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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Deipnosophistae


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

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. IV) Athenaeus

(Part 4 of 5)

 p97  (352D)"As for Aristotle's minuteness in details, I am lost in admiration of it, my good Democritus. These wiseacres have had him constantly on their lips, and even you revere his words as you do those of the other philosophers and orators. When did he learn it all? From what Proteus or Nereus, rising out of the deep,​1 did he learn what fishes do, or how they go to bed or pass the day? Indeed, the things he has recorded are such as to be what the comic poet calls 'Marvels for simpletons.'​2 He says, namely, that periwinkles and all testacea are, as a class, non-copulating, and that the purple-shell and the periwinkle are long-lived. How could he know, in fact, that the purple-shell lives six years? Or that the viper remains the longest time in the act of copulation, that the ringdove is the largest of the doves, and next comes the rock-pigeon, while the turtle-dove is the smallest? How does he know, too, that the stallion lives thirty-five years, whereas the mare lives more than forty? He even declares that one lived for seventy-five years! He records that from the  p99 copulation of lice nits are generated; that from the transformation the grub comes the caterpillar from which is formed the silk-cocoon, and from this, what is termed the 'necydallus.'​3 What is more, he says that bees live as much as six years; some, even seven. No bee or drone, he declares, has ever been seen in the act of copulating, hence it is impossible to tell which of them are males, which females. How, again, does he know that men are inferior to bees? The latter, indeed, maintain the even course of their lives, never changing, always accumulating, and they do this untaught. But men are inferior to bees, and are as full of false opinion​4 as bees are of honey. Where did he observe that? Again, in the treatise On Longevity, he says that a fly has been seen to live six or seven years. What is the proof of this, really? Where has he seen ivy growing from a stag's horn? Owls, he asserts, and ravens,​5 are unable to see by day; hence they hunt their food by night, and not all night either, but during nightfall;​6 and their eyes are not alike in appearance, for some have dark grey eyes, some black, others light-grey. That the eye of man varies in all sorts of ways, and that differences in character are associated with their eyes, is another assertion.​7 For men with goat-like eyes are well endowed with sharpness of eyesight and have the most upright characters. In the case of other men, some have their eyes projecting, others sunk in, others are intermediate. Those whose eyes are set in are the most sharp-sighted, those with projecting eyes have the most evil dispositions, those  p101 with eyes intermediate, Aristotle says, are good men. Some, again, are given to blinking, others to staring, others are midway between. The blinkers are fickle, the starers are impudent; those which are midway between are of the best characters. Man, moreover, is the only animal which has the heart on the left side, all others having it in the centre. Males have more teeth than females. This, he says, has been observed I think of the sheep, the hog, and the goat. No fish that grows ever has testicles, nor does either fish or bird have breasts; the dolphin alone has no gall-bladder. Some fishes, he says, have the gall-bladder, not next the liver, but close to the intestines; such are the elops, the synagris, the lamprey, the swordfish, and the flying-fish. The amia has a gall-bladder which extends the entire length of the intestine; the hawk and the kite have the gall-bladder close to the liver and the intestines; the horned owl has it close to the liver and the stomach. As for pigeon, quail, and swallow, some have it close to the intestines, some, close to the stomach. Soft-skinned creatures, testacea, selachians, and insects copulate a long time. The dolphin and some of the other fishes copulate while resting side by side; the intercourse of dolphins is a slow process, while that of (other) fishes is rapid. Moreover, the lion, Aristotle says, has hard bones, and when they are struck sparks blaze forth as if from stones; and though the dolphin has bones and no spine, the selachians have both cartilage and spine. As for  p103 fish​8 . . . Some creatures live on land, some in the water, some are born of fire.​9 There are also some which are called ephemera​10 and live but a single day. Amphibians are such as the hippopotamus, crocodile, and otter. All animals have two guiding feet; the crab has four. All red-blooded animals, he says, either have no feet, or two feet, or four feet; but all that have more than four feet are bloodless. Hence, all animals that have motion move by the notation four: man, by two feet and two hands; bird, by two feet and two wings; eel and conger-eel, by two fins and two flexures. Further: some animals have hands, like man; others only seem to have them, like the monkey. For no dumb animals give or receive, these actions being just what hands, as instruments, are given for.​11 Again, among animals some have joints, like man, the ass, the ox, while others are inarticulate, like snakes, oysters, and the pulmonary molluscs. Many animals do not show themselves at every season, for example, those which hibernate under­ground; and those which do not hibernate are not seen at all times, for example, swallows and storks.

