Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/46

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36
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

King Philip's edict against his Protestant subjects and thus caused the revolt of the Netherlands, and the historical eel-pie that extinguished the house of the Medici aided the cause of the Reformation more than all the armies of Sweden and Brandenburg. Mohammed II., the conqueror of Constantinople, we learn from Raumer's history, had an attack of gastritis after finishing a highly seasoned dish of broiled liver. As a matter of course the responsible cook was put to death at once, but the pains and the rage of the Sultan were not appeased, and with his own hand he stabbed Demetrius Phranza, his beautiful favorite, son of the late chief minister of the fallen Greek Empire. By this barbarous act he alienated the hearts of his Christian subjects for ever, and planted the seeds of that hatred which perhaps at this moment bears its harvest on the battle-field of Bulgaria. That dish of sour milk and rye-bread which Charles II. had to eat in his haystack after the battle of Worcester seems never to have been digested by the house of Stuart, though it might have imparted a lesson more useful to the "merry monarch" than any precept of the Scotch Covenanters.

Frederick the Great, who proved himself the master spirit of Europe by such incontrovertible arguments, was himself mastered by his fondness for certain French-made dishes, which, according to Dr. Zimmermann, shortened his life by at least ten years. One of his odes, addressed to Monsieur Noël, his caterer-en-chef dwells rapturously on the merits of a peculiar partridge-pie. "Not, though, as if I doubted that such pies will send me and you à l’enfer" Frederick added in prose after reading this production to Noel himself. "I would follow your majesty even there," returned the courteous cook, "and it is a consoling circumstance that neither of us two is afraid of fire."

We have no Roman Pollios who chopped up a couple of young slaves every week to improve the flavor of their carps; but it is said of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia that during her residence in Moscow she caused the death of more than one courier, who had to bring in oysters and fresh sea-fish from the coast within a specified time. Domitian, the impulsive Imperator, once actually assembled the Roman Senate in special session to vote on the merits of a new sauce which he desired to try on a fat specimen of Rhombus maximus, the Mediterranean turbot! Ælius Verus, whose administration of Asia Minor had drained the wretched province of all its available cash, spent the produce of his rapacity in less than four years in his voluptuous retreat of Daphne, or in the riots of Antioch, where it is said that a single entertainment, to which only about a dozen guests were invited, cost above six million sesterces, or nearly $240,500.

A cook in those times could of ten earn a talent ($1,200) a day, which sum, Petronius remarks, would have sufficed to hire a dozen philosophers for a year. It was the age of complete degeneration of the once so frugal Romans, who now tolerated men like Pyttilus, who got an asbestos sheath fitted to his tongue to enable him to swallow the hottest