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February 24, 2005

   

LIVING LARGE IN THE BRONZE AGE: THE MYCENAEAN FEAST

James Wright

Filet mignon for five hundred guests, a 50-pound wedding gown and a diamond ring the size of a golf ball sound like the pinnacle of conspicuous consumption, but Donald Trump better look over his shoulder. It's all been done before — 3,500 years ago, according to Bryn Mawr Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology James C. Wright. In his new anthology, The Mycenaean Feast, Wright collects studies that detail the celebrations of ancient Greek aristocrats who make "The Donald" look like a miser by comparison.

Archaeologists who contributed to the study, based on excavations of the Palace of Nestor in Pylos, have unearthed meals fit for the gods: Zeus, Hera and Poseidon. Cattle, deer, boar, pigs and sheep were roasted over pits or cooked in bronze cauldrons to feed not hundreds, but thousands. Apparently the modern custom of taking centerpieces home also has ancient roots. Images on drinking cups show aristocrats mounting chariots and taking their cups and bowls with them. 

As in Trump's nuptials, the higher the guest's socioeconomic or political status, the better the seat in ancient times. Archaeological evidence indicates that 22 VIPs sat at 11 special tables at a feast in 1200 B.C.E. Party planners are nothing new. Wright and his colleagues have interpreted evidence from the Mycenaean palaces of Bronze Age Greece that reveals a complex bureaucracy developed to oversee these gargantuan feasts throughout the kingdoms of Thebes and Pylos.

"We will probably never know whether Homer's epic tales of the Trojan War and the struggles of returning heroes like Odysseus actually happened. Still, it's remarkable how in many instances discoveries from the Late Bronze Age correspond to Homer's descriptions while adding even more details than archaeologists previously thought possible," says Wright.

The Mycenaen Feast is published by the ASCSA (American School of Classical Studies at Athens). Wright's previous publications include: The Emergence of Leadership and Origins of Civilization in the Aegean; Thugs or Heroes? The Early Mycenaeans and Their Graves of Gold; Death and Power at Mycenae; From Chief to King in Mycenaean Greece; Empty Cups and Empty Jugs: The Social Role of Wine in Minoan and Mycenaean Societies.

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