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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 VII
(Part 1 of 6)

 p239  (275C) Now that the dinner was in full swing, the Cynics, thinking that the Eating-festival was to be celebrated, cheered up more than anyone else. And Cynulcus said: "While we dine, Ulpian (since you like to feast on words),​1 I will put a question to you. Who is it that has used Eating-festival and Eating-and-drinking-festival as a word for a holiday?" Ulpian was puzzled, and told the slaves to stop passing the food although it was already evening. "I cannot accommodate you, my learned friend; so now is your chance to speak out, and that will make you enjoy your dinner more." Cynulcus replied: "If you will confess your gratitude when I have instructed you,​2 I will speak;" and when the other promised, he went on: "Clearchus, a disciple of Aristotle and native of Soli, says​3 something like the following in the first book of his work On Riddles (I retain the memory of the word​4 because I like it so much): 'phagesia (eating-festival), others phageisposia (eating-and-drinking-festival), is the name they give to the holiday; this festival has become extinct, as is that of the rhapsodists which they celebrated . . . and that of the Dionysia. In it the rhapsodists  p241 came forward and performed their rhapsody as an act of homage to the several gods.' 276Thus Clearchus. If you don't believe it, comrade, I own the book and will and begrudge it to you; you will learn a lot from it and will be rich in questions to propound. For he records that Callias of Athens composed an Alphabetic Tragedy, from which Euripides in Medea and Sophocles in Oedipus drew the models of their choruses and plots." After all had expressed their admiration for the learning of Cynulcus, Plutarch said: "To cite a similar case, there used to be celebrated in my native Alexandria also a festival named Flagon-bearing, of which Eratosthenes gives an account in the treatise entitled Arsinoë.​5 He says: 'Ptolemy founded all kinds of festivals and sacrifices, particularly those connected with Dionysus; and Arsinoë asked the man who carried the olive-branches what day he was then celebrating and what festival it was. He replied: "It is called Flagon-bearing, and the celebrants eat what is brought to them while they recline on beds of rushes, and each man drinks out of a special flagon which he brings from his own house." When he had passed on, she looked at us and said: "That must indeed be a dirty get-together. For the assembly can only be that of a miscellaneous mob who have themselves served with a stale and utterly unseemly feast." ' But if she had liked that kind of festival, the queen would, of course, never have grown tired of getting up the very same offerings which were customary at the Feast of Pitchers.​6 For there, to be sure,  p243 they feast in solitary fashion, but the food is provided by him who invites them to the entertainment."

One of the pundits there present, after glancing at the dinner spread before us, said: " 'But then, how are we going to eat so many dinners?'​7 Pry 'it will take the night,' to quote the witty Aristophanes in Aeolosicon.​8 For he says 'through the night' meaning 'through the whole night.' It is like the Homeric phrase:​9 'He lay inside the cave sprawling through his sheep,' instead of 'throughout all his sheep,' thus indicating his gigantic size." In answer to him the physician Daphnus said: "Meals taken at night, dear friends, are more beneficial to every organism; for the celestial body of the moon suits the digestion of food, being septic, since digestion is a septic process. At any rate, victims sacrificed at night, and timbers cut in the moonlight, rot more easily; so also most fruits ripen in moonlight."10

The fishes which had been set before us or from time to time were set before us were numerous and extraordinary in size and variety. Myrtilus remarked: "It is no wonder, my friends, that among all the specially prepared dishes which we call an opson,​11 fish is the only one which has won its way, on account of its excellent eating-qualities,​12 to be called by this name, because people are so mad for this kind of food. FAnyway, we give the name  p245 'relish-eaters,' not to those who eat beef, like Heracles, who 'after the flesh of oxen ate green figs,'​13 nor to the fig-lover either, such as the philosopher Plato was, as recorded by Phanocritus in his essay On Eudoxus.​14 He also records that Arcesilas was a grape-lover. No, we give the name rather to people who gad about among the fishmongers. Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander were apple-lovers, according to dorotheus 277in the sixth book of his History of Alexander.​15 And Chares of Mitylene records​16 that Alexander, finding that the best apples were in Babylonia, filled his ships with them and got up an apple fight from the ships, making a very delightful spectacle. I am not unaware, either, that opson is properly said of anything that is prepared for eating by the use of fire; in other words, it is for epson (cooking), or else is so named from its being cooked (ôptêsthai)."17

