In the course of a recent bookstore raid I got a copy of Arcana Mundi by Georg Luck. The bulk of it is a compilation of writings by classical authors on occult topics. While reading it I stumbled across a passage translated from Homer, describing how the enchantress Circe turned Odysseus's men into swine. To get them nice and cooperative before she started throwing polymorph spells around (Circe obviously understood that casting a spell can provoke an attack of opportunity), she prepared them a little snack:
". . . a dish of cheese and barley, clear honey, and Pramnian wine."
That stirred a recollection of something I'd read in a different book, Lobscouse & Spotted Dog, by Anne Grossman and Lisa Thomas. It's a "gastronomic companion" to the sea novels of Patrick O'Brian, and so naturally focuses on 18th-century recipes. One of their recipes is for Frumenty, a breakfast or dessert dish which originated in France and was popular in England. It's a kind of porridge of boiled cracked wheat mixed with sugar, milk, egg yolks and heavy cream, and the authors mention that it was often served with a generous dollop of rum.
Or, perhaps, Pramnian wine. If you remember that Homer's "cheese" might be more like modern cottage cheese (or even yogurt or clotted cream) then the similarity becomes a lot more apparent. (It also starts to sound a lot like the yogurt-and-granola goo sold in plastic cups to people who think they're eating a healthier breakfast that way.)
Clever Circe whipped up a spiked dessert dish to put her victims at ease, and almost the same dessert was still being enjoyed in a land Homer never even heard of, far beyond the Pillars of Hercules, more than two thousand years later.
Another version of Circe's dish is the Kykeon consumed by the initiates into the Eleusinian mystery cult. From the description it was "runnier" than Frumenty; more like Syllabub (a blend of wine, cream, and spices). It may have had psychoactive herbs in it as well — which suggests that when Circe mixes drugs into the dish for her guests, initiates in the audience could have exchanged knowing glances with each other. This also suggests a much more allegorial interpretation of the whole episode.
Now I'm tempted to try making this some time. I'll report back when I do.
Circe lived on an island, surrounded by fierce creatures. An island of monsters, if you will. So obviously she would have enjoyed reading my new ebook Monster Island Tales!