Bad Signs, Worse Decisions

Plutarch, Moralia 168f-169a

“Superstitions make many moderate sufferings deadly. That ancient Midas, as it seems, was so disturbed and troubled by some dreams that he became upset enough to kill himself by drinking the blood of a bull. And the king of the Messenian, Aristodêmos, in that war against the Spartans, when the dogs were howling like wolves, the grass began to grow up over his ancestral hearth and some of the seers were frightened by the signs, was completely disheartened and extinguished all hopes when he took his own life.

It might have been best for Nikias the general of the Athenians to free himself of his superstition following Midas and Aristodêmos. Since he was afraid of the shadow of a moon in eclipse, rather than to sit there while he was walled in by the enemy only to get captured by them with forty thousand men who were slaughtered or taken alive and then die in infamy.”

Πολλὰ τῶν μετρίων κακῶν ὀλέθρια ποιοῦσιν αἱ δεισιδαιμονίαι. Μίδας ὁ παλαιός, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἔκ τινων ἐνυπνίων ἀθυμῶν καὶ ταραττόμενος οὕτω κακῶς ἔσχε τὴν ψυχήν, ὥσθ᾿ ἑκουσίως ἀποθανεῖν αἷμα ταύρου πιών. ὁ δὲ τῶν Μεσσηνίων βασιλεὺς Ἀριστόδημος ἐν τῷ πρὸς Λακεδαιμονίους  πολέμῳ, κυνῶν λύκοις ὠρυομένων ὅμοια καὶ περὶ τὴν ἑστίαν αὐτοῦ τὴν πατρῴαν ἀγρώστεως ἀναβλαστανούσης καὶ τῶν μάντεων τὰ σημεῖα φοβουμένων, ἐξαθυμήσας καὶ κατασβεσθεὶς ταῖς ἐλπίσιν αὐτὸς ἑαυτὸν ἀπέσφαξεν. ἦν δ᾿ ἴσως καὶ Νικίᾳ τῷ Ἀθηναίων στρατηγῷ κράτιστον οὕτως ἀπαλλαγῆναι τῆς δεισιδαιμονίας ὡς Μίδας ἢ Ἀριστόδημος ἢ φοβηθέντι τὴν σκιὰν ἐκλιπούσης τῆς σελήνης καθῆσθαι περιτειχιζόμενον ὑπὸ τῶν πολεμίων, εἶθ᾿ ὁμοῦ τέτταρσι μυριάσιν ἀνθρώπων φονευθέντων τε καὶ ζώντων ἁλόντων ὑποχείριον γενέσθαι καὶ δυσκλεῶς ἀποθανεῖν.

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Nicias

Tis the Season to Drink With Reason: Put a Philosopher in Charge!

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.”

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Ποῖόν τινα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον εἶναι;

Κράτων ὁ γαμβρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ Θέων ὁ ἑταῖρος ἔν τινι πότῳ παροινίας ἀρχὴν λαβούσης εἶτα παυσαμένης λόγον ἐποιήσαντο περὶ τῆς συμποσιαρχίας, οἰόμενοί με δεῖν στεφανηφοροῦντα μὴ περιιδεῖν παλαιὸν ἔθος ἐκλειφθὲν παντάπασιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀνακαλεῖν καὶ καταστῆσαι πάλιν τῆς ἀρχῆς τὴν νενομισμένην ἐπιστασίαν περὶ τὰ συμπόσια καὶ διακόσμησιν. ἐδόκει δὲ ταῦτα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις, ὥστε θόρυβον ἐκ πάντων καὶ παράκλησιν γενέσθαι.