The fishes, then, were numerous, and we feasted on them in their proper seasons, most admirable Timocrates. For, as Sophocles​18 puts it: "A troop of mute fishes romped noisily up, wagging their tails," not at the mistress but at the casseroles; and according to the Fates19 of Achaeus: "For a mighty throng of Ocean's swirling creatures came rushing violently; . . . a delegation from the sea, flicking with their tails the level surface of the brine." I shall, then, quote for you what the Deipnosophists said about each one. For they all brought together  p247 to the company their contributions gathered from books, the names of which I will omit because of their number.

"Any man who goes to market to get some delicacy and prefers to buy radishes when he may enjoy real fish must be crazy," says Amphis in Leucas.​20 To make it easier for you to remember what was said, I will arrange the names alphabetically. But by way of preface: Sophocles in Ajax the Lash-Wielder21 called fishes mute: "Gave (her) over to be devoured by the mute fishes." One of the company asked whether anyone before him had used the epithet. In answer to him zoïlus said: "I am not much of a fish-eater myself (this is a name used by Xenophon in the Memorabilia,​22 writing as follows: 'He is very much of a fish-eater and very lazy'), yet I know that the author of the Titanomachi, whether it is Eumelus of Corinth or Arctinus whatever he likes to be called, has the word in the following lines of the second book:​23 'Afloat in it were golden-eyed mute fishes, swimming and playing in the ambrosial water.' Now Sophocles liked the Epic Cycle, and even composed entire plays in close conformity to the stories told in it."

First, then some Amiae24 were served, and one speaker said: "These are recorded by Aristotle25  p249 as having opercular gills; they have jagged teeth; they are gregarious and carnivorous, and have a gall-bladder and likewise a spleen as long as the gut. FIt is said that when they are hooked they leap at the line and bite it off, so making their escape. Archippus mentions them in The Fishes26 in these words: 'When you were eating fat amiae.' Epicharmus, also, in The Sirens:​27 'A. Early in the morning, with the first coming of dawn, we would put on the fire some plump small fry, the roasted flesh of a pig, and some polyps; then we would wash them all down with sweet wine. B. Dear me, dear me, what a hard life! A. Ay, one might call it nothing but a small snack. B. Alas for your miserable luck! 278A. Yes, when we had at hand only a single fat red mullet and two bonitos split in the middle, and there were besides the same number of ringdoves and sculpins.' Referring to the etymology of the word amia, Aristotle​28 says that the name is derived from the circumstance that these fish go with (ama ienai) their kind; for it is gregarious. Hicesius, in Materials, says that they are well-favoured and tender, but as to elimination only moderately good, and not so very nourishing. And that entrée-artist, Archestratus, in his Gastrology (for that is the title, according to Lycophron in his work On Comedy,​29 Bjust as the poem of Cleostratus of Tenedos is entitled  p251 Astrology),​30 has this about the amia: 'As for the amia, prepare that in the autumn, what time the Pleiad is setting, and in any way though likest. Why need I recite it for thee word for word? For thou canst not possibly spoil it even if thou desire. Still, if thou insist, dear Moschus, on being instructed here also in the best way to dress that fish, Cwrap it in fig-leaves with a very little marjoram. No cheese, no nonsense! Just place it tenderly in fig-leaves and tie them on top with a string; then push it under hot ashes, bethinking thee wisely of the time when it is done, and burn it not up. Let it come to thee from lovely Byzantium if thou desire the best, yet thou wilt get what is good even if it be caught somewhere near this place here. But it is poorer the farther thou goest Dfrom the Hellespontine sea, and if thou journey over the glorious courses of the briny Aegean main, it is no longer the same, but utterly belies my earlier praise.'

