The Early History of Pasta: Post-Modern Myth and Medieval Reality
Pasta, now a near-ubiquitous food throughout the world, has achieved global status after a long, complex history involving multiple points of origin and several periods of rapid expansion of its popularity. In the West, one such period occurred in the late Middle Ages in the western Mediterranean. Given the paucity of early evidence for pasta consumption, many questions arise concerning where this food first became important in local diets and exactly who diffused it. Although the popular myth that Marco Polo brought noodles to Italy from China has been debunked, recent scholarship invoking linguistic evidence as support has asserted that Arabs played the central role in this development. In particular, most of the earliest attested names for forms of pasta—lasagna, fideos/fidei, maccherone—have all been claimed to be of Arab origin. In this talk, Anthony F. Buccini demonstrates that the interpretation of the evidence has been superficial and gravely flawed, and he proposes an account of the late medieval diffusion of pasta based on a new interpretation of the textual and linguistic evidence in full harmony with the broader socio-economic history of the medieval western Mediterranean.