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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Deipnosophistae


published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. I) Athenaeus

 p63  Excerpts from Book XV
(Part 1 of 3)

"If some god," as the all-wise Euripides says,1 "should give me the sweet-tongued melodiousness of Nestor or Trojan Antenor,"2 I should be quite unable, friend Timocrates, further to recall for you the things that were said so often in these banquets of ours, to which we came with eager zest; not only the diversity, but even the similarity of the novel devices brought forth from time to time, are my excuse. For even the proper order of the dinner-courses was discussed many times, as well as the festivities introduced after dinner, so many that I can hardly count them. One of our company, for example, quoted the iambic verses of Plato's Laconians:3 "a. Have the gentlemen finished dinner already? b. Nearly all. a. Good news! Run then, won't you, and carry away the tables, while I will go and pour out soda.4 b. And I to sweep up the floor.5 Then, after I have poured out for them wine for libations, I will set up the cottabos beside them. The flutes must be ready for the girl by this time, and  p65 she should be warming them up6 beforehand. Go at once and pour the perfume for them, Egyptian7 and orris both. After that, I will fetch wreaths to give to each of the banqueters. Let somebody mix up a fresh bowl of wine. a. It's mixed already. b. Put the frankincense on the altar. . . ." He then continues: "a. Libation has been made arrival, and they are far along in their drinking; they've sung a round, and the cottabos is coming out now. A little wench with flutes is playing an outlandish tune for the banqueters; I saw another girl with a triangular harp, and she was singing to its accompaniment a bawdy song."

After this, as I remember, there was a discussion of the cottabos and those who play the game.8 As to these, one of the physicians present understood them to be those persons who after the bath, and to purge the stomach, drink off wine at a single gulp and spew it forth; he said, however, that this was not an ancient tradition, and he did not know of anyone in old times who had used this method of purging. Hence also, he said, Erasistratus of Iulis in his treatise On General Practice condemns those who do this, showing that this practice is harmful to the eyes and is apt to block the intestines. In  p67 answer to him Ulpian quoted:9 Rise up, Asclepiades,10 the lord Charoneus11 calls thee." The remark of one of our companions wasn't half bad, "Were it not for the doctors, there wouldn't be anything stupider than the professors." Who among us, in fact, does not know that this use of the word "cottabos-shooting"12 was not ancient? Unless, of course, you assume that the title Playing at Cottabos of Ameipsias refers to spewing. Since, then, you are unfamiliar with this branch of study, let me inform you that the game of cottabos, in the first place, is a Sicilian invention, the Sicels being the first to devise it, as Critias, the son of Callaeschrus, makes clear in his Elegiac Verses in these words:13 "The cottabos is the chief product of Sicily; we set it up as a mark to shoot at with drops of wine (latages)." Dicaearchus of Messenê, pupil of Aristotle, says14 in his book On Alcaeus that the word latagê15 is likewise Sicilian. It means the drop of moisture which is left in the cup after it has been drunk out, and which the players tossed up into the  p69 basin with a twist of the hand. Cleitarchus, however, in his treatise On Glosses says that Thessalians and Rhodians call the clatter (cottabos) arising from the cups16 latagê.

Cottabos was also a name given to the prize offered for victory in the drinking-bout, as Euripides testifies in Oeneus when he speaks as follows:17 "With frequent arrows of wine they tried to hit the old man's head; and I was appointed to wreath him who succeeded, offering the prizes of cottabos-games." The vessel into which they tossed the wine-drops was also called cottabos, as Cratinus shows in Nemesis;18 that it was made of bronze Eupolis tells us in The Dyers:19 "On the bronze cottabos." Plato in Zeus Outraged represents the cottabos as a kind of game palyed at drinking-parties, in which those who were unlucky with their throw lost their shirts. He speaks as follows:20 "Leno. You can play at cottabos until I have made the dinner ready for you two in  p71 the house. Heracles. I'd like to very much; but have you got a basin? L. No, you can play into a mortar. H. Bring out the mortar, fetch water, set ready the cups. Let's play for kisses. L. Kisses and! I won't let you play for vulgar stakes. Rather, I propose as prizes for you two these fancy boots that the girl here wears, and your own cup.21 h. Bless my soul! Here's a contest coming on that's bigger than the Isthmian Games."

