Plutarch, Moralia 644e: Table-Talk, On the Usefulness of Drinking for Getting to Know People
“When the Poet Simonides, my Sossios Senecios, saw a stranger at a drinking party sitting there in silence and talking to no one he said “Man, if you are a fool, you are doing something wise; but if you are wise, you are doing a foolish thing.” For, as Heraclitus says, “it is better to hide ignorance” and it is really hard to do this while drinking “which makes even a very wise man sing / and causes him to laugh gently and dance /and then to speak whatever word which was unsaid” [Hom. Od. 14.464-6).
In this, it seems to me, the poet demonstrates the differences between being a little tipsy and drunkenness. For song, merriment, dancing and dancing are coming to those who have drunk moderately. But talking too much and saying what is better kept silent is the work of too much wine, of being drunk. For this reason also, Plato believes that we can see the character of most men while drinking, as Homer said, “those two did not learn one another’s nature even at the table”.
It is clear that Homer knows the talkativeness of wine and how it creates much conversation. For it is not possible to know people who sit eating and drinking in silence. Drinking leads to chatting, and by chatting someone emerges and much that is otherwise hidden is disclosed—drinking together provides some way of getting to know each other.
For this reason, it is not wrong to chastise Aesop, “Why are you searching out these gateways, sir, through which different people can gaze upon the mindset of one another? This lays waste our well made modes of behavior, from the most basic custom by which we were trained, as if by a teacher.” This is why drinking is useful to both Aesop and Plato, and for anyone else looking for a method of inquiry.
Plutarch, Moralia: Table-Talk, Question 3, Book 2—Whether the Bird or the Egg Came First
“I had been refraining from eggs for a very long time because of a certain dream. In this, I meant to test by an egg as a Carian would this dream which had come to me vividly and often. When I was dining at the home of Sossios Senecius, the guests developed some suspicion that I was done in by Orphic beliefs of Pythagorean notions and that I thought the egg should be sacred, like a heart or a brain, because it was the initial principle of creation. Alexander the Epicurean joked “Eating beans is like eating your parents’ heads”.
See, these call eggs ‘beans’, playing on the word for conception (kuêsis) and they believe that eating eggs is not at all different from dining on the creatures who gave birth to the eggs. To tell my dream to an Epicurean was probably a less logical as an explanation than the cause itself. Or this reason, I said nothing against their beliefs but messed with Alexander a little. For he was a charming man and a fine philologist.”
In Plutarch’s “Table-Talk” we find three books of ten ‘conversation prompts’ followed by an imagined conversation based on them. Below is just the beginning of the discussion about what kind of a man should be named the symposiarch–a office tasked with setting the conversation, number of drinks, and strength of the wine during the symposium.
Table-Talk: Moralia 620: What kind of man should be in charge of drinking?
My brother-in-law Kratôn and my friend Theôn were at a drinking party when everyone was beginning to get tipsy but then calmed down and they began to speak about the symposiarch, because they were of the opinion that I should take up the duty and not allow an ancient custom to be abandoned by everyone. No, they thought I should renew it and reestablish the position’s authority over drinking parties and their rules. This seemed right to the other guests as well to the extent that they raised a shout and called on me to do the job.
Then I said, “Since this is agreed upon by all of you, I select myself as the symposiarch and I order the rest of you to drink as you would want to for the present, but Kratôn and Theôn—the men who introduced this idea and carried it, they must elaborate in brief outline what kind of many should be selected as symposiarch, and what goal he will make the priority of his office, and how he will apply the customs of the symposium. I entrust to them to choose their order of speaking.
They tried a little to deny what they were asked, but when everyone was insisting that they obey the leader and do what he asked. Kratôn first said that it is necessary that the chief of the guards be the most guardianly among them, as Plato says, and therefore the chief symposiast must be the most sympotic. And he explained “He is this kind of a man should he be neither easily overcome by drunkenness nor disinclined to drink, as Kuros used to say when he wrote to the Lakedaimonians that he was more kingly than his brother and could handle a lot of unmixed wine well. For a drunk is arrogant and rude but someone who doesn’t drink at all is a buzzkill and better suited to watching the children than running a drinking party.”
