What useful instrument has been pronounced a vanity, before being deemed unmanly, and then considered essential to civilized society? We know knives have been around as necessary for a long time, but what about the fork? If you asked someone who invented the lightning rod, they would probably think a just a few seconds, and just a few seconds later announce, correctly, that the inventor of the lightning rod was Benjamin Franklin. A few people might even come out with more details or even alternate inventors.
Where Did the Fork Originate?
In contrast, if you asked someone who invented the fork, an instrument used anywhere between two to four times a day, most people would either come up blank or cough up some weird nonsense about Europe or the eighteenth century. They might get some of it right, except that in early Europe forks were considered an unnecessary vanity and before the eighteenth century, rather unmanly. We eat with forks every day, but have you ever considered how they were invented or what their original shape was? Or in a moment of frustration, just who thought that eating with a curved trident that had an extra spoke was better than eating with your hands anyway?
What Were Early Forks Like?
Similar to the mysterious development of pyramids, there is no exact origin of the fork. Most scholars credit the Greeks with the invention of the fork. The first forks had two tines, similar to the modern-day cake forks, and were used to secure food for consumption. Although before those there were primitive forks that consisted of a pointed stick, much like a single chopstick, but they are not considered forks in historical records. Likewise, the use of chopsticks popularized in the early Chinese empires is not recognized as the use of forks either.
The first uses of the fork were recorded in the among the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. They were mostly tools for barbequing. In other words, instead of an eating utensil, the fork was a pronged stick used to turn over the succulent roast cooking that day. The lack of information on the first people to use the fork as a regular eating utensil is leaves the exact point of origin vague, but there is information pointing to the Persians as the first fork eaters. At the height of the Byzantine empire, the regular use of the fork as an eating utensil was quite common.
However, in Europe, people viewed the fork wit deep suspicion, seeing it as an unnecessary vanity that was most likely a tool of the devil. Seeing the devil was rumored to carry a pitchfork, it was a reasonable leap for the uneducated peasants of that time to make. When a Byzantine princess, coming to Europe for an arranged marriage died much later of the plague, a popular church official and later one of the numerous Saint Peters, declared that her death was God punishing her for her vanity of using a fork. The church official considered her so delicate that she could not deign to touch the food with her fingers.
Finally, around the sixteenth century, Catherine de Medici, who hailed from a Byzantinian noble family and who was one of the most influential people of her time, began to popularize the use of the fork. It caught on, and by the seventeenth century, owning an ornate fork that you carried around with you was a status symbol.
Early forks were cumbersome, two-pronged and made from silver. They were for the wealthy, as no poor man would waste money on something so frivolous. Sailors in the navy deemed them unmanly and demeaning to their masculinity. However, as the forks evolved into the more practical model used today and the invention of silver plating made them cheaper and less cumbersome, for became more commonly used until a set of cutlery was a necessity for every respectable household. After the invention of stainless steel, the versatility and inexpensiveness of the common fork turned it into what it is a today, a must-have at every meal.