimes the democracy is fickle in the way it treats people. Remember the story of Aristides.

Aristides was the son of Lysimachus, who came from a wealthy family. In his early life he became a follower of the statesman Cleisthenes and sided with the aristocratic party in Athenian politics. He first came to notice as strategos (general) in command of his native tribe at the battle of Marathon, and no doubt in recognition of the distinction which he achieved there he was elected archon eponymos for the following year (489-488 BC). By promoting a conservative policy which aimed at maintaining Athens as a land power, he became one of the chief opponents of the naval policy proposed by Themistocles.

The conflict between the two leaders ended in the ostracism (exile for up to ten years) of Aristides at a date variously given between 485 and 482. It is recorded by the biographer Plutarch that an illiterate voter, who did not know Aristides, came up to him and giving him his voting shard asked him to write upon it the name of Aristides. The latter asked if Aristides had wronged him. “No,” was the reply, “and I do not even know him, but it irritates me to hear him everywhere called ‘the Just’.” Aristides then wrote his own name on the shard (normally a piece of broken pottery – see image). Although he was ostracised, Aristides was recalled early to help at the time of the next Persian invasion.

In addition to being popularly nicknamed ‘the Just’, the historian Herodotus described him as “the best and most honourable man in Athens”, and he received similarly reverent treatment in the writing of the philosopher Plato.

So, did Aristides get his just deserts?

Shard with the name of Aristides

Shard with the name of Aristides

Pandora’s stories: Egyptian customs

In The Histories, Herodotus also writes at length about Egypt and the Egyptians. Here are three short extracts:

Concerning Egypt itself I shall extend my remarks to a great length, because there is no country that possesses so many wonders, nor any that has such a number of works which defy description. Not only is the climate different from that of the rest of the world, and the rivers unlike any other rivers, but the people also, in most of their manners and customs, exactly reverse the common practice of mankind. The women attend the markets and trade, while the men sit at home at the loom; and here, while the rest of the world works the woof up the warp, the Egyptians work it down; the women likewise carry burdens upon their shoulders, while the men carry them upon their heads. They eat their food out of doors in the streets, but retire for private purposes to their houses, giving as a reason that what is unseemly, but necessary, ought to be done in secret, but what has nothing unseemly about it, should be done openly. A woman cannot serve the priestly office, either for god or goddess, but men are priests to both; sons need not support their parents unless they choose, but daughters must, whether they choose or not.

In other countries the priests have long hair, in Egypt their heads are shaven; elsewhere it is customary, in mourning, for near relations to cut their hair close: the Egyptians, who wear no hair at any other time, when they lose a relative, let their beards and the hair of their heads grow long. All other men pass their lives separate from animals, the Egyptians have animals always living with them; others make barley and wheat their food; it is a disgrace to do so in Egypt, where the grain they live on is spelt, which some call zea. Dough they knead with their feet; but they mix mud, and even take up dirt, with their hands. They are the only people in the world – they at least, and such as have learnt the practice from them – who use circumcision. Their men wear two garments apiece, their women but one. They put on the rings and fasten the ropes to sails inside; others put them outside. When they write or calculate, instead of going, like the Greeks, from left to right, they move their hand from right to left; and they insist, notwithstanding, that it is they who go to the right, and the Greeks who go to the left. They have two quite different kinds of writing, one of which is called sacred, the other common.

The Egyptians are averse to adopt Greek customs, or, in a word, those of any other nation. This feeling is almost universal among them. At Chemmis, however, which is a large city in the Thebaic canton, near Neapolis, there is a square enclosure sacred to Perseus, son of Danae. Palm trees grow all round the place, which has a stone gateway of an unusual size, surmounted by two colossal statues, also in stone. Inside this precinct is a temple, and in the temple an image of Perseus. The people of Chemmis say that Perseus often appears to them, sometimes within the sacred enclosure, sometimes in the open country: one of the sandals which he has worn is frequently found – two cubits in length, as they affirm – and then all Egypt flourishes greatly. In the worship of Perseus Greek ceremonies are used; gymnastic games are celebrated in his honour, comprising every kind of contest, with prizes of cattle, cloaks, and skins. I made inquiries of the Chemmites why it was that Perseus appeared to them and not elsewhere in Egypt, and how they came to celebrate gymnastic contests unlike the rest of the Egyptians: to which they answered: “Perseus belonged to their city by descent. Danaus and Lynceus were Chemmites before they set sail for Greece, and from them Perseus was descended,” they said, tracing the genealogy; “and he, when he came to Egypt for the purpose” (which the Greeks also assign) “of bringing away from Libya the Gorgon’s head, paid them a visit, and acknowledged them for his kinsmen – he had heard the name of their city from his mother before he left Greece – he bade them institute a gymnastic contest in his honour, and that was the reason why they observed the practice.”

