A Medical Justification for Taking Part in a Feast

Some helpful advice for all our friends taking part in feasts this weekend.

Plutarch, Table Talk 662 c–d

“He said, ‘We only unwillingly and rarely use pain as a tool for treatment because it is the most violent. No one could expel pleasure from all the other medical interventions even if he wanted to—for pleasure accompanies food, sleep, baths, massages, and relaxation, all of which help to revive a sick person by wearing away foreign elements with a great abundance of what is natural.

What pain, what deprivation, what kind of poisonous substance could so easily and quickly resolve a disease that it, once it is cleansed at the right time, wine may also be given to those who want it? Food, when it is delivered with pleasure, resolves every kind of malady and returns us to our natural state, just as a clear sky returning after a storm.’”

“σμικρὰ γάρ,” ἔφη, “καὶ ἄκοντες ὡς βιαιοτάτῳ τῶν ὀργάνων ἀλγηδόνι προσχρώμεθα· τῶν δ᾿ ἄλλων οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ βουλόμενος ἀπώσαιτο τὴν ἡδονήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τροφαῖς καὶ ὕπνοις καὶ περὶ λουτρὰ καὶ ἀλείμματα καὶ κατακλίσεις ἀεὶ πάρεστιν καὶ συνεκδέχεται καὶ συνεκτιθηνεῖται τὸν κάμνοντα, πολλῷ τῷ οἰκείῳ καὶ κατὰ φύσιν ἐξαμαυροῦσα τὸ ἀλλότριον. ποία γὰρ ἀλγηδών, τίς ἔνδεια, ποῖον δηλητήριον οὕτω ῥᾳδίως καὶ ἀφελῶς νόσον ἔλυσεν, ὡς λουτρὸν ἐν καιρῷ γενόμενον καὶ οἶνος δοθεὶς δεομένοις; καὶ τροφὴ παρελθοῦσα μεθ᾿ ἡδονῆς εὐθὺς ἔλυσε τὰ δυσχερῆ πάντα καὶ κατέστησεν εἰς τὸ οἰκεῖον τὴν φύσιν, ὥσπερ εὐδίας καὶ γαλήνης γενομένης.

Image result for medieval manuscript banquet
Le Banquet des Vœux du Paon, Jean Wauquelin, Les faits et conquêtes d’Alexandre le Grand, Flandre, atelier de Mons, 1448-1449, Paris, BnF

A Greek Compound You Just Might Need Today

Suetonius Tranquillus, Peri Blasphemon 11.12

“According to Hipponax [fr. 114c] the “messêgudorpoxéstês” is one who often relieves himself during a meal so that he may fill himself up again”

<Κατὰ δὲ ῾Ιππώνακτα (fr. 114 c Masson), καὶ ὁ> μεσσηγυδορποχέστης, ὁ μεσοῦντος τοῦ δείπνου πολλάκις ἀποπατῶν, ὅπως πάλιν ἐμπίπληται ὁ αὐτός.

For the word-builders: messêgu (“in the middle of”) + dorpos (“dinner, meal”)+ khestês (a nomina agentis—agentive noun—from the Greek verb χέζω, “to shit”).

This is a real vase at the Museum of Fine Arts

Cf.

And another from the Walters Art Museum:

 

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Some Advice for Dinner Conversation

From the fragmentary Anacreonta (imitations of Anacreon once thought to be real), we have another mention of Thebes and Troy together:

Anacreonta, fr. 26

“You narrate the events of Thebes;
he tells Trojan tales;
but I tell my conquests.
No horse has destroyed me,
nor foot soldier, nor ships,
nor will any other new army
hurl me from my eyes.”

Σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης,
ὃ δ’ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ’ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.
οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ’ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.

This complaint is a generic and contextual one: the narrator doesn’t want a mixing of the themes of war with his own, which are love, drinking and the feast. Another fragment of Anacreon makes this clear:

Anacreon fr. 2

“I don’t love the man who while drinking next to a full cup
Talks about conflicts and lamentable war.
But whoever mixes the shining gifts of Aphrodite and the Muses
Let him keep in mind loving, good cheer.”

