Romans loved extensive meals – as far as they could afford it and most could not – but when you are really hungry or thirsty, anything tastes. In his Tusculanae Disputationes, Cicero gives various examples of this. They serve as illustration for the stoic dictum that one doesn’t need much to live on. This is true, but I hope I will never come in the situation that Spartan black soup seems to me something delicious.
Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 97,98
XXXIV.  Darius in fuga cum aquam turbidam et cadaveribus inquinatam bibisset, negavit umquam se bibisse iucundius: numquam videlicet sitiens biberat. Nec esuriens Ptolomaeus ederat; cui cum peragranti Aegyptum comitibus non consecutis cibarius in casa panis datus esset, nihil visum est illo pane iucundius. Socraten ferunt, cum usque ad vesperum contentius ambularet quaesitumque esset ex eo, quare id faceret, respondisse se, quo melius cenaret, obsonare ambulando famem.
 Quid? victum Lacedaemoniorum in philitiis nonne videmus? ubi cum tyrannus cenavisset Dionysius, negavit se iure illo nigro, quod cenae caput erat, delectatum. Tum is qui illa coxerat: 'Minime mirum; condimenta enim defuerunt.' 'Quae tandem?' inquit ille. 'Labor in venatu, sudor, cursus ad Eurotam, fames, sitis; his enim rebus Lacedaemoniorum epulae condiuntur.' Atque hoc non ex hominum more solum, sed etiam ex bestiis intellegi potest, quae, ut quicquid obiectum est, quod modo a natura non sit alienum, eo contentae non quaerunt amplius.
Darius: Darius Codomanus fleeing for Alexander
cadaver cadaveris (n.): corpse
inquino (-are): to pollute
iucundius: more pleasantly
videlicet: of course, obviously
biberat: `used to drink’
sitio sitivi : to be thirsty
esurio: to be hungry
edo edi esum: to eat
cui peragranti…panis datus est
peragro: to travel
comitibus non consecutis: i.e. without his probably extensive staff
cibarius panis: black bread, usually given to slaves
Socraten: Greek acc.
ferunt: they say, it is said
contentius: with very much exertion
quaesitum: still depending on ferunt
quo melius cenaret: he would eat the better
obsonare ambulando famem: `to buy an appetite by walking’, obsonare is to buy provisions (obsonia), cater.
victus -us (m.): food
philitia -ōrum the public meals of the Lacedœmonians (= Spartans)
iure illo nigro: black soup (ius iuris `juice’) was a Spartan speciality with unknown ingredients, but with an awful taste.
cenae caput: the main dish
coquo coxi coctum: to cook
condimentum: spice, seasoning
venatus –us (m.): hunting
sudor –is (m.): sweat
cursus ad Eurotam: running near the Eurota (the main river of Sparta, where running competitions were held
epulae –arum: meal
condio: to season
ex more hominum: from the habit of people
quicquid obiectum est: whatever is thrown before them
a natura: by their nature
eo contentae: satisfied with that
Translation by Charles Duke Yonge (1877)
When Darius, in his flight from the enemy, had drunk some water which was muddy and tainted with dead bodies, he declared that he had never drunk anything more pleasant; the fact was, that he had never drunk before when he was thirsty. Nor had Ptolemy ever eaten when he was hungry; for as he was travelling over Egypt, his company not keeping up with him, he had some coarse bread presented him in a cottage, upon which he said, “Nothing ever seemed to him pleasanter than that bread.” They relate, too, of Socrates, that, once when he was walking very fast till the evening, on his being asked why he did so, his reply was that he was purchasing an appetite by walking, that he might sup the better. And do we not see what the Lacedæmonians provide in their Phiditia? where the tyrant Dionysius supped, but told them he did not at all like that black broth, which was their principal dish; on which he who dressed it said, “It was no wonder, for it wanted seasoning.” Dionysius asked what that seasoning was; to which it was replied, “Fatigue in hunting, sweating, a race on the banks of Eurotas, hunger and thirst,” for these are the seasonings to the Lacedæmonian banquets. And this may not only be conceived from the custom of men, but from the beasts, who are satisfied with anything that is thrown before them, provided it is not unnatural, and they seek no farther. easily supplied by the ground, and plants in great abundance, and of incomparable sweetness. Add to this strength and health, as the consequence of this abstemious way of living. Now, compare with this those who sweat and belch, being crammed with eating, like fatted oxen; then will you perceive that they who pursue pleasure most attain it least; and that the pleasure of eating lies not in satiety, but appetite.