previous next


βούτυρον). Butter. The oldest mention of butter, though dubious and obscure, is in the account given of the Scythians by Herodotus (iv. 2). According to him they poured the milk of mares into wooden vessels, caused it to be violently stirred or shaken by their blind slaves, and thus separated the part that arose to the surface, which they considered more valuable and more delicious than that which was collected below it. Herodotus here evidently speaks of the richest part of the milk being separated from the rest by shaking; and that what he alludes to here was actually butter would plainly appear from comparing with what he says the much clearer account of his contemporary Hippocrates. “The Scythians,” remarks this latter writer, “pour the milk of their mares into wooden vessels, and shake it violently; this causes it to foam, and the fat part, which is light, rising to the surface, becomes what is called butter ( βούτυρον καλοῦσι).” Mention of butter occurs several times, in fact, in the writings of Hippocrates, and he prescribes it externally as a medicine; though he gives it another name, pikerion (πικέριον).

It would appear, however, that butter must have been very little known to the Greeks and Romans till the end of the second century. It appears, also, that when they had learned the art of making it, they employed it only as an ointment in their baths, and particularly in medicine. Pliny recommends it, mixed with honey, to be rubbed over children's gums, in order to ease the pain of teething, and also for ulcers in the mouth. The Romans, in general, seem to have used butter for anointing the bodies of their children to render them pliable; and we are told that the ancient Burgundians smeared their hair with it. Except in Dioscorides there is no indication that it was used by the Greeks or Romans in cookery or the preparation of food. No notice is taken of it by Apicius, nor is it mentioned by Galen for any other than medical purposes. This is easily accounted for by the ancients having entirely accustomed themselves to the use of oil; and, in like manner, butter at present is very little employed in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the southern parts of France. One chief cause of this is the difficulty of preserving it for any length of time in warm countries, and it would seem that among the ancients in the south of Europe it was rather in an oily state and almost liquid.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: