Kandaulos II: Mystery Meat, Ritual Feasts, and the Question of Jar Puppies

“Table setting” from a ritual meal, including plate, cup (skyphos), pitcher (oinochoe), stew pot (chytra), iron knife (Nos. 42–46). (Photograph by Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr.). Oh, and the bones of a puppy…

In my initial post about kandaulos, the decadent stew eaten by the ancient Lydian elite, I mentioned that one of the greatest sources of controversy regarding the delicacy is determining what kind of meat was used. This is in part because contemporary sources are ambiguous as to what the meat was, but there is also a deeper mystery. When archaeologists excavated Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia, in the 1950s, they unearthed some disturbing evidence: “table settings” from ritual meals, including plates, cups (skyphos), pitchers (oinochoe), stew pots (chytra), iron knives…and the bones of puppies. The remains forced them to consider an uncomfortable question: Might the meat originally used in the dish have been that of puppies, slaughtered for a ritual meal?

Beneath buildings in Sardis’ ancient marketplace, researchers found almost thirty distinctive caches of cooking vessels and utensils forming ‘ritual dinners,’ buried intact.[1] These dinners are not for human consumption, but were symbolic meals prepared to please the gods. The vessels and the remains within tell us what the meal consisted of—bread, wine, and a whole puppy. The so-called “jar puppies” were each less than three months old.[2] Their deaths were presumably caused by some harm to the neck—either by snapping the spine, strangulation, or the throat being cut, in keeping with the ritual sacrifice of dogs in other areas of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East.[3] Cut marks on the bones indicate that the bodies had been dismembered; whether or not they were actually cooked is unclear—although, since they composed part of a ritual dinner setting, this is likely.[ 

Researchers came to believe that these rites were offered up to the god Candaules, whose name is translated along the lines of “Dog Throttler” and who may have been a god of war or the underworld.[4] Needless to say, “Candaules”bears an uncomfortably close resemblance to kandaulos, which is why scholars began to wonder whether or not our lavish Lydian dish had some connection with the jar puppies, sacrificed as a ritual dinner to the Dog Throttler.

However, there are a few clues that the connection between kandaulos’mystery meat and the Sardinian jar puppies is pure fiction—morbid, but fiction nonetheless. First, it is curious that as infamous as kandaulos was throughout the Mediterranean, no one mentioned its inclusion of dog meat, which would have been considered outlandish to a non-dog-eating public.[5] Furthermore, dog meat would probably not have been the protein of choice for the Lydian delicacy, sincenowhere in the contemporary culinary or medical culture is that kind of meat considered a luxury.

In addition, various scholars have expressed doubt that kandaulos,the cuisine of the elite, would have any direct like to the ritual dinners in Sardis, which were discovered in “shabby, workaday setting[s]…[in] a quarter of the city occupied by craftsmen and merchants of small means, so that the buildings would have been houses and shops combined.”[6] In spite of their religious significance, the ritual dinners appear to occupy the complete opposite end of the economic spectrum from kandaulos. And if we take into account that the Sardinian rites in the marketplace may have been intended to keep the humble buildings and their contents safe from theft, damage, or intrusion, the selection of the puppies for the sacrifice makes perfect sense: not only would puppies have been cheap to procure, but they were also considered the guardians of house and property.[7]  

Crawford H Greenewalt, Jr., an expert on the excavations at Sardis, toys with the notion that even if kandaulos is fundamentally different from the phenomenon of the “jar puppies,” the deposits may “nevertheless have been the model and inspiration for a special casserole or stew which originally was prepared in connection with the…offering of dinners to [Candaules], to be eaten by his devotees in concert with the god’s repast; a preparation which was adapted to human tastes and sensibilities and which ultimately was served on secular occasions.[8]

But even if we agree that there is no identifiable connection between the two at all, it is tantalizing and not altogether wrong-headed to consider whether it may have once had its own ritual significance. After all, it was considered a special dish that was befitting of the elite, suggesting that its consumption may have conferred special blessings upon those who were deserving of it. Meat has throughout the ages been linked to life-force and sexual potency,  and so its inclusion in the delicacy gestures at the stew’s vital powers. We see just such an interpretation of kandaulos in a comedy by Greek playwright Menander, which depicts a wealthy man about to partake of the dish because it is rumored to enhance one’s, um, “manhood.” And, as researcher George Katsos points out, the meat and cream elements of the dish may have symbolized the flesh and blood of a deity, to be consumed at a supper of thanksgiving—a tradition that is later transferred to Christianity and Greek Orthodoxy.  In large part, this is why I chose a Greek Easter Soup as the foundation of my recreation of kandaulos[.

Whether you believe that the dish is sacred or secular, elite or just good eats, kandaulos is a reminder that cuisine is often more complex than it appears at first glance, and that the story it has to tell is worth dipping into.

See previous: Kandaulos I: A Recipe for Souvlaki’s More Provocative Predecessor

[1]. Noel Robertson, “Hittite Ritual at Sardis,” Classical Antiquity 1.1 (April 1982):122-23.

Maciej Kokoszko and Katarsyna Gibel-Buszewska, “Kandaulos. The Testimony of Select Sources,” Studia Ceranae 1, 2011: 15.

[3]. John Griffiths Pedley, “Carians in Sardis,” Hellenic Studies 94 (1974): 99.

[4]. Pedley 98, Annick Payne, “Entry Number 080: Lydian Empire” 28, et passim.

[5]. Crawford H Greenewalt, Jr., Ritual Dinners in Early Historic Sardis (Berkeley: U of California P, 1978):  54.

[6]. Robertson 123.

[7]. Robertson 127.

[8]. Greenewalt, Ritual Dinners 54.

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