Serving your melon with a layer of prosciutto around it may simply seem like one of the many lovely contributions of Italian cuisine to the summer menu, but doing so is in fact a way of proclaiming one’s allegiance to Galen’s medical theories. Back in the Middle Ages, when Galen’s theory of the four bodily humours (black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm) was not the latest thing but the oldest thing, and therefore the done thing, fresh fruit was considered a dangerous proposition at the dinner table. Cold and moist, fruit risked lowering your inner temperature, knocking your humours off-balance and doing terrible things to your digestion. It was thought that wellness and survival required the appropriate amount dryness and heat—and the eating of cool and juicy melon was akin to throwing a wet piece of wood on a fire. In fact, when Pope Paul II died in July 1471, his death was blamed on excessive organ chilling due to a meal of melons.
For some reason, however, people still had the urge to eat fruit in spite of their doctors’ best efforts, and so various methods of offsetting the perils of fructivorous gourmandising were developed, some of which remain with us thanks to their deliciousness: having pears with a glass or port or cooked in wine, and, in this case, wrapping your dark, cold, and phlegmatic melon in some dry, salted, sanguine meat.