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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Deipnosophistae


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

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. III) Athenaeus

Book VI
(Part 1 of 5)

 p3  222Every time that we meet, friend Timocrates, you repeatedly ask me what was said at the meetings of the Deipnosophists. You think that we produce novel inventions, and so we shall remind you of what Antiphanes says in his Poesy. His words are these:1 "The art of writing tragedy is fortunate in every way. For, first of all, the stories are well known to people in the audience even before a character speaks a word, so that the poet merely has to remind them. BLet me but mention Oedipus, and they know all the rest: his father was Laius, his mother Iocasta; they know who his daughters were, his sons, what he will suffer, what he has done. If, again, one speaks of Alcmeon, straightway he has mentioned all his children, and has told that he killed his mother in a fit of madness; and Adrastus2 will soon come in high dudgeon and will depart again. . . . And then, when  p5 the poets can say no more, Cand their dramatic resources have completely given out, they raise 'the machine'3 like a beaten athlete's finger, and the spectators are satisfied. But we4 have not these advantages; 223 on the contrary, we must invent everything new names, new plots, new speeches, and then the antecedent circumstances, the present situation, the outcome, the prologue.5 If a character named Chremes or Pheidon6 leaves out any one of these points, he is hissed off the boards; but a Peleus or a Teucer may do it." And Diphilus, in The Olive-Orchard, or Guardians:7 B" 'O Conquer with the bow, Virgin of Leto and Zeus born! Thou guardest, thou ownest this place most loved by the gods, the Brauronian shrine.' That's the language of the tragedians, who alone are at liberty to say and do anything."

The comic poet Timocles, speaking of the many ways in which tragedy is useful in the conduct of life, says, in Women at the Dionysia:8 "Good sir, hearken, if haply I shall tell you the truth. Man is a creature born to labour, and many are the distresses which his life carries with it. Therefore he has contrived  p7 these respites from his cares; Cfor his mind, taking on forgetfulness of its own burdens, and absorbed in another's woe, departs in joy, instructed withal. Look first at the tragedians, if it please you, and se what a benefit they are to everybody. The poor man, for instance, learns that Telephus was more beggarly than himself, and from that time on he bears his poverty more easily. The sick man sees Alcmeon raving in madness. One has a disease of the eyes — blind are the sons of Phineus. DOne has lost his son in death — Niobe is a comfort. One is lame — he sees Philoctetes. One meets with misfortune in old age — he learns the story of Oeneus. For he is reminded that all his calamities, which 'are greater than mortal man has ever borne,' have happened to others, and so he bears his own trials more easily."

In like manner we,9 Timocrates, merely restore to you the morsels left by the Dinner-Sophists, we do not give them; so quotes the orator from Cothocê in his tirade against Demosthenes.10 EHe, when Philip offered to give Halonnesus to the Athenians, advised them not to accept it if he gave it, but only if he gave it back. The same phrase is jestingly used in bantering tone by Antiphanes in The Chick:11 "A. My master, in the way he took everything from his father, took it all as his own. B. Demosthenes would have been glad to take over that turn of speech!" And Alexis, in The Soldier:12 "A. Take this  p9 bk. B. What is it? A. It's the baby I took from you; I have come to give it back. FB. What's that? Don't you want to bring it up? A. No, for it isn't ours. B. Nor ours either. A. But you gave it to us. B. No, we did not give it to you. A. What do you mean? B. We gave it back to you. A. What was not mine to take?" Also in Brothers:13 "A. What, have I given anything to those girls? Explain! B. No, you only gave back, of course, the pledge which you had received." 224 And Anaxilas in Manliness:14 "A. And I will give these old shoes. B. By Mother Earth, you will not give them — you will give them back. A. Well, anyway, I am going out carrying them." Timocles in Heroes:15 "A. And so you bid me now use phrases which are altogether inappropriate B. Exactly so. A. I'll do it to please you. And first of all, then, Briareos will stop being angry at you. B. Briareos? Who is he? A. He is the one who eats up catapults and spears, Ba fellow who hates words, who has never uttered an antithesis in his life, but has an eye like Mars."16 Accordingly, adopting the phrase of the poets just quoted, we too will give back, not give, the discourse which succeeded that which we recounted before, and we shall now tell what followed.

 p11  Thereupon, slaves entered bearing an enormous quantity of fish from sea and lake, on silver platters, so that we marvelled at the luxury as well as at the wealth displayed; for our host had bought everything but the Nereids. CAnd one of the parasites and flatterers remarked that position must have sent the fish to our Nittunius;17 not, however, through the agency of the merchants in Rome who sell a tiny fish for a huge price; rather, he must have brought them himself, some from antium, others from Taracinaº and the Pontian islands opposite, still others from Pyrgi, which is a city in Etruria. For the fishmongers of Rome do not fall short, even by a little distance, of those who were once satirized in Attica. Concerning the latter Antiphanes, in Brave Lads,18 says: "I used to think that the Gorgons were a fiction, but whenever DI go to market, I am strong in my belief in them; for one glance there at the fishmongers, and I am straightway turned to stone. Therefore I must necessarily talk to them with my face turned away, for if I see what a small-sized fish it is for which they charge such a high price, I am then and there frozen solid."