Certain kinds of cottabos were called "descending." They require lampstands which can be raised and lowered again.22 Eubulus in Bellerophon:23 "Who will catch hold of my leg down below? Indeed I am lifted aloft like a cottabos shaft." Antiphanes in Birth of Aphrodite:24 "a. This here is the thing I mean. Don't you understand? The lampstand is a cottabos. Pay close attention. The prize is eggs  p73 and five . . .25 b. But what for? It seems silly. How will you 'shoot cottabos'? a. I will show you step by step; whoever when he shoots at the pan causes the cottabos to fall — b. The pan? What pan? Do you mean that little thing that lies up there on top, the tiny platter? a. Yes, that's the pan — he becomes the winner. b. How is one going to know that? a. Why, if he just hits it, it will fall on the Manês,26 and there will be a very loud clatter. b. In the gods' name, tell me, has the cottabos got a Manês, attending it like any slave?" And after a few lines he goes on: "b. Take the cup and show me how you do it. a. Like a good flute-player, you've got to curl your fingers round the le, pour in a little wine — not too much! — and then shoot. b. But how? a. Watch me. Like this. b. Poseidon, what a high shot you've made!27 a. That's the way you must do it. b. But I couldn't get as high as that with a sling. a. Then practise it."

One must, indeed, bend the wrist very gracefully in shooting the cottabos, as Dicaearchus says,28 and Plato, too, in Zeus Outraged.29 In that play someone  p75 directs Heracles not to hold his wrist stiffly when he is going to shoot. And so they spoke of the throwing of the cottabos as "the bend-toss" (ankyl´ê) because in playing cottabos-games they bent the right wrist.30 But others say that ankylê is a kind of cup. Bacchylides in his Love-Songs:31 "when, raising high her white arm, she makes the 'bend-dtoss' for these young men." And Aeschylus in The Bone-Collectors even speaks of "bended cottabi" in these lines:32 "Eurymachus — 'twas no one else — laid just as strong and outrageous insults upon me. for my head was ever his target, and at it with sure aim his lusty aram let fly bended cottabi. . . ."33 That a prize was offered for skilful tossing of the cottabos has already been stated by Antiphanes;34 they are eggs, cakes, nuts and raisins. Similar details are given by Cephisodorus in Trophonius,35 Callias (or Diocles) in The Cyclopes,36 Eupolis,37 and Hermippus  p77 in his Iambic Verses.38 Now the "descending" cottabos, as it is called, is of the following sort:39 it is a high lampstand40 holding the so‑called Manês,41 upon which the descending scale-pan42 was designed to fall; thence the scale-pan, when struck by the cottabos-throw, fell into a basin lying beneath. "And an accurate dexterity was needed for the throw."43 The Manês is mentioned by Nicochares in Laconians.44

there is, however, another variety of the game, played with a basin. This basin is filled with water, and empty cruets float on the surface; these they would try to sink by tossing the wine-drops upon them from their cups; the player who sank the most won the prizes. Ameipsias in Playing at Cottabos:45 "You, Mania, hand me vinegar-cruets and wine-cups and the foot-basin after you have poured into it some water." Cratinus in Nemesis:46 "Setting up the cottabos-prize according to the rules of the symposium, toss the wine on the floating cruets, and to the man who hits the most award this prize of good luck." Aristophanes in Men of Dinnerville:47  p79 "That's all he knows; but I know the bronze rod" (this means setting up the cottabos-stand) "and the myrtle-boughs" Hermippus in The Fates:48 "Woolly cloaks are now laid aside and every man is buckling on his bpl; the greave is fitted round the shin, and there's no desire left for the white-polished shoe; you will see the shaft of the cottabos rolling neglected in the chaff, and Manês pays no attention to wine-drops tossed at him; as for the unhappy pan, you may see that resting beside the socket of the back door in a pile of sweepings." Achaeus, speaking of the satyrs in Linus, says:49 "Hurling, tossing, crashing — what did they not say of me? 'Nicely, now, oh wine-drop, Heracles.' " This phrase, "say of me," is used because the players mentioned the names of their lovers when they tossed the so‑called cossabiº for them.50 Hence Sophocles in Inachus connects the wine-drop with Aphrodite:51 "Aphrodite's golden wine-drop echoed through the whole house." So Euripides in Pleisthenes:52 "The  p81 loud clattering of Cypris's cossabi rings out their harmonious tune in the house." And Callimachus says also:53 "Many were the drinkers of wine who in their love of Acontius let fall from their cups the Sicilian wine-drops upon the ground."

But there was still another class of prizes, called cottabia, which were set up at the night-festivals, and are mentioned by Callimachus in The Vigil in these lines:54 "He that stays awake until the very end55 shall receive the cake and the prizes and shall kiss anyone he likes of the girls in the party and any man he likes." Certain kinds of small cakes were to be had at the night-festivals, in which they used to keep themselves awake the longest possible time by dancing; and these cakes were widely known at that time as charisioi56 because the winners were glad to get them. Eubulus mentions them in Ancylion, speaking as follows:57 "Why! She has been baking the prizes for victory a long time." And farther along Eubulus says: "I jumped just now when I was baking the glad-to-get-it." And  p83 that a kiss was also the prize Eubulus says farther along: "Now then, ladies; be sure you dance the livelong night on this, the baby's tenth day.58 I will set up, as prize for victory, three ribbons,59 five apples, and nine kisses."