οὐ φιλέω, ὃς κρητῆρι παρὰ πλέωι οἰνοποτάζων
νείκεα καὶ πόλεμον δακρυόεντα λέγει,
ἀλλ’ ὅστις Μουσέων τε καὶ ἀγλαὰ δῶρ’ ᾿Αφροδίτης
συμμίσγων ἐρατῆς μνήσκεται εὐφροσύνης.

Such prescriptions against certain content in sympotic entertainment can be serious too. Xenophanes makes similar points, but with a less playful tone:

Krater.jpg
This is a krater for mixing wine. it has a war scene on it.

Xenophanes, fr. B1 13-24

“First, it is right for merry men to praise the god
with righteous tales and cleansing words
after they have poured libations and prayed to be able to do
what is right: in fact, these things are easier to do,
instead of sacrilege. It is right as well to drink as much as you can
and still go home without help, unless you are very old.
It is right to praise a man who shares noble ideas when drinking
so that we remember and work towards excellence.
It is not right to narrate the wars of Titans or Giants
nor again of Centaurs, the fantasies of our forebears,
Nor of destructive strife. There is nothing useful in these tales.
It is right always to keep in mind good thoughts of the gods.”

χρὴ δὲ πρῶτον μὲν θεὸν ὑμνεῖν εὔφρονας ἄνδρας
εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις,
σπείσαντάς τε καὶ εὐξαμένους τὰ δίκαια δύνασθαι
πρήσσειν• ταῦτα γὰρ ὦν ἐστι προχειρότερον,
οὐχ ὕβρεις• πίνειν δ’ ὁπόσον κεν ἔχων ἀφίκοιο
οἴκαδ’ ἄνευ προπόλου μὴ πάνυ γηραλέος.
ἀνδρῶν δ’ αἰνεῖν τοῦτον ὃς ἐσθλὰ πιὼν ἀναφαίνει,
ὡς ἦι μνημοσύνη καὶ τόνος ἀμφ’ ἀρετῆς,
οὔ τι μάχας διέπειν Τιτήνων οὐδὲ Γιγάντων
οὐδὲ Κενταύρων, πλάσμα τῶν προτέρων,
ἢ στάσιας σφεδανάς• τοῖς οὐδὲν χρηστὸν ἔνεστιν•
θεῶν προμηθείην αἰὲν ἔχειν ἀγαθήν.

 

Sing Me a Dinner! A Comic Fragment for an Epic Feast

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.”

δεῖπνα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροφα καὶ μάλα
πολλά ἃ Ξενοκλῆς ῥήτωρ ἐν ᾿Αθήναις δείπνισεν ἡμᾶς·
ἦλθον γὰρ κἀκεῖσε, πολὺς δέ μοι ἕσπετο λιμός.
οὗ δὴ καλλίστους ἄρτους ἴδον ἠδὲ μεγίστους,
λευκοτέρους χιόνος, ἔσθειν δ’ ἀμύλοισιν ὁμοίους
τάων καὶ Βορέης ἠράσσατο πεσσομενάων
αὐτὸς δὲ Ξενοκλῆς ἐπεπωλεῖτο στίχας ἀνδρῶν
στῆ δ’ ἄρ’ ἐπ’ οὐδὸν ἰών. σχεδόθεν δέ οἱ ἦν παράσιτος
Χαιρεφόων, πεινῶντι λάρῳ ὄρνιθι ἐοικώς,
νήστης, ἀλλοτρίων εὖ εἰδὼς δειπνοσυνάων.

grapes

The first line quite obviously adapts the first line of the Odyssey:

“Of a man, tell me, Muse, a man of many ways who [suffered] many things…”

῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ

How To Earn A Dinner Invitation: Some Roman Advice (Hint: Lie)

Martial 9.35

“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.

Image result for Ancient Roman Feasting

Want to Make Friends at Holiday Parties? Plutarch on Why Drinking is Useful

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.

