New Book: Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean Literature

My new book, Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean Literature, is now available to order from Society of Biblical Literature Press or on Amazon. There’s a limited preview available on Google Books, too.

This book is the culmination of over six years of research and covers a range of texts between the second century BCE and third century CE. In my discussion of these texts, I identify and define a new genre in ancient texts that I call hierophagy, a specific type of transformational eating where otherworldly things are consumed. Multiple ancient Mediterranean, Jewish, and Christian texts represent the ramifications of consuming otherworldly food, ramifications that were understood across religious boundaries. Reading ancient texts through the lens of hierophagy helps scholars and students interpret difficult passages in Joseph and Aseneth, 4 Ezra, Revelation 10, and the Persephone myths, among others.

You can read the Introduction and take a look at the table of contents by visiting my Publications page.

You can watch a short overview of my earlier research on this topic, and watch a longer, more detailed discussion of hierophagy in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. Both videos are available on my Videos & Interviews page.

Critical Praise for Food and Transformation in Ancient Mediterranean Literature:

This groundbreaking analysis of hierophagy in ancient literature explores the distinct literary function of eating otherworldly food, while also putting these transformative acts in their social and cultural contexts. The author moves deftly from the texts of Ovid and Apuleius to apocalyptic Jewish literature and tales of Christian martyrdom, breaking down traditional barriers in the study of ancient literature. This volume will be essential reading for scholars of antiquity and adds much to our understanding of the representation of consumption and taste in the ancient Mediterranean.

–K. C. Rudolph, Lecturer in Classics & Philosophy, Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies, University of Kent

In this brilliant, ground-breaking, and theoretically informed work, Meredith Warren opens up a new area of scholarship. Her careful readings of ancient Jewish and Christian texts deftly demonstrate the importance of the transformative effects of eating both for the authors of ancient texts and for anyone thinking about food practices today.

–Candida Moss, Cadbury Professor of Theology, School of Philosophy, Theology & Religion, University of Birmingham

Listen to my recent SBL paper

Although I was unable to attend the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in person, I still presented a paper by video. You can watch it by going to the ‘Videos and Interviews‘ section of the webpage. Here’s the abstract of the paper:

The Sweet Hereafter: A Sensory Analysis of Perpetua’s Visions

Perpetua’s heavenly meal of cheese occurs in one of the several visions described in The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas. Her experience has frequently been viewed in terms of the eucharist; while this is far from inappropriate, a sensory analysis of the cheese and its taste better illuminates the function of Perpetua’s vision.

Sensory analysis has become an increasingly prominent methodological tool (e.g. Harvey 2006; Green 2011; Rudolph 2017; Howes 2003; Korsmeyer 2002). Using a sensory analysis of taste, I propose that Perpetua’s cheese experience represents a shared understanding of how the consumption of otherworldly food in narrative grants access to the divine realm and thereby transmits divine knowledge. The privacy of taste (as opposed to the shared senses of sight or hearing) implies that participants in this kind of eating experience God in the most intimate way.

Perpetua’s bodily and emotional changes after her meal require explanation, which a sensory analysis can provide. After Perpetua experiences the sweet taste the cheese, she knows that she no longer has a place in the earthly world and gives up her earthly cares. While before her meal she is anxious for the wellbeing of her child, after her vision she and her child have no anxiety for each other, and even her breasts no longer ache with milk. The taste Perpetua experiences imbues her with heavenly knowledge which is experienced by her in an embodied way. This reading is uncovered through examining parallel visionary taste experiences in other Jewish and Christian texts.

Roman Banquet a Success

On Thursday 18 May SIIBS member Dr Meredith Warren shared her research on the meal and religion in the Roman world by hosting a Roman banquet as part of the University of Sheffield’s Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

The banquet, which some participants said was “the best Festival of Arts and Humanities event they’d been too in the three years of the Festival,” also included a philosophical oration by Dr Stephen Makin, poetry readings from Virgil and Praxilla, ancient Roman music, and libations of wine to various Roman deities.


Guests were given cards with biographical details of historical Roman people who had lived across the Empire, from Egypt and Rome to Doncaster and Glasgow.

INOX Dine chef Joe Berry developed the menu in collaboration with Warren, using recipes based on the ancient cookbook attributed to Apicius. After a traditional welcome drink of chilled Roman spiced white wine, the four-course dinner (convivium) began with a gustatio (appetizer) of patina of Plaice (or vegetarian Vitellian Peas) with olive relish and soft boiled eggs. The patina is a fish pâté, to be spread on bread with the olive relish.

The prima cena, or first course, comprised roast quail legs with a creamy celery puré, accompanied by toasted pistachios and pomegranates; vegetarians enjoyed ricotta and oregano baked parcels along with the sides.

The main course, or altera cena, was an impressive shoulder of pork topped with crackling and served on bread trenchers, or, for vegetarians, roasted “gourd” with millet and lovage. Accompanying dishes included lentils, barley, and sweet-sour Athenian cabbage salad. Dessert was fruit platters with grapes, melons, figs, dates, and strawberries, served with a baclava-like honey and walnut cake and deep-fried ricotta sweet meats.

In between the courses, Makin, Warren, and Berry spoke to the guests about ancient philosophical ideas about the sense of taste, the rituals and social practices that Romans included in their formal meals, and the process of translating ancient flavours and ingredients for the modern palette. Several guests opted to attend in Roman costume, including Dr Robyn Orfitelli and Dr Gerry Howley of the School of English, and Greg Oldfield, Head of Public Engagement & Impact for the University of Sheffield.