Amphis, in The Wandering Juggler:19 "It is easier, by a million degrees, to get access to the General Staff, and demand a conference and receive an answer to one's questions than it is to approach the damned fishmongers in the market. EWhenever a purchaser picks up one of their wares on display and  p13 addresses to them a question, the dealer, like Telephus, crouches in silence first (and with good reason, for, to put it in a word, they are all murderers); and as if meant to pay no attention and had not heard a word, he pounds a polyp. The purchaser bursts into a flame of rage. . . . The dealer, never stopping to pronounce his words entire, but clipping a syllable here and there, answers ' 'Twda cost y' eight pence.' 'And this spet-fish?' 'Steen-pence.' Such is the jargon the purchaser must hear." FAlexis in The Man with a Cataract:20 "When I look at the generals with their eyebrows uplifted, I think their conduct is strange, and yet I do not quite wonder that men who have been signally honoured by the state should be a bit prouder than the rest. But when I see the damned fishmongers with lowered but with eyebrows lifted to the top of their polls, I am ready to choke. If you ask, 'How much are you offering those two mullets for,' he replies, 'Ten-pence.' 'Too steep! 225 will you take eight?' 'Yes, if you will buy the one next to it.' 'My good man, take my offer, and stop joking.' 'At that price? Run along!' Are not these actions bitterer than gall itself?"

Diphilus in The Busybody:21 "I used to think in the old days that the fishmongers at Athens were the only rascals. But it is plain that this breed, like  p15 some wild beasts, is naturally given to deceit everywhere. Here, for example, is one who has beaten the record. In the first place, he wears his hair long, it being dedicated to the god, so he says. BBut that is not the reason; no, he has a brand on the front of his forehead, and wears long hair as a screen. If you ask this fellow, 'How much is that sea-bass?' he answers, 'tenpence,' without adding in what currency. Then, when you pay him the money, he exacts the coin of Aegina, and if he has to give you back any change, he pays it in Attic coin besides. Either way he gets the benefit of the exchange."22 CXenarchus, in Purple-Shell:23 "The poets (he declares) are rubbish; for they invent not a single thing that is new, but every one of them just shifts the same topics back and forth. But when it comes to fishmongers, there isn't any breed more philosophic than they, or again, more impious. For since they are no longer at liberty to rinse their wares,24 and this is forbidden by law, one fellow, utterly detested by the gods, when he saw his fish drying up, Dvery cleverly started on purpose a fight among the dealers. Blows came; and pretending that he had received a mortal wound, he feigned death and lay sprawling among the fish. Someone yelled 'Water, water!' Another man in the same business immediately snatched up a pitcher and poured just a drop over him, but emptied  p17 all of it over the fish. You would say that they had just been caught."

That they sell fish when they are dead and decayed is indicated in these lines by Antiphanes, in Adulterers:25 E"There is no animal more unlucky than a fish. It isn't enough that they should be caught and killed, and find quick burial by being eaten;26 no, unhappy creatures that they are, they are given over to the damned fishmongers and rot, lying stale for two days or three. And if, at last, they ever find a buyer who is blind, they grant to him the disposal of the dead.27 He takes it home and throws it away,28 having learned his lesson from the smell in his nostrils." FAnd in The Pro-Theban29 Antiphanes says: "Isn't it strange, that if a man chance to have fresh fish for sale, he talks to us with eyebrows contracted and with a scowling face; but if they are out-and‑out rotten, he jokes and laughs? The rascals ought to do just the opposite; the first man should laugh, the second should — go howl!" That they also offer fish for sale at very high prices is told by Alexis in The Meeting at Pyale:30 226 "A. I vow to Athena, but I am lost in wonder at the fishmongers. How in the world is it that they are not all rich, since they receive royal tributes? B. Only tributes? Don't they sit at their ease in our cities and take  p19 tithes of our property, and rob us of our entire estates every day?"