"Though I have still much to say about the nonsense which this apothecary has uttered, I forbear. And yet I am aware that Epicurus, the ardent devotee of truth, has said of him, in his letter On Vocations,​12 that after he had devoured his inheritance he entered the army, and on meeting with poor success in the campaign he betook himself to drug-selling. Afterwards, Epicurus says, Plato opened his school, and  p105 Aristotle went so far as to hazard himself there, and attended the lectures, being no dullard, and gradually assumed the contemplative habit. I am aware, too, that Epicurus is the only one that has said these things against him, and not Eubulides as well; nor has Cephisodorus, even, ventured to say that kind of thing against the Stageirite, although both he and Eubulides have published tracts against the man. In the same letter Epicurus says also that Protagoras the sophist, from being a porter and wood-carrier, became the private secretary of Democritus. For the latter, struck by something peculiar in the way in which Protagoras piled wood, gave him his first start by adopting him into his household. He then taught reading and writing in some remote village, and from this branched out into the sophist's profession. And so I, fellow-banqueters, will branch out from this long discussion into the immediate practice of belly-stuffing."

Because of this long feast of words, somebody ordered the cooks to continue to see to it that the dishes they served should not get cold; for no one can eat cold viands.​13 And cynulcus said: "To quote Milcon, by the comic poet Alexis:​14 'I (he says) . . . even if they don't serve hot dishes. Plato declares that the Good is everywhere good. Do you understand me? What is pleasing is in all cases pleasing, both here and yon.' Again, that was not an unwitty remark of Sphaerus, who studied under Cleanthes at the same time with Chrysippus. Having  p107 been summoned to Alexandria by King Ptolemy,​15 when some fowls made of wax were served at dinner, he stretched forth his hands to take them, but was restrained by the king on the ground that he was assenting to a falsehood. But he neatly explained by saying that he did not assent to the proposition that they were birds, but that it was probable that they were birds. The realizable presentation of sense differs from the probable — for the former is free from deception whereas the probable might turn out otherwise. And so in our own case let's have even some wax food served, so far as the realizable presentation of sense is concerned, so that, even though we may be capable of erring in visit, at least we may not spend all our time in silly talk."

