Cheese, wine, honey and olive oil--four of Greece's best known contributions to culinary culture- -were already well known four thousand years ago. Remains of honeycombs and of cheeses have been found under the volcanic ash of the Santorini eruption of 1627 BC. Over the millennia, Greek food diversified and absorbed neighboring traditions, yet retained its own distinctive character.
In "Siren Feasts," Andrew Dalby provides the first serious social history of Greek food. He begins with the tunny fishers of the neolithic age, and traces the story through the repertoire of classical Greece, the reputations of Lydia for luxury and of Sicily and South Italy for sybaritism, to the Imperial synthesis of varying traditions, with a look forward to the Byzantine cuisine and the development of the modern Greek menu. The apples of the Hesperides turn out to be lemons, and great favour attaches to Byzantine biscuits.
Fully documented and comprehensively illustrated, scholarly yet immensely readable, Siren Feasts demonstrates the social construction placed upon different types of food at different periods (was fish a luxury item in classical Athens, though disdained by Homeric heroes?). It places diet in an economic and agricultural context; and it provides a history of mentalities in relation to a subject which no human being can ignore.
"In this comprehensive survey of Greek gastronomic culture, Dalby offers us a vivid, nicely illustrated, informative history of the culinary tradition."
-"Journal of Indo-European Studies, Spring/Summer 1998
"The strength of "Siren Feasts lies in its attention to the development of gastronomy and to the gastronomical writers who are relatively unknown even to professional classicists. The book can also be a useful starting point for inquiries into Greek food."
-"Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"If your knowledge of Greek food stops at South Street Souvlaki, try this scholarly history of food and gastronomy in Greece. Is it true that Achilles got cranky without a daily gyro? Feta-ed to be a bestseller among epicures."