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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

1530: To dip the fingers in the sauce is rustic. You should take what you want with your knife and fork; you should not search through the whole dish as epicures are wont to do, but take what happens to be in front of you. (De civilitate morum puerilium, Erasmus of Rotterdam)

1560: Further, the Germans use spoons when eating soup and anything liquid, and the Italians forks. The French use either, as they think fit and as is most convenient. (A Civilité by C. Calviac)

Between 1640 and 1680: In times past, people ate from the common dish and dipped their bread and fingers in the sauce. Today everyone eats with spoon and fork from his own plate, and a valet washes the cutlery from time to time at the buffet. (From a song by the Marquis de Coulanges)

1774: The spoon, fork, and knife should always be placed on the right. The spoon is intended for liquids, and the fork for solid meats. ... When the plate is dirty, you should ask for another; it would be revoltingly gross to clean spoon, fork, or knife with the fingers. ... Nothing is more improper than to lick your fingers, to touch the meats and put them into your mouth with your hand, to stir sauce with your fingers, or to dip bread into it with your fork and then suck it. (Les Règles de la bienséance et de la civilité chrétienne, La Salle)

1786: 'And how did you eat your soup?' 'Like everyone else, I think. I took my spoon in one hand and my fork in the other...' 'Your fork? Good heavens! No one uses his fork to eat soup....' (A conversation between the poet Delille and Abbé Cosson)

There are a great many excerpts in between that do not mention the fork at all, though nearly all refer to knives, spoons, and napkins, and even more to fingers. Notice that the fork becomes increasingly present. At first, in 1530, one uses the fork to transport food from a communal to an individual one; later, it is used to eat soup. There is a growing emphasis on cleanliness, on washing one's fingers and utensils. Finally, it's interesting to reflect on the fact that these manuals were written in the first place: they had to be written and learned because people did not have them internalized, a fact which underlines their artificiality.

the fork