There is a conversational game Classicists sometime play when (1) they don’t know what else to talk about, (2) they want to evaluate the tastes and knowledge of interlocutors more surreptitiously than usual, or (3) they are really just excited to talk about the things we’ve lost—for we have lost far more of ancient Greek and Roman literature than we have. In some cases, the ‘game’ is just a question: what of the lost literature would you most like to have?
My favorite version of this requires a trade-off—what of what we have would you give up for what we don’t have? My usual answer in the first case is that I would love if we had another early Greek epic, the Thebais. A friend last night would prefer just one of the nine books of Sappho. (And I proposed a trade of one book of Pindar!). What would I trade for the Thebais? I am tempted to offer up some Demosthenes, but you’d need to give up something poetic, even epic, I fear to get the Theban tale).
One of the best answers I ever heard was a trade of one book of Cicero’s letters for Marcus Antonius’ pamphlet On His Own Drunkenness.
Here, from Athenaeus, are some interesting lost titles to impress, frighten or amuse people the next time you play this game (Deipnosophists, 162b):
“Archestratos of Gela in his Gastrology–which is the only epic that pleases you wise men even as you are Pythagoreans only in the fact that you keep quiet, something you do because your words fail you; you also enjoy the Erotic Skill of Sphodrios the Cynic, the Erotic Lectures of Protagoras, and the Drinking Conversations of the fine philosopher Persaeus, which were assembled from the Memoirs of Stilpo and Zeno.
In that text, he tries to prevent his dinner-guests from falling asleep, and asks how it is right to make toasts, when it is appropriated to introduce handsome boys and girls into the party, and when one must accept their flirtation,s and when they should be ejected for avoiding people alongside concerns about accompaniments to the meal, bread and other issues including the more expansive things Sophroniscus the philosopher said about kisses.
Persaeus was always turning his mind to these sorts of things, once he was entrusted, as Hermippos recounts, by Antigonos with Acrocorinth and then, thoroughly drunk, was kicked out of Corinth proper when he was outmaneuvered in the field by Aratos of Sikyon even though he had previously maintained in his Dialogues Addressed to Zeno that the wise man would absolutely be a good general, which is the only thing this fine servant of Zeno ever clearly proved!”
[Since by losing the battle he showed a fool to be a bad general]
᾿Αρχέστρατός τε ὁ Γελῷος ἐν τῇ Γαστρολογίᾳ— ἣν μόνην ὑμεῖς ῥαψῳδίαν οἱ σοφοὶ ἀσπάζεσθε, μόνον τοῦτο πυθαγορίζοντες τὸ σιωπᾶν, δι’ ἀσθένειαν λόγων τοῦτο ποιοῦντες, ἔτι τε τὴν Σφοδρίου τοῦ κυνικοῦ τέχνην ἐρωτικὴν καὶ τὰς Πρωταγορίδου ἀκροάσεις ἐρωτικὰς Περσαίου τε τοῦ καλοῦ φιλοσόφου συμποτικοὺς διαλόγους συντεθέντας ἐκ τῶν Στίλπωνος καὶ Ζήνωνος ἀπομνημονευμάτων, ἐν οἷς ζητεῖ, ὅπως ἂν μὴ κατακοιμηθῶσιν οἱ συμπόται, [καὶ] πῶς ταῖς ἐπιχύσεσι χρηστέον πηνίκα τε εἰσακτέον τοὺς ὡραίους καὶ τὰς ὡραίας εἰς τὸ συμπόσιον καὶ πότε αὐτοὺς προσδεκτέον ὡραιζομένους καὶ πότε παραπεμπτέον ὡς ὑπερορῶντας, καὶ περὶ προσοψημάτων καὶ περὶ ἄρτων καὶ περὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὅσα τε περιεργότερον περὶ φιλημάτων εἴρηκεν ὁ Σωφρονίσκου φιλόσοφος, ὃς περὶταῦτα τὴν διάνοιαν ἀεὶ στρέφων πιστευθείς, ὥς φησιν ῞Ερμιππος (FHG III 