Image result for Ancient Greek drinking party

Σιμωνίδης ὁ ποιητής, ὦ Σόσσιε Σενεκίων, ἔν τινι πότῳ ξένον ἰδὼν κατακείμενον σιωπῇ καὶ μηδενὶ διαλεγόμενον, “ὦ ἄνθρωπ᾿,” εἶπεν, “εἰ μὲν ἠλίθιος εἶ, σοφὸν πρᾶγμα ποιεῖς· εἰ δὲ σοφός, ἠλίθιον.” “ἀμαθίην γὰρ ἄμεινον,” ὥς φησιν Ἡράκλειτος, “κρύπτειν,” ἔργον δ᾿ ἐν ἀνέσει καὶ παρ᾿ οἶνον

ὅστ᾿ ἐφέηκε πολύφρονά περ μάλ᾿ ἀεῖσαι,
καί θ᾿ ἁπαλὸν γελάσαι καί τ᾿ ὀρχήσασθαι ἀνῆκεν,
καί τι ἔπος προέηκεν, ὅπερ τ᾿ ἄρρητον ἄμεινον·

οἰνώσεως ἐνταῦθα τοῦ ποιητοῦ καὶ μέθης, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ, διαφορὰν ὑποδεικνύντος. ᾠδὴ μὲν γὰρ καὶ γέλως καὶ ὄρχησις οἰνουμένοις μετρίως ἔπεισι· τὸ δὲ λαλεῖν καὶ λέγειν, ἃ βέλτιον ἦν σιωπᾶν, παροινίας ἤδη καὶ μέθης ἔργον ἐστίν. διὸ καὶ Πλάτων ἐν οἴνῳ μάλιστα καθορᾶσθαι τὰ ἤθη τῶν πολλῶν νομίζει, καὶ Ὅμηρος εἰπὼν

οὐδὲ τραπέζῃ / γνώτην ἀλλήλων

δῆλός ἐστιν εἰδὼς τὸ πολύφωνον τοῦ οἴνου καὶ λόγων πολλῶν γόνιμον. οὐ γὰρ ἔστι τρωγόντων σιωπῇ καὶ πινόντων γνῶσις· ἀλλ᾿ ὅτι τὸ πίνειν εἰς τὸ λαλεῖν προάγεται, τῷ δὲ λαλεῖν ἐμφαίνεται καὶ τὸ ἀπογυμνοῦσθαι πολλὰ τῶν ἄλλως λανθανόντων, παρέχει τινὰ τὸ συμπίνειν κατανόησιν ἀλλήλων· ὥστε μὴ φαύλως ἂν ἐπιτιμῆσαι τῷ Αἰσώπῳ· “τί τὰς θυρίδας, ὦ μακάριε, ζητεῖς ἐκείνας, δι᾿ ὧν ἄλλος ἄλλου κατόψεται τὴν διάνοιαν; ὁ γὰρ οἶνος ἡμᾶς ἀνοίγει καὶ δείκνυσιν οὐκ ἐῶν ἡσυχίαν ἄγειν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀφαιρῶν τὸ πλάσμα καὶ τὸν σχηματισμόν, ἀπωτάτω τοῦ νόμου καθάπερ παιδαγωγοῦ γεγονότων.” Αἰσώπῳ μὲν οὖν καὶ Πλάτωνι, καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος ἐξετάσεως τρόπου δεῖται, πρὸς τοῦτο χρήσιμον ὁ ἄκρατος·

 

A Conversational Prompt for Awkward Silences at Holiday Meals

In his “Table-Talk”, Plutarch provides a series of conversations on specific topics. Here’s the first. Win over new friends and impress your family by bringing these topics to holiday meals!

Table Talk, Moralia 612-613: Question 1:

“It is right to practice philosophy while drinking?”

The question of philosophizing while drinking has been put first of all—for you must remember that in Athens once there was a discussion after dinner whether it is right and what the limit is for having philosophical conversations while drinking. Ariston, one of those present, said “Dear Gods! Are there really people who don’t provide room for philosophers while drinking?”

I responded “Really, there are, my friend, and they say very seriously by way of explanation that philosophy has no more right to speak over wine than the lady of the house does. Indeed, they also claim that the Persians act rightly in drinking and dancing not with their wives but their mistresses instead.