nnnAgain we were just on the point of dining, when Daphnus told us to stop, appropriately quoting the iambic verse from The Blockhead (or Breezes) of Metagenes.​16 "Whenever we dine, you know, that is the time when we all babble most." "I, too, assert that the discussion about fish has been defective, since the sons of the Asclepiadae have had much to say about them;​17 I mean Philotimus in his work On Food, Mnesitheus of Athens, and also Diphilus of Siphnos. The last, in his book On Food for Sick and Well, says that, of the salt-water fish, the rock-fishes​18 are easily digested, very juicy and purgative, but unsubstantial and of little nourishment; but those caught in deep water are less easily digested, very filling, hard to assimilate. Again, as to rock-fish, the  p109 forked hake, male and female, are very tender small fishes, free from smell and easily digested; the sea-perch has resemblance to them, yet differs slightly according to locality. Gobies are like the perch; the small white ones are tender, free from smell, juicy, and easily digested; the yellow (also called stalk-fish) are dry and lean. The cannas have tender meat, yet are tougher than the perch. The parrot-fish has tender meat, flaky, sweet, light, easily digested and assimilated, loosening the bowels. But when recently caught the parrot-fishes should be eaten with caution, since they hunt and feed on the sea-hares. Hence their inner parts may cause cholera morbus. The fish called ceris​19 has tender meat, loosens the bowels, and is wholesome. The cyle from it gently moistens​20 and purges. The sea-perch (orphos or orphôs) has healthy and abundant juices, is viscous, not easily digested, very filling, and diuretic. That is, the parts next its head are viscous and easily digested, while the meaty parts are hard to digest and heavier. The cut by the tail is more tender. This fish is likely to cause clammy humours​21 and to be hard to digest. Hammer-fish are more nourishing than conger-eels. The lake-eel is more tasty and nourishing than the sea-eel. The gilt-head has qualities resembling those of the black-tail. The yellow deep-sea sculpins are more nourishing than the large ones caught in lagoons by the shore. The gilt-head is acrid, tender-fleshed, free from smell, of good taste, and is diuretic; when boiled it is digestible,  p111 but when fried, it is hard to digest. The red mullet has a good taste, but is rather astringent, tough-fleshed, hard to digest, and checks the action of the bowels, especially when baked over coals; but the fried mullet is also heavy and hard to digest; in general, all mullets have the effect of secreting blood. The synodon and pole-fish belong to the same family, but the pole-fish is superior. There is, to be sure, a pagrus caught in streams, but the sea-pagrus is better. The boar-fish is called also mouse-fish;​22 it has a bad smell and is of the ugh, and harder to digest than the turbot. Yet it has a skin which tastes good. The tailor — or needle-fish (also called ablennes)​23 is hard to digest, yet watery and easy for the bowels. The anchovy and its allied types, herring and sardine, are easily assimilated. The barbed mullet occurs in the ocean, in lakes, and in streams. This fish, Diphilus says, is also called sharp-snout. The crow-fish is the special product of the Nile. The black is inferior to the white, the boiled to the baked. For the latter is good both for stomach and bowels. The salpa​24 is tough and unpalatable; but the salpa found in Alexandria is better, as well as that which comes in autumn; for it exudes something watery and white which is not, however, of bad odour. The gryllus​25 resembles an eel, but is unpalatable. The hawk-fish has tougher meat than the cuckoo-fish,​26 but resembles it in other respects. Also the crow-fish is tougher than the hawk-fish. The star-gazer, also called the sacred fish, or even the beauteous-name,​27 are too rich. The bôx,​28 when boiled, is easily digested and  p113 assimilated, gives out moisture and eases the bowels. Baked on coals, it is sweeter and tenderer. The Bacchus​29 has good and plentiful juices and is nourishing. The male sprat​30 is unpalatable, indigestible, and smelly. Plaice and flounders are nourishing and pleasant. Like these is the rhombus,​31 The white mullets, the cephali,​32 grey mullets, slime-fish and chellones​33 are alike in their value as food, but the grey mullet is inferior to the cephalus, the slime-fish is still poorer, and the chellon ranks last. The tunny (both thynnis and thynnus) are rich and filling. The sea-bass called acarnan is sweet and astringent, also filling and easily eliminated. The anchovy is rich and hard to digest. The white variety is called cobitis. The hepsetus,​34 that very tiny fish, belongs to the same class. Of the selachians the cow-fish is fleshy, but the dog-fish, especially that called stellata, is superior. The thresher shark (fox-fish) resembles the land animal in taste, whence it got is name. The ray is tasty, but the stellated ray is tenderer and juicy. The smooth-ray is more costive, and is smelly. The electric ray, in general hard to digest, has parts near the head which are tender and wholesome and even digestible, but the other parts are not; the small ones are superior, especially when cooked plainly. The file-fish, another selachian, is digestible and light. The larger is also the more nourishing. In general, all the selachians are windy and meaty and hard to digest, and when eaten too plentifully they dull the eyesight. The  p115 cuttle-fish even when boiled is tender, tasty, and digestible, and also eases the bowels. The chyle from it is adapted to thinning the blood and assisting purgation when that is obstructed by piles. The squid is more digestible and filling, especially when small. But the boiled squid is tougher and not tasty. The polyp, while it is an active aphrodisiac, is tough and indigestible. The larger sized is more nourishing. When cooked for a long time it gently moistens the bowels and settles the stomach. Alexis in Pamphila makes plain the usefulness of the polyp when he says:​35 'What is better for a man in love, Cteson, than the things which I have brought with me here? There are periwinkles, scallops, bulbs,​36 a large polyp, and fine large fish.' The palamyde is filling and rich, diuretic also and hard to digest; but when smoked like the cube tunny​37 it eases the bowels and is attenuating. The larger-sized is called synodontis. The chelidonias tunny, though resembling the palamyde tunny, is tougher. The flying-fish that resembles the polyp produces a liquid which promotes a good complexion and stirs the blood. The horse-mackerel​38 is miry; the larger sort resembles the chelidonias tunny in point of toughness, but the slices from under its belly and the shoulder-bone​39 are tasty and tender. The so‑called costae,​40 when smoked, are of moderate value. The yellow tunny is to a certain degree unsavoury; it is tenderer than the horse-mackerel. This, then, is what Diphilus has to say.

