The next time you feel guilty about eating too much, you may wish to take some comfort in knowing that your wildest eating excesses cannot compare to the everyday spectacular gluttony exhibited by famous rulers in history. On top of being bad for your health, gluttony is of course one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
The following is a reprinted article from the Mirror of Literature, which originally appeared in the 1832 edition of the magazine. After reading it I am left to wonder how these people did not either explode (literally) or grow so fat that they resembled Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars.
The Emperor Claudius had a strong predilection for mushrooms: he was poisoned with them, by Agrippina, his niece and fourth wife; but as the poison [pg 36] only made him sick, he sent for Xenophon, his physician, who, pretending to give him one of the emetics he commonly used after debauches, caused a poisoned feather to be passed into his throat.
Nero used to call mushrooms the relish of the gods, because Claudius, his predecessor, having been, as was supposed, poisoned by them, was, after his death, ranked among the gods.
Domitian one day convoked the senate, to know in what fish-kettle they should cook a monstrous turbot, which had been presented to him. The senators gravely weighed the matter; but as there was no utensil of this kind big enough, it was proposed to cut the fish in pieces. This advice was rejected. After much deliberation, it was resolved that a proper utensil should be made for the purpose; and it was decided, that whenever the emperor went to war a great number of potters should accompany him. The most pleasing part of the story is, that a blind senator seemed in perfect ecstacy at the turbot, by continually praising it, at the same time turning in the very opposite direction.
Julius Caesar sometimes ate at a meal the revenues of several provinces.
Vitellius made four meals a day; and all those he took with his friends never cost less than ten thousand crowns. That which was given to him by his brother was most magnificent: two thousand select dishes were served up: seven thousand fat birds, and every delicacy which the ocean and Mediterranean sea could furnish.
Nero sat at the table from midday till midnight, amidst the most monstrous profusion.
Geta had all sorts of meat served up to him in alphabetical order.
Heliogabalus regaled twelve of his friends in the most incredible manner: he gave to each guest animals of the same species as those he served them to eat; he insisted upon their carrying away all the vases or cups of gold, silver, and precious stones, out of which they had drunk; and it is remarkable, that he supplied each with a new one every time he asked to drink. He placed on the head of each a crown interwoven with green foliage, and gave each a superbly-ornamented and well-yoked car to return home in. He rarely ate fish but when he was near the sea; and when he was at a distance from it, he had them served up to him in sea-water.
Louis VIII. invented a dish called Truffes a la purée d’ortolans. The happy few who tasted this dish, as concocted by the royal hand of Louis himself, described it as the very perfection of the culinary art. The Duc d’Escars was sent for one day by his royal master, for the purpose of assisting in the preparation of a glorious dish of Truffes a la purée d’ortolans; and their joint efforts being more than usually successful, the happy friends sat down to Truffes a la purée d’ortolans for ten, the whole of which they caused to disappear between them, and then each retired to rest, triumphing in the success of their happy toils. In the middle of the night, however, the Duc d’Escars suddenly awoke, and found himself alarmingly indisposed. He rang the bells of his apartment, when his servant came in, and his physicians were sent for; but they were of no avail, for he was dying of a surfeit. In his last moments he caused some of his attendants to go and inquire whether his majesty was not suffering in a similar manner with himself, but they found him sleeping soundly and quietly. In the morning, when the king was informed of the sad catastrophe of his faithful friend and servant, he exclaimed, “Ah, I told him I had the better digestion of the two.”
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Vol. 19, Issue 530, January 21, 1832