A. To explore the use of spices in cooking in the Middle Ages
B. To explain the significance of spices for medieval society
C. To describe how the spice trade evolved in medieval Europe
D. To examine changes in the role that spices played in the Middle Ages
NARRATOR:Listen to part of a lecture in a European history class.
FEMALE PROFESSOR:In order to really study the social history of the Middle Ages, you have to understand the role of spices.Now, this might sound a little surprising, even a little strange, but what seem like little things now were, back then, actually rather big things.So, first let’s define what a spice is.Technically speaking, a spice is part of an aromatic plant that is not a leaf, or herb.Spices can come from tree bark, like, ah, cinnamon, plant roots like ginger, flower buds like cloves.And in the Middle Ages, Europeans were familiar with lots of different spices, the most important being pepper, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg.These spices literally dominated the way Europeans lived for centuries— how they traded and, uh, even how they used their imaginations.
So why this medieval fascination with spices?We can boil it down to three general ideas, briefly.One was cost and rarity, ah, two was exotic taste and fragrance, and third, mysterious origins and a kind of mythical status.
Now, for cost and rarity: Spices aren’t native to Europe, and they had to be imported.Spices only grew in the East Indies, and of course transportation costs were astronomical.So spices were incredibly valuable, even from the very beginning.Here’s an example, um, in 408 A.D., the Gothic general who’d captured Rome demanded payment.He wanted 5,000 pounds of gold, among other things, but he also wanted 3,000 pounds of pepper.Maybe that’ll give you an idea of exactly where pepper stood at the time.By the Middle Ages, spices were regarded as so important and expensive, they were used in diplomacy— as gifts by heads of state and ambassadors.
Now, for the taste, the diet then was relatively bland compared to today’s.There wasn’t much variety.Uh, especially the aristocracy, who tended to eat a lot of meat, um, they were always looking for new ways to prepare it— new sauces, new tastes, and this is where spices came in.Now this is a good point to mention one of the biggest myths about spices: It’s commonly said that medieval Europeans wanted spices to cover up the taste of spoiled meat, but this isn’t really true.Anyone who had to worry about spoiled meat couldn’t afford spices in the first place.If you could afford spices, you could definitely afford fresh meat.We also have evidence that various medieval markets employed a kind of police, to make sure that people didn’t sell spoiled food.And if you were caught doing it, you were subject to various fines, humiliating public punishments.So, what actually was true was this:In order to have meat for the winter, people would preserve it in salt— not a spice. Spices, actually, aren’t very effective as preservatives.And, uh, throughout winter they would eat salted meat, but the taste of the stuff could grow really boring and, and depressing after a while.So the cooks started looking for new ways to improve the taste, and spices were the answer.
Which brings us to mysterious origins and mythical status.Now the ancient Romans had a thriving spice trade, and they sent their ships to the east and back.But when Rome collapsed in the fifth century and the Middle Ages began, um, direct trade stopped, and, uh, so did that kind of hands-on knowledge of travel and geography.Spices now came by way of the trade routes, with lots of intermediaries between the producer and the consumer.So these spices took on an air of mystery.Their origins were shrouded in exotic travels; they had the allure of the unknown, of wild places.Myths grew up of fantasy lands, magical faraway places made entirely of food and spices.Add to that, spices themselves had always been considered special, or magical— not just for eating— and this was already true in the ancient world where legends about spices were abundant.Spices inspired the medieval imagination, they were used as medicines to ward off diseases, and mixed into perfumes, incense.They were used in religious rituals for thousands of years.They took on a life of their own, and they inspired the medieval imagination, spurred on the age of discovery in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries:When famous explorers like Columbus and Da Gama and Magellan left Europe in their ships, they weren’t looking for a new world; they were looking for spices.And we know what important historical repercussions some of those voyages had.
第一条是香料的价值和稀有性：欧洲并不能生产香料，所以必须依靠进口。香料只能产于东印度一代，所以运输的费用是难以相信的天文数字。所以香料异常珍贵，甚至是从一开始的时候。譬如，公元 408 年，占领了罗马的哥特将军索要赎金。他想要 5000 磅黄金，外加其他的东西，但他同时想要 3000 磅胡椒。这个例子可能很精确地告诉你胡椒的价值所在。到中世纪，香料极其受到重视，异常昂贵，甚至被用到了外交场合，被用作赠送给外国元首或使节的礼物。
这就给我们带来了关于香料神秘的起源和神话般的地位。古罗马帝国的香料贸易非常兴盛；他们派遣船只来往于东西方，进行香料交易。但到了 5 世纪，罗马帝国崩塌了，中世纪开始了，香料贸易终止了，所以人们对于香料的运输和来源的直接认识也就中断了。之后，香料辗转几手，在生产商和顾客之间曲折多次才能完成交易。这样一来，香料看上去就很神秘莫测了。香料来自遥远的他乡，它们身上带着异域的、未知的、野性的诱惑。于是乎，各种魔幻的、满是香料和食品的大陆的传说涌现出来。除此之外，香料本身一直被认为是特别的，或者是神奇的，不仅是为了食物，在古代，关于香料的传说是丰富的。香料激发了中世纪人们的想象力，它们被用作药品来防治疾病，混合在香水中来熏香。几千年来，它们一直被用作宗教祭祀的祭品。它们不仅展现了它们自己的价值，更激发了中世纪的幻想，激发了 14，15和16世纪人们探索域外的力量。其实，诸如哥伦布，伽达·马，莫里根这样的著名探险家驱船离开欧洲，不是想要探索新世界，而是想要寻找香料。这些旅程对于我们人类历史的重要性我们自然是耳熟能祥的。