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Serpent Silverware Set
Our Serpent Silverware Set feature sterling silver knife, fork and spoon utensil ends, each adorned with a serpent’s head, and a hand-forged bronze handle that ends in a serpentine tail.
History of Silverware
While knives and spoons existed in one form or another as far back as the stone age, forks do not appear until much later. From Origins of the Common Fork by Chad Ward:
Forks were in use in ancient Egypt, as well as Greece and Rome. However, they weren’t used for eating, but were, rather, lengthy cooking tools used for carving or lifting meats from a cauldron or the fire. Most diners ate with their fingers and a knife, which they brought with them to the table. Forks for dining only started to appear in the noble courts of the Middle East and the Byzantine Empire in about the 7th century and became common among wealthy families of the regions by the 10th century. Elsewhere, including Europe, where the favored implements were the knife and the hand, the fork was conspicuously absent.
Imagine the astonishment then when in 1004 Maria Argyropoulina, Greek niece of Byzantine Emperor Basil II, showed up in Venice for her marriage to Giovanni, son of the Pietro Orseolo II, the Doge of Venice, with a case of golden forks—and then proceeded to use them at the wedding feast. They weren’t exactly a hit. She was roundly condemned by the local clergy for her decadence, with one going so far as to say, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.”
When Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later, Saint Peter Damian, with ill-concealed satisfaction, suggested that it was God’s punishment for her lavish ways. “Nor did she deign to touch her food with her fingers, but would command her eunuchs to cut it up into small pieces, which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth. . . . this woman’s vanity was hateful to Almighty God; and so, unmistakably, did He take his revenge. For He raised over her the sword of His divine justice, so that her whole body did putrefy and all her limbs began to wither.”
Doomed by God for using a fork. Life was harsh in the 11th century.
After this inauspicious debut, forks were understandably slow to catch on. But Maria’s Byzantine manners did make inroads. By the late Middle Ages the spread of forks can be tracked by their appearance in city inventories and as items of value bequeathed in wills. These suckett forks were used primarily for eating candied fruits in syrup or foods likely to stain the fingers. According to some sources, eating sweets with a fork was a practice common among courtesans, causing the Church to ban forks as immoral.
By the 1400s dining forks began to appear in Italian cookbooks, and it was another noble marriage that spread the influence. Italian forks became popular in the French court when Catherine de Medici arrived from Italy to marry the future Henry II, bringing several dozen intricate silver forks with her. Henry’s courtiers were ridiculed for the amount of food they spilled trying to eat with the unfamiliar forks. Despite the laughter, the use of forks spread to wealthy French families eager to adopt the new Italian vogue.