Sappho & the History and Importance of Taste

There is not much in Sappho's fragments about her sense of taste but what little there is has been enormously influential:

Most people who have considered the issue agree that she coined the word 'bittersweet' (literally the Greek is the opposite 'sweetbitter' (glukupikron).  See S. 130.

This would seem to relate to the fact that poetry was not a separate art form but arose in interdependence with other forms of art, particularly dance.  See the Section on my blog on Sappho & the Arts. 

The psychological basis for how such interdependence arose would seem to have something to do with taste, which is the quintessential fusion of senses. Taste, for example can be characterized as the "subjective" coincidence of "opposites" (or contrasts) whereas the they are expressed objectively by various art forms.

What is the Sense of Taste Really?  

It is surprisingly complicated and includes effectively 3 senses:

1. Touch
2. Smell
3. Taste

All three senses probably should be thought of as one.  For more on this see Shepherd, Neurogastronomy.  It should be considered mandatory reading for anyone with a serious interest in the importance of food to human culture.

Shepherd rightly calls attention to Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human as one way to assess the implications of taste with respect to ancient history.  This would not be news to ancient Italians: here is a draft of my essay arguing for female authorship of Moretum (to be posted on Feminism and Religion in final form on October 1st, 2015)(note in particular my discussion of Empedocles and his phrase 'clarities of the tongue').

This provides the fundamental basis for the legitimacy of speaking about food as a language but also understanding language itself, and particularly poetry, as food.  Though this relates to some of what Massimo Montanari has written (the 'Grammar of Food' in Food is Culture) it ultimately leads into what can be considered a type of revelation regarding the spirituality of food.

How Is Poetry Like Food?

The tradition of characterizing poetry as food is ancient: arguably the most authoritative and ancient aspect of this tradition relates to the concept of soma in Vedic poetry.  But nectar (literally the food that conquers death and hence the food of the gods) was associated with Greek and Latin poetry.  See my discussion of nectar as used by Sappho in S. 2.

Understanding this tradition provides a valuable tool for understanding the implications of otherwise seemingly arcane and even irrelevant language theory developed in connection with the analysis of ancient poetry.   

How Does Food Relate to Spirituality?

One place to begin to appreciate how food relates to spirituality is to understand Why Is Pizza Round?

No comments:

Post a Comment