Women have been using makeup for thousands of years and beauty in Ancient Rome was just as important as it is today. Just as we do, they even had books that helped women stay on top of beauty trends. Many of you might be familiar with the poet Ovid's Metamorphoses and Amores but I would bet you've not heard of his Medicamina Faciei Femineae or Women’s Facial Cosmetics, sometimes seen as The Art of Beauty. The fragment we have from this book (see the link above) is fascinating, offering up three and a half beauty tips for Roman women. The first is a lengthy and messy recipe on how to make your skin whiter. The second recipe on getting rid of pimples would, as we know now, kill you slowly over time. I imagine that many women paid such a high price to be beautiful:
Posts about When in Rome:
I have been rather remiss, I fear, in keeping my book list updated here on my blog. I've been reading far more than I had hoped, but certainly not as much as I would like. I am happy to have passed the 50 book barrier with more than a month to spare! Let's see if I can get close to 60 books this year. I'm confident I'll finish at least 2-3 more this month, and hopefully another 3-4 in December. October
I'm not entirely sure what I think about drone technology. It has incredible possibilities and on the flip side, terrifying possibilities. On the incredible side of things, I love that you can be an armchair traveler and have a birdseye view of beautiful places in the world. One of my favorite videos of this sort is this wonderful view of Rome by drone. It makes me feel desperate to be there again, walking the streets where my novel's characters once walked. httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTw-kvXS9Sk
I stumbled across this fantastic advertisement for Grano Armando pasta and I had to share. It's an adorable, beautiful mini-film of sorts, about a young Italian boy with a special dream. The cinematography is wonderful and I love the characters in the film. I think it does the trick--if I saw Grano Armando pasta, I think I'd be pretty inclined to think about buying it.
This is a very good and easy ancient recipe, included in Apicius' cookbook. We make this often as a side dish. It goes particularly well with the recipe for Parthian Chicken! You may have been making beets this way and not even known that the recipe was at least 2,000 years old!
The original recipe:
Learning Italian isn't something that I decided to do when I was young, but I wish I had! Instead, when I was in high school, many many years ago, I thought it would be great to learn French. Other kids in the high school in Boise, Idaho were learning Spanish, or perhaps German. I don't even recall if they offered other languages at my school at the time. French seemed elegant, refined, literary and Spanish, while beautiful and I can appreciate it more now, seemed oh so utilitarian back then. Boring.
I was never overly dedicated to the learning the language, but I did ok. The problem was that coming from a family with no money and no passports, the thought of going to France seemed like such a pipe dream (I"ve still not been!). And living in Boise there wasn't a soul with whom I could practice. Still, I persisted even into college, minoring in the language.
Unless you've been living under a rock, they chose a new Pope yesterday, Pope Francis I. I watched this particular conclave with interest, not because I'm Catholic, but because the book I'm currently writing takes place in Renaissance Italy, about a cook who was responsible for feeding several conclaves that had to choose a Pope. I wrote more about that in a previous blog post.
This is an ancient cracker recipe from Athenaeus, a rhetorician and grammarian who lived in Rome in the 3rd century AD. This recipe is a delightful, snacky interpretation of a cracker that was most likely served at taverns in ancient Greece and Rome. The original recipe doesn't give us much direction, but they were likely somewhat similar to the recipe below.
Glykinai: "The cakes from Crete made with sweet wine and olive oil.” - Athenaeus in The Deipnosophistae
A little while ago I showed you some photos of an incredible miniature of the ancient Roman Forum. Here's an amazing 3D rendered video of the Forum. Talk about sparking your imagination for times gone by! It's such a shame that so much of the Forum fell into disrepair and that eventually medieval and Rennaissance nobility and the Papacy pulled them down for their metals and marble.
A few months ago I stumbled upon a site that showcases some photos of an incredible miniature of the Roman Forum made by a Robert Garbisch in 1982. Apparently it "took two and half years to complete. 95% of the 350 statues in the model were made by Robert Garbisch out of clay. There are over 720 Roman citizens living in this model and carrying on with their lives. This particular day in the Forum is the last visit by the good Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Rome during the summer of 179 AD."
Here are some of the photos of this amazing miniature. Apparently it's on view at the Brandeis library in Waltham and that's a stone's throw from me so I may have to call and see if they still have it on display.
The Vestal Virgins were among the most important individuals in ancient Rome. They were priestesses of the goddess Vesta, whose hearth was always lit. Their privileges among women of the day were many. They were able to own property and did not have to bear children, they had the best box seats to any event, they had the right of way in the streets, they had personal bodyguards and they had the ability to free slaves and prisoners with a mere touch or command.
We know a lot about the Vestals but we don't know much about what their hair looked like under the elaborate headdresses they wore. Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist became fascinated with a statue she saw of a Vestal and decided she would find out. It took her seven years of research and now she believes she's figured it out. Take a look:
I'm working on research for my next book, on Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. I find the whole research side of historical fiction fascinating. It's like peeling back layers of paint on an elaborate painting to discover the essence of the people who inspired and created such masterpieces.
One of my characters is related to Agostino Chigi, one of Rome's wealthiest bankers in the early 16th century. Some tourists may be more familiar with him as the man who built the Villa Farnesina on the banks of the Trastevere. It sports paintings by Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Sebastiano del Piombo. But for the most part, it is often left off of itineraries of busy travelers who head straight for the Forum or the Trevi Fountain. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because it makes the visit so much more pleasant for those who want to bask in the sumptuous frescoes without being jostled by too many others.
The planning has begun! For our tenth anniversary (and for research!!), my husband and I have decided that Italy is definitely in our future for a week or so in the spring. We'll spend some time in Rome for sure, because it is where our heart of hearts reside, but Florence is also on the agenda, with perhaps a stint in Siena for a night.
If not, now you can! This video was set about 200 years after my novel's central character lived, but it still gives a great flavor of what Rome would have been like in ancient times. While the Colosseum wasn't there, nor the Circus Maximus, most of the other major buildings were there in the time that Apicius lived. He would have walked on the stones of the Roman Forum, visited the Temple of Jupiter, looked up through the oculus of The Pantheon. Such power there is in history!
Awhile back I posted on one of my blogs about Roman honey cakes, which were primarily used as sacrificial cakes, but versions may have also been used as a snack in the tabernas and popinas.
Sally Grainger is one of the most well-known food historians, especially when it comes to the recipe book that bears Apicius' name. She is also the co-author of The Classical Cookbook, and in that book there is a recipe for Libum, a classic ancient sacrificial cake, first mentioned in Cato's On Agriculture.