"Mnesitheus of Athens, in his work On Victuals,  p117 says that among the larger fishes there is a kind called by some sliced,​41 by others deep-sea, such as the gilt-heads, the grey-fishes, and the pagruses. They are hard to digest, yet when digested they afford many times more nourishment. Then there is the kind known as scale-less fishes, such as tunnies, mackerel, female tunny, congers and the like, which, as it happens, are gregarious. Those kinds which neither appear solitarily nor yet run in schools are mored Great Britain, such as congers, sharks, and the like. The gregarious kinds among these fish afford eating which is delightful (for they are rich), but heavy and hard to digest. Hence they are best adapted to smoking, and of all preserved fish these are the best kinds. But they are good when baked, since their rich fat is then melted. The kinds called darta​42 are in general those which have a rough top-growth on the skin, not scales, but the kind deified on rays and file-fishes. All these, to be sure, are digestible, but not of good odour; they also furnish the body with moist nutriment, and purge the bowels better than all other boiled fish; for those which are baked are inferior. The mollusc class, such as polyps, cuttle-fishes, and the like, have a flesh which is not easily digested; hence they are adapted to stimulating sexual desire. For they are in themselves of the nature of breath, and the sexual crisis requires a bodily state which is full of breath. Molluscs are better when boiled, since the liquids which they contain are poor, as may be seen, at least, from those which they exude when they are washed. These  p119 liquids, then, are elicited from the meat by boiling. For if the heat is applied gently, together with the water it acts as a cleansing process. Baking, on the other hand, tends to dry up these liquids; and further, since their meat is naturally tough, it is to be expected that they should become so (when baked).​43a Small fry, anchovies, young herrings, and all other fish whose bones we eat as well as the meat, produce a windy digestion in all cases and yield a moist nutriment. Since the process of digestion here is not even, but the meat is very quickly digested while the bones are dissolved slowly (for small fry, undressed, are full of bones), the digestive process is impeded in the case of each by the other. The result is that digestion causes winds, while the food causes humours to arise. And so they are better when boiled, and their purgative action on the bowels is uneven. The so‑called rock-fish,​44 gobies, sculpins, plaice, and the like, yield our bodies a nutriment which is dry (they have compact flesh, are filling and digest quickly, and do not leave behind much refuse), and they are not productive of winds. Every kind of fish is more easily digested when it is prepared for the table in a simple manner; in fact rock-fishes taste better​43b when dressed simply. Like these are the class called soft-fleshed, thrushes, blackbirds,​45 and so on. They are, to be sure, more liquid than rock-fishes, but afford more enjoyment in the process of assimilation. They are more purgative and diuretic than rock-fishes because their flesh is more  p121 liquid and abundant than that of the aforesaid. If one desires to purge the bowels, he should boil them before giving; if, however, the bowels regular, they are nourishing even when baked. For diuretic purposes, they are useful when prepared in both ways.​46 As for the places in the sea where streams and lakes have outlets in it, or again where there are large lagoons and bays of the sea — in these places all fish are more liquid and more rich; and while they are pleasanter to eat, they are poorer in digestive and nourishing qualities. On the other hand, on the shores facing deep seas, or very much exposed, most fish are tough, thin, and wave-battered.​47 In places where the sea is deep inshore, and not oppressed by strong gales, especially if there are any towns near — in such places, I say, most kinds of fish are uniformly the best, whether in respect of flavour, or ease of digestion, or nourishment of the body. But those sea fishes which migrate from the sea into streams and lakes are hardest to digest and heaviest, such as the mullet, and, in a word, all fishes which have the power of living in both kinds of water.​48 Of those which live entirely in rivers or marshes, the river fish are the better; for a marshy place is the putrefaction of water.​49 And of the river fishes, in turn, those are best which are found in the most rapid streams, especially the fiery-spots,​50 for these are not found  p123 except when a stream is rapid and cold, and they are supreme among river fish in digestibility.

