Ancient writers distinguish three Romans bearing this name, all of them indebted for celebrity to the same cause, their devotion to gluttony.
Ancient authors about food under the name Apicius
1. The first of these in chronological order, is said to have been instrumental in procuring the condemnation of Rutilius Rufus, who went into exile in the year B. C. 92.
According to Posidonius, in the 49th book of his history, he transcended all men in luxury. (Athen iv. p. 168d.; compare Posidonii Reliquiae,
2. The second and most renowned, M. Gabius Apicius,
flourished under Tiberius, and many anecdotes have been preserved of the inventive genius, the skill and the prodigality which he displayed in discovering and creating new sources of culinary delight, arranging new combinations, and ransacking every quarter of the globe and every kingdom of nature for new objects to stimulate and gratify his appetite.
At last, after having squandered upwards of eight hundred thousand pounds upon the indulgence of his all-engrossing passion, he balanced his books, and found that little more than eighty thousand remained; upon which, despairing of being able to satisfy the cravings of hunger from such a miserable pittance, he forthwith hanged himself.
But he was not forgotten. Sundry cakes (Apicia
) and sauces long kept alive his memory; Apion, the grammarian, composed a work upon his luxurious labours; his name passed into a proverb in all matters connected with the pleasures of the table; he became the model of gastronomers, and schools of cookery arose which hailed him as their mighty master. (Tac. Ann. 4.1
; D. C. 57.19
; Athen. 1.7
a.; Plin. Nat. 8.51
; Senec. Consol. ad Helv.
10, Epp. 94.43, 120.20, De Vit. Beat.
11.3; Juv. 4.23
, and Schol. 11.2; Martial, 2.69
; Lamprid. Heliogab.
18, &c.; Sidon. Apollin. Epp. 4.7; Suidas, s. v. Ἀπίκιος
; Isidoor. Origg.
20.4; Tertullian. Apolog.
3. When the emperor Trajan was in Parthia, many days distant from the sea, a certain Apicius sent him fresh oysters, preserved by a skilful process of his own. (Athen. 1.7
d.; Suidas, s. v. ὄστρεα
The first and third of these are mentioned by Athenaeus alone, the second by very many writers, as may be seen from the authorities quoted above. Hence some scholars, startled not unnaturally by the singular coincidence of name and pursuit, have endeavoured to prove that there was in reality only one Apicius, namely the second, and that the multiplication arose from the tales with regard to his excesses having passed from mouth to mouth among persons ignorant of chronology, or from the stories current with regard to various glutttons having been all in the process of time referred to the most famous of all.
It will be observed, however, that in so far as the first is concerned Athenaeus points directly to the sonrce from whence his information was derived, and connects the individual with an important and well known historical fact. nor is it probable that there is any confasion of names in the passage relating to the third, since it is confirmed by the text of Suidas, who evidently quotes from Athenaeus. (See, however, Vincent. Condtaren. Var. Lect.
c. xvii.; Lipsius on Tacit. Ann.
4.1; Lister. Praef. ad Apic.
The treatise we now possess, bearing the title Caelii Apicii de opsoniis et condimentis sive de re culinaria, Libri, decem,
is a sort of Cook and Confectioner's Manual, containing a multitude of receipts for preparing and dressing all kinds of flesh, fish, and fowl, for compounding sauces, baking cakes, preserving sweetmeats, flavouring Wines, and the like. From the inaccuracies and solecisms of the style, it is probable that it was compiled at a late period by some one who prefixed the name of Apicius, in order to attract attention and insure the circulation of his book.
It is not without value, however, since it affords an insight into the details of a Roman kitchen which we seek for elsewhere in vain.
The De re coquinaria
appears to have been first discovered by Enoch of Ascoli, about the year 1454, in the time of Pope Nicolas V., and the editio princeps was printed at Milan in 1498
The best editions are those of Martin Lister, published at London, in 1705
, reprinted with additions by Almeloveen (Amstelod. 1709)
, and that of Bernhold (Marcobreit. 1787, Baruth. 1791, and Ansbach. 1800.)
There is an illustrative work by Dierbach, entitled Flora Apicuima.