Friday, March 16, 2007

Andrew Dalby

Andrew Dalby (born Liverpool, 1947) is an English linguist, translator and historian who most often writes about food history.

Dalby worked for fifteen years at Cambridge University Library, eventually specializing in Southern Asia. In 1982 and 1983 he collaborated with Sao Saimong in cataloguing the Scott Collection of manuscripts and documents from Burma (especially the Shan States) and Indochina; he was later to publish a short biography of the colonial civil servant and explorer J. G. Scott, who formed the collection.[1]

At Cambridge Dalby wrote no books, but many articles on multilingual topics linked with the Library and its collections. He afterwards worked in London, starting the library at Regent's College and renovating the one at London House (Goodenough College), also serving as Honorary Librarian of the Institute of Linguists, for whose journal The Linguist he writes a regular column. His Dictionary of Languages was published in 1998. Language In Danger, on the extinction of languages and the threatened monolingual future, followed in 2002.

Meanwhile he began to work on food history, and contributed to Alan Davidson's journal Petits Propos Culinaires; he was eventually one of Davidson's informal helpers on the Oxford Companion to Food. Dalby's first food history book, Siren Feasts, appeared in 1995 and won a Runciman Award; it is also well known in Greece, where it was translated as Seireneia Deipna. At the same time he was working with Sally Grainger on The Classical Cookbook, the first historical cookbook to look beyond Apicius to other ancient Greek and Roman sources in which recipes are found.

Dangerous Tastes, on the history of spices, was the Guild of Food Writers Food Book of the Year for 2001. Work on this also led to Dalby's first article for Gastronomica magazine, in which he traced the disastrous exploration of Gonzalo Pizarro in search of La Canela in eastern Ecuador, showing how the myth of the "Valley of Cinnamon" first arose and identifying the real tree species which was at the root of the legend.[2] Dalby's light-hearted biography of Bacchus includes a retelling, rare in English, of the story of Prosymnus and the price he demanded for guiding Dionysus to Hades. His epilogue to Petronius' Satyrica combines a gastronomic commentary on the "Feast of Trimalchio" with a fictional dénouement inspired by the fate of Petronius himself.[3]

Dalby's latest book, Rediscovering Homer, develops out of two academic papers of the 1990s in which he argued that the Iliad and Odyssey must be seen as belonging to the same world as that of the early Greek lyric poets but to a less aristocratic genre.[4] Returning to these themes, he spotlights the unknown poet who, long after the time of the traditional Homer, at last saw the Iliad and Odyssey recorded in writing. As he teasingly suggests, based on what we can judge of this poet's interests and on the circumstances in which oral poetry has been recorded elsewhere, "it is possible, and even probable, that this poet was a woman".[5]


* 1993: South East Asia: a guide to reference material
* 1995: Siren Feasts: a history of food and gastronomy in Greece
* 1996: The Classical Cookbook
* 1998: Cato: On Farming (translation and commentary)
* 1998: Dictionary of Languages
* 1998: Guide to World Language Dictionaries
* 2000: Empire of Pleasures
* 2000: Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices
* 2002: Language in Danger
* 2003: Flavours of Byzantium
* 2003: Food in the ancient world from A to Z
* 2005: Bacchus: a biography
* 2005: Venus: a biography
* 2006: Rediscovering Homer


1. "Sir George Scott, 1851-1935: explorer of Burma's eastern borders" in Explorers of South-East Asia ed. V.T. King (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press/Penerbit Fajar Bakti, 1995).
2. "Christopher Columbus, Gonzalo Pizarro, and the search for cinnamon" in Gastronomica vol. 1 no. 2 (2001) pp. 40-49.
3. "The Satyrica concluded" in Gastronomica vol. 5 no. 4 (2005) pp. 65-72.
4. "The Iliad, the Odyssey and their audiences" in Classical quarterly NS vol. 45 no. 2 (1995); "Homer's enemies: lyric and epic in the seventh century" in Archaic Greece: new approaches and new evidence ed. Nick Fisher and Hans van Wees (London: Duckworth, 1998).
5. The idea has been dismissed as "far-fetched" by Anthony Snodgrass on the grounds that a woman would have been "bored out of her mind" when composing the Iliad ( [1]).

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