Pity the turkey. Capons are sauced, cranes are lifted, partridges are allayed, geese are reared. Turkeys are, to use the proper historical carving vocabulary, simply cut up. The ritual carving of the turkey is one of the few vestiges of a past, glorious tradition that once wowed diners at spectacular feasts, and yet, the prosaic words for slicing up the turkey do not seem to match the grandeur of the deed.

Once, carving was held in high esteem. It was less about serving base bodily needs for nourishment and more concerned with spectacle and performance. Those who carved (and those who had carving done for them) were not concerned with where their next meal was coming from. It was a demonstration of power: the ability to muster a bountiful feast and an exhibition of control of the body (both that of the carver and of the animal carcass to be… More…

Dinner parties are often about power. A host can lord over his captive guests, so many have been the setting for cruel practical jokes.

Around 90 A.D., the twisted Emperor Domitian invited a crowd of aristocratic couples to a banquet at his palace on the Palatine Hill. When they arrived at the palace, the guests were ushered into a room that was decorated entirely in black — black marble, black paint, and black velvet drapes, lit only by flickering funeral lamps. Each guest’s place was marked with a gravestone engraved with his or her name, and instead of the customary soft couches, they reclined on rock-hard benches. The terrified guests assumed they were about to be murdered by the emperor — a… More…