that the cottabos was popular among the Sicilian Greeks is proved by the custom of constructing rooms especially designed for the game; this is recorded by Dicaearchus in his treatise On Alcaeus.60 And so, with good reason, too, Callimachus has called the wine-drop "Sicilian." Dionysius Chalcûw ("the Bronze") in his Elegies mentions the wine-drops and the cottabos-games in these lines:61 "We, et love-sick, add a third cottabos prize to stand for you here in the Wine-god's gymnasium;62 a punching-bag it is. All of you in the company must insert your hands in the cups you use as balls; and before you see it,63 measure with your eyes the air by your couch and see over how much space the wine-drops must reach."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 T.G.F.2 649, cf. Eust. 1301.33, who interpreted jjj as jjj, "would that."

2 The two are joined together in an enumeration of eloquent men by Plato, Symp. 221C.

3 Kock I.620; two slaves are conversing, cf. Philyllius, Athen. 408E (vol. IV p350).

4 For the hand-washing.

5 Cf. the model banquet of Xenophanes, 462C (vol. V p16).

6 Lit. "blow up beforehand," an exact description of the process of warming up a wind-instrument before it can be played; "play a prelude" (L. & S.) is incorrect.

7 Below, 689B, and 66C (vol. I p288).

8 The word jjj has two senses, "dash off the last drops of wine" in the game, and "vomit," as understood by the next speaker. Etym. Mag. 533.15, jjj.

9 Timon, Wachsmuth, frag. 27, see Diels, PPG III.1.202: Il. IV.204 jjj(Machaon), jjj.

10 Alluding to physicians as sons of Asclepius, cf. Il. IV.193‑194.

11 This name seems to occur only here, and is suspected. But it may be a paragogic form of jjj, like jjj for jjj, and the satirical line, in the form given to it by Timon, may allude to the inability of physicians to heal themselves, as isf he said, "Bestir yourself, for Charon is likely to get you." For jjj used of the last summons cf. Socrates' words jjj, Plato, Phaedo 115A (Athen. vol. IV p49 note a): so Aristoph. Lys. 606.

12 In the sense of vomiting.

13 Athen. 28B (vol. I p122), P.L.G.4 II.279, Diehl I.81. On the game, which seems to have been popular for three centuries, see Schol. Aristoph. Pac. 1241 (cf. 342), Schol. Lucian, Lexiph. 3, Pollux VI.109‑11, H. W. Hayley in HSCP V.73‑82.

14 F.H.G. II.247, cf. Athen. 479D, 487C‑D (vol. V pp122, 166).

15 Both forms, jjj (plur. jjj) and jjj, are attested.

16 This meaning of jjj seems to be attested by Hesychius s. jjj and s. jjj, and is so understood by Schweighäuser ("sonitus," "strepitus"). Cf. Anon. Rhet. III.210 (Spengel's ed.) who, in giving examples of onomatopoeia, cites jjj. Here jjj is proposed for jjj, but in the absence of any satisfactory etymology of jjj (see Prellwitz s.v.) it is as likely to be onomatopoetic as anything else. The noisy clatter of the game distinguished it especially; below, 668B (p79).

17 T.G.F.2 537. Athenaeus's statement that cottabos was the name of the prize is based on a mis-reading of the last line, jjj for jjj (see critical note 5). The scene described may represent an indignity laid upon the aged Oeneus, as indeed the game itself may have originated in the use of a slave as tgt for the wine, cf. Hayley, op. cit. 81 and below, 667C‑D (p75).

18 Below, 667F, Kock I.50.

19 Ibid. 278.

20 Ibid. 612; a conversation between a brothel-keeper and Heracles. In the kind of cottabos here played (jjj), the object was to sink small cups (jjj, jjj), floating in a basin of water, by flipping wine-drops at them; below, 667E‑F (p77).

21 This cup seems to have figured conspicuouy in this play, cf. 478C (vol. V p116). It was probably of gold or silver or set with jewels, cf. 482A‑B (vol. V p136), certainly of greater worth than the girl's boots.

22 This vague and inaccurate paragraph is out of place, belonging rather to 667D‑E below. The term jjj ("capable of being lowered") is variously interpreted. Pollux VI.109 thought it referred to a disk suspended from the ceiling: jjj. Others think of the lampstand itself, and explain that this was made in two shafts, one sliding up and down in the other. But while such lampstands may have existed (Hayley, op. cit. 76‑77(), they were not essential to the game, in spite of the quotation immediately following.

