Caesar and Cleopatra
THE ROMANS PREFERRED BRITISH OYSTERS George Bernard Shaw's imagination recreated the meeting between Caesar and Cleopatra in his famous play by the same title. Act IV includes perhaps the heaviest dinner date ever. It adds some hints about what to serve with oysters:
CAESAR- (looking at his seat, which is at the end of the table, to Ra's left hand). What has become of my leathern cushion?
CLEOPATRA- (at the opposite end). I have got new ones for you.
THE MAJOR-DOMO- These cushions, Caesar, are of Maltese gauze, stuffed with rose leaves.
CAESAR- Rose leaves! Am I a caterpillar? (He throws the cushions away and seats himself on the leather mattress underneath.)
CLEOPATRA- What a shame! My new cushions!
THE MAJOR-DOMO (at Caesar's elbow). What shall we serve to whet Caesar's appetite?
CAESAR- What have you got?
THE MAJOR-DOMO --Sea hedgehogs, black and white sea acorns, sea nettles, beccaficoes, purple shellfish--
CAESAR- Any oysters?
THE MAJOR-DOMO- Assuredly.
CAESAR- BRITISH oysters?
THE MAJOR-DOMO (assenting) British oysters, Caesar.
CAESAR- Oysters, then. (The Major-Domo signs to a slave at each order; and the slave goes out to execute it.) I have been in Britain--that western land of romance--the last piece of earth on the edge of the ocean that surrounds the world. I went there in search of its famous pearls. The British pearl was a fable; but in searching for it I found the British oyster.
APOLLODORUS- All posterity will bless you for it. (To the Major-Domo) Sea hedgehogs for me.
Note: The Romans loved the British oysters and brought them back to Rome in ships. They consumed vast quantities of them as a symbol of virility and power. They stored them in windowless rooms and used packed snow as a refrigerant.