Why don’t we celebrate the God of the BBQ?
It’s strange as we celebrate the echoes of myth and beliefs in modern society all the time. Easter celebrations are times around spring-equinox pre-Christian festival in the name of ‘Eostre’ the Goddess of Spring; Christmas was originally the birthday celebration of the Roman God ‘Sol Invictus’, marking the Winter Solstice; and Halloween is the Celtic festival of Samhain. These are just a few the more prominent mythic pentimento’s.
Who is the ‘God’ of the BBQ?
From Greek mythology, Hestia whose name means ‘fireside’ or ‘hearth’, is often assumed to be the Goddess of cooking. However, there is another that has a closer relationship with the BBQ, who sacrificed a lot to give it to us in myth
It was through the trickery of the Titan Prometheus that we were gifted with and learned to enjoy the BBQ. In the story, he essentially tricks Zeus, the King of the Gods, into choosing the inferior parts of the sacrifice of an animal, as a result man got to eat the tasty bits for eternity.
For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then Prometheus was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to befool the mind of Zeus. Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide, covering them with an ox paunch; but for Zeus he put the white bones dressed up with cunning art and covered with shining fat. ….. But Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and failed not to perceive the trick, and in his heart, he thought mischief against mortal men which also was to be fulfilled. With both hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars.
Angry at being tricked of the tastiest morsels of the sacrificed animal, Zeus would not give ‘the power of the unwearying fire’ to man. With a name that means ‘forethought’, Prometheus was looking into a future of Steak tartare & sushi, steals the divine fire for man so that we could cook our meals.
In anger, Zeus punishes the immortal Prometheus by having his regenerating liver eaten by an eagle, while chained to a Caucasian mountain.
What is a Barbecue?
What use did we make of Prometheus theft and gift?
The OED defines a BBQ as
a meal or gathering at which meat, fish, or other food is cooked out of doors on a rack over an open fire or on a special appliance.
With its etymology coming from La Hispaniola and the word barbacoa ‘”framework of sticks set upon posts”’
The first English use of the word was in 1661 by Hickeringill, in the book Jamaica, at p. 76, which states:
Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbau’d and eat. Infra, OED Vol. I, p. 665 (1933, Clarendon Press, Oxford).
It’s likely from these Caribbean origins of the words moved through Spanish, to French and English.
From BBQ to Pirates
The privateers or pirates of the Caribbean were called Buccaneers during the 17th and 18th Centuries. The history and fiction of these Buccaneers has been documented in Howard Pyle’s ‘Book of Pirates’.
The name Buccaneer originally applied to the hunters of the Tortuga and Hispaniola regions. The source of the name Buccaneer was the Caribbean Arawak word buccan was a wood frame upon which meat was cooked and smoked.
The unsung hero of the BBQ
In 2016, the US BBQ and grill sales accounted for $1.44 billion. In countries like Australia, where BBQ’s are part of cultural identity, two-thirds of Australian households have a BBQ and in some regions this rises to over 75%. So why don’t we have a day to say thanks to that Pirate Prometheus, that not only stole the best cuts of the cow but also the fire to light it.
So, here’s to Prometheus the original Buccaneer that shared his booty.