Book Reviews: ‘The Hungry Eye – Eating, Drinking And European Culture’ (2021)

Eating and drinking can be aesthetic experiences as well as sensory ones. The Hungry Eye takes readers from antiquity to the Renaissance to explore the central role of food and drink in literature, art, philosophy, religion, and statecraft.

In this beautifully illustrated book, Leonard Barkan provides an illuminating meditation on how culture finds expression in what we eat and drink. Plato’s Symposium is a timeless philosophical text, one that also describes a drinking party. Salome performed her dance at a banquet where the head of John the Baptist was presented on a platter. Barkan looks at ancient mosaics, Dutch still life, and Venetian Last Suppers. He describes how ancient Rome was a paradise of culinary obsessives, and explains what it meant for the Israelites to dine on manna. He discusses the surprising relationship between Renaissance perspective and dinner parties, and sheds new light on the moment when the risen Christ appears to his disciples hungry for a piece of broiled fish. Readers will browse the pages of the Deipnosophistae—an ancient Greek work in sixteen volumes about a single meal, complete with menus—and gain epicurean insights into such figures as Rabelais and Shakespeare, Leonardo and Vermeer.

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