Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plato and the Butcher

Plato today! And butchery! Yes, lets look at Plato and the Phaedrus, specifically at 265e1-3. Here, Socrates says that a good orator should be able to address a topic like a butcher, (using Rowe's translation) "being able to cut it up again, form by form, according to its natural joints, and not try to break any part into pieces, like an inexpert butcher." Now, certain scholarly folks (like Davidson in his Courtesans and Fishcakes book) have accused Greek butchers of gross incompetence, that they merely hacked up pieces of meat indiscriminately. This bit of Plato is part of my attempt to rehabilitate the ancient Greek butcher! See, meat wants to come apart into its component parts. With even a modicum of skill it is much easier to take meat apart into individual muscles by just removing the connective tissue than it is to hack through the muscles themselves (especially without modern knives - in fact I was first taught to do butchery with my hands to get a feel for how the muscles sit with each other and where the connective tissues are). Here in Plato is a wonderful attestation to butchery being a skill at Athens. So, I tried to show in photos just what Plato is describing.
Here is a thigh of lamb. I have already removed the layer of fat from over the top. This will later be wrapped twice around the thighbone from this leg and burned (remember your Homer and his thighbones twice wrapped in fat!), but that is a separate post.
Okay, now I am going to try to show how this block of meat is made up of individual muscles which it is easy to separate. I begin, only cutting through connective tissue, not muscle.
Here I am trying to demonstrate how the meat is coming apart. Perhaps a bit too intense of a close up of raw meat, eh?
Okay, here are hopefully clear shots of the separate muscles of the leg pulled apart. One has been removed to make seeing the others easier. All can quickly be removed now.
Here it is again with knife "for dramatic effect". It makes me think of those "In Action" baseball cards Topps had when I was a kid. If you scroll back up to the first picture hopefully now you can see how what first looked like an impenetrable mass of raw meat was actually a few different pieces held together which can all be separated from each other according to their natural divisions, just like Plato said!
Ok, the point of all this was to show what Plato meant when he said that a piece of meat easily comes apart into its component parts. As a bonus, we also seemingly get Plato's attestation to butchery being a recognized skill at ancient Athens!

Now, go eat some lamb! 

On that note ... alas, it appears that my local Halal butcher from whom I got this leg is out of business. Or, at least there is a court summons taped to their door concerning their being sued for back rent. And, the store has not been opened in weeks. Alas.

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