Pandora’s stories: Persian customs

As well as including travellers’ tales in his work, Herodotus tells us about the customs of other people. Here is some of what he says about the Persians:

The customs which I know the Persians to observe are the following. They have no images of the gods, no temples nor altars, and consider the use of them a sign of folly. This comes, I think, from their not believing the gods to have the same nature with men, as the Greeks imagine. Their custom, however, is to ascend the summits of the loftiest mountains, and there to offer sacrifice to Jupiter, which is the name they give to the whole circuit of the firmament. They likewise offer to the sun and moon, to the earth, to fire, to water, and to the winds. These are the only gods whose worship has come down to them from ancient times. At a later period they began the worship of Urania, which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, whom the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians Mitra.

Of all the days in the year, the one which they celebrate most is their birthday. It is customary to have the board furnished on that day with an ampler supply than normal. The richer Persians cause an ox, a horse, a camel, and an ass to be baked whole and so served up to them; the poorer classes use instead the smaller kinds of cattle. They eat little solid food but abundance of dessert, which is set on the table a few dishes at a time; this it is which makes them say that “the Greeks, when they eat, leave off hungry, having nothing worth mention served up to them after the meats; whereas, if they had more put before them, they would not stop eating.” They are very fond of wine, and drink it in large quantities. To vomit or obey natural calls in the presence of another, is forbidden among them. Such are their customs in these matters.

It is also their general practice to deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk; and then on the morrow, when they are sober, the decision to which they came the night before is put before them by the master of the house in which it was made; and if it is then approved of, they act on it; if not, they set it aside. Sometimes, however, they are sober at their first deliberation, but in this case they always reconsider the matter under the influence of wine.

There is no nation which so readily adopts foreign customs as the Persians. Thus, they have taken the dress of the Medes, considering it superior to their own; and in war they wear the Egyptian breastplate. As soon as they hear of any luxury, they instantly make it their own. 

Pandora’s stories: The first robots

Grasping a thick staff he limped from the forge, supported by servants made of gold, fashioned like living girls, who attended swiftly on their master. As well as the use of their limbs they had intellect, and the immortals gave them skill in subtle crafts. They supported Hephaestus as he limped towards Thetis, and seated himself on a gleaming chair. Then he took her hand and spoke to her: ‘Thetis of the long robe, honoured and welcome, though unaccustomed, guest, what brings you here? Say what you need, and my heart prompts me to fulfil it, if it can be done, and I can do it.’

This is how Homer describes Hephaestus’ robots. Far, far into the future we too will make robots, but unlike the gods we may not be able to control them. What will happen then?

Pandora’s stories: Travellers’ tales

We have heard of the adventures of Odysseus in the heroic past. There are also strange things in our world according to the researcher Herodotus:

Besides these, there are Indians of another tribe, who border on the city of Caspatyrus, and the country of Pactyica; these people dwell northward of all the rest of the Indians, and follow nearly the same mode of life as the Bactrians. They are more warlike than any of the other tribes, and from them the men are sent out who go to procure the gold. For it is in this part of India that the sandy desert lies. Here, in this desert, there live amid the sand great ants, in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes. The Persian king has a number of them, which have been caught by the hunters in the land about which we are speaking. Those ants make their dwellings under ground, and like the Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up sand heaps as they burrow. Now the sand which they throw up is full of gold. The Indians, when they go into the desert to collect this sand, take three camels and harness them together, a female in the middle and a male on either side. The rider sits on the female, and they are particular to choose for the purpose one that has just dropped her young; for their female camels can run as fast as horses, while they bear burdens very much better.

When the Indians therefore have thus equipped themselves they set off in quest of the gold, calculating the time so that they may be engaged in seizing it during the most sultry part of the day, when the ants hide themselves to escape the heat. The sun in those parts shines fiercest in the morning, not, as elsewhere, at noonday; the greatest heat is from the time when he has reached a certain height, until the hour at which the market closes. During this space he burns much more furiously than at midday in Greece, so that the men there are said at that time to drench themselves with water. At noon his heat is much the same in India as in other countries, after which, as the day declines, the warmth is only equal to that of the morning sun elsewhere. Towards evening the coolness increases, till about sunset it becomes very cold.

When the Indians reach the place where the gold is, they fill their bags with the sand, and ride away at their best speed: the ants, however, scenting them, as the Persians say, rush out in pursuit. Now these animals are, they declare, so swift, that there is nothing in the world like them: if it were not, therefore, that the Indians get a start while the ants are mustering, not a single gold-gatherer could escape. During the flight the male camels, which are not so fleet as the females, grow tired, and begin to drag, first one, and then the other; but the females recollect the young which they have left behind, and never give way or flag. Such, according to the Persians, is the manner in which the Indians get the greater part of their gold; some is dug out of the earth, but of this the supply is more scanty.

The Persians have a word for marmots which sounds like ‘mountain ant’, so it may be that Herodotus misheard the name of the animal.