“Are you familiar with our cuisine?” Berenice asks.
“No, not really. I recognize some of the more common dishes but not much else.”
“Very well then, tonight we will be your teachers, and you can be our pupil.”
“As you wish, your Highnesses.”
“Oh, Archimedes, I told you, don’t be so formal,” Helena says. “Call us Helena and Berenice.”
The first course is served. It is an elaborate dinner even by Greek standards. Archimedes has never seen so much food, many dishes that he has never seen or eaten. The King is
served first, then the rest of the royal family, and then the other guests in the Great Hall. The King feeds scraps of food from the table to his dog, Peritas. From time to time, Archimedes catches a glimpse of Berenice and Euergeter holding hands under the table.
Pointing at all the food, Helena asks, “Archimedes, I am sure you recognize eggs, salad, and shellfish, but are you familiar with these?” She points at a silver tray of food.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“These are snails.” She picks up a snail, and tries to place it in his closed mouth. “Come now, don’t make a face. You must first try everything then you can eat whatever suits
you. Now try this.”
Archimedes opens his mouth, and lets her drop the snail inside. He was prepared for some unpleasant taste but much to his surprise it is tasty. “Hmmmm. Interesting!”
“That was not as bad as you thought it was going to be, now was it? Now what would you like?” Helena asks.
“I think I will stick to eggs and salad to begin with.”
“Archimedes, where is your sense of adventure?” Berenice asks. “You come here to learn and to explore new ideas at the Museum, and here you sit with a closed mind. Tell you what, we will feed you things that we know you will like. You just relax.”
The two sisters began picking out items, and feeding Archimedes. Archimedes can barely conceal his delight. Never has anyone fussed over him in this manner. The women keep up a steady stream of chatter while Archimedes reclines, and eats whatever they put into his mouth.
Helena is exquisite, obviously much younger than Berenice. She is more tanned than most of the other ladies. She is thin but as muscular as an athlete. Her blond ponytail sways from side to side as she turns her head from the table and back again. Archimedes observes that her eyebrows are painted on, something he has never seen before. Her feet have tan lines from wearing sandals in the sun. Every time her arm comes near his nose he takes in the scent of roses. He decides not to mention any of this to Barnacle. Barnacle would have too many questions and vulgar gestures to be sure.
The second course contains the meat dishes: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and fish. The fish includes porpoise, mackerel, mullet, oysters, and sole. A variety of wild game such as wild boar, venison, hare, goat, pheasant, duck, goose, partridge, thrush, and turtledove is presented in a pleasing display. Many dishes are new to Archimedes.
“Now what is that?” asks Archimedes, pointing.
“That is crane, and that is flamingo, and that is ostrich-all fowl” Berenice answers.
“Interesting! What type of fowl is ostrich?”
“Ostrich is a large, long necked bird found in the plain of Africa,” Berenice replies. “However, we raise them here in Alexandria. Quite tasty, like beef.”
“Interesting! And that?” Archimedes points at a tray of strange meat.
“That is zebra, like a horse, but white with black stripes,” Berenice answers.
“I think zebras are black with white stripes,” Helena jokes.
”Interesting!” Archimedes says, missing the joke. “And that?”
“The natives call it a ‘river horse’ so we took the name literally, and call it Hippopotamus too, says Berenice. “Helena is more familiar with the native cuisine than I.”
“So, it is some type of horse?”
“Helena chimes in, “More like an elephant with short legs living in the water. It is hard to describe. You will have to see one for yourself. And this is crocodile, also tasty if cooked right and seasoned with spices; otherwise it is bland.”
From time to time, the dog, Peritas goes to Euergeter for a bite of meat. Whenever Archimedes doesn’t like the taste of food in his mouth, he waits for Helena and Berenice to turn their heads, and he slips it to the eager Peritas.
Archimedes recognizes many of the vegetables: olives, beans, lentils, chick peas, lettuces, cabbages and leeks. Helena and Berenice take turns selecting a morsel and placing it in his mouth. Archimedes enjoys every minute. The wine is in abundance and is excellent. Archimedes has never seen such an assortment of breads. Bread is not eaten in Syracuse. Berenice dips a piece of bread in olive oil mixed with spices, and drops it into his mouth. The last course is served: trays of fruits, various cakes, and puddings.
“Here try this. It is called an apricot. I doubt you have ever seen this in Syracuse. Now what else? Oh, I know, almonds. Have you tasted almond nuts before?” Helena asks.
“No, never. Mmmmm. Interesting!” as Helena places an almond in his mouth.
“I will have one of my handmaidens bring up a tray of fruit and nuts to your room. You might be hungry later,”
“I don’t think I will be hungry for a week.”
Laughing, Helena says, “Good! You have a sense of humor. That is a quality so lacking in most of you scholars.”
Helena takes Archimedes’ goblet, and holds it up for a wine steward to refill but stops him when the glass is half full. She then reaches for a small bowl containing honey. Using a special stick from the honey bowl, she drops a generous portion of honey into his glass and stirs.
“Surely you recognize this,” Helena says as she holds the goblet out to Archimedes.
“Of course, an aperitif, is it not?”
“Yes, of course. I guess you must have honey in Syracuse. But try this with our excellent wine.”
She makes two more glasses for herself and Berenice but with much less honey. Archimedes thinks this would be what heaven is like if he believed in heaven: plenty of rich food, excellent wines, and the company of beautiful women. The wine is served in glass goblets not like the metal ones to which he is accustomed. He has seen a lot of glass bottles and glass vases tonight, more than in Syracuse. His thoughts are interrupted by Helena’s voice.
“I think it is time for the ladies to retire. I see Queen Arsinoe preparing to leave. We must tend to her, and see that she gets to bed. What did you think of our feast tonight?”
“It was …”
“I know, interesting! Until tomorrow then.”
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