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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 3 of 6)

 p295  (288B) Conger-eels. — These, as Hicesius says, are tougher than lake eels, have a more spongy flesh, are less nourishing and much inferior in flavour, but are wholesome. The epic poet Nicander, in the third book of his Glossary, says1 that they are also called grylli. Eudoxus, in the sixth book of his Description of the Earth, says the many are caught in Sicyon as large as a man can carry; in some instances one of them even fills a cart. And Philemon, the poet of the New Comedy, also mentions the excellent conger-eels of Sicyon; he represents a cook boasting of his art, and saying the following in the play entitled The Soldier:2 'For a yearning hath crept upon me to come forth and tell to earth and sky how I dressed the dainty. Yes, by Athena, sweet it is to succeed in all things. What a tender fish I had,  p297 how perfectly did I serve it! Not drugged with cheese, not decked on top with herbs, but even when baked it looked exactly like what it was when alive. ESo mild and gentle was the fire I gave it when I baked the fish, I shall not even be believed.3 It was exactly as when a hen catches something too big for her to swallow. She runs round and round, holding it fast, and is all eagerness to swallow it. Then other birds begin to chase her. So it was then. The First man to discover the delights of the t dish jumped up and ran in flight all round, holding fast to the dish, while others followed close at his heels, I had a right to exult; for some of them seized a bit, others got nothing, others all. And yet I had merely taken some river fish, which eat mud. If I had, then, got something rare, an Attic sea-lizard — O Saviour Zeus! — or Argive boar, or conger-eel from loved Sicyon, which pox carries to heaven as an offering to the gods, then all who ate would have become gods. I have found the elixir of life: men already dead, once they but catch a whiff from the dish, I cause to live again."

This boast, Athena is my witness, would not have been ventured even by the Syracusan Menecrates, surnamed Zeus, who prided himself greatly on being the sole cause of life to mankind through his skill in medicine. He used, at any rate, to compel those whom he cured of the so‑called sacred diseases4 to  p299 sign a bond that they would obey him as his slaves if they were restored to health. And one man who became his attendant wore the dress and went by the name of Heracles; he was Nicostratus of Argos, who had been cured of the sacred sickness. Ephippus mentions them in The Peltast,5 speaking as follows: "Did not Menecrates assert that he was Zeus, a god? And Nicostratus of argos, that he was another Heracles?" Another attendant, with the riding-cloak and herald's staff, "and wings besides,"6 was called Hermes, like Nicagoras of Zeleia, who became tyrant of his native city, according to the account given by Baton in his History of the tyrants in Ephesus.7 and Hegesander8 says that Astycreon, who had been cured by him, was called Apollo. Still another of his patients who had been restored to health moved about in his company clad in the garb of Asclepius. As for Zeus himself, dressed in purple, with a gold crown on his head and carrying a sceptre, his feet shod with slippers, he walked about attended by this divine choir. In a letter to King Philip he wrote as follows "Zeus-Menecrates to Philip, greeting: You are kind of Macedonia, but I am king of Medicine. You can destroy healthy people whensoever you wish, but I can save the ailing, and the robust who follow my prescriptions I can keep alive without sickness until old age comes. Therefore, while you are attended by a bodyguard of Macedonians, I am attended by all posterity. For I, Zeus, give them life." In  p301 answer to him Philip wrote, treating him as a crazy man: "Philip to Menecrates, come to your senses!"9 EIn similar vein Menecrates wrote also to Archidamus, king of Sparta, and in fact to all his correspondents, never refraining from the name of Zeus. Once Philip invited him, along with his own peculiar band of gods, to a dinner, and made them all recline together on the central couch, which was raised very high and decked in a way befitting the most elaborate ritual. He then set before them a table on which lay an altar and first-fruits of all kinds of products of the earth.10 And when the food was brought in for the rest of the company, the slaves would burn incense and offer libations before Menecrates and his crew, until at last this new Zeus, derided as he was, fled with his subject gods11 from the symposium. This is narrated by Hegesander.12 But Menecrates is also anded by Alexis in Minos.13 Again, Themison of Cyprus, the favourite of King Antiochus, was proclaimed at the festivals as Themison of Macedon, the Heracles of King Antiochus, according to Pythermus of Ephesus in the eighth book of his Histories.14 Not only that, but all the inhabitants also sacrificed to him, calling upon him by the name of Heracles-Themison; and whenever any distinguished person offered sacrifice, Themison was always present in person, reclining on a separate couch and clad in a lion's skin; he also carried a Scythian bow and held a club. However that may be, Menecrates, for all that he was the  p303 kind of person I have described, never ventured a boast at all approaching that of the cook just mentioned:15 B"I have found the elixir of life; men already dead, once they but catch a whiff from the dish, I cause to live again."