This Archestratus, impelled by love of pleasure, diligently traversed all lands and seas in his desire, as it appears to me, of testing carefully the delights of the belly;​31 and imitating the authors of Travels and Voyages, he aims to expound accurately whatever and "wherever there is anything best that is eatable or drink able." For this is his own announcement​32 in the preface Eto those noble Counsels33 which  p253 he addresses to his friends Moschus and Cleander, counselling them, as it were (to quote the Pythian priestess), "to seek out a mare from Thessaly, a wife from Sparta, and men who drink the water flowing in fair Arethusa."​34 Chrysippus, who was a real philosopher in all respects, says that Archestratus was the forerunner of Epicurus Fand those who adopt his doctrines of pleasure, which is the cause of all corruption. For Epicurus​35 does not speak with face muffled, but in a loud voice he declares: "As for myself, I cannot conceive of the Good if I exclude either the pleasure derived from taste or that derived from sexual intercourse." On this theory, in fact, the wise man can hold that even a prodigal's way of life is blameless, provided that the element of freedom from anxiety and the element of cheerfulness be added in his favour. Hence the comic poets, when they run down pleasure and incontinence, shout for helpers​36 and reinforcements. 279Baton, in The Fellow-Cheater, portrays a father complaining of his son's nurse​37 and saying:​38 "You have taken my boy and ruined him, you foul wretch, and have lured him into a life foreign to his nature. He now takes a morning cup through your influence, something he never did before. Nurse: And so, master, you blame me if he has seen a bit of life? Father: Life! Do you call that life? Nurse: Yes, the wise so call it. Epicurus, anyhow,  p255 says that pleasure is the highest Good; everybody knows that. You cannot have it any other way; whereas by living well, of course, all live rightly. Perhaps you will grant me that?​39 Father: Tell me then, have you ever seen a true philosopher drunk, or beguiled by the doctrines you preach. Nurse: Ay, every mother's son of them. For those who walk with eyebrows uplifted and seek in their discussions and discourses for 'the wise man', as if he were a runaway slave, once you set a sea-lizard before them, know so well what 'topic' to attack first, seek so skilfully for the 'gist or head of the matter,' that everybody is amazed at their knowledge." And in The Murderer,​40 as it is entitled, Baton, after ridiculing one of the 'nice' philosophers, proceeds: "He might have taken his place on the couch with a fair lady, and had two pots of Lesbian. That is the wise man, that is the chief good. Epicurus used to say only what I am saying now. If everybody lived the life which I am living, Dnobody would be a profligate or an adulterer — no, not one!"​41 So Hegesippus in True Friends:​42 "A. The wise Epicurus, when someone asked him to explain what the chief Good is that men are always seeking, replied, 'Pleasure.' B. Bravo, my wise and able fellow! In fact there is no good  p257 at all better than eating. A. Right; for the chief Good is a property of pleasure."43

But it is not merely the Epicureans who embrace pleasure; there are also the Cyrenaics and the Thasians who call themselves disciples of Mnesistratus. EFor they too follow the life of pleasure, though they like . . ., as Poseidonius​44 says. Not far removed from these was Speusippus, Plato's pupil and kinsman. Dionysius the Tyrant, at any rate, dilates in his letters to Speusippus on his pleasure-loving practices, as also on his avarice, scores him for receiving doles from numerous persons, and berates his passion for Lastheneia, the hetaera from Arcadia. FTo cap it all he says: "You berate avarice in certain people, yet have you ever been lacking in greed yourself? What, in fact, have you ever refrained from doing? Did you not pay the debts which Hermeias owed, and then try to collect contributions to reimburse yourself?" Of Epicurus, Timon says in his Satires, third book:​45 "indulging his belly, than which nothing is more greedy." For it was, in fact, for the sake of the belly and the pleasures of the flesh in general that this man flattered Idomeneus and Metrodorus. And Metrodorus​46 himself, making no attempt 280to hide these noble principles, says, I believe: "Yes, Timocrates, devoted to the study of nature as you are, it is indeed the belly, the belly and nothing else, which any philosophy that proceeds according to nature makes its whole concern." Epicurus, in fact, was the teacher of these men, and he used to maintain  p259 with a shout:​47 "The beginning and root of all good is the satisfaction of the belly, and all wise and notable things have in this their standard of reference." Again, in the work on the End48 he says something like this: "As for myself, I cannot conceive of the Good if I exclude the pleasures derived from taste, or those derived from sexual intercourse, or those derived from entertainments to which we listen, or those derived from the motions of a figure delightful to the eye." And proceeding further (Chrysippus says), Epicurus​49 declares: "We should prize the Good and the virtues and such things as that, provided they give us pleasure; if they do not give us pleasure, we should renounce them."

