Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ok. Time for a history of the fork.

Not tonight---it's late.  But it's time for a break in the long journey toward an understanding of how magical creatures keep the money supply under control.

But I'm interested in the progress of the fork across Europe.  If you ask the average citizen of the average Creative Anachronism festival they will tell you that it wasn't invented until recently.

But Romans used forks.  Here's an image from this site of a 4th century Roman multitool---isn't that a fork on the other end of the spoon?

Forks have been found in ancient Chinese archeological digs.  Pitchforks were used everywhere.  Even large kitchen forks were common.  So it's clearly not true that the fork had not been "invented".  It was everywhere.

Here's an excerpt from this Wikipedia entry: "use of the table fork in Western Europe was facilitated by two Byzantine imperial princesses who married into the Western aristocracy: the Empress Theophanu, wife of Emperor Otto II, in 972...most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century".  Seriously?  700 years?  Why?

Here's my theory.  Europeans didn't use the fork at the dinner table because they didn't want to.  They knew it was possible, but it separated them from the pleasure of feeling their food in their hands, which was part of the sensual pleasure of a meal.

Any other theories out there?


  1. Although I am neither Colin, nor Wendy, may I suggest this:

    A History of the Table Fork

    It seems scholarly enough and has references.


    1. It's a good, but ordinary, history of the fork, it's what you would get from a very well educated citizen of a Creative Anachronism festival, and it hints at the answer I suspected. But it doesn't mention the use of forks in Rome long before any Byzantine princess brought them there from the middle east, or in Egypt, or use of forks by the Chinese (bone forks have been found in Qijia burial sites from a couple thousand years BC). The Greeks probably used forks for eating, sometimes. Where is all that history here? But the thing that interests me is not really who used forks and when, but why there was anyone who didn't. I don't really buy the idea that they simply couldn't think of using forks to eat with, that it hadn't been "invented" yet or imported as novel technology from other parts of the world. It seems much more plausible to me that they didn't use forks because they found them largely unnecessary, and excessively fastidious. I think they felt that a person with health, vigor, appetite and appreciation of life would want to feel their food as well as taste it. In other words, I think the eating scene in Tom Jones may not be that far fetched. Maybe people really did feel that good, and that sensual, about food. And if that's true, do we really still want to eat with forks?