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Poisoned figs and Italian sallets: nation, diet, and the early modern English traveler.

Suffer not thy sons to pass the Alps, for they shall learn nothing but pride, blasphemy, and atheism. And if by travel they attain to some few broken languages, they will profit them no more than to have one meat served in divers dishes. (Wright 11)

Here, in one of early modern England's most often quoted epistles of practical advice, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, quite significantly chooses a dietary metaphor to represent the moral and cultural dangers widely believed to inhere in the perilous but often necessary practice of overseas educational travel, especially travel to Italy. To Cecil, just as a single foodstuff served in "divers dishes" is no improvement over "one meat" served more appropriately in one dish, the accumulation of "some few broken languages" is not worth the ever-present risk of cultural pollution that follows from compromising one's own language and, by extension, one's self.

This risk is the very sort that Cecil's contemporary and fellow courtier Roger Ascham had famously warned of in The Scholemaster (1570). The young traveler, Ascham feared,
 shall not always, in his absence out of England, light upon a
 gentle Alcinous and walk in his fair gardens full of all harmless
 pleasures, but he shall sometimes fall either into the hands of
 some cruel Cyclops or into the lap of some wanton and dallying Dame
 Calypso, and so suffer the danger of many a deadly den, not so full
 of perils to destroy the body as full of vain pleasures to poison
 the mind. Some Siren shall sing him a song, sweet in tune, but
 sounding in the end to his utter destruction. If Scylla drown him
 not, Charybdis may fortune swallow him. Some Circe shall make him,
 of a plain Englishman, a right Italian. (64-65)


According to Ascham, the young English traveler's attraction to Italian ways and mores--figured as "licentious vanity, that sweet and perilous poison of all youth" with which the heedless youth of England "englut" themselves--has but one antidote, namely a medicinal preparation for the soul, called by Homer "the herb moly " and identified more explicitly by Ascham as the knowing pursuit of virtue and self-conscious avoidance of "the poison of vain pleasure" (64-65).

Though the social controversy to which Ascham directs his critique was real, not all Elizabethans adopted Ascham's earnest approach and grave tone when recognizing it. In a verse epistle of 1572, George Gascoigne, another sometime courtier, offered the following advice to one Barthlomew Withypoll on the occasion of the young man's impending voyage to Italy:
 Mine own good Bat, before thou hoise up saile,
 To make a furrowe in the foming seas,
 Content thy selfe to heare for thine availe,
 Such harmlesse words, as ought thee not displease. (Gascoigne
 295-99)


Gascoigne goes on to counsel Withypoll to eschew the three "P's" of Italian travel: poison, pride, and papistry. He advises him to "feed on fish" rather than allow a "Magnifico" to foist upon his dish a "fico" (fig). He also cautions him against the usual travelers' temptations, including a slavish imitation of continental fashions--advice that concludes with the injunction not to bear his "Rapier poynte above the hilte, /[...] looking bigge lyke Marquise of al Beefe " (ll. 70-76, 113-14). With these two dietary metaphors, Gascoigne humorously opposes the orthodoxy of English fish days with the lure (and danger) of the fico. He first describes the ways the subtle Italians might attempt to poison young Withypoll's body and soul, warning him not to become "bayte to sette Italyan hands on woork." His catalogue of sartorial excesses ("such knackes" learned "abroade in forayne lande") culminates with the ridiculous portrait of a quintessentially English Marquise of al Beefe kitted up in the extravagant fashions of the continent. (1)

Such imagery, teetering as it does between the earnest and the out-and-out humorous, also occurs on the public stage, that great indicator of early modern English cultural currents. In act four of Ben Jonson's Volpone (1607), for example, the stock comic figure Sir Politic Would-Be offers his advice on navigating the cultural perils of Venice:
 [...] for your religion, professe none;
 But wonder, at the diversity of all;
 And, for your part, protest, were there no other
 But simply the lawes o'th' land, you could content you:
 NIC: MACHIAVEL, and monsieur BODINE, both,
 Were of this minde. Then, must you learn the use,
 And handling of your silver fork, at meales;
 The mettal of your glasse: (these are the maine matters
 With your Italian) and to know the hour,
 When you must eat your melons, and your figges. (4.1.22-31)


In his The White Devil (1612), Jonson's fellow playwright John Webster also invokes the language of diet--in this case, however, not to suggest ways to navigate the perils of Venice, but to represent the ways that stereotypically murderous Mediterraneans could dispatch their victims, using the indirect, subtle means of poisoned fruit or vegetables:
 As in this world there are degrees of evils:
 So in this world there are degrees of devils.
 You're a great Duke; I your poor secretary.
 I look now for a Spanish fig, or an Italian sallet daily.
 (4.2.58-61)


The intelligent but malcontent secretary Flamineo here reflects anxiously that his powerful patron, the Duke of Bracciano, will one day dispatch him by a "Spanish fig" or "Italian sallet." Both images are contemporary euphemisms for secret poisoning, precisely what Flamineo, the "poor secretary" of the exchange, fears will be his fate as his usefulness to the irascible, ambitious duke diminishes--and precisely what Webster's English audiences would expect subtle Mediterranean politicos to do to their henchmen. (2)

