Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sicilian Tuna of Archestratus

Archestratus was a Greek poet from either Gela or Syracuse in Sicily who wrote in the mid-fourth century B.C.  His major work is the didactic poem called Hedypatheia, usually translated as “Life of Luxury,” written in hexameters, that advises on where to find the best food in the Mediterranean world.  His work is only known through fragments found in the monumental collection of writing on food by a later Greek, Athenaeus, called Deipnosophistae (Dinner Table Philosophers) who flourished at the end of the 
second century A.D. and third century A.D.  Archestratus was quite fond of fish and they are often mentioned in his work.  Archestratus writes that “in the glorious isle of Sicily, the shores of Cephaloedium and Tyndarium nurture far better tunnies; and if ever thou go to Hipponium, in sacred Italy, that abode of Persephone with the fair diadem, by far, yea, by far the best of all [tuna] are there, and the heights of victory are theirs.  Cephaloedium and Tyndarium is that part of the Sicilian coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea between modern Cefalu and Tindai, in the commune of Patti in the province of Messina.   Archestratus tells us that “the belley pieces [of tuna] are esteemed, as Eubulus tell us in Ion.”  He recommends to “have a tail-cut from the she tunny—the large she-tunny I repeat, whose mother city is Byzantium.  Slice it and roast it all rightly, sprinkling just a little salt, and buttering it with oil.  Eat the slices hot, dipping them into a sauce piquant; they are nice even if you want to eat them plain, like the deathless gods in form and stature.  But if you serve it sprinkled with vinegar, it is done for.”  To this day the tuna of Sicily is favored by all gourmets.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright; off the coast of Lipari]