Long before Epicurus, however, the tragic poet Sophocles set down these lines concerning pleasure in Antigone:​50 "For when men abandon pleasurable deeds I reckon such as not alive, but I regard them as a living corpse. Ay, heap up mighty wealth in your house, if you so desire, and live in tyrannical state; if, however, joy in these things be absent, I would not purchase all the rest from a man at the price of the shadow of smoke, in comparison with pleasure." Philetaerus in The Huntress:​51 "For what, pray, ought a mere mortal to do except to live his life day by day in pleasure, if have the wherewithal? Nay, that is the only thing that one who looks on human circumstances should consider; as for the morrow, he should not worry, either, about what it  p261 shall be. It is altogether fussy to lay up a store of money in the house to grow stale."​52 In Oenopion,​53 also, Philetaerus says: "all mortals who live unhappily when they have abundant substance I for one count as despicable. For surely when you're dead you can never have eels to eat, and they don't bake wedding-cake in the land of the dead." Apollodorus of Carystus, in The Tablet-Maker:​54 "O world of men! Why do ye give up the happy life, and devote all your thought to injuring one another by making war? Can it be that some boorish fate to‑day presides over our lives — a fate which knows no culture at all, is completely ignorant of what is bad or what is good, and in some random way tosses us about as chance decrees. I think so indeed. For what fate, were she really a Greek, would prefer to see men thrashed​55 by one another and lying prone as corpses, when they might be jolly, playful, just a bit tipsy, enjoying the sound of music as they should? Tell me, yourself, sweetest lady, say that our fate is indeed a boor." And going on Apollodorus says: "Won't this be living what they call the very life of the gods? How much pleasanter things would be in our communities than they are to‑day, if we completely changed our mode of living: every Athenian up to thirty years engaged in drinking;  p263 the Knights, wreathed and perfumed before the dawn, marching forth to revel in Corinth for ten days; the cabbage-vending Megarians boiling them undisturbed; our allies dismissed to public bath; the Euboeans mixing wine. That would be luxury and real life! But we are slaves Bto an uncivilized fate."

The poets say that Tantalus of old was also pleasure-loving; at least, the author of The Return of the Atreidae56 says that Tantalus went to the abode of the gods, and while living among them obtained from Zeus the privilege of asking for anything he desired. Having a disposition that was insatiable of physical enjoyments, he made mention of them alone, and of a life similar to that of the gods. Zeus was wroth at this, and while he fulfilled his wish because of his promise, nevertheless, that Tantalus might never enjoy anything set before him, but might always live in disquiet, Zeus hung over his head a stone which made it impossible for him to reach anything set before him. Again, some of the Stoics joined in making this kind of pleasure their goal. Eratosthenes of Cyrene, at any rate, a disciple of Ariston of Chios, who was one of the Stoics, indicates in the work entitled Ariston that his master later adopted a luxurious mode of life. He says:​57 "Many a time before this have I caught him in the act of digging through the wall​58 which divides pleasure from goodness, and popping up on the side of pleasure." Apollophanes also (he too  p265 was a friend of Ariston), in his Ariston, a treatise to which he gave the same title as Eratosthenes had, emphasizes his master's love of pleasure. As for Dionysius of Heracleia, why need I say anything? Why, he stripped off the shirt of Virtue before everybody, and put on in its place a gay motley, delighting in the name of Shifty;​59 and though old enough to know better, he deserted the doctrines of the Porch and leaped over to embrace Epicurus. Of him Timon​60 said not unwittily: "Now, when his sun ought to be declining, he begins to recline in the lap of pleasure; it's high time he were loving, high time he were marrying, and high time that he — stopped."