“Ἐπεὶ τοίνυν,” ἔφην ἐγώ, “δοκεῖ ταῦτα πᾶσιν, ἐμαυτὸν αἱροῦμαι συμποσίαρχον ὑμῶν καὶ κελεύω τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ὡς βούλονται πίνειν ἐν τῷ παρόντι, Κράτωνα δὲ καὶ Θέωνα, τοὺς εἰσηγητὰς καὶ νομοθέτας τοῦ δόγματος, ἔν τινι τύπῳ βραχέως διελθεῖν, ὁποῖον ὄντα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον αἱρεῖσθαι καὶ τί ποιούμενος τέλος ὁ αἱρεθεὶς ἄρξει καὶ πῶς χρήσεται τοῖς κατὰ τὸ συμπόσιον· διελέσθαι δὲ τὸν λόγον ἐφεξῆς αὐτοῖς ἐπιτρέπω.”. Μικρὰ μὲν οὖν ἠκκίσαντο παραιτούμενοι· κελευόντων δὲ πάντων πείθεσθαι τῷ ἄρχοντι καὶ ποιεῖν τὸ προσταττόμενον, ἔφη πρότερος ὁ Κράτων ὅτι δεῖ τὸν μὲν φυλάκων ἄρχοντα φυλακικώτατον, ὥς φησιν ὁ Πλάτων, εἶναι, τὸν δὲ συμποτῶν συμποτικώτατον. “ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ἂν μήτε τῷ μεθύειν εὐάλωτος ᾖ μήτε πρὸς τὸ πίνειν ἀπρόθυμος, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ὁ Κῦρος ἔλεγεν πρὸς Λακεδαιμονίους γράφων ὅτι τά τ᾿ ἄλλα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ βασιλικώτερος εἴη καὶ φέροι καλῶς πολὺν ἄκρατον· ὅ τε γὰρ παροινῶν ὑβριστὴς καὶ ἀσχήμων, ὅ τ᾿ αὖ παντάπασι νήφων ἀηδὴς καὶ παιδαγωγεῖν μᾶλλον ἢ συμποσιαρχεῖν ἐπιτήδειος.

Hated By the People, Plotted Against by Friends

Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History 37.22a

“Sertorius, when he noticed that the uprising among the indigenous people was overwhelming, turned nasty to his allies: he accused some and had them killed; others he threw into prison; but he liquidated the wealth of the richest men. Even though he acquired a great deal of gold and silver this way, he did not put any of it into the public treasury for the war effort, instead he hoarded it for himself. He didn’t use it to pay the soldiers either or even share some of it with his commanders.

When it came to capital cases, he did not consult the council or advisers, but had hearings in private and gave judgments after serving as the solitary judge. He did not consider his commanders worthy of invitations to his banquets and demonstrated no beneficence to his friends. As he was generally driven mad by the worsening state of his own rule, he acted tyrannically toward everyone: he was hated by the people and conspired against by his friends.”

Ὅτι ὁ Σερτώριος θεωρῶν ἀκατάσχετον οὖσαν τὴν ὁρμὴν τῶν ἐγχωρίων πικρῶς προσεφέρετο τοῖς συμμάχοις, καὶ τοὺς μὲν καταιτιώμενος ἀπέκτεινεν, τοὺς δὲ εἰς φυλακὴν παρεδίδου, τῶν δὲ εὐπορωτάτων ἐδήμευε τὰς οὐσίας. πολὺν δὲ ἄργυρον καὶ χρυσὸν ἀθροίσας οὐκ εἰς τὸ κοινὸν τοῦ πολέμου ταμιεῖον κατετίθετο, ἀλλ᾿ ἰδίᾳ ἐθησαύριζεν· οὔτε τοῖς στρατιώταις ἐχορήγει τὰς μισθοφορίας, οὔτε τοῖς ἡγεμόσι μετεδίδου τούτων, οὔτε τὰς κεφαλικὰς κρίσεις μετὰ συνεδρίου καὶ συμβούλων ἐποιεῖτο, διακούων δὲ ἰδίᾳ καὶ μόνον κριτὴν ἑαυτὸν ἀποδείξας ἐποιεῖτο τὰς ἀποφάσεις· εἴς τε τὰ σύνδειπνα τοὺς ἡγεμόνας οὐκ ἠξίου παραλαμβάνειν, οὐδὲ φιλανθρωπίας οὐδεμιᾶς μετεδίδου τοῖς φίλοις. καθόλου δὲ διὰ τὴν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ἐπίδοσιν τῆς περὶ αὐτὸν ἐξουσίας ἀποθηριωθεὶς τυραννικῶς ἅπασιν προσεφέρετο. καὶ ἐμισήθη μὲν ὑπὸ τοῦ πλήθους, ἐπεβουλεύθη δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν φίλων.

 

Quintus Sertorius by Gerard van der Kuijl

Plato and Friends on Why We Need to Partay

Democritus, fr. 230

“A life without parties is a long journey without inns.”

βίος ἀνεόρταστος μακρὴ ὁδὸς ἀπανδόκευτος.