The Editor's Notes:

1 cf. the rising of Thetis, ἡμένη ἐν βένθεσσιν, Il. I.359, 496.

2 Kock III.548.

3 The nympha or chrysalis; Aristot. H. A. 551 B12.

4 Cf. Plato, cited at 35B (Vol. I page 152).

5 Really the night-heron, νυκτικόραξ, as Aristotle, H. A. 619 B18, says. The passage is here quoted carelessly.

6 Aristotle adds, "and just at dawn."

7 H. A. 492 A3‑5.

8 See critical note.

9 Cf. Aristot. H. A. 552 B10.

10 l.c. 552 B21.

11 i.e. instruments for giving and taking. He denies that the simians (and of course other quadrupeds) use their "haves" as man does.

12 Usener 1552.

13 These last words, reading ψυχρῶν φάγοι, make an iambic dimeter.

14 Kock II.353. In the gap, the speaker (ἐγώ) is willing to eat even cold dishes.

15 Philopator, cf. Diog. Laert. VII.177, who says that the waxen food resembled pomegranates.

16 Kock I.705. See critical note.

17 Scil., which should have been quoted by some speakers.

18 Athen. 244B, 357F.

19 Elsewhere cirrhis, "yellow fish."

20 See critical note.

21 The four humors of ancient and mediaeval times are the Phlegm, the blood, white bile, and black bile.

22 See critical note.

23 As an adjective the word means "having no mucus."

24 Athen. 305D note f, 321D.

25 Said to be the conger-eel.

26 Athen. 309E.

27 282C‑D.

28 286E‑F.

29 Grey mullet, 306E, or a kind of cod, 118C.

30 So Aristot. H. A. 607 B14.

31 330B; perhaps a brill (Rhombus laevis).

32 307B.

33 306E.

34 301A.

35 Kock II.360.

36 Athen. 5C, 63D‑E and note a.

37 Athen. 116E.

38 Athen. 315C‑D.

39 Ibid.

40 Or costiae; see critical note.

41 Perhaps because cut in steaks.

42 So called (from δέρειν, "skin") because they must be skinned before cooking.

43A 43B See critical note.

44 Athen. 244B, 355B.

45 For these fish see 305A.

46 i.e., either by boiling or baking.

47 So Archestratus, Athen. 300E.

48 Salt and fresh.

49 i.e., the water in a marsh is putrescent.

50 Said to be brook-trout, of which there are many varieties in different parts of the world.

Page updated: 27 Apr 20