DE GUSTIBUS NON DISPUTANDUM EST
A prayer for Julius Caesar: fake news made another victim
In this era of relativism, the elliptical form (“De gustibus…”) of the eternal sentence “De gustibus non disputandum est” (“There is no disputing about taste“ , Merriam Webster Dictionary) is often used, but its real origin is still a mystery.
Still, legend says (and Wikipedia, as it happens in the Italian version, most of the times dresses up reality with legends) that the phrase was pronounced by Julius Caesar during a banquet in Milan. He was guest of Valerius Leo, and Caesar was served with asparagus dressed with butter instead of oil, as it was used to do among the “civilized” Romans.
For Caesar, the butter was a “barbarian” thing (Milan, at the time, was in the Cisalpine Gaul), but since he was a magnanimous Roman general he said to his fellow guests, who were disgusted by the food, the sentence that remained in history.
Easy for those claiming the identity among Milan, the butter and the cotoletta (meat breaded cutlet), the anecdote is false. They say the sentence comes from the work “Plutarch’s Lives”, written by Plutarch, but there is no trace about it. In fact, according to Plutarch, Caesar never said it.
According to the Greek biographer and philosopher what really happened during the banquet was*:
Of his [Julius Caesar] indifference in regard to his diet the following circumstance also is brought in proof. When the host who was entertaining him in Mediolanum, Valerius Leo, served up asparagus dressed with myrrh instead of olive oil, Caesar ate of it without ado, and rebuked his friends when they showed displeasure.”Surely,” said he, “it were enough not to eat what you don’t like; but he who finds fault with ill-breeding like this is ill-bred himself.”
As you could notice, the butter was never mentioned, on the contrary he talks about myrrh, a scented oil that in Rome was mostly used as balsam and cosmetic, for sure not as seasoning.
So, what this story tells us is:
- In the internet there are many fake news even when we talk about history («What about Food?» Well…there are a lot!)
- The truth is more boring than fantasy (but we knew this already)
- Caspar didn’t recycle to Jesus the myrrh just because he didn’t know what to do with it. In ancient times it was really appreciated and not common at all
- Valerius Leo was an upstart, who wanted to impress his guests and decided not to use the butter and gave to Julius Caesar the Roman version of a Chinese perfume Chamele n°5
*Credits: Plutarch, Caesar Bernadotte Perrin, Ed.
This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)