Plato, Laws 653d

“Great. Now, since many of these kinds of education—which accustom us to correctly manage pleasures and pains—lose their effectiveness during life, the gods took pity on  the human race because it is born to toil and assigned to us as well parties as vacations from our toil. In addition, they have also given us the Muses, Apollo the master of music, and Dionysus as party-guests so that people can straighten out their habits because they are present at the festival with the gods.”

ΑΘ. Καλῶς τοίνυν. τούτων γὰρ δὴ τῶν ὀρθῶς τεθραμμένων ἡδονῶν καὶ λυπῶν παιδειῶν οὐσῶν χαλᾶται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ διαφθείρεται τὰ πολλὰ ἐν τῷ βίῳ, θεοὶ δὲ οἰκτείραντες τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐπίπονον πεφυκὸς γένος ἀναπαύλας τε αὐτοῖς τῶν πόνων ἐτάξαντο τὰς τῶν ἑορτῶν ἀμοιβὰς [τοῖς θεοῖς] καὶ Μούσας Ἀπόλλωνά τε μουσηγέτην καὶ Διόνυσον ξυνεορταστὰς ἔδοσαν, ἵν᾿ ἐπανορθῶνται τάς γε τροφὰς γενόμενοι ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς μετὰ θεῶν.

Thucydides, 2.38.1

“Certainly we have furnished our mind with the greatest reliefs from our labors, maintaining games and feasts throughout the year in public and in private living with care and finery, all those things which provide pleasure to expel our grief. Because of the greatness of our city, everything comes to us from the earth and we are lucky enough to harvest all of the goods from our own land with no less familiar pleasure than those we gather from other peoples.”

‘Καὶ μὴν καὶ τῶν πόνων πλείστας ἀναπαύλας τῇ γνώμῃ ἐπορισάμεθα, ἀγῶσι μέν γε καὶ θυσίαις διετησίοις νομίζοντες, ἰδίαις δὲ κατασκευαῖς εὐπρεπέσιν, ὧν καθ’ ἡμέραν ἡ τέρψις τὸ λυπηρὸν ἐκπλήσσει. ἐπεσέρχεται δὲ διὰ μέγεθος τῆς πόλεως ἐκ πάσης γῆς τὰ πάντα, καὶ ξυμβαίνει ἡμῖν μηδὲν οἰκειοτέρᾳ τῇ ἀπολαύσει τὰ αὐτοῦ ἀγαθὰ γιγνόμενα καρποῦσθαι ἢ καὶ τὰ τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων.

Special thanks to Dr. Liv Yarrow for tweeting these passages

 

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Marble Anaglyph of ancient symposium. A couple in love time. Archaeological Museum of Nicopolis, Preveza.

waynes world wayne GIF by chuber channel

Get the Best of Every Thanksgiving Dish With this One Simple Trick!

The training regimen of Philoxenus of Leucus (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.9.1-19)

“Certain flat-cakes were eventually named ‘Philoxenian’ from a man named Philoxenus. Chrysippus says of him: ‘I know of a certain foodie who fell so far from worrying about what people thought of his actions that he publicly tried to get used to heat in the public baths by plunging his hands in the hot water or gargling with it so that he couldn’t be moved from the hot plates! People claimed that he was pressuring the cooks to serve the food as hot as possible so that he could swallow it alone, since no one else would be able to keep up with him.’

The same accounts are given of Philoxenus the Cytherean, Archytas and many others—one of them says the following in a comedy by Crobylus (fr. 8):

A. ‘For this dish that is beyond hot

I have Idaean finger tips
And it is sweet to steam my throat with fish steaks!

B. He’s a kiln not a man!’

Cooking1
Make it hotter!

ἀπὸ τούτου τοῦ Φιλοξένου καὶ Φιλοξένειοί τινες πλακοῦντες ὠνομάσθησαν. περὶ τούτου Χρύσιππός φησιν· ‘ἐγὼ κατέχω τινὰ ὀψοφάγον ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον ἐκπεπτωκότα τοῦ μὴ ἐντρέπεσθαι τοὺς πλησίον ἐπὶ τοῖς γινομένοις ὥστε φανερῶς ἐν τοῖς βαλανείοις τήν τε χεῖρα συνεθίζειν πρὸς τὰ θερμὰ καθιέντα εἰς ὕδωρ θερμὸν καὶ τὸ στόμα ἀναγαργαριζόμενον θερμῷ, ὅπως δηλονότι ἐν τοῖς θερμοῖς δυσκίνητος ᾖ. ἔφασαν γὰρ αὐτὸν καὶ τοὺς ὀψοποιοῦντας ὑποποιεῖσθαι, ἵνα θερμότατα παρατιθῶσι καὶ μόνος καταναλίσκῃ αὐτὸς τῶν λοιπῶν συνακολουθεῖν μὴ δυναμένων.’ τὰ δ’ αὐτὰ καὶ περὶ τοῦ Κυθηρίου Φιλοξένου ἱστοροῦσι καὶ ᾿Αρχύτου καὶ ἄλλων πλειόνων, ὧν τις παρὰ Κρωβύλῳ τῷ κωμικῷ φησιν (IV 568 M)·

