The Homeric Diet Part II – ‘Equal Meals’

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.12.c -13.a:

“‘Greetings, Achilles – you will not be lacking an equal meal.’ (Iliad 9.225)

From these words, Zenodotus was persuaded that by an ‘equal meal’ (daita eisen) Homer meant a ‘good’ (agathen) one. He says that because nourishment was a necessary good (agathon) to humans, Homer stretched the word ‘eisen’ to his purposes. The earliest humans possessed no easy abundance of food, so as soon as it appeared they rushed upon it, stealing it by force and taking it away from those who had it, becoming murderers in the process of this frenzy. From this, it is likely that the word ‘impudent folly’ (atasthalia) is derived, because people first committed crimes against each other at festivals (thaliai). But, once they received a bountiful measure of Demeter’s gift, they apportioned out an equal (isen) portion to each person, and thus there came to be a certain sense of order to human meals. This is the source of the notion that bread and cakes should be apportioned equally (eis ison), and for drinking from goblets. These things occurred as people gradually moved toward equality (to ison). Thus, food is called a ‘meal’ (dais) from ‘divide into equal portions’ (daiesthai). Similarly so, the man who roasts the mean is called a daitros, because he would give an equal portion of meat to each person. The poet uses the word ‘meal’ (dais) only for human beings, and never for animals. Zenodotus, in his ignorance regarding the sense of this word, writes in his own edition of the Iliad,

‘…he made them a spoil for the dogs,

and a meal (daita) for the birds…’

thus signaling that they were food for vultures and other birds, even though it is humanity alone which has progressed toward equality from its primitive state of violence, on which account it is human food alone which can be called a ‘meal’ (dais).”

χαῖρ’, ᾿Αχιλεῦ, δαιτὸς μὲν ἐίσης οὐκ ἐπιδευεῖς. ἐκ τούτων δ’ ἐπείσθη Ζηνόδοτος δαῖτα ἐίσην τὴν ἀγαθὴν λέγεσθαι. ἐπεὶ γὰρ ἡ τροφὴ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἀγαθὸν ἀναγκαῖον ἦν, ἐπεκτείνας, φησίν, εἴρηκεν ἐίσην· ἐπεὶ οἱ πρῶτοι ἄνθρωποι, οἷς δὴ οὐ παρῆν ἄφθονος τροφή, ἄρτι φαινομένης ἀθρόον ἐπ’ αὐτὴν ἰόντες βίᾳ ἥρπαζον καὶ ἀφῃροῦντο τοὺς ἔχοντας, καὶ μετὰ τῆς ἀκοσμίας ἐγίνοντο καὶ φόνοι. ἐξ ὧν εἰκὸς λεχθῆναι καὶ τὴν ἀτασθαλίαν, ὅτι ἐν ταῖς θαλίαις τὰ πρῶτα ἐξημάρτανον οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἰς ἀλλήλους. ὡς δὲ παρεγένετο αὐτοῖς πολλὴ ἐκ τῆς Δήμητρος, διένεμον ἑκάστῳ ἴσην, καὶ οὕτως εἰς κόσμον ἦλθε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ δόρπα. διὸ ἄρτου τε ἐπίνοια πέμματός τε εἰς ἴσον διαμεμοιραμένου καὶ τοῖς διαπίνουσιν ἄλεισα· καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα εἰς <τὸ> ἴσον χωρούντων ἐγίνετο. ὥστε ἡ τροφὴ δαὶς ἐπὶ τῷ δαίεσθαι λέγεται, ὅ ἐστι διαμοιρᾶσθαι ἐπ’ ἴσης· καὶ ὁ τὰ κρέα ὀπτῶν δαιτρός, ἐπεὶ ἴσην ἑκάστῳ μοῖραν ἐδίδου. καὶ ἐπὶ μόνων ἀνθρώπων δαῖτα λέγει ὁ ποιητής, ἐπὶ δὲ θηρίων οὐκ ἔτι. ἀγνοῶν δὲ ταύτης τῆς φωνῆς τὴν δύναμιν Ζηνόδοτος ἐν τῇ κατ’ αὐτὸν ἐκδόσει γράφει (Α 4)·

αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

οἰωνοῖσί τε δαῖτα,

τὴν τῶν γυπῶν καὶ τῶν ἄλλων οἰωνῶν τροφὴν οὕτω καλῶν, μόνου ἀνθρώπου χωροῦντος <εἰς> τὸ ἴσον ἐκ τῆς πρόσθεν βίας. διὸ καὶ μόνου τούτου ἡ τροφὴ δαίς· καὶ μοῖρα τὸ ἑκάστῳ διδόμενον.

 

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