“It’s all Greek to me”: a symposium for one

Food

Image credit: CC0 by George Hodan

There was more to Ancient Greece than Gerard Butler in a leather thong indulging in some vigorous male bonding; indeed, there was more to Ancient Greece than war. It was a land of philosophers, playwrights and poets, and, arguably more importantly, it was a land of high quality ingredients. Some may be curious as to how the works of Aeschylus, or the ramblings of Aristotle, could possibly be mentioned in the same breath as food and drink – but, I put it to you, that if it were not for the simplicity of Ancient Greek cuisine, the revolution in thought which took place in Athens would not have occurred. Few concepts seem more appealing than that of the symposium: a booze-heavy conference during which ideas flowed out and wine flowed in. We tend to view the Athenians as somewhat prim and proper, particularly when compared to the Spartans, those absolute lads, with their horrific treatment of children and their horrible food. The reality is that the symposium was a fairly raucous affair, with those in attendance throwing food and dregs at one another. How naughty!

You might expect the food served to have been incredibly extravagant in order to suit the debauchery of an occasion involving wine and poetry recitals, but I, Louis Thomas, Food & Drink Editor, am here to surprise (and probably offend) you – it usually wasn’t, judging from the full eight minutes of my in-depth research. Gourmet indulgences would have been wasted on sloshed philosophers. Instead they sought simple food which would fill their stomachs and enable them to carry on drinking through the night. It is an undeniable truth that hash browns are the most perfectly engineered drinking food ever developed, with their perfect balance of fat and starch providing the ideal accompaniment to most alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, the potato would not reach Europe for another two millennia, but those cunning Athenians had a trick up their sleeves (not that they had sleeves of course) in lieu of fried bits of root vegetables – beans. Humble, understated, delicious beans. Legumes provided the ideal stomach lining to protect one’s innards against the ravages of wine, particularly if the wine was not of the best quality. There are few things in the world more traumatic than an acrid red, and with that statement I have conclusively demonstrated just how middle class I am.

It’s something of a Greek tragedy that I would even consider organising, attending and subsequently regretting a one-man symposium for the sake of an article, though it is not quite as tragic as thinking that adding the word “Greek” before “tragedy” constitutes a joke. I am no profound philosopher, nor am I a gifted poet, and music is best left to those with talent – what cultural activity could I bring to a symposium where I would be the only one in attendance? Tedious anecdotes about offal? Tedious drinking stories? Tedious tales about I, Louis Thomas, Food & Drink Editor? Perhaps. But this symposium could provide an opportunity for me to partake in some much-needed self-reflection, which seems like the sort of thing an Ancient Athenian with too much time and too little concern for their degree might do. You can discover more about yourself in an hour of drinking than in a year of looking in the mirror, as Plato, famously, didn’t say.

The beans were fine in terms of flavour, but in terms of serving as an accompaniment to the Echo Falls, they excelled – my stomach, which is usually ruined by anything stronger than a shandy, was not destroyed.

But there was a more pressing question than why I am the way I am, and that was “how should I prepare my beans?” There are some fantastic modern Greek bean recipes to choose, but I felt like the juxtaposition between a simple, austere bean dish and drinking wine – which, as we all know, is a drink only for the most special of occasions, would be interesting. I was wrong. I cooked the beans by boiling them for a few minutes and then seasoned them before adding a final flourish of olive oil. A recipe so simple that even Diogenes, the infamous attention seeker and barrel enthusiast, couldn’t complain, though he probably would have anyway. Now there was the issue of wine. Ancient Greece boasted of a variety of alcoholic grape juices, but for me there is only one possible choice. Though not Greek, and a variety which would have been unknown to Aristotle, it is my firm belief that the only possible tipple of choice for my symposium would be an Echo Falls with Summer Berries. Sweet, delicate, and with subtle floral notes, I knew that this was the drink for such a prestigious event.

The beans were fine in terms of flavour, but in terms of serving as an accompaniment to the Echo Falls, they excelled – my stomach, which is usually ruined by anything stronger than a shandy, was not destroyed. The symposium itself was a success, as I thought about a number of different issues. When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer – and, having realised that I have reached the lofty heights of Food & Drink Editor already, my brief moment of contentment was soon over. But things could be worse: Pythagoras famously/allegedly ordered his followers not to eat beans, and, according to legend, he died when an angry mob chased him to a bean field, as angry mobs so often do, and he refused to run through it. 

Pythagoras may have his own philosophical school, but he never got to enjoy the experience of eating pulses and drinking “the number one fruit fusion brand in the UK” (according to the label), so who’s the real winner? Probably Pythagoras, to be honest.