Author Profile


You can find biographies of me, unillustrated, on Wikipedia and on the Latin Vicipaedia.

My latest book, Rediscovering Homer, is arousing debate even beyond the blogs. Having explored what can be known, and what remains unknown, about the poet who saw the Iliad and Odyssey written down, was I right to say 'it is possible, and even probable, that this poet was a woman'? Anthony Snodgrass, professor at Cambridge, says not: 'The idea of a woman writing the Iliad and not being bored out of her mind by the endless fighting and killings is a bit more far-fetched', he responded, according to The Times. But Snodgrass hadn't read the book. Tom Palaima, professor at Austin, Texas, has read it, and (in a review in the THES) found it 'pleasant to see how modern theories about gendered language and about the role of women in oral poetry in traditional societies can be used to revive and go one better than Samuel Butler's century-old claim that the Odyssey was the work of a poetess. For Dalby, the Iliad is, too.' Palaima remains sceptical, I must admit, but he finds my writing 'riveting'. I'll settle for that view.

Food history and language history are the usual focuses of my research, and Greek and Latin texts are often my primary sources. I call myself a historian and linguist.

In 2003 I published Flavours of Byzantium (Prospect Books), Food in the Ancient World from A to Z (Routledge), and Bacchus: a biography (British Museum Press and J. Paul Getty Museum Press). Bacchus was followed in early 2005 by Venus: a biography (J. Paul Getty Museum Press) and her alter ego The Story of Venus (British Museum Press: see my article 'Writing the life of Venus').

These are my earlier books on food history. Dangerous Tastes: the story of spices (British Museum Press and University of California Press, 2000) was named Food Book of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers. Empire of Pleasures (Routledge, 2000) is a survey of the Roman Empire and its luxuries. Siren Feasts: a history of food and gastronomy in Greece (Routledge, 1996) won a Runciman Award and has been translated into German (Reclam, 1998) and Greek (Iraklion University Press, 2001). The Classical Cookbook (British Museum Press and The John Paul Getty Museum, 1996) was written jointly with Sally Grainger: this has appeared in German, Swedish, Dutch, Greek (Papadima, Athens, 2001) and Japanese. My annotated translation of Cato On Farming was published by Prospect Books in 1998.

My article 'Christopher Columbus, Gonzalo Pizarro and the search for cinnamon' appeared in Gastronomica, Spring 2001. Other academic papers include 'Topikos oinos: the named wines of Old Comedy' in The Rivals of Aristophanes edited by David Harvey (Duckworth, 2000); 'To feed a king' (in the journal Pallas, 2000); 'Vineyards of Lakonia' (in Classica, 2001); 'Homer's enemies' in Archaic Greece edited by Nick Fisher and Hans van Wees (Duckworth, 1998); 'The Iliad, the Odyssey and their audiences' (Classical Quarterly, 1996); 'Archestratus: where and when?' in Food in Antiquity edited by John Wilkins (University of Exeter Press, 1995); 'Greeks abroad: food and social organization among the Ten Thousand' (Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1993).

Here are some other published articles on food and food history: Two notes on argan oil.

I have contributed to Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food (2000), to the Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellenic Tradition (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000), to Scribners' Encyclopedia of Food and Culture (2003), to the Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization and to four forthcoming reference books: Gillian Riley's Oxford Companion to Italian Food, the International Encyclopedia of Cheese (Oxford University Press, New York), Culinary Biographies (Yes Press, Houston, Texas) and .

I also write on the social history of languages. I was a consultant on the Encarta World English Dictionary (Bloomsbury, 2000) and the New Penguin English Dictionary (2000). I have produced two reference books in this area: the Dictionary of Languages (Bloomsbury and Columbia University Press, 1998) and A Guide to World Language Dictionaries (Library Association Publishing and Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998). Language in Danger - on the future of languages, as illuminated by their history - was published in hardback by Allen Lane and Columbia University Press in 2002 and as a Penguin paperback in May 2003; see my recent article on this theme.

I have been known to write on south east Asia. My first really useful book was South East Asia: a guide to reference materials (1993), published by the great Hans Zell but now out of print.

Among my many book reviews, here are a few: The Cambridge World History of Food ed. Kenneth F. Kiple, Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas (2000); Katherine M. D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality (2003); J. N. Adams, Bilingualism and the Latin language (2004).

I studied classics and linguistics at Cambridge, librarianship at University College London, and ancient history at Birkbeck. I have a Cambridge M.A. and a London Ph.D. I worked for fifteen years at Cambridge University Library, eventually specializing in Oriental books and manuscripts. I have worked with many languages, from Portuguese by way of Greek and Romanian to Hindi and Burmese. I am an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and I write a regular column, 'Notes in the Margin', for the Institute's journal The Linguist. I live in deepest France, where I grow fruit, make cider, and keep writing.

Click here for full lists of my published BOOKS, ARTICLES and BOOK REVIEWS; click here for lists of Wikipedia articles I have begun and those I have (I think) improved.

Additions and corrections

Additions, expansions, afterthoughts and even a few corrections to my books and articles will appear regularly on this site. Each book has its own page, and here they are: Rediscovering Homer Extra, Dangerous Tastes Extra, Food in the Ancient World Extra, Bacchus Extra, Notes in the Margin Extra, Dictionary of Languages Extra, Guide to World Language Dictionaries links page.