The same poet also says in The Melting-Pot:31 "There has never been a better legislator than the wealthy Aristonicus. . . . For to‑day he proposes a law that whatsoever fishmonger Boffers a fish for sale to anyone, and after naming a price sells it for less than the price he asked, shall straightway be haled to prison; the purpose being to keep them thoroughly frightened, so that they may be satisfied with the right price, or else take all their fish home rotten at evening. And in this way, old man and ancient hag and infant child will buy fish at a fifth of the price, as is right." And going on he says: "There has not been since Solon a single legislator better than Aristonicus. CThere are many other laws, of every description, which he has caused to be passed; but to‑day he is introducing a new law, of golden worth, that the fish mongers shall no longer offer wares for sale seated at their ease, but shall stand up the whole time. And next year he promises to propose a law that they shall hang, and so more quickly send their customers away, selling their wares, like the gods, from a machine."32

Antiphanes emphasizes also their stupidity, and again their bad temper; in Knave-Hater33 he compares them with persons whose lives are most depraved, Din these words: "A. And then, are not the Scythians very wise For as soon as their children  p21 are born, they give them the milk of mares and cows34 to drink. B. Yes, by Zeus; and they do not bring into their houses malicious wet-nurses, and later slave-tutors; no greater pest than they could arise. A. Excepting midwives, Zeus is my witness. They beat all. B. Yes, excepting the mendicant priests,35 by Zeus; for as a rule that is the foulest breed of all. EA. Unless, by Zeus, one should want to call fishmongers the foulest. B. But only after the money-lenders. There is no more pestiferous than they."

Diphilus, too, describes with some eloquence the very high price at which fish are sold; he says, in The Merchant:36 "I don't remember ever seeing fish dearer. Great Poseidon! If thou didst day by day receive a tithe of their cost, thou wouldst be richest of the gods by far! FAnd yet, if one of them ever cast his winsome glance at me I would pay, albeit with a groan, all that he asked of me. I bought a conger-eel, I paid down as much as it weighed in gold, as Priam did for Hector."37 And Alexis in The Woman from Greece:38 "Living or dead, the creature of the sea are always at war with  p23 us. If, for example, a ship founders, and then, as often happens, a man is caught while he tries to swim, they quickly gulp him down for good and all. 227 And when, in their turn, they are caught by fishermen, dead though they are, they ruin their purchasers. They are held for sale at the price of our estates, and he who buys straightway ambles home a beggar." A fishmonger, Hermaeus of Egypt, is mentioned by name in The Fishes39 of Archippus thus: "An Egyptian, Hermaeus, is the most rascally pedlar of fish. Why! He forcibly peels off the skin of monkfishes and dog-fishes and offers them for sale, and he disembowels sea-bass, so they tell me." BAlexis, too, mentions a fishmonger named Micion, in The Heiress.40

With good reason, therefore, fishermen take more pride than the most eminent generals in their profession. At any rate, Anaxandrides, in Odysseus,41 introduces one of them pronouncing these opinions about the fisherman's trade: "As for the artists, to be sure, their lovely handiwork is hung up on panels42 to be admired. But this handiwork of ours is ceremoniously wrested from the casserole and quickly disappears from the frying-pan. CFor, good sir, what other art makes the lips of youngsters burn? Or causes such pushing of fingers, or choking, in case one cannot swallow his mouthful quickly? Is not the market, well stocked with fish, the only thing that brings about assignations? What  p25 mortal goes to dine in company if he gets but paltry small fry, or crow-fish at the counter, or a sprat? By what enchantments or eloquence can a beautiful lad be seduced, Dtell me, if one abolishes the fishermen's art?43 This it is which goes on its conquering way, subduing with the cheerful aspect44 of stewed fish, luring their very bodies to the gates of — luncheon,45 and forces their natures to succumb without receiving a fee."

With reference to those persons who are very particular in their marketing, Alexis has this to say in The Heiress:46 "The man who, though a pauper, buys fish often, Eand albeit indigent in other things, is rich enough for that, strips naked those whom he meets at night, and compels them, once they have been robbed of their cloaks, to watch for him early in the morning at the supply market. And the first poor man, who is also young,47 who is seen buying eels from Micion is seized and dragged to the prison." Diphilus, in The Merchant,48 says that there is also a law among the Corinthians of some such tenor as the following: "A. This is the custom, good sir, here in Corinth, that if we ever see a man Fmarketing opulently, we put him to the question and ask where he gets his living and what he does. And if he prove to have an estate whose revenues can pay his expenses, we let him enjoy that mode of life  p27 from that time on; but if it happens that he is spending beyond his estate, they49 forbid him to do that again. And whosoever disobeys, upon him they lay a fine If, again, he lives sumptuously without owning anything whatever, they hand him over to the public executioner. B. Save us! 228 A. Because that man cannot live without doing some mischief, you understand; on the contrary, he is bound to spend his nights as a cloak-snatcher or wall-digger50 or acting as a fence for gangs who do these things; or he must play the informer in the market-place or bear false witness. We are cleaning out that sort of gentry. B. And quite rightly, Zeus knows! But what has that to do with me? A. We see you, sir, making purchases every day, not modestly, but prodigally. BYou make it impossible for anyone to get his share of anything resembling fish; you have crowded our whole town into the vegetable market; we fight for celery as they do at the Isthmian Games.51 A hare is brought to market — you grab it immediately for keeps. As for a partridge or a thrush, Zeus is my witness that folk like you make it impossible to get even a glimpse of one on the wing; you have greatly advanced the market-price of imported wine." And Sophilus, in Androcles,52 demands that this practice be introduced at Athens, proposing that two or three "fish-inspectors"53 be chosen by the Council. CLynceus of Samos even wrote a treatise on How to Buy in the market,54 addressed to a man who found buying difficult. It told him what he must pay to  p29 the murderous fishmongers in order to buy what he wanted profitably and without too much agony.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Kock II.90.

