Saturday Scenes

Thu 4 November 2010

That Old Chestnut

Filed under: #satscene —— Sylvia @ 20:35

On the 30th of October in 1501, there was a party. Don Cesare Borgia held a very special supper in the Palazzo Apostolico, the Papal Palace in the Vatican. The event has become known as the Ballet of Chestnuts, a rather romantic name for an exceptional evening:

Banquet of Chestnuts – Wikipedia

Fifty prostitutes or courtesans were in attendance for the entertainment of the banquet guests. After the food was eaten, lamp stands holding lighted candles were placed on the floor and chestnuts strewn about. The clothes of the courtesans were auctioned; then the prostitutes and the guests crawled naked among the lamp stands to pick up the chestnuts. Immediately following the spectacle, members of the clergy and other party guests together engaged with the prostitutes in sexual activity. According to Burchard, “prizes were offered–silken doublets, pairs of shoes, hats and other garments–for those men who were most successful with the prostitutes”.

Having read that, I wanted more detail! It turns out that chestnuts, edible nuts produced by Fagaceae trees, come in multiple varieties. The European species, the sweet chestnut, is likely to have been the nuts used for this ballet. It’s interesting to find that the name for the fruit is “virtually identical in all of the most ancient languages of Central Europe: in Breton kistinen for the tree, and kistin for its fruit, in Welsh castan-wydden and sataen, in Dutch kastanje for both the tree its fruit, in Albanian gështenjë, and many others close to the French châtaigne and to the Latin name chosen for the genus.” Alexander the Great planted chestnut trees across Europe as he created his empire. It was a primary source of carbohydrates in forested communities in Europe until the introduction of potatoes.

I’ve nibbled on roasted chestnuts sold on wintry street corners but I had no idea that they were so interesting. Did you?

Meanwhile, on the 30th of October in 2010, festivities were possibly not quite as exciting as in 1501 but there were no old chestnuts in sight! Take a look:

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