Descriptio Moldaviae

VIII. On the customs of the court And on the days when there are no banquets, the table for the Prince's lunch is more often than not laid in the small hall, but often enough also in the big hall or in the women's quarters (gynaeceo). Two of the high rank boyars and two of the lower rank are always invited to lunch. If there's room for more at the table, captains also come, and sometimes old soldiers as well. Nobody is invited to dinner, apart from the Prince's relatives or somebody who is in his good graces or can cheer him up with flattery or pleasant words. Sometimes the Princess joins the Prince's lunch table; at other times she has her table laid in her rooms and she is served by chamberlains, attendants, the cupbearer and the assistant cupbearer, and fine noble ladies. And when there are big banquets, the table is laid in the small council room. Drum rolls and trumpet blasts give the signal for the food to be brought in. The High Stewards bring the dishes in from the kitchens; in front of them walk the chancellor and the Second High Steward, and they give the food to the First High Steward to put it on the table. When the Prince comes, the Metropolitan says grace and blesses the food; the First Attendant brings the water for washing the hands. After the Prince has taken his seat, the others sit too, in order. The advisers and the first rank boyars stay close, doing their jobs. The food laid on the table for the Prince is first tasted by the First High Steward. When the Prince starts eating, they fire the cannons and start playing Turkish and Christian music. The First Cupbearer brings the first drinks and tastes the wine poured from a big pitcher into a smaller glass, a gesture called 'faith' in the Moldavian language. Then the Metropolitan and the Bishop (who are given only dishes of fish and milk as they're not allowed, according to the canons of Basil the Great, to eat meat) and all the boyars stand up and raise their glass to the Prince. After that they don't stand up anymore but raise their glass to the Prince every now and then, even though they're drunk. The high rank boyars remain at the table until the third glass has been drunk; then the First Sword Bearer gives the sword to the Second Sword Bearer. The drink is now given to the Prince by the Second Cupbearer and the other second rank boyars fulfil now the duties of the high rank ones. At the end, the Prince gives each of them a plateful of food from his table as a sign of his generosity, and they receive it – after having kissed first the Prince's hand – and take it into the next room, where a table is being laid especially for them. The Prince does the same honour to other, lower rank boyars that are present, to captains and squadron commanders, according to the same custom. After they all eat and drink, they go back to the princely table, to their duties, and they make sure the assistant cupbearers pour drinks to the boyars, the assistant stewards take the food back, the valets change the plates, and everything is done orderly and properly. The guards sit at the end of the table with their maces, guarding the Prince (because the table is arranged lengthwise). After several rounds of drinks, when everybody around the table is beginning to get flushed, they all have a big glass of wine by way of thanking God for His mercy and generosity; the second glass is drunk to the sultan, though no name is mentioned. Because Moldavians find it useless and pointless to drink to the health of the Turks; on the contrary, it's very dangerous to drink to the health of the Christian and righteous princes. The third glass is drunk by the Metropolitan, after he's said a few words to the health of the Prince. When his name is mentioned, all the boyars stand up from the table and go to the middle of the council hall, as is customary. When he finishes his prayer, the Metropolitan makes the sign of the cross above the Prince's head and blesses him, and while the Prince is taking his glass to the mouth, all the cannons start firing again, and music blends with their roar, but those present can only hear the echo produced by the high vaults of the palace. After the Prince, the Metropolitan too downs a silver glass of about a gill, but he doesn't move from his place, just stands up. All the other sitting or standing boyars empty by twos the glasses given to them, and after they kiss the hand of the Prince (who's supported by the armpits by the seneschal), they go back to their previous places. After they've drunk like this, they drink some more to the health of the Princess, the young princes and princesses, and to anything else the occasion or their drunkenness put into their heads. For the Prince doesn't usually rise from the table until the candlesticks are brought in, which the First Attendant puts on the table while all the guests are standing up and bowing in front of the Prince. When the Prince puts his napkin on the table, it means that the banquet is over. The First Seneschal understands and hits the ground with the silver staff he's carrying; at this sign, all those who can still stand get up immediately. And those who are so drunk that they can no longer walk, are helped out by other people. The Metropolitan says a prayer, and after he's crossed himself three times, the Prince turns towards his boyars and says goodbye. When he's with his back to them, the chamberlains and court servants present carefully take from the table what can be still salvaged: for they consider it an honour to eat something from the princely feast. They're not allowed to take anything out of the hall lest they should mislay the silver cutlery; or, if there's several of them and each wants to eat something else, they have to show the guardian of the silverware room how many plates they've taken and bring them back later. The Prince's music accompanies the other boyars to their homes. The following day they all gather in the council hall, then go into the Prince's chambers to kiss his hand, thank him for the honour he's done them, and ask him to forgive them for the mistakes they made when drunk. 1714-1716

by Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723)