23 Kock II.171; the speaker seems to be Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus.

24 Kock II.33, cf. Athen. 487D (vol. V p168).

25 Schweighäuser, comparing 667D (p74), deleted jjj and filled out the line with jjj, "a cake and dessert." See Eubulus allow, 668D (p82), from which one may possibly render here "I will set up five eggs and apples as a prize." See the story of Aenesidemus, who ironically sent cottabos pzs to Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse, for anticipating him in the conquest of a neighbouring city, Aristot. Rhet. I.12.30 and Cope's note.

26 A small statuette representing a slave; vol. V p169 note b; above, p69 note b.

27 Apparently Antiphanes had in mind a pan suspended from the ceiling (above, p71 note b).

28 F.H.G. II.247.

29 Kock I.613.

30 Cf. 782D‑E (vol. V pp42‑44).

31 P.L.G.4 III.577‑578, Edmonds III.214, cf. vol. IV p44.

32 T.G.F.2 58; from a satyric drama. For Eurymachus, one of Penelope's suitors often mentioned, see Od. XVIII.349, XXII.69‑88, Athen. 17B (vol. I p74).

33 i.e. he tossed the missiles with the same form that cottabos-players employed. Dobree's emendation would mean "With the bended cottabos-toss his lusty arm let fly missiles that hit my eyes with sure aim." But jjj, which Sidgwick adopts, seems a rather violent change for jjj (sic) (see critical note 9). Perhaps jjj or jjj lurks here, cf. Od. XVIII.349‑350 jjj.

34 Cf. above, 666F (p73 and note a), where, unfortunately, the pertinent words are missing.

35 Kock I.801.

36 Ibid. 696.

37 Ibid. 278, from The Dyers, jjj, according to Runkel and Kock; cf. Schol. Aristoph. Peace 1244 jjj, above, p68.

38 Kock I.247‑248.

39 Cf. Schol. Lucian, Lexiph. 3.

40 Supply "which can be raised and lowered," cf. 666E jjj, Schol. Aristoph. jjj (sic) jjj.

41 Page 73 note b, Hayley, op. cit., p77, cf. p79, Athen. 487D (vol. V p166).

42 Or disk which, according to Hayley, was balanced on the top of the rod.

43 An anonymous trochaic verse, reading jjj for jjj, cf. Luc. Amores 11 jjj.

44 Kock I.772.

45 Kock I.670; see vol. V p89 note h.

46 Kock I.50. The garbled text offers but a faint glimmer of sense.

47 Kock I.444. A boy who prefers the gay life contrasts that with the ways of his virtuous brother (Kock). Myrtle-boughs were placed round the basin (jjj), perhaps to prevent the floor from becoming too sloppy; Schol. Aristoph. Pac. 1243 jjj.

48 Kock I.237, cf. Athen. 487E (vol. V p168).

49 T.G.F.2 752, from a satyric drama; the quotation is obviously incomplete, and none of the proposed emendations are convincing. Heracles seems to be the darling of the satyrs, who are playing at cottabos for his favours.

50 Or, "to win them." Cf. Theocr. XIV.18‑20 (though the cotabos does not enter into the picture) jjj (sc. jjj) jjj (= jjj above) jjj. Callim. Epigr. 31 (lcl 158) jjj.

51 T.G.F.2 190.

52 T.G.F.2 557.

53 Schneider frag. 102, A. W. Mair (lcl) 214; cf. Schol. Aristoph. Pac. 1243, Athen. 479D (vol. øzzz p122), 666B, 668C.

54 Frag. 2 Pfeiffer. The metre is the syncopated iambic trimeter. Kock III.378, assigning the verses to a very shadowy figure, Callippus (critical note 2). Porson had already proposed to read jjj, cf. below, 691C (p202). It would appear that in Callimachus's time cottabia had become a general term for "favours" given at a party. The game itself seems to have been no longer played, at least in Alexandria, Smith, Dict. Ant. I.558.

55 Lit. "up to the crown" or "limit," Hesych. s. jjj. Poseidippus ap. Athen. 414D‑E (vol. IV p376) plays on these two senses of jjj: jjj. Did the word also suggest satiety? Cf. the tag jjj, Demosth. XIX.187.

56 "Glad-to-get‑'em," Athen. 646B (vol. VI p489 thee c).

57 Kock II.165; Athen. 646C.

58 The child received his name at a family festival ten days after birth.

59 Or possibly, ribbon-fish, Athen. 325F (vol. III p464).

60 F.H.G. II.246.

61 P.L.G.4 I.263, Diehl I.75, Buecheler, Jahrb. f. Phil. 1875, 135. For the name Dionysius Chalcûs see below, 669D.

62 i.e. the symposium, here likened to the part of the gymnaisum used for ball-playing (jjj). The prize is a sack of wine, suggesting a punching-bag.

63 The bag? Bergk's conjecture is plausible (critical note 6): "before tossing the wine."

Page updated: 30 Jun 13