The earliest evidence for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took an unexpected form.
Episode 65: In which the goddesses of fertility discuss one of the greatest questions of all time: how specifically do you define pizza?
[SETTING: San Casciano Hot Springs, in Tuscany]
JUNO, GODDESS OF MARRIAGE AND JUPITER’S SISTER-WIFE-QUEEN (you read that right): Anything interesting in the mortal news lately? I’m not speaking to my husband at the moment, so I haven’t been following their pathetic developments.
VENUS, GODDESS OF SEXUAL DESIRE AND REALLY RELUCTANT WIFE OF VULCAN: My city of Pompeii has been in the news a lot lately. Apparently the artifact farmers found a painting of Pisa. They’re all very excited about it.
CERES, GODDESS OF CROPS AND ALSO SISTER OF JUPITER: I read about this. And it’s a painting of “pizza,” not “Pisa.” Pisa is a city in Italy. Pizza is a type of food.
JUNO: Why would the mortals be excited to find a painting of food? Even I know the Romans decorated their houses and shops with pictures of food all the time.
VENUS: And pictures of me. But not of me with food. I don’t eat. Can you imagine? Think of the calories.
CERES: They’re excited because pizza is a famous food from Italia. It was supposedly invented in Neopolis, the nearest major city to Pompeii. Although the mortals call the city Naples now.
JUNO: If it was invented near Pompeii, why are they so excited about finding evidence of pizza in Pompeii? That should be exactly where they would expect to find evidence of it. Mortals are idiots.
CERES: Well motrals thought pizza was invented only about 200 years ago. So if this is a painting of pizza, it would extend the history of the food in the region back thousands of years to the Roman Empire.
VENUS: You sound skeptical. I agree, this isn’t a very interesting topic. Let’s talk about me for awhile.
CERES: It’s just that one of pizza’s main ingredients is tomatoes, and those are native to the Americas.
JUNO: Why does it matter where tomatoes are from?
CERES: Because Europeans wouldn’t even learn about the Americas until at least 1400 years after the eruption that buried Pompeii.
CERES: So Pompeian painters couldn’t have painted a picture of a type of food that they didn’t know about yet.
JUNO: I’m confused. Did they paint a picture of tomatoes or pizzas? Do pizzas also only grow in the Americas? And what’s an America?
CERES: No, pizza is a dish, not a plant. Pizza is a flat bread that you smear with tomatoes and cheese and other food stuffs and then put in the oven to bake.
VENUS: Putting cheese and things on bread and heating it up doesn’t sound like some sort of unique, earth-shattering invention to me. It does sound disgusting.
CERES: That’s sort of the point. If you don’t include tomato sauce as part of the definition of pizza, it’s unclear what differentiates pizza from any other type of flatbread. And this painted food can’t have included tomatoes, so it’s probably more accurate to say it’s a picture of flatbread.
JUNO: So mortals found a painting of an unremarkable food combination and lost their mind over it. That sounds about right.
CERES: What is impressive is the fantastic preservation for the painting. Although not really surprising, since it was discovered in an area of the site that the archaeologists have left undisturbed specifically to preserve the artifacts.
VENUS: Wait. If it was in an area that the mortals were not supposed to touch, how did they even find the painting? Not that I care. This is really boring. I’m just asking for a friend.
JUNO: Let me get this straight. The mortals set aside part of Pompeii to preserve artifacts. Then when part of the site was destroyed because they can’t protect the many artifacts they already have, they decided to address that issue by exposing more artifacts, specifically in the area set aside to preserve artifacts by limiting exposure.
CERES: I don’t think they would phrase it like that.
JUNO: Like how they phrase “flatbread” as “pizza?”
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To explore how Ancient Rome fits into human history, enroll in CLAS-C 387 Roman History, coming up Fall 2023, no previous experience required! Or to learn more about the importance of food in everything from economics to decorating in Pompeii, look for CLAS-C 419 Art and Archaeology of Pompeii, coming in Spring 2025 with no pre-reqs. While you’re waiting, make sure to check back for the continued adventures of Juno, Ceres, and Venus. Can’t get enough of Ancient Greece and Rome? Earn a Classics Minor in just 15 credits!