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Plato, Rep. 571D jjj.

2 Cf. the scene between Socrates and Thrasymachus, Plato, Rep. 338B.

3 F. H. G. II.321; jjj (not jjj) shows that the work was in two books.

4 jjj.

5 Page 197 Bernhardy.

6 The second day of the Anthesteria. Cf. Athen. 437C‑D, and for its reputed origin, Euripides, I. T. 940 ff.

7 Part of two lines from a comic poet. Blaydes (contradicted by Kaibel), tried to connect them with the following quotation from Aristophanes.

8 Kock I.395.

9 Od. IX.298.

10 Cf. Plutarch, Qu. Symp. III.10.

11 Originally any relish eaten with bread or meat, which were the staple foods.

12 See critical note, and cf. Plutarch, Qu. Symp. IV.4.4.

13 Euripides, T. G. F.2 652, frag. 907.

14 F. H. G. IV.473.

15 Frag. 1 Müller.

16 Frag. 4 Müller.

17 A correct etymology. Cf. also jjj, the Bean-boiling Festival, in the month Pyanopsion. Athen. 408A.

18 T. G. F.2 296.

19 Ibid. 753.

20 Kock II.243. Kaibel thinks this quotation inappropriate here (it occurred at 57B). But it may serve as a motto for the entire discourse on fish, and it also illustrates the earlier meaning of jjj, which later meant 'fish.'

21 Line 1297. The reference is to Aerope, wife of Atreus, caught in adultery with Thyestes and drowned by order of Atreus.

22 II.13.4.

23 Frag. ep. 4 Kinkel.

24 Said to be a kind of tunny, by some identified with the bonito; certainly different from the bowfin and mudfish, which to‑day are classed with the Amiidae. The speaker here may be the physician Daphnus, since the remarks about Archestratus at 278D are attributed to Daphnus at 116F. But it is not possible to assign to this entire account of fishes, which extends to the end of the book and is mingled with Athenaeus's own compilations (cf. 277C jjj).

25 p301 Rose.

26 Kock I.683; Introd. to Vol. I p. ix.

27 Kaibel 114.

28 p301 Rose.

29 Frag. 19 Strecker.

30 Frag. 7 Ribbeck 35 Brandt; Athen. 314A.

31 Cf. 116F.

32 Frag. 2 Ribbeck 2 Brandt, cf. Athen. 314F.

33 The usual title given to didactic poems, such as those of Hesiod and of Tyrtaeus.

34 An oracle given to the Megarians quoted more fully by Suidas s.v. jjj.

35 p120 Usener; cf. Athen. 280A, 546E.

36 Punning on the name of Epicurus, which means helper. See Kock III.464.

37 The old male slave appointed to attend young boys.

38 Kock III.328, Athen. 103C.

39 Or, following the reading of Diels: "You will grant me that all good livers are happy." For the ambiguity in jjj and jjj, "good living," see Plato, Crito 48B.

40 Kock III.327.

41 i.e., all distinctions between right and wrong would be happily abolished.

42 Kock III.314.

43 This converts Aristotle's proposition, that pleasure is a property of the Good; Eth. Nic. 1174 B20‑22.

44 F. H. G. III.253. See critical note.

45 Frag. 56 Wachsmuth 186 Diels.

46 Frag. 13 Duening, Athen. 546F.

47 p278 Usener.

48 p120 Usener; above, 278F.

49 p123 Usener.

50 Lines 11665 ff. The Messenger speaks.

51 Kock II.232.

52 jjj regularly refers to food left over from the day before.

53 Kock II.234.

54 Kock III.281.

55 Literally, "peeled."

56 Frag. ep. 56.

57 p193 Bernhardy.

58 For the term "wall-digger" (jjj) used of a burglar see 228A note b. Cf. "the strait and narrow road between right and wrong."

59 See Athen. 437E.

60 Frag. 59 Wachsmuth 188 Diels.

Page updated: 27 Apr 20