The Roman poet Gaius Petronius Arbiter (14-66) wrote this 20-volume only in fragments surviving novel. In it a witty-realistic, partly grotesque moral portrait of the social conditions in the Rome of the first century is described. The protagonist and narrator is an educated, eclectic young man named Encolpius, who travels all over southern Italy.
Between many erotic-amorous adventures with persons of both sexes and many rascal pranks, he will be on his trip in the coastal town of Puteoli (today's Pozzuoli). Here he participates with his companion Giton, his friend Ascyltos and the rhetorician Agamemnon in a very lavish and remarkable banquet of the newly rich and illiterate multimillionaire Trimalchio (a wine merchant).
This episode, which became famous as "Cena Trimalchionis", forms the main section of the fragments. It is also an excellent source for the typical dishes, drinks and table manners of the upper classes of Rome of the early imperial period. The Cena was the main meal of the day among the higher classes and took place in the late afternoon (beginning at 3 to 4 pm), usually after a bath visit. Especially the drinking culture relevant parts of the present banquet with explanatory background information come from Christopher Daniel (work for the University of Erlangen), who has kindly given his consent for their use.
Water and wine played an important role as drink in the everyday life of the Romans. The consumption of pure water was not common with a cena (especially in rich circles), but was an indispensable part of any meal to dilute the wine. Wine was drunk almost every meal (rarely for breakfast), but especially for the main meal. Even with the appetizers (Gustatio) light wine was enjoyed, preferably the very popular honey wine Mulsum, Wine was considered a staple food. Consumption was correspondingly high with a daily amount of 0.8 to 1 liter per male and 0.5 liters per female inhabitant of Rome in the imperial era. Slaves also had a claim for that, and they certainly had to be content with simple quality.
At the "Cena Trimalchionis", the host instructs you to mix a powerful pot (a large vessel) and to distribute full cups to the slaves. But for the guests will be one Falernian not one, but a (supposedly) centenarian famous "Opimianer" (ie from the year 121 BC). Carefully plastered glass jugs were brought in, with tags bearing the words "Falerner, anno Opimius, centennial" glued to their necks (if that was true, that's not clear). As with any other wine, it was common for this very expensive and exceptional wine to dilute it before drinking. The reason was the relatively high alcohol content, the thick liquid older top wines, as well as the fact that wine was occasionally even drunk even for breakfast.
This meant you could drink a lot more of the diluted wine and enjoy its stimulating and intoxicating effect longer. Either mixed with sweeter wine to soften the bitterness of an older vintage, or with water. Chilled wine was drunk in the summer and snow (often picked from afar) was used. In winter it was common to mix warm water. The mixture took place in the cup of the individual, in drinking more often in one crater (Mixed pitcher), in which you poured first the wine and then the water. A sieve-like funnel on the mixing jug made it possible to separate the often cloudy wine from the dregs.
The mixed pitcher turned the wine into a ladle ( Cyathus, about half a liter) poured into the drinking vessels. Although mixing was common, information about common mixing ratios with the Romans almost entirely missing. According to Greek information, there were variations depending on occasion and mood. Two parts of wine on five parts of water were considered heavy drink, 1: 2, 1: 3 and 1: 4 were not uncommon; always more water than wine. The Romans probably should have preferred similar conditions. Those who only wanted to quench their thirst, drank wine with plenty of water, who wanted to forget his worries, added less or none at all.
Fruit was eaten at any time of the day and in each course of a Cena. Figs were an important foundation of the diet at the time and ranked first in Rome in the popularity scale for fruit in all classes. When dried, they formed after the author Columella (1st cent.) The usual winter food of the rural population. From figs was also made wine. The grapes were given a special position. The Romans cultivated in addition to the grapes already bred extra table grapes who played an important role in their daily diet early on. They were an essential nutritional ingredient as fresh fruit, as a sweetener and also preserved. Table grapes intended for consumption were grown (in order to keep them fresh) in the vineyards in the immediate vicinity of Rome. The most widely used method of fruit preservation was drying. For the production of raisins The largest and sweetest fruits were used predominantly. But there were many other techniques as well. For a long time grapes were hung in the smoke of the hearth, which they dehydrated very slowly, which gave a peculiar taste.
Usually, a Cena joined as a conclusion nor a "Comissatio". This was a boisterous drinking that could last until dawn and often with one intoxication Most of those present ended. One wreathed and rubbed himself with valuable, fragrant ointments. No Comissatio took place without "Rex bibendi" (drinking king, also "Rex convivii" = banquet king). This was determined by acclamation or by dice from the round. His task extended not only the determination of the mixing ratio and the obligatory prescribed number of drinking units for each participant on the entertainment of the evening. The most frequent fixed points were above all musical performances such as dance, singing, flute or lyre play. The drinking king also had to determine who from the round the company had to entertain by humorous lectures or puzzles. They capitulated on the strangest and craziest ideas to whip up the mood and the boundaries of good taste were often exceeded.
During the Commisatio, it was drank to the well-being of those present, absent, emperor, senate and army toasts appropriate. The cup was filled to the brim with wine, the speaker made a spell on a person present and emptied it in one go. Now the cup was refilled and handed to the just-honored person, who in turn had to empty the cup. That went in the round in turn. Deviations were understood as disapproval or rejection, making many a hidden rivalry visible. Although not specifically mentioned, Trimalchio himself was probably the drinking king of the "Cena Trimalchionis". He invites his table-mates to tell stories and makes artistic contributions.
In the case of the Cena Trimalchionis, however, there are no toasts, only the "Flos tangomenas facere", ie the invitation to toast, or to drink. In connection with the increasing intoxication, which was not disgraceful in a convivial round at the feast - one distinguished carefully between "Ebrius", a temporary intoxication state, and "Ebriosus", a chronic alcoholic - it came naturally, of course, because of the deterrent effect of the alcohol to fight and sometimes to assassinations. The no longer sober host Trimalcho throws, for example, with a wine cup to his wife. See under this topic also under Ancient wines. Antique grape varieties. Bacchus. Dionysos and especially drinking culture,