But the whole tribe of cooks is given to boasting, as Hegesippus represents them in Brothers;16 he brings on a cook who says: "A. My good sir, much has been said by many men on the subject of cookery. Either, then, you must prove that you can say something novel, as compared with the other authorities, or else stop making me tired. B. Not so, Syrus. You had better believe that I am the only one in the world who has discovered the finishing touch in the art of cookery.17 I didn't learn it casually, by merely wearing an apron for a couple of years, but I have spent my whole life in studying and testing the art in all its branches; all the kinds of vegetables there are, the varieties of small fry, every kind of lentil-soup. Ay, the finishing touch, I tell you. When I chance to be the caterer serving at a funeral-feast, the moment they return from the funeral clad in garments dyed black, I take the lid from the pot and make the mourners laugh. Such is the titillation which courses inside their bodies, as though they were at a wedding. A. What, you mean by serving them lentil soup and small fry? Tell me! B. They are mere side-issues with me. But if I get what I require,  p305 and can once arrange the kitchen to suit myself, you shall now, Syrus, again see the self-same thing which happened in the time of the Sirens of old. The fragrance is such that, to put it simply, not a man of them will be able to pass through this alley. Every passer-by will immediately come to a stop at the front door, open-mouthed, nailed to the wall speechless; until finally one of his friends, some other person who has stopped up his own nostrils,18 comes running up and pulls him away. A. You are a mighty artist. B. You don't know the man you are speaking to. Why, I know of many persons seated here in the audience who have eaten up their estates for my sake." In the name of the gods, what is the difference, think you, between this fellow and the Charmers in Pindar,19 who, like the Sirens, caused those who listened to them to forget their mother-cities and wither away in pleasure

Nicomachus, in Eileithyia, also introduces a cook who beats the actors at boasting. Anyway, this fellow says to the man who has hired him:20 "A. You indicate a character that is, to be sure, very charming and gentle, but you have been negligent in one detail. B. What is that? A. You have failed to scrutinize carefully our importance as artists. Or have you, before hiring me, asked of those who know me well? B. No, by Zeus, I have not. A. Then look you! You have no notion, perhaps, of how one cook differs from another. B. But I shall know if you tell me. A. To take a fish purchased by someone  p307 else and dish it up with an artistic dressing is not within the capacity of any ordinary servant, is it? B. Heracles defend us! A. The complete cook is made on a different plan. You must acquire many arts held in high esteem, which anyone that wishes to learn them properly should not approach offhand; no, you must first grasp the art of painting.21 Then there are other arts, too, which you must learn before the art of cookery, and which it would have been better for you to know about before you spoke to me. They are astrology, geometry, and medicine. For from these you will learn the potencies and tricks of fishes; you will carefully observe the seasons, to see when any fish, in each case, is served untimely or in season. For in pleasures the divergences22 are it. Sometimes a boax proves to be better than a tunny. B. That may be so. But what business have you with geometry? A. We regard the kitchen as a globe. We must divide it into segments, and after finding one locus separate it into specific parts as the advantage of the art decrees. These are processes borrowed from geometry. B. Stop! I believe you even if you don't tell me the rest. But what about medicine? A. There are foods which in some cases cause winds and dyspepsia and bring dire vengeance, not nourishment. Every one who dines on hostile food becomes quarrelsome and loses his self-control. For such foods, then, you must find the antidote in the art of medicine, and it's a borrowing of art. Again,  p309 it is a matter of military tactics as well — this use of reason and harmony, the knowing just where in cookery each unit is to be posted in number and in quantity. In that respect no one else can be enrolled as my equal. B. Now listen to a few things in answer in my turn. A. Say on. B. Don't bother yourself about me, but go spend the rest of the day at your ease!"