They believe it is right that we introduce these things to our drinking party—acting, and music—and that we should not touch philosophy. For they also believe that it is not appropriate to play games with philosophy and that in these situations we are not in earnest moods. They claim, moreover, that Isocrates the sophist submitted to pleas to speak during wine only to say “I am skilled at matters not right for the present time; in matters right for the present time, I am not skilled.”

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“And so philosophers, whenever they engage in subtle and dialogic problems while drinking, annoy most people who cannot follow them. These guests in turn commit to singing any kind of song, nonsense stories, and talk of business and the market. The aim of the shared space of the party goes out the window and Dioynsus himself is offended. In the same way, when Phrynichus and Aeschylus added myths to tragedy and suffering, people asked “What has this to do with Dionysus?”

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Εἰ δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν παρὰ πότον

Πρῶτον δὲ πάντων τέτακται τὸ περὶ τοῦ φιλοσοφεῖν παρὰ πότον. μέμνησαι γὰρ ὅτι, ζητήσεως Ἀθήνησι μετὰ δεῖπνον γενομένης εἰ χρηστέον ἐν οἴνῳ φιλοσόφοις λόγοις καὶ τί μέτρον ἔστι χρωμένοις, Ἀρίστων παρών, “εἰσὶν γάρ,” ἔφησε, “πρὸς τῶν θεῶν οἱ φιλοσόφοις χώραν ἐπ᾿ οἴνῳ μὴ διδόντες;”

Ἐγὼ δ᾿ εἶπον, “ἀλλὰ γὰρ εἰσίν, ὦ ἑταῖρε, καὶ πάνυ γε σεμνῶς κατειρωνευόμενοι λέγουσι μὴ δεῖν ὥσπερ οἰκοδέσποιναν ἐν οἴνῳ φθέγγεσθαι φιλοσοφίαν, καὶ τοὺς Πέρσας ὀρθῶς φασι μὴ ταῖς γαμεταῖς ἀλλὰ ταῖς παλλακίσι συμμεθύσκεσθαι καὶ συνορχεῖσθαι· ταὐτὸ δὴ καὶ ἡμᾶς ἀξιοῦσι ποιεῖν εἰς τὰ συμπόσια τὴν μουσικὴν καὶ τὴν ὑποκριτικὴν ἐπεισάγοντας φιλοσοφίαν δὲ μὴ κινοῦντας, ὡς οὔτε συμπαίζειν ἐκείνην ἐπιτήδειον οὖσαν οὔθ᾿ ἡμᾶς τηνικαῦτα σπουδαστικῶς ἔχοντας· οὐδὲ γὰρ Ἰσοκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ὑπομεῖναι δεομένων εἰπεῖν τι παρ᾿ οἶνον ἀλλ᾿ ἢ τοσοῦτον· ‘ἐν οἷς μὲν ἐγὼ δεινός, οὐχ ὁ νῦν καιρός· ἐν οἷς δ᾿ ὁ νῦν καιρός, οὐκ ἐγὼ δεινός.’”

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οὕτω τοίνυν, ὅταν οἱ φιλόσοφοι παρὰ πότον εἰς λεπτὰ καὶ διαλεκτικὰ προβλήματα καταδύντες ἐνοχλῶσι τοῖς πολλοῖς ἕπεσθαι μὴ δυναμένοις, ἐκεῖνοι δὲ πάλιν ἐπ᾿ ᾠδάς τινας καὶ διηγήματα φλυαρώδη καὶ λόγους βαναύσους καὶ ἀγοραίους ἐμβάλωσιν ἑαυτούς, οἴχεται τῆς συμποτικῆς κοινωνίας τὸ τέλος καὶ καθύβρισται ὁ Διόνυσος. ὥσπερ οὖν, Φρυνίχου καὶ Αἰσχύλου τὴν τραγῳδίαν εἰς μύθους καὶ πάθη προαγόντων, ἐλέχθη τὸ ‘τί ταῦτα πρὸς τὸν Διόνυσον;’