Food is language
Utopias and daily basic needs in the Middle Ages
Thursday November 25, 2014, at 16.30
Food was a fundamental element in many symbolic linguistic codes of the past, and this was particularly evident in medieval times. Judaic-Christian culture, just like Greek-Roman, Celtic and Norse mythologies, amongst the others, show that one of the common traits of ancient cults was the typology of their “lexicon”: food parables and allegories; the idea of a paradise with an everlasting summer, where food is available for everyone, forever; the connection between gods, natural forces and, as a consequence, abundance or lack of food, fecundity or famine. The success and effectiveness of this “food language” depended on its universal and dynamic essence: everybody could understand, memorize and spread it with basically no risk of misinterpretation. Just because the target crowds of such religious cults were mainly formed of illiterates, linguistic codes based on familiar elements (bread, wine, ale, cattle, agriculture, fishing, cooking, etc.) were undoubtedly the most suitable, pragmatic and handy ones to use. In hindsight, the “food language” can also be studied as a historical source which lets us know many aspects about food cultures of the Middle Ages, from the fear of hunger to “civilizing plants”. This lecture will cover the use of the food language as a response to people’s worry of death and the unknown, but also to their practical everyday needs, so as to get a glimpse of their mentality.
Andrea Maraschi is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iceland where he studies the symbolic meaning of food in medieval cultures. He holds a BA degree in Modern Humanities, an MA degree in Medieval History and a Ph.D. in Medieval History, all from the University of Bologna.