Why are those who are actually drunk, less messed up than those we call tipsy?
“Since we have hassled Aristotle,” my father said, “Shouldn’t we also try to say something particular about those who are called “tipsy”. For even though he was the sharpest in these kinds of explorations, he seems to me to have insufficiently examined the cause of this. For he says, I think, that it is possible for a sober man to make a judgment well and in line with reality while one who is pretty drunk is too wrecked to have control over his perception even as one who is only tipsy remains strong in imagination but has compromised logic. For this reason, he makes judgments and does it badly because he following imaginary things. What do you think about these things?” He said.
“When I was reading this,” I said, “the argument was fine regarding the cause. But if you want me to work up some contribution of my own, look first at whether we should credit the difference you have mentioned to the body. For, the tipsy mind alone is messed up, the body is still capable of serving impulses because it is not yet completely permeated. But when the body is overcome and soaked, it betrays its movements and ignores them and it does not move on to actual deeds. Those who have a body that still responds to them are reproved not by their lack of logical thought but by their greater strength.”
Then I said, “And, if we were to consider it from another principle, nothing stops the strength of wine from being variable and from changing alongside its amount. In the same way, fire, if it is measured, gives strength and hardness to pottery; but if it strikes it too much, it melts it and makes it liquid. In another way, spring revives and increases fevers as it begins while the heat of summer settles them and makes them desist.
Therefore, what prevents the mind, once it is moved by wine naturally, when it has been disturbed and excited, from calming and settling down as drinking increases? Hellebore has at its onset of purging pain for the body. But if less then the right amount is given, it disturbs but does not cleanse. And some people are made a little manic when they have a smaller dose of sleeping medicine, but sleep once they take more.”
“Some young men who had not spent much time in classical literature were criticizing Epicurus, that it was not noble or necessary that he included a discussion about the right time for sex in his Symposium. For, they claimed that it was the worst kind of impropriety for an older man to talk about sexual matters during dinner when youths were present and to work through whether it was better after dinner or before dinner.
To this, some guests added that Xenophon used to take his dinner companions home after dinner not by foot but by horse to have sex with their wives. Zopyros the doctor—a man very familiar with Epicurus’ arguments, said that they has not read Epicurus’ Symposium very carefully. For, he did not put forth the problem as one based on a certain rule or established practice, and then provide his arguments in its favor. Instead, he roused the youths after dinner for a walk and talked for the reason of instruction, to curb them from their desires, because sex is always a matter which might bring harm and which afflicts those worst who engage after food and drink.
He said, “If, indeed, this discussion were earnestly about sex, would it seem right not to examine the better opportunity and hour for doing these kinds of things? Would it be otherwise right for him to look look for another moment more opportune except at the symposium and the dinner table?”
“I want to announce to him what kind of a man I am.
Whenever someone hosts a meal, I am there first—so much so
That I have been called “Broth-boy” for many years.
When we must carry someone out of the middle of the drinkers,
Know that I will look like an Argive grappler in the act.
If we must assault a house, I’m the ram. Storm it by the roof?
Call me Capaneus. I’m the anvil for enduring all blows.
I make fists like Telamon. I go at the handsome guys
“You will always earn a dinner with these skills, Philomusus:
Fabricate many tales, but relay them as if they are true.
You know what Pacorus is considering in his Arsacian abode;
You count the number of Rhenish and Sarmatian men,
You reveal the words consigned to paper by the Dacian chef,
And you see the victor’s crown before it arrives.
You know how many times Pharian rain dampens dark Syene
And the number of ships departing from Lybian shores
For whose head Julian olives are harvested,
And for whom the heavenly father has promised his wreaths.
Forget your skill! You will dine with me today
Under one rule: Philomusus, tell me nothing of the news.”
Artibus his semper cenam, Philomuse, mereris,
plurima dum fingis, sed quasi vera refers.
scis quid in Arsacia Pacorus deliberet aula,
Rhenanam numeras Sarmaticamque manum,
verba ducis Daci chartis mandata resignas, 5
victricem laurum quam venit ante vides,
scis quotiens Phario madeat Iove fusca Syene,
scis quota de Libyco litore puppis eat,
cuius Iuleae capiti nascantur olivae,
destinet aetherius cui sua serta pater. 10
Tolle tuas artes; hodie cenabis apud me
hac lege, ut narres nil, Philomuse, novi.
