Plutarch composed several books of “Table-Talk” which are ‘records’ of philosophical conversations held at symposia, banquets and the like. The content of each book is organized around questions (e.g. “Should we talk about philosophy while drinking?”). The following is the introduction to the collection, troubling the very notion of the practice itself…
Table-Talk, Book 1.1 (Moralia 612)
Some claim that the Saying, my dear Sossios Senekios, “I hate the drinking buddy who does not forget”, was addressed to the masters of the party who were annoying and inappropriate once the drinking started. For, they say, in Sicily The Dorians call the master of ceremonies the “rememberer”
Others think that the proverb calls for an amnesty for all that is said and done while drinking. This is why that our ancient stories dedicate both forgetfulness and the wand to the god, so that one should remember none of the infelicities which occur during drinking except for those needing only a light or joking remark. Since it also seems right to you that forgetfulness of mistakes is a wise thing, in Euripides’ words, is it not the case that forgetting everything which happens at a drinking party is not only the opposite of making friends at the table but also has as an opponent the most well known of the philosophers, Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Speussippus, Epircouris, Prytanis, Hieronymos, and Dio of the Academy, who took some stock in recording conversations that happened around the table?
You even think that it is right that I record the conversations I have read among you often in Rome or at home in Greece when the table and the cup are in our hands! Well, I have send you now three books I have gathered of the ten questions we have discussed at these meals. I will send you the rest shortly, if these do not seem to be completely charmless or un-Dionysian.”
Τὸ “μισέω μνάμονα συμπόταν,” ὦ Σόσσιε Σενεκίων, ἔνιοι πρὸς τοὺς ἐπιστάθμους εἰρῆσθαι λέγουσιν, φορτικοὺς ἐπιεικῶς καὶ ἀναγώγους ἐν τῷ πίνειν ὄντας· οἱ γὰρ ἐν Σικελίᾳ Δωριεῖς ὡς ἔοικε τὸν ἐπίσταθμον “μνάμονα” προσηγόρευον.ἔνιοι δὲ τὴν παροιμίαν οἴονται τοῖς παρὰ πότον λεγομένοις καὶ πραττομένοις ἀμνηστίαν ἐπάγειν· διὸ τήν τε λήθην οἱ πάτριοι λόγοι καὶ τὸν νάρθηκα τῷ θεῷ συγκαθιεροῦσιν, ὡς ἢ μηδενὸς δέον μνημονεύειν τῶν ἐν οἴνῳ πλημμεληθέντων ἢ παντελῶς ἐλαφρᾶς καὶ παιδικῆς νουθεσίας δεομένων. ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ σοὶ δοκεῖ τῶν μὲν ἀτόπων ἡ λήθη τῷ ὄντι σοφὴ κατ᾿ Εὐριπίδην εἶναι, τὸ δ᾿ ὅλως ἀμνημονεῖν τῶν ἐν οἴνῳ μὴ μόνον τῷ φιλοποιῷ λεγομένῳ μάχεσθαι τῆς τραπέζης, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν φιλοσόφων τοὺς ἐλλογιμωτάτους ἀντιμαρτυροῦντας ἔχειν, Πλάτωνα καὶ Ξενοφῶντα καὶ Ἀριστοτέλη1 καὶ Σπεύσιππον Ἐπίκουρόν τε καὶ Πρύτανιν καὶ Ἱερώνυμον καὶ Δίωνα τὸν ἐξ Ἀκαδημίας, ὡς ἄξιόν τινος σπουδῆς πεποιημένους ἔργον ἀναγράψασθαι λόγους παρὰ πότον γενομένους, ᾠήθης τε δεῖν ἡμᾶς τῶν σποράδην πολλάκις ἔν τε Ῥώμῃ μεθ᾿ ὑμῶν καὶ παρ᾿ ἡμῖν ἐν τῇ Ἑλλάδι παρούσης ἅμα τραπέζης καὶ κύλικος φιλολογηθέντων συναγαγεῖν τὰ ἐπιτήδεια, πρὸς τοῦτο γενόμενος τρία μὲν ἤδη σοι πέπομφα τῶν βιβλίων, ἑκάστου δέκα προβλήματα περιέχοντος, πέμψω δὲ καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ ταχέως, ἂν ταῦτα δόξῃ μὴ παντελῶς ἄμουσα μηδ᾿ ἀπροσδιόνυσ᾿ εἶναι.