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When in Rome...?

"Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, made history when she made a bet [with Mark Antony, Roman consul in Egypt] that she could eat at one meal the value of a million sisterces. One million sisterces was many years' wages for the average worker. Everyone thought that her wager was impossible. After all, how could anyone eat so much at a single meal?

"Cleopatra was able to eat a meal worth so much by putting a million sisterces worth of pearls [according to Pliny, a single pearl] into a glass of vinegar. Then she set the goblet aside while the dinner was served. The vinegar dissolved the pearls. At the end of the meal, when it was time for her to fulfil her gamble, she simply drank the dissolved pearls."

[The episode is depicted in Tiepolo's "The Banquet of Cleopatra" (1745)]

[The Babylonians used vinegar as a preservative and as a condiment and it was they who began flavoring it with herbs. Roman legionnaires used it as a beverage. Hippocrates extolled its medicinal qualities... Biblical references show how it was much used for its soothing and healing properties. And when Hannibal crossed the Alps, it was vinegar which helped pave the way: heated and doused with vinegar, obstructive boulders simply cracked and crumbled!]

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