Both of Webster's images here participate in and draw upon certain conceptions of dietary theory that, as we will see, offer a particularly revealing dimension of English travel writing and descriptive history. But for Webster's image, Jonson's jest, or indeed Gascoigne's witty admonition, or Ascham or Cecil's more sober warnings to have any meaning, all these writers must be able to depend upon an assumed (and presumably shared) ideological congruity of diet, poison and cultural identity among their English readers. Where Cecil offers only a very general metaphor of "broken meats" that do not nourish, Gascoigne's reference to "ficos" foisted upon a plate invokes the age-old association of figs and both the vulva and the anus, (3) and so offers a specific caution, a la Ascham, that the Italians will try to tempt English youth from sexual, moral, and patriotic rectitude by poisoning them with foodstuffs, medicines, and seemingly sweet poisons that callow youths will ingest, to their own peril. In Volpone, Sir Politic Would-Be's apparently incongruous yoking within the same speech of the Venetians' religious amorality and their practices at table ("Then, must you learn") invokes deep, consistent English assumptions concerning the differences between Italian and English "character," while Webster's image of an Italian political murder accomplished by means of poisoned nourishment plays upon a stock stage image of the same imagined cultural differences.

Finally, to return to the matter of travel writing in particular: Thomas Coryate's massive and generically complex Crudities (1611) alludes not only in its title (Coryats Crudities Hastily gobled up in five Moneths travells) but also in its richly layered title page to an intersection of beliefs concerning diet, ingestion, individual health, and cultural identity. Perhaps more than any English traveler before him, Coryate was intensely conscious of his own bodily progress through the European continent (or perhaps he was merely the most willing to write about it). His decision to give his work a title that blurs the line between hastily written, unpolished narrative and uncooked foodstuffs is highly revelatory of the nexus of cultural values I wish to address here, for it is, according to the subtitle, a work "now dispersed to the nourishment of the travelling Members of this Kingdome."

Even Coryate's amusing title page reminds his readers of the corporeal facts of travel: six different forms of locomotion or conveyance are represented, as are moments of sleep stolen along the way, sexual trysts, and bodily dangers (such as forced circumcision) encountered en route. But most insistently, the frontispiece emphasizes the book's central metaphor, in which travel, narrative, and food consumption become versions of the same experience: we find two scenes of vomiting, as well as imagery of cornucopias, grape-stealing at harvest time, begging for food, and an attack of flying eggs. Admittedly, many of the subtleties of Coryate's odd brand of humor lie buried deep within the pages of the volume, but some others announce themselves quite clearly through the book's main imaginative figure, "crudities"--namely, experiences and encounters gained through recreational travel that remain partially or imperfectly digested. Whatever its other resonances, the book is also fundamentally a meditation on the dietary and cultural beliefs of a nation on the verge of a rich tradition of educational travel and imaginative travel writing.

But Coryate's lavish attention to the corporeal facts of foreign travel was not merely a clever literary trope, either. Indeed, Coryate himself died abroad in 1617, the unfortunate victim of a bloody flux exacerbated by (probably) excessive doses of sack. Many other Englishmen no doubt met similar ends while overseas--the same threat that had concerned William Cecil half a century before, in 1562. At this time, Cecil received a dispatch from his son Thomas's tutor concerning the young man's imminent departure for Italy: "It is to be feared that Mr. Thomas shall not bear the great heats of that country, and being given also to eat much fruit, may soon fall into sickness, as he did in France by that occasion" (Wyndebank 109).

Somewhere between the purely gastro-intestinal and the literary, between the strictly medical and the merely ideological, exist certain culturally encoded apprehensions of diet that can help us to approach two closely related questions: first, what did the English traveler of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries actually know about dietary theory, about the nutritional and medicinal properties of foods; and second, how did his knowledge (for in this period it was almost exclusively males who made the voyage from England to the continent) affect his experience as a traveler, when--often for the first time--he was actually faced with unfamiliar foodstuffs and strange dietary practices? While several recent studies of early modern travel have reported some of the more notable examples of English surprise or discomfort concerning matters of culinary or gastronomic difference, they have been essentially silent on the far more interesting matter of what expectations and anxieties, what "framework of assumptions," underlay such moments of dietary and cultural distress. (4)

If educational travel is an exercise--and etymologically, it is recognized as a true labor, a travail--in discovering the unknown, "a painetaking to see and searche forreine landes," according to Jerome Turler, it is also an exercise in discovering that which is internal and within, a Bildungreise whose end is the renewal and recreation of the self. (5) What early modern English travelers and travel polemicists found when they looked within was consistently, almost invariably, allied with the broader matter of national and cultural identification, however: the early modern English subject was, in Elizabeth Hanson's apt phrase, also a subject. (6) No wonder, then, that "within" existed then (as now) as both a visceral and a metaphysical category, for travel and diet emerge in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century writing as inextricably bound, a key instance of what one critic terms discourse's intersection with lived experience (McEachern 15-16). For our purposes here, this point of intersection concerns how English dietary theories and practices shaped that nation's travelers as they made their often slow progress to and through the Italian peninsula, how what they knew (or thought they knew) affected what they saw, and how they understood their individual and collective experiences as travelers.

