During the excavation of a block of houses in District IX of Pompeii, a still life wall painting with food and drink with a picture of what looks a lot like pizza. It certainly isn’t pizza, as tomatoes and mozzarella didn’t even exist in Italy when the fresco was painted 2,000 years ago. It’s actually a round, flat focaccia topped with fruit and spices, and something like a herb cheese, similar to pesto, known as morgue. Focaccia is depicted on a silver tray next to a silver cantar of wine. Dried and fresh fruits are also on the tray, among them two dates, a pomegranate, a fig and a garland of yellow strawberries.
excerpt from Virgil Aeneid describes Trojan refugees eating focaccia like this when they reach the coast of Lazio. It’s as appetizing food as you might think, barely edible. From Book VII, verses 128-136:
Aeneas, handsome Yul and the best leaders,
settled their limbs under the branches of a tall tree,
and lay out the food: they put wheat cakes for the base
for food (as Jupiter himself inspired them)
and added wild fruits to these tables of Ceres.
When bad food made them grit their teeth
on thin disks, the rest are eaten, and break
fatal circles of bread boldly with hands and jaws,
not sparing the cakes, Iulus, jokingly,
said nothing more than, “Ha! Do we also eat from the tables?
The hard focaccia with fruit may not have been the height of deliciousness, but the meal on the silver tray represents the Greek concept of Xenia, hospitality offered to all diners, creating a strong, ritualistic bond of friendship between host and guest. The offering of food was an important element often used in the art of Greece and Rome. Vitruvius writes about Xenia as a concept of hospitality and as an art, in Book VI 7.4 from About architecture:
To the right and left, in addition, there are small groups of apartments, each of which has its own door, triclinium and bedchamber, so that upon arrival of guests they should not enter the peristyle, but are received in the rooms (hospitals) assigned to them. to their occupation. For when the Greeks were more refined and possessed of great wealth, they arranged for their guests a separate table with tricliniums and bedrooms. On the day of their arrival, they were invited to lunch and then provided with poultry, eggs, herbs, fruits and other local products. Therefore, the artists gave the name Xenia to those paintings that depict gifts made to guests. Thus, the owners of the families, living in these chambers, felt at home, being free to do whatever they pleased there.
Depictions of Xenia were popular motifs in Roman visual art, especially in Pompeian fourth style (also known as intricate style) wall painting. There are about 300 known frescoes depicting offerings from cities buried during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, etc.). This example is of high quality.
It was discovered in the atrium of a house in the quarter Insula 10 Regio IX. The house with an attached bakery was first explored between 1888 and 1891, but only a small part of it. Excavations resumed in January of this year with the goal of stabilizing structures excavated in the 19th century and largely abandoned since then.