2 Adrastus in legend belongs to a period earlier than Alcmeon. Kock conjectures jjj, continuing Alcmeon as subject: "and in grief for what he has done will soon return and depart again." If the text is allowed to stand, it introduces a new theme, the Seven against Thebes.

3 One of the earliest critical allusions to the jjj, or deus ex machina, rising on the scene to untie the dramatic knot. Cf. below, 226C.

4 The poets of comedy.

5 Lit. "attack," perhaps a musical term for the manner of playing the opening notes in a musical piece.

6 Names common in the Middle and New Comedy, as Peleus and Teucer and familiar to epic and tragic poetry.

7 Kock II.549: see critical note.

8 Kock II.453. Cf. Browning, "Old Pictures in Florence":

"You're wroth — can you slay your snake like Apollo?

You're grieved — still Niobe's the grander!

You live — there's the Racers' frieze to follow,

You die — there's the dying Alexander."

The theory of tragedy here propounded by Timocles should be contrasted with that of his contemporary Aristotle.

9 Resumeing the thought of 222A, in which it is intimated that the author is produceing novelties of his own invention.

10 Aeschines, III.83. The oration On Halonnesus (Demosth. VII) is generally regarded as spurious.

11 Kock II.80. Demosthenes had "haggled over syllables," jjj (Aeschines, loc. cit.) the difference between jjj and jjj.

12 Kock II.373.

13 Kock II.299.

14 Kock II.265. See critical note.

15 Kock II.457. An ironical allusion in the alleged cowardice of Demosthenes and to his rhetorical style. See critical note.

16 Shakespeare's phrase occurs often in the comic poets, especially Aristophanes: lit. "glares like Ares."

17 i.e. Neptune.

18 Kock II.79.

19 Kock II.244.

20 Kock II.303.

21 Kock II.562

22 The profits derived from the instability of foreign exchange in Europe since the World War are here seen to be nothing new. The currency of Aegina was especially pure.

23 Kock II.470.

24 In order to freshen them.

25 Kock II.76.

26 So Gorgias called vultures "living tombs," jjj, [Long.] De Sublim. III.2.

27 Punning on the military phrase, "grant a truce for burying the dead."

28 See critical note.

29 Kock II.107.

30 Kock II.370.

31 Kock II.342.

32 Cf. 222C, note a.

33 Kock II.73.

34 The Greeks as a rule drank only the milk of goats and sheep. Eurip. Cyclops 389 is scarcely an exception.

35 Of Cybele.

36 Kock II.551. The Mercator of Plautus was based, it is said, on the jjj of Philemon, not of Diphilus.

37 Il. XXIV.556, 579.

38 Kock II.321.

39 Kock I.684. See 311E, and Introd. to Vol. I page ix. In Hermes XXIV, 1889, 49, it is argued that this play was modelled on Aristoph. Aves.

40 Kock II.322. For the quotation see below, 227D‑E.

41 Kock II.146.

42 jjj also means "platters," and the double meaning is intended here.

43 Cf. 295B.

44 Cf. 229A, 295E.

45 The word is either distorted or substituted for some proper name; jjj appears to refer to the jjj. Cf. Hesych. jjj (jjj?) jjj.

46 Kock II.322; the meaning is that the poor man who buys fish is prima facie a criminal.

47 Implying strength enough to commit a crime.

48 Kock II.549.

49 The subject changes to the third person (the Corinthians).

50 "Wall-digger," jjj, was the word for burglar.

51 Held near Corinth; the prize was a wreath of celery.

52 Kock II.445; Eustath. 867.80.

53 jjj, inspectors to watch the price of fish. The word is invented on the analogy of jjj, "market-inspectors."

54 See 313F.

Page updated: 24 Aug 10