ἐγὼ δὲ πρὸς τὰ θερμὰ ταῦθ’ ὑπερβολῇ
τοὺς δακτύλους δήπουθεν ᾿Ιδαίους ἔχω
καὶ τὸν λάρυγγ’ ἥδιστα πυριῶ τεμαχίοις.

Β. κάμινος, οὐκ ἄνθρωπος.

A Medical Justification for Taking Part in a Feast

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

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.

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

Bring Literature and Songs to the Table, But not Cheapness

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.4.34-1.5.5

“For this reason, someone may say Antiphanes’ famous lines of him appropriately: “You are always near the Muses and their words, whenever any work of wisdom is consulted.” Or, to use the Theban lyric poet:

He glories in
The finest type of song
The kind men play often
At a friendly table.

By inviting these men to dinner, [Athenaeus] says, he made Rome feel like their homeland. For who longs for things at home when he knows a man who throws his house open to friends? It’s like the comic Apollodorus says:

Whenever you enter the house of a friend,
You can see, Nicophon, your friend’s love
As soon as you pass through the doors.
First, the doorkeeper is happy and the dog
Wags its tale as it comes up; a servant immediately
Offers you a chair, even if no one says
Anything.

It would be right if the rest of rich people were like this. And someone might say to those who don’t act this way: “Why are you so cheap? Your shelters are full of wine—it befits you to have a fine feast for the elders!” [paraphrase of Il. 9.70-1]. Alexander the Great was this magnanimous!

… διόπερ ἐκεῖνα τῶν ᾿Αντιφάνους ἐρεῖ τις εἰς αὐτόν (II 124 K)·
ἀεὶ δὲ πρὸς Μούσαισι καὶ λόγοις πάρει,
ὅπου σοφίας ἔργον ἐξετάζεται. —

ἀγλαίζεται δὲ καὶ
μουσικᾶς ἐν ἀώτῳ·
οἷα παίζομεν φίλαν
ἄνδρες ἀμφὶ θαμὰ τράπεζαν,

κατὰ τὸν Θηβαῖον μελοποιόν (Pind. O I 14). καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς ἑστιάσεις δὲ παρακαλῶν πατρίδα, φησί, τὴν ῾Ρώμην πᾶσιν ἀποφαίνει. τίς γὰρ τὰ οἴκοι ποθεῖ τούτῳ
ξυνὼν ἀναπεπταμένην ἔχοντι τοῖς φίλοις τὴν οἰκίαν; κατὰ γὰρ τὸν κωμῳδιοποιὸν ᾿Απολλόδωρον (IV 455 M)·

εἰς οἰκίαν ὅταν τις εἰσίῃ φίλου,
ἔστιν θεωρεῖν, Νικοφῶν, τὴν τοῦ φίλου
εὔνοιαν εὐθὺς εἰσιόντα τὰς θύρας.
ὁ θυρωρὸς ἱλαρὸς πρῶτόν ἐστιν, ἡ κύων
ἔσηνε καὶ προσῆλθ’, ὑπαντήσας δέ τις
δίφρον εὐθέως ἔθηκε, κἂν μηδεὶς λέγῃ
μηδέν.
τοιούτους ἔδει καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς εἶναι πλείους ὡς τοῖς γε μὴ τοῦτο ποιοῦσιν ἐρεῖ τις ‘τί μικρολόγος εἶ;’ —‘πλεῖαί τοι οἴνου κλισίαι· δαίνυ δαῖτα γέρουσι θάλειαν· ἔοικέ τοι (I 70. 71. H 475).’ τοιοῦτος ἦν τῇ μεγαλοψυχίᾳ ὁ μέγας ᾿Αλέξανδρος.

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