Antiquity has bequeathed us many odd things. Among them, the Attic Dinner attributed to Matro of Pitane, a poet so obscure he does not merit his own wikipedia article. A student of Greek epic–even a rather poor one–should recognize the many allusions to Homer. (Of course, this poet is largely preserved by the gastronome Athenaeus).
“Dinners, tell me, Muse, of dinners, much nourishing and many.
Which Xenokles the orator ate at my house in Athens.
For I went there too, but a great hunger plagued me—
Where I saw the finest and largest loaves
Whiter than snow, tasting like wheat-cakes
The north-wind lusted after them as they baked.
Xenicles himself inspected the ranks of men
As he stopped while standing at the threshold; next to him was the parasite
Khairephoôn, a man like a starving sea-gull,
Hungry, and well-acquainted with other people’s feasts.”
“But, so I may return to the matter”, he said, “I am not as smart as Themistocles was as to prefer the art of forgetting to the art of memory. And So I am thankful to that Simonides of Ceos who, as they say, first produced an art of memory. For they say that when Simonides was dining at the home of a wealthy aristocrate named Scopas in Thessaly and had performed that song which he wrote in his honor—in which there were many segments composed for Castor and Pollux elaborated in the way of poets. Then Scopas told him cruelly that he would pay him half as much as he had promised he would give for the song; if it seemed right to him, he could ask Tyndareus’ sons for the other half since he had praised them equally.
A little while later, as they tell the tale, it was announced that Simonides should go outside—there were two young men at the door who had been calling him insistently. He rose, exited, and sAW no one. Meanwhile, in the same space of time, the ceiling under which Scopas was having his feast collapsed: the man was crushed by the ruins and died with his relatives. When people wanted to bury them they could not recognize who was where because they were crushed. Simonides is said to have shown the place in which each man died from his memory for their individual burials.
From this experience, Simonides is said to have learned that it is order most of all that brings light to memory. And thus those who wish to practice this aspect of the skill must select specific places and shape in their mind the matters they wish to hold in their memory and locate these facts in those places. It will so turn out that the order of the places will safeguard the order of the matters, the reflections of the facts will remind of the facts themselves, and we may use the places like wax and the ideas like letters written upon it.”
Sed, ut ad rem redeam, non sum tanto ego, inquit, ingenio quanto Themistocles fuit, ut oblivionis artem quam memoriae malim; gratiamque habeo Simonidi illi Cio quem primum ferunt artem memoriae protulisse. Dicunt enim cum cenaret Crannone in Thessalia Simonides apud Scopam fortunatum hominem et nobilem cecinissetque id carmen quod in eum scripsisset, in quo multa ornandi causa poetarum more in Castorem scripta et Pollucem fuissent, nimis illum sordide Simonidi dixisse se dimidium eius ei quod pactus esset pro illo carmine daturum: reliquum a suis Tyndaridis quos aeque laudasset peteret si ei videretur. Paulo post esse ferunt nuntiatum Simonidi ut prodiret: iuvenes stare ad ianuam duos quosdam qui eum magnopere evocarent; surrexisse illum, prodisse, vidisse neminem; hoc interim spatio conclave illud ubi epularetur Scopas concidisse; ea ruina ipsum cum cognatis oppressum suis interiisse; quos cum humare vellent sui neque possent obtritos internoscere ullo modo, Simonides dicitur ex eo quod meminisset quo eorum loco quisque cubuisset demonstrator uniuscuiusque sepeliendi fuisse; hac tum re admonitus invenisse fertur ordinem esse maxime qui memoriae lumen afferret. Itaque eis qui hanc partem ingeni exercerent locos esse capiendos et ea quae memoria tenere vellent effingenda animo atque in eis locis collocanda: sic fore ut ordinem rerum locorum ordo conservaret, res autem ipsas rerum effigies notaret, atque ut locis pro cera, simulacris pro litteris uteremur.
thanks to S. Raudnitz for reminding me of this passage too!