The cook described by Philemon the Younger23 is inclined to be rather schoolmasterish when he says lines like these: "Let it alone, just as it is. For things that are to be baked, just see to it that the fire is night too slow (for that is right for boiling but not for baking) nor yet too hot; for then in turn it burns up whatever it touches on the outside, but does not penetrate to the flesh. A man isn't a cook merely because he comes to a customer with soup-ladle and carving-knife, nor even if he tosses some fish into a casserole; no, Wisdom24 is required in his business." But the cook in The Painter, by Diphilus,25 tells us to whom he should let himself out for hire in se words: "A. No, Draco, I won't take you on for a job anywhere unless you are likely to spend the day as a table-maker26 with a lavish abundance of good materials. For I never go to a man until I first make sure who is giving the sacrificial feast, or why the dinner is given, or what  p311 people he has invited. I have a diagram of all classes, those to whom I should let myself out, and those of whom I must beware. Take, for example, the class that belongs in the Port. A sea-captain offers sacrifice to pay a vow; he has lost the mast or rudder of his ship and completely wrecked it, or has tossed the cargo overboard when he was full of water.27 I let that kind of man alone, because he never does anything for pleasure, but only through custom. While the libations are poured he is calculating how big a share of the loss he can levy on the passengers, reckoning it all up; and so each of them must eat his own vitals.28 But another man has sailed into port from Byzantium; only a two days' voyage, without a scratch; he has made money, and is overjoyed that he has made a profit of ten or twelve per cent.29 He is full of talk about his fares, he belches forth his loans, celebrating a debauch with the help of tough panders. Up to him I sidle purring,30 that moment he disembarks; I put my hand in his, I remind him of Zeus the Saviour, I am all engrossed in the thought of serving him. That's my way! Again, a lad is gobbling up his patrimony in a love affair, he's a fast worker when it comes to spending. I go to him. Other lads, perhaps, get up a subscription dinner.31 God save the mark! They put into the urn what money they can find, and as they tightly clutch the fringes of their clothes32 they cry: 'Who's willing to get up a cheap little dinner in the market?' I let them bawl. For to go there means getting a lot of blows  p313 besides, as well as serving the whole night through. If you ask them for your fee, they say, 'First bring me the pot.' 'The lentil soup didn't have any vinegar in it.' Again you ask. 'You'll be the foremost cook to get — a beating.' I might recite an unending list of other customers like these. But where I am taking you now is to a brothel. There a courtesan is celebrating the Adonis festival sumptuously in company with other harlots. You will stuff yourself lavishly, and the folds of your tunic as well,33 when you amble from there." And in The Treasure, by Archedicus, another little cook-professor34 has this to say:35 "First the guests arrive while the fish are still lying uncooked. 'Give employ water for the hands,' they demand. 'Take the fish and be off!' I put the casseroles on the fire, sprinkle the coals with oil thoroughly, and make a blaze. While the greens and the pungent smells from the side-dishes cheer my patron, I boil the fish nicely with all its juices in it and just the right strength of brine, into which any gentleman might dip. Thus, by the sacrifice of a small cup of cheap oil I have saved for my benefit perhaps fifty feasts." Philostephanus, in The Man from Delos, gives even the names of distinguished cooks in these lines:36 "I know that you, Daedalus, excel all men in your profession and in your keen intelligence, next to Thibron, the  p315 Athenian cook surnamed Perfection; and so I have come to pay the price you demanded and fetch you hither."

Now Sotades (not the poet of Maroneia, author of the Ionian Songs, but the writer of the Middle Comedy) also represents a cook speaking in language of this tenor in Locked Up (for thus he inscribes37 his play):38 "First I took some shrimps; I fried them all to a turn. A huge dog-fish is put in my class; I baked the middle slices, but the rest of the stuff I boiled, after making a mulberry sauce. Here I fetch two very large pieces of grey-fish cut near the head,39 in a big casserole; in it I have added sparingly some herbs, caraway-seed, salt, water, and oil. After that I bought a very fine sea-bass. It shall be served boiled in an oily pickle with herbs, after I have served the meats roasted on spits. Some fine red mullets I purchased, and some lovely wrasses. These I Italy tossed upon the coals, and to an oily pickle I added some marjoram. Besides these I bought some cuttle-fish and squids. A boiled squid stuffed with chopped meat is nice, and so are the tentacles of a cuttle-fish when roasted tender. To these I fitted a fresh sauce of many vegetables, and after them came some boiled dished, for which I made a mayonnaise to give them flavour. To top  p317 this I bought a very fat conger-eel. I smothered it in a fresher pickle. Some gobies, and some rock-fish of course; I snipped off their heads and smeared their bodies in a batter of flour, just a little, and sent them on the same journey as the shrimps. Then a widowed bonito,40 a very fine creature, I soaked just enough in oil, wrapped in swaddling-bands of fig-leaves, sprinkled it with marjoram, and hid it like a firebrand in a heap of hot ashes. With it I got some small fry from Phalerum. Half a gill of water poured over this is generous. I then cut up some herbs very fine and abundantly, and even if the jug holds a quart, I empty it all. What remains to be done? Nothing at all. That is my art; I need no written recipes and no memoranda."

