The fork: another gift of the Greeks to civilization

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on May 09, 2012 - 05:12 PM

Photo: Forks come in various sizes and styles, and these are but a few; from left, dessert fork, salad fork, pickle fork, fork to a carving set, meat fork, dinner fork, and oyster or appetizer fork. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Forks come in various sizes and styles, and these are but a few; from left, dessert fork, salad fork, pickle fork, fork to a carving set, meat fork, dinner fork, and oyster or appetizer fork. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Knives, forks and spoons are things many of us take for granted. Every household has a drawer or two full of them and you can even buy disposable ones. Surprisingly, modern eating utensils took a long time to evolve. Forks weren’t even used in the United States until the 19th century.

This article is the third in a series on our commonplace table tools.

The word fork comes from the Latin "furca" and the Old English "forca." Kitchen forks, the two-pronged forks, can be traced to the time of the Greeks. They were fairly large and aided in the carving and serving of meat. In Egyptian antiquity, large forks made of bronze were used at religious ceremonies to lift sacrificial offerings.

By the 7th century, royal courts of the Middle East began to use forks at the table for dining. From the 10th through the 13th centuries, forks were fairly common among the wealthy of Byzantium.

In the 11th century, the Venetian Doge, Domenico Selvo, married a Greek princess who brought the practice of eating with forks to his court. This was regarded as a scandalous and heretical affectation. The church severely censured her, stating that the utensil was an affront to God’s intentions for fingers and when she died shortly after, it was perceived as a divine punishment. The fork disappeared from the table for nearly 300 years.