Orthodoxies of diet operated within England in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in a remarkably consistent way across discursive traditions sometimes only tangentially related to travel writing--as I hope my opening examples suggest. But in one way or another, all such writing, whether intentionally medical or not, leads back to one foundation, and that foundation is Galenic medical theory. In the words of one sixteenth-century author, Galen of Pergamon (129-c.210 AD) was, quite simply, "the father and light of Physick" (Guido P.iiv). His influence on medieval and early modern medicine can scarcely be overstated, and well into the seventeenth and even eighteenth centuries, his preeminence as the West's medical authority remained essentially unassailable, and was only very cautiously questioned by those rare few who, like Harvey, eventually came to displace or disprove important elements of his medical theory. (7)

Galenic nutritional science rested upon the regulation of warm and cold, dry and moist foodstuffs, in order to keep in balance the body's "humors." (8) Hence the essential notion of a dietary regimen throughout the period: good health was understood to proceed from the careful combining of the four Aristotelian elements of earth, water, air, and fire, as they were found naturally in the various foods available to human beings, and as those foods were changed through various cooking techniques. Watermelons, for example, were considered cold and moist, while melons were less so--and were therefore less "bad for the stomach" (Grant 113-114). The flesh of fish was for Galen cool and moist, while lamb's flesh was moist and phlegmatic. Methods of preparation such as roasting and boiling gave or emphasized different properties for each type of foodstuff, enhancing, mollifying, or even converting their essential qualities. According to this logic, Galenic medical theory admitted no essential difference between foods and medicines; correct nutrition contributed fundamentally to good health, and good health began with good nutrition. Or, as one widely read sixteenth-century English Galenist averred, "a good cook is half a physician" (Borde 277).

Especially germane to our purposes are two aspects of Galenic dietary theory. First, Galen expressed a general ambivalence concerning the place of most fruits and many vegetables in a good diet; and second, he positively cautioned his followers against the deleterious effects of meat, especially beef. Of figs Galen writes, "Figs not only have what is a trait common to all summer fruits, but also to all fruits that are called seasonable, and that is that they cannot avoid having an element of unwholesomeness, although this trait is less noticeable in them compared with all the other seasonable fruits" (Grant 115). The healthful and harmful effects of peaches, apricots, apples, and other seasonable fruits are constantly weighed in Galen's system, their nutritional value measured against the hurtful "juices" they produce in the stomach (Grant 125-131). (9) Concerning animal flesh, Galen explicitly cautioned against the dangerous effects of certain types of meats and against improper cooking techniques. He is explicit that pork is the most nutritious form of animal flesh and that, in general, the flesh of younger animals is more nourishing than that of older ones. On the subject of beef, however, he writes that it
 furnishes nourishment which is substantial and not easily digested,
 although it generates thicker blood than is suitable. If anyone
 more inclined by temperament to melancholy should eat their fill of
 this food, they will be overtaken by a melancholy disease. These
 diseases are cancer, elephantiasis, scabies, leprosy, quartan fever
 and whatever is detailed under the heading melancholia. With some
 people the spleen increases in volume through the action of this
 humour, as a result of which cachexy and dropsies ensue. (Grant 154)


Galenic medicine in the period was neither static nor monolithic, however, and by the sixteenth century Galen's time-honored medical and dietary orthodoxies had changed as they "traveled" across time and place. As English Galenists modified and domesticated Galenic theory, new emphases emerged, the most significant among these being an exaggerated mistrust, not found to anything like the same degree in Galen himself, of the harmful properties of fruits and vegetables, as well as a distinctly different theory of beef's effects upon the human body. Fruits and vegetables, foods on which Galen looked with a mixture of suspicion and approval, and for which he urged caution, became instead the object of greatly increased suspicions. William Thomas, the first English historian of Italy, provides an especially apt example of this shifting perspective, which he offers to his readers as a kind of personal conversion. In his 1549 treatise he confesses to a complete change of his engrained English attitudes as he renounces "the heaviness of flesh or fish" and reveals that whereas "beforetime [I] could in manner brook no fruit, and yet after I had been awhile in Italy I fell so in love withal that as long as I was there I desired no meat more" (Thomas, History 9-10).

Thomas's personal anecdote can speak for several other travelers' reports and medical pronouncements, often quite defensive in tone, which form a pattern of national self-representation expressed through the medium of food and diet. For example, the medical writer Thomas Cogan declared in his The Haven of Health (1584) that "beife of all flesh is most usual among English men [...] how well it doeth agree with the nature of English men, the common consent of all out nation doth sufficiency prove." He avers that had ancient writers "eaten the beef of England, or if they had dwelt in this our climate, which through coldness (Ex antiperistasi) doth fortify digestion, and therefore requireth stronger nourishment, I suppose they would have judged otherwise" than to undervalue the benefits of beef (113-15). (10)

The mid-sixteenth-century medical writer Christopher Langton makes an elaborate case for "virtue attractive," that is, correspondence between the qualities of the eater and the properties of the food eaten. He writes that "nourishment is the making like of that which nourisheth, to that which is nourished" and "the power attractive is a virtue which being in every part, serving for nutrition, doth draw unto it things of like qualities, & such as be meet and convenient for it, as adamant stone draweth iron." He asserts that, as a fleshy and gross being, mankind thrives not upon insubstantial foodstuffs such as vegetables and fruits, but upon the flesh of four-footed animals and game birds: "in the lowest kind or form of nourishments, is reckoned all manner of sallets, & whatsoever groweth in a little stalk, as cucumbers, gourds, or capers, and such like" while "salads that be sauced with salt and oil" as well as "green figs and dry[...]do greatly hurt the stomach" (Langton G8, Hv, Iv, I7). Robert Burton, like his sixteenth-century predecessors, cites in his Anatomy of Melancholy a sometimes astounding array of ancient and modern authorities to argue for cautious, measured use of fruits and "herbs" (395-402).