Well, enough of cooks. I must speak of the conger-eel. For Archestratus, in the Gastronomy,41 describes in these words where each part of it should be purchased: "In Sicyon, dear friend, you have the head of the conger-eel, fat, vigorous, and large; also all the belly parts. And so, boil it a long time in salt water, after you have sprinkled it over with herbs." Continuing, this noble explorer describes the Italian regions and again says:42 "And you can catch a nice conger-eel, which is as much superior to all other fishes as the fattest tunny is superior to the poorest crow-fish." Alexis, in The Seven at  p319 Thebes:43 "And served therewith were pieces of fat conger-eel piled high to overflowing." Archedicus, in The Treasure,44 brings on a cook who talks about the purchases he has made: "For three shillings, a sea-lizard. . . . The head parts of a conger-eel, with the first cuts next it,45 five shillings more. Alas, times are hard! Necks, a shilling; yet the Sun is my witness, if I had been able to get another neck for myself, and it had been possible to buy it somewhere, I should have hanged myself by the neck which I have before I had ever brought home this stuff. Nobody has ever had a tougher job rendering service. At one and the same time, to purchase so much and at such a very high price! At one and the same time, too, if I bought anything good, I am like to be ruined for it. 'Those fellows will eat' — that phrase I repeat to myself. 'Such good wine they will spew on the floor!' Oh me!"

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Frag. 122 Schneider; cf. Athen. 356A.

2 Kock II.500; the first words are from Euripides, Medea, 57. See Athen. 290A.

3 sc., if I tell how greedy for it the diners were.

4 In untechnical language, such as Athenaeus affects here, this term (jjj) means "desperate" (jjj, Plut. Per. 13). Specifically, in the singular, it means epilepsy.

5 Kock II.260.

6 The form jjj seems to indicate that these words also belong to Ephippus. The wings were on the sandals. See critical note.

7 F. H. G. IV.348.

8 Ibid. 414.

9 Philip, in an excellent pun, substituted for jjj (rejoice!), the common form of greeting in a letter, the rarer jjj (be of sound health!). See Plut. Ages. 21.

10 Such as were provided for the gods at the jjj, but not to be eaten.

11 Or, reading jjj, "fled on the run with his subjects."

12 F. H. G. IV.414.

13 Kock II.346.

14 F. H. G. IV.488.

15 288D.

16 Kock III.312; cf. Athen. 405D.

17 Cf. Athen. 377A.

18 As the companions of Odysseus had their ears stopped up.

19 P. L. G.4 frag. 53.

20 Kock III.386.

21 See critical note.

22 jjj is apparently an astrological term.

23 Kock II.540.

24 jjj, a favourite word of the philosophers.

25 Kock II.553.

26 For the duties of the jjj see 170D.

27 The epithet jjj is transferred from ship to ship-master.

28 Instead of the sacrificial victim, for which they will have to pay.

29 Literally "ten or twelve drachmas to the mina" (which was 100 drachmas).

30 See critical note.

31 Athen 142C, 365D.

32 Signifying their embarrassment.

33 i.e., you will carry food away with you for later consumption.

34 Cf. Athen. 658E.

35 Kock III.276.

36 Kock III.393.

37 jjj in this sense is not common in the active. See critical note.

38 Kock II.447.

39 The part most esteemed; Athen. 286B, 294B.

40 See 278A.

41 Frag. 16 Ribbeck 18 Brandt.

42 Frag. 17 Ribbeck 19 Brandt.

43 Kock II.323; the title of the play by Aeschylus is jjj (accusative), Seven against Thebes. The dative jjj in the MSS. here may have meant the same.

44 Kock III.277.

45 See 293B note c, and for necks, 417E.

Page updated: 27 Apr 20