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Farcical sausages

Relief of Roman sausage making

As the 24 year old Craufurd Tait Ramage was making his solitary way through Lucania in 1828, sausages were the only food he was able to procure. He assumes (in The Nooks and By-Ways of Italy, published in 1868) these were the lucanicae mentioned by Cicero as a hors d’ oeuvre and proceeds to give the recipe from Apicius as, ‘An intestine stuffed with minced pork, mixed with ground pepper, cummin, savory, rue, rock parsley, berries of laurel and suet. The intestine is drawn out thinly and hung up in the smoke’ (Apicius 2.4, the ‘laurel’ being the bay and ‘suet’ the Latin liquamen).

Botulism, food-poisoning caused by the bacillus Clostridium botulinum, ought to be ‘sausage poisoning’ since it comes from Latin botulus (sausage).

Latin probably borrowed the word from Oscan or Umbrian, and it seems to be a blood sausage (‘black pudding’ OLD). It makes a spectacular appearance in Petronius’ Satyrica when at Trimalchio’s feast, the cook guts the roast pig before the guests and tomacula cum botulis (sausages with black puddings) pour out. [There’s an alternative reading thumatula (sausages seasoned with thyme) which is favoured by some.] In Martial 1.41, the list of street vendors features a raucus cocus (hoarse cook) peddling steaming sausages (tomacla). He’s the Roman equivalent of the loud, lowlife Sausage-Seller in Aristophanes’ Knights. But the name tomaculum is pertinent for a delicacy stuffed with finely chopped meat, as it probably derives from Greek tomē (cutting) with Latin suffix –culum.

Apicius gives recipes for other sausages under the heading farcimina. farcimen (sausage), as Varro says, comes from the verb farcio (farcire, farsi, fartum) meaning ‘to stuff’. The English derivation ‘to farce/force’ is no longer in use, but we do use ‘forcemeat’ for stuffing. So, is it farcical to suggest farce has any connection with sausages? Yes (or is that no?), interpolations and interludes stuffed into liturgy or mystery play have given us our ridiculous farce (theatre of the sausage?).

Sausage itself has a salty etymology. Latin salsus (preserved or flavoured with salt) is the root of such Medieval Latin sausage words as, salsicia, salcistrum, and saucistrum. Ramage traced the word to Italian salsiccia, ‘which has passed into our word sausage through the French saucisse.’ Probably related are ‘sauce’ (and ‘saucer’), from which comes ‘saucy’. French farce and saucy sausage: etymology at its wurst?

About the author

Alan Beale

Alan Beale is a member of The Lit & Phil and runs one of our regular Latin classes.

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