These English writers' near fixation with the lowly or even harmful properties of plant matter is, it seems, matched only by their extravagant claims for the healthful properties of beef. Even while working within a very recognizable Galenic system, they laud beef in ways that run contrary to Galen's own clear advice. For example, in William Thomas's defense of Henry VIII entitled The Pilgrim (ca. 1547), purportedly a dialogue between Thomas himself and several Italian nobles, the speaker partially defines English and Scottish cultural identity in terms of dietary practices and conventions. Thomas's persona explains to his interlocutors that while the Italians "exceed us in fruits, we exceed you both in the abundance, and also in the goodness, of flesh, fowl, and fish, whereof the common people there do no less feed than your common people here of fruits and herbs." He concludes resoundingly with what he identifies as a contemporary proverb: "Give the Englishman his beef and mustard." Context is especially significant here: Thomas lodges his claim within a highly defensive catalogue of recent English cultural advances, and he fastens upon beef as constituting an essential English identity, a visible sign of English forthrightness and directness that manifests itself in his countrymen's need to eat "food of more substance, as abundance of flesh and fish" (Thomas, Pilgrim 5-6). (11)

John Aylmer's highly tendentious defense of the Elizabethan regime, An Harborowe for Faithful and Trew Subjectes (1569), is hardly a medical or nutritional text, but it too invokes this kind of culturally specific picture of food consumption. In arguing for the superiority of the English laborer, he scoffs at the lot of their continental counterparts, who are oppressed by misery and tyranny. In Italy, he claims,
 the husbandmen be there so rich that the best coate he weareth is
 sacking, his nether stocks of his hose, be his own skin, his diet
 and his fare not very costly, for he commeth to the market with a
 hen or two in hande, and a dozen eggs in a nette in the other,
 which beynge solde and tolde, he bieth and carrieth home wyth him,
 no Biefe or Mutton, Veale or sea fishe, as you do: but a quart of
 oyle to make sallettes of hearbes, wherewith he liveth all the weke
 followinge.[...] [W]e live in paradise and not Italy, as they
 commonly call it. For they have figges, Orenges, Pomegranates,
 Grapes, Pepons, Oyle, and herbes: and we have Shepe, Oxen, Kie,
 Calves, Conies, Fish, woll, Leade, Clothe, Tinne, Leather, and
 infinite treasures more, which they lack. (P3v-P4)


William Harrison strikes a similarly patriotic note in "Of the Food and Diet of the English," a section of his Description of England (1577). He argues that the English fondness for flesh and milk predates (significantly) the Roman occupation. Even in his day, he claims, "in number of dishes and change of meat the nobility of England (whose cooks are for the most part musical-headed Frenchmen and strangers) do most exceed." (126). He continues in this vein, claiming that in their fondness for various meats in all seasons--eef, incidentally, is assumed as a dietary constant--the English eschew the superstitious Lenten practices of the Catholics and the "sundry outlandish confections" of other national cuisines. Harrison represents the English with their ample meat-laden tables as essentially different from their continental counterparts: "when they meet, they are so merry without malice, and plain without inward Italian or French craft and subtlety, that it would do a man good to be in company among them" (129-132).

But it is perhaps in the formulation of William Forrest that these intersecting forces of diet and culture assume their most overt expression, for he writes that:
 Our English nature cannot live by roots
 By water, herbs, or other such Beggery Baggage
 That may serve well for vile outlandish Coasts;
 Give Englishmen meat after their old usage,
 Beef, Mutton, Veal, to cheer their courage. (xcv*)


It is a telling reminder of the difference between discursive forms and lived experience that these English writers' suspicions and recommendations--their increased suspicions of fruits and vegetables and their embrace of foods that Galen had cautioned against--emerged in spite of a marked rise in fruit production and market-gardening in the sixteenth century. Not only did production increase, but botanical research, "recreational" gardening, and the agrarian sciences generally also flourished during this time (Thirsk 195-96, 644). But, as we can see from these examples, nutritional science and agricultural advances do not tell the entire story. The writers of English medicinal and dietary tracts of the period also moralized dietary theory: they constructed vegetables and salads as the food of the clever but insubstantial eater, and these foods as the gracious but hypocritical opposite to a solid, sincere English diet of meat and milk products. Beef, by contrast, was again and again constructed by these writers as a substantial, forthright, and unitary foodstuff--and it is defended against classical nutritional theory in sometimes vigorously patriotic terms. If beef consumption engendered melancholic dullness or even disease, as Galen himself feared, English writers seem to have accepted that condition as a better alternative to the pernicious and unpredictable effects on the body and moral spirit caused by vegetables and fruits. In this way, English Galenists not only adjusted but also sometimes radically inverted the dietary theory of classical Galenism, adapting ancient Greek ideas based upon ancient Greek food products and eating habits to conform to then-traditional English dietary conventions. Galen explicitly recommended pork over beef, as we have seen, but English dietary and nutritional writers saw otherwise. Galen meticulously weighed the benefits of different plants and fruits, including raw salads, but English polemicists and nutritionists often merely rejected his conclusions outright.

These revisions of traditional Galenic theory seem to reduce to a particular cultural debate over the virtues and drawbacks of fruits and vegetables, on the one hand, and animal flesh, principally beef, on the other. When John Webster's character Flamineo equates poisoning with salads and figs, for example, the playwright invokes a peculiarly English conception of dietary (and so cultural) difference based upon an associative principle in which vegetables and fruits-- subtle, light fare, according to Galenic tradition--manifest themselves in the immoral qualities of subtlety and insincerity. Beef, as both a substantial and traditionally English foodstuff, became associated with qualities that English writers sought to claim for themselves as distinct national traits: forthrightness, honesty, sincerity, directness.

Given this subtle--and sometimes less-than-subtle--adjustment of the dictates of classical, received dietary theory by English writers, we are right to search for deeper meanings in these changes. In so doing, we are presented with myriad questions for the historian or critic of cultural enterprises such as educational travel. And for our fullest answers to these questions, we must look outside the sphere of travel writing as it is usually defined. Anthropologists and scholars of food practices have for some decades persuasively theorized relationships between nutrition and cultural identity. (12) A society's attitudes toward food cultivation, preparation, and consumption are now widely recognized as valuable indicators of attitudes toward cultural differences, class boundaries, and even gender demarcations--and indeed as indicators of perceived or imagined identity itself. In their introduction to Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat, David Bell and Gill Valentine rightly argue that "food practices code and demarcate cultural boundaries, even in the most mundane of ways [...]. [F]ood is packed with social, cultural and symbolic meanings. Every mouthful, every meal, can tell us something about our selves, and about our place in the world" (2-3). Indeed, the study of food attitudes and practices offers the cultural critic a highly tangible instance of the ever- fascinating intersection between discursive traditions and lived experience.

One of the earliest and most influential theorists of food as cultural praxis, Claude Levi-Strauss identifies cooking as "a truly universal form of human activity," terming it "a language in which [a society] translates its structure" and through which it reveals its inherent contradictions. (13) Even those who have since contested or revised his highly structuralist claims agree that strong structures of belief are imbedded within even the most seemingly universal culinary practices, such as preparing raw, boiled, or roasted foods, and in the most apparently casual verbalizations of food practices--as, for example, in Cecil's image of "broken meats," in Gascoigne's advice to Withypoll not to ingest the foods-as-culturalvalues of elsewhere, or in Webster's passing reference to murder by poison as a "Spanish fig" or an "Italian sallet." Levi-Strauss's analysis is devoted to laying bare the systemic binaries and the units of belief that constitute a generally oppositional structure of culinary-social meanings. Of these, the most germane to our purposes is his analysis of a nature/culture opposition that derives from a basic antithesis between culturally specific attitudes toward food that is raw (the cru, representing nature in his analysis) and food that is cooked (the cuit, representing culture). Despite Levi-Strauss's conclusion that raw foods align with the pole of nature and cooked foods with the pole of culture, we find in the English nutritional writers and the "dietary polemicists" of the sixteenth century the opposite associations. The highly "civilized" culture of the Italians, in one sense envied and in another feared, aligned with raw foods, with mere "sallets" and herbs, while English culture--belated, retarded, underdeveloped, inferior in its outward manifestations of advanced civility--aligned with foods that had to be cooked.

Given their potential as broad signifiers of cultural attitudes toward the self's place in society and in the natural world, these ideas of the raw and the cooked, of plant and animal nutrition, point us toward Peter Burke's highly apt theory of a "'sincerity threshold' which varies from one time and place to another." Burke argues that notions of "sincerity" always exist in a culturally conditioned way, and that Renaissance Italy offers a striking instance of a "theatre society"--a societa spettacolo in the formulation of Virgilio Titone--in which hyperbole, la bella figura, honor and shame, and the ever-delicate dissimulation we know as sprezzatura proved to be a performance that English visitors had great difficulty understanding on its own terms. (14)

The widespread English re-definition of Galen we have observed can thus constitute a "sincerity claim" on the part of certain early modern English writers who adopted, adapted, or reinscribed Galenic theory so as to make it favor English national characteristics, and in so doing, to suggest a form of compensation for the emergent nation and its cultural leaders. Their argument might be stated this way: the English might not be as politic, cultivated, learned, or wealthy as the French, Spaniards, or (especially) the Italians, but they could take solace in the belief that they were more honest and more sincere. To a figure such as Roger Ascham, who feared the general invasion of Italian mores and social customs even more than the influx of Italian novelle, sincerity was a powerful counter-argument against the ready wits and easy discourse of the Italians. Ascham's animus toward this Italian influence manifests itself in, among other ways, his contempt for "quick wits," which, he asserts, "commonly be apt to take, unapt to keep; soon hot and desirous of this and that, as cold and soon weary of the same; more quick to enter speedily than able to pierce far." They are like "over-sharp tools" that dull quickly, and they delight in the superficial mastery that comes of "easy and pleasant studies" (21). Given the broader terms of Ascham's anti-Italian diatribe in The Scholemaster, it is clear that his definition of quick wits draws from the same set of prejudices that his characterization of the Italianized Englishman does. Both social types are given to glib discoursing, ready with quick answers, and too apt to be concerned with others' affairs. Especially when it could be joined to time-honored cultural self-constructions and to a more recent English Protestant emphasis upon inwardness and individual conscience, Ascham's representation of English solidity and frankness in opposition to Italian(ate) duplicity, guile, and quick-wittedness could--and did--prove an effective piece of national propaganda. Although nearly all the important sixteenth-century Italian books of courtesy and conduct were translated into English, by no means did they receive universal approbation or acceptance; on the contrary, in many cases imported courtesy literature met staunch resistance as English traditionalists and moralists such as Ascham rallied round what they averred were core cultural values of honesty and plain-dealing, now threatened by "those that serve in Circe's court" (Ascham 65). (15)

Such beliefs are reiterated constantly in the travel writing of the period, propped up in part by ancient humoral, climatic, and ethnographic theories inherited and modified from medieval and classical authorities, whose ethnographic theories identified northern peoples as fiercer and more blunt but also less disposed toward civility and politics than those of southern regions. These theories demonstrably influenced the mixed reception that Italian conduct literature received and the directions that stage representations took in early modern England; they complicated an already complex image of Italy as a land of "wit," a term that could be turned in different directions to make radically different claims. (16) In native English imaginative and polemical writing this image repeatedly combined with two other important cultural forces: the understanding among certain influential strata of English society--typically those associated with court, publishing, and the theaters--that their own cultural flowering was belated and inferior to those of continental peoples, and an Anglo-Protestant emphasis on moral inwardness, often defined in opposition to the visible signs of a continental cultural renaissance, such as courtly codes of behavior, personal or societal grace, accomplishment in martial and artistic endeavors, and wider participation in political and administrative life. (17)

Cultural stereotypes on this sort of plane of abstraction have a way of engaging with concrete, lived experience. Elective, educational travel was one principal way the cultural realities of the Italian peninsula were made known to English writers and readers--even as those same travelers were also ingesting unfamiliar foods that, according to their Anglicized Galenic conceptions of diet and health, probably posed serious risks to their health. The conjunction of influences is significant: travel, vaunted by some for its educational value and its utility to the state, condemned by others as frivolous and even risky, offered English voyagers the occasion to confront their own ideas of diet and health, and in the process, to interrogate their own ideas of the stability and integrity of the subject.

From the last decades of the sixteenth century, of course, educational travel and travel polemics began to assume a new social and cultural importance among English aristocrats and middling sorts, to enter in a significant way into this cultural mix. Some of these writers knew nothing firsthand about the Italian peninsula or its food practices; they can hardly be called travel writers at all. Others, like Ascham, knew very little indeed (he had been in Venice but nine days, but claims to have seen in that short time more "liberty to sin" than he had seen in London in nine years), but nonetheless felt entitled to contribute to the cultural debate that formed around the question of foreign travel (72). Still others, however, actually did come to know the cultural realities of the Italian peninsula, and it is especially revealing to see how their assumptions concerning culinary practices intersect with observed life. For example, William Thomas expresses a particular kind of pity for the oppressed Italian husbandman, whose labors supply the needs and appetites of their landlords, who take their "choice of the grain, wine, oil, and fruit, and then leaveth the rest to the tenant as his part ariseth to [...]. By reason whereof the poor man is brought so low that he is not able sometimes to find bread of sorgo (a very vile grain) to feed his poor children withal." Thomas laments that Italy's rural poor must eat all year the "Lenten stuff" that English husbandmen endure only seasonally, as penitential the food (History 14-15).

Sir Robert Dallington's 1605 A Survey of the Great Dukes State of Tuscany laments that Tuscan farmers eat "nothing els but cold fruites and rawe herbes; insomuch as the Villano and poorer sort feedeth not upon flesh once a month, and then most sparingly [...]. Such is the wretched penurie of this Nation, abounding in nothing but in quaint termes, which discover their humour, but satisfie not their hunger" (E2v-E3). Though Dallington's sympathies for the rural poor are apparent, his is not only a political, but also a cultural observation that cuts across socio-economic lines:
 Concerning Herbage, I shall not need to speake, but that it is the
 most generall food of the Tuscan, at whose table a Sallet is as
 ordinary, as salt at ours; for being eaten of all sorts of persons,
 & at all times of the yeare: of the riche because they love to
 spare; of the poor because they cannot choose; of many Religious,
 because of their vow, of most others because of their want: it
 remaineth to beleeve that which [they] themselves confesse; namely,
 that for every horse-load of flesh eaten, there is ten cart loades
 of hearbes and rootes, which also their open Markets and private
 tables doe witnesse, and whereof if one talke with them fasting, he
 shall have sencible feeling. (Fv)


Coryate in 1611, George Sandys in 1615, and Fynes Moryson in 1617 all describe their real-life encounters with Italian eating habits, coming to the same conventional conclusions concerning Italian agricultural bounty, but also offering their readers the same broad cluster of fresh observations and culturally conditioned fears of its implications for Englishmen abroad. Coryate admires Mantua's "abundance of delectable fruits" growing in the city and available in the markets. He describes a paradise of foodstuffs in the manner of his sixteenthcentury predecessor William Thomas, but he immediately subverts his own observations by asserting that he could "spend the remainder of [his] days" in such a terrestrial paradise, were it not for the "gross idolatry and superstitious ceremonies" of the populace there. Like previous travelers, Coryate rhapsodizes on the variety and plenty of Italian foods, "the marveilous affluence and exuberancy of all things tending to the sustenation of mans life." He enthusiastically describes the produce available in the Venetian markets, with particular emphasis on the seasonal fruits. He is especially drawn to musk melons, "one of the most delectable dishes for a Sommer fruite of all Christendome," while at the same time cautioning,
 But I advise thee (gentle Reader) if thou meanest to see Venice,
 and shall happen to be there in the sommer time when they are ripe,
 to abstaine from the immoderate eating of them. For the sweetnesse
 of them is such as hath allured many men to eate so immoderately of
 them, that they have therewith hastened their untimely death. (120,
 257-58)


Fynes Moryson also lauds the Italians' agriculture--especially their figs--but laments their lack of beef and game and complains, with Dallington, that mere "sallets" seem to sustain the people at large. The suggestion throughout his itinerary is that the Italians' frequently vaunted moderation at table is in fact a site for hypocrisy: he dwells on how friars maintain public shows of abstinence but insinuates that secretly "they may easily in private break this vow of not eating flesh" (1:331-32; 4:75, 83-86, 96). George Sandys is equally direct, reiterating Ascham's opposition of poison and moly as he describes the "Circean Promontory" near Feronia, giving particular attention to Circe's resourcefulness in concocting dangerous herbal preparations and drugs (99-125).

It would be tempting to imagine these repeated images of and attention to dietary difference as the particular concerns of a few English eccentrics who took to the road or who worried about those who did. However, a manuscript of 1614 now in the British Library, Racconto Di tutte le Radici, di tutte l'Herbe, et di tutti i Frutti, che crudi o cotti in Italia se mangiano, suggests that these issues of diet and national identity were a matter of cultural propaganda even outside the sphere of English travel writing, cultural polemics, and dramatic representation. This elegant little work is entirely in Italian but purports to have been copied in London by a now-anonymous Lombard for an English audience. The author or copyist expounds upon the dietary and medicinal virtues of roots, herbs, fruits--raw or cooked. What is especially significant is that the manuscript is unabashedly propaganda for a Mediterranean style of eating, a complete and thorough-going inversion of the dietary orthodoxies of the audience for whom the work is purportedly written. Pitched in polite terms, befitting its intended audience of culturally sophisticated English readers, it nonetheless expounds upon the Italian preference for fruits, vegetables, and especially raw salads over meats, in complete contradistinction to the dominant English association of a carnivorous diet, physical well-being, and moral transparency.

The writer makes considerable use of climate theory, noting that English conditions (he had stayed some time in Cambridge) are ill-suited for cultivating many of the fruits and vegetables that possess salutary dietetic or medicinal properties. Figs, so often the subject of anxiety among so many English writers, are particularly vaunted, along with seasonally appropriate salads, both raw and cooked. In opposition to the dominant English attitudes toward the raw and the cooked, he even refers in one preparation to an honest quantity of good herbs (2626v, 35).

The author stresses over and over that Italy has an abundance of produce that the English "nation" (questa natione) does not and, conversely, that Italians eat meats sparingly. His emphasis throughout is upon national differences that arise from or are defined by food consumption:
 Ne si maravigli niuno, di udire che noi mangiamo tanta diversita
 d'herbaggi et di frutti dagli oltramontagi poco conosciuti, et
 percio non son da lor punto stimati, il che da due principali
 cagioni stimo avenire. La prima e che la bella Italia non e tanto
 dovitiosa di carnaggi, quanto e la francia, et questa Isola, pero a
 noi fa di mestieri ingegnarci a trovare altre vivande da nudrir
 cotanta smisurata di persone, che si trovino in cosi picciol
 circuito di terra. (20-21v; see also 1-1v)


That the writer or copyist of the Racconto does not take the additional step of explicitly proposing a theory of national identity or individualism based upon these different dietary habits should not surprise us. Quite the contrary: it seems clear that by 1614 such a connection was widely, perhaps even self-evidently, available to readers, who seem naturally to have made the leap from the matter of individual diet and health to the larger but parallel question of national or cultural identity. One is what one eats, to be sure, but as David Bell and Gill Valentine's collection of essays reminds us, we are also where we eat (1-19, passim). We can recall, for example, both the patriotic chauvinism of Forrest and Alymer, who saw in the lack of flesh in continental diets sure evidence of English cultural superiority, but also the more measured observations of Thomas and Dallington, who saw the pitiful lot of the poor in the Italian peninsula as proceeding principally from the lack of the right things to eat, foods that would sustain them, but also permit them the liberties enjoyed by their English counterparts.

In the end, many of these anxieties, which register across a range of English writing of the period, seem to reduce to Ascham's often-reiterated dread that "Some Circe" would transform the "plain Englishman" into "a right Italian" (62). The premise of this Circean process (an image as old as that great travel writer himself, Homer) is that there is a subjectivity within the individual traveler that must be protected from injurious outside influences--precisely because the subject is a fragile thing that can be manipulated, abased, even destroyed. The process of transformation implies a pre-existing, stable form, however, and several proponents of educational travel imagined, perhaps rather naively, that travel abroad and contact with others could somehow result in "education" without "reformation." Jerome Turler is one such apologist who saw travel as principally improvement without abandonment, but even Turler loses some control of his own argument as this metaphor unfolds, suggesting that gain might well be accompanied by loss:
 And like as hearbes & fruites planted in one ground, if they be
 remooved into another or that is of some other qualitie, they grow
 out of kind, in so much that they loose either their colour, or
 taste, and naturall qualitie, by reason of the nature of the soile,
 influence of the heavens, and goodnesse of the aire, and that
 diverse maner of nourishment: so hapneth also that the like in men
 according to the condition of nourishment, and the aire that
 compasseth them changing them into another constitution and
 temperature of body, & enclining them to ensue other maners, and
 studies. By this means a Dane is transformed into a Spaniard, a
 Germane into a frenchman or Italian, namely by dayly conversation,
 use of life, & custome. (101-102)


Educational travel was one highly visible, culturally significant way that the dietary realities of "vile outlandish coasts" (to use Forrest's especially xenophobic term) were made known and tangible to English travelers and readers, offering them the prospect of changing "into another constitution and temperature of body." It seems clear that the process of discovering the ways and habits (among them, the food practices) of others was not always an easy one for those directly involved in it, but as Turler insists elsewhere in his treatise, transformation was not necessarily a process to be feared. Likewise, in his 1625 Essays, Francis Bacon also averred in "On Travel" that a form of cultural transplantation or grafting could occur, but without wholesale change to the traveler himself:
 When a traveller returneth home, let him not leave the countries
 where he hath travelled altogether behind him; but maintain a
 correspondence by letters with those of his acquaintance which are
 of most worth. And let his travel appear rather in his discourse
 than in his apparel or gesture; and in his discourse let him be
 rather advised in his answers, than forward to tell stories; and
 let it appear that he doth not change his country manners for those
 of foreign parts; but only prick in [i.e., transplant] some flowers
 of that he hath learned abroad into the customs of his own country.
 (375-76)


Still, it seems clear that many others--moral polemicists, writers of travel advice, playwrights, and even worried parents--embraced Ascham's view and not Bacon's. They anxiously contemplated the possibility of a loss or deep transformation of the "right Englishman" into something else--often the everavailable specter of the Inglese italianato. Transformation for them meant compromise at best and wholesale loss at worst--of their "hard wits" to the lure of "quick wits," their essential Englishness to a monstrous cultural hybridity, or their "natural" affinity for plain-dealing to a headlong pursuit of glib dissimulation. The subject was, as we have observed, a subject.

Socially conservative writers of this viewpoint, and their readers, may well have applauded the claim of one later and eventually quite famous educational traveler, but they might have remained suspicious as well: upon his arrival in Protestant Geneva from Catholic Italy in the year 1639, John Milton signed the guest book of Camillo Cardoyn with a well-known sentence from Horace's Epistles: Coelum non animum muto dum trans mare curro--"I change the sky but not my mind when I cross the sea." (French 1:419). A noble sentiment, to be sure, but it seems that earlier English travelers and polemical writers were more than a little skeptical that changes in diet, being more powerful and more visceral than changes in the skies, might have worked deeply into the self and made such fortitude and noble resistance in the face of cultural pollution more difficult than Milton--or Horace--might have been willing to admit.

The State University of New York at New Paltz

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(1.) Two versions of this poem exist, the second one (1575) substituting "piles and pockes" for "Papistrie" (See the very useful discussion in Pigman's commentary 652).

(2.) On congruities between Webster's Italian world and that of early Stuart England, see Griffin 54; Goldberg, introduction and ch. 3; Dollimore, ch. 15; Tempera 229-50.

(3.) On the multiple valences of "fico" or fig, see the notes in Taylor 189-90.

(4.) The term "framework of assumptions" is from Hunter 37. For general analyses of early modern travel, see the studies by Maczak, Stoye, Black, Warneke, and Chaney.

(5.) Jerome Turler, The Traveiler (London, 1575), as quoted in its modern reprint edition (Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Reprints & Facsimiles, 1951) in Monga 216.

(6.) This view of travelers as both "subjects" of the crown and "subjective selves" owes much to Hanson's discussion (2-12). In addition, I am inclined to agree with the distinction between motives for travel asserted by Monga: whereas southern European travelers tended to take to the road for individualistic reasons, "the common good was often the final goal of northern Europeans who made a journey to southern countries full of sun and history" (215).

(7.) See discussions in Sarton 90-93 and Nutton, Democedes, ch. 1-3.

(8.) The best source on pure Galenic theory, and the source from which most of the following examples are drawn, is Grant, passim. But see also Scully 41-44; Temkin 17-26; Nutton, Democedes, ch. 1-3.

(9.) See also Nutton, "Galen and the Traveller's Fare" (366-67).

(10.) As cited in the very useful study of O'Hara-May, 225.

(11.) The proverb is not in any dictionary on the subject, but there is ample evidence in the literature of the period that Thomas cannot be far off in identifying it as such.

(12.) For general anthropological discussions, see Levi-Strauss, Le Cru et le Cuit (esp. 9-40; Simoons 3-11, 297-325; Goody 10-39 and esp 17-33; Douglas, "Standard Social Uses of Food: Introduction," passim, in Douglas 1984.

(13.) Levi-Strauss, "The Culinary Triangle." See also Goody 17-24 and 29-33, for a concise critique of the structuralist bias of Levi-Strauss and a synopsis of the "cultural approaches" favored by revisionists such as Mary Douglas.

(14.) Burke, Historical Anthropology 9-14, quoting here 10, 13 and referencing Titone 116.

(15.) The reception of Castiglione and Italian conduct literature is discussed in Crane 505 and ch. 11, passim. See also Burke, Fortunes, esp. ch. 4-6.

(16.) Hunter refers to Italy as both a "land of wit [...] of pleasure and of refinement" and notes that this characterization could easily be turned "towards romance or diabolism" (49). On the matter of stage representations, see Hoenselaars, ch. 2-5, as well as several essays in Michele Marrapodi, Hoenselaars, Cappuzo, and Santucci.

(17.) There are several excellent studies of the doctrine of climatic influence. On Greek origins and Roman adaptations, see Glacken 80-115 and Friedman 34-36 and 50-53. Medieval and early modern traditions are also discussed by Beatrice Reynolds in her edition of Jean Bodin's Method for the Easy Comprehension of History, pp. xii-xv; by Glacken 254-87; and most extensively by Zacharasiewicz 17-230. On the subject of cultural belatedness, see Helgerson 1-18. Concerning the complex question of early modern "inwardness," Maus offers provocative revisions of the studies by Barker and Belsey.
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