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Horse or cook?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The Symposion Feast, by Anton von Werner (1877)
The Symposion Feast, by Anton von Werner (1877)

The value of the horse was enormous in terms of communication, transport and, above all, its military use in battle. Traditionally, the ancients emphasized the uniqueness of Bucephalus, the horse that had long accompanied Alexander the Great during his military conquests.

Also, the horse Julius Caesar was special. According to Suetonius, he rode a remarkable horse, too, with feet that were almost human; for its hoofs were cloven in such a way as to look like toes1.

But the horse was also appreciated in the sphere of sports competition. The horses of the Greek chief and politician Kimon were honoured with sumptuous tombs right next to the chief’s monument. They gave him victory in the Olympics three times 2.

In terms of financial value, the competitor to the horse was … a cook! The Romans, who loved splendour and good taste, sought a master food expert who would be able to satisfy their desires. The complete cookbook of Apicius has survived to our times, the most roiotous glutton and bellie-god of his time, as Pliny the Elder3. Pliny noted an interesting conversion that valued the cook against the horse. The author wrote that the price of three horses is given for a cook, and the price of three cooks for a fish. The value of the master chef has skyrocketed, and in the end cook costs as much as a triumph4.

Author: Waldemar Owczarczak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Suetonius, Julius Caesar 61
  2. Plutarch, Cato the Elder 5
  3. Pliny the Elder, Hist. Nat. X:133
  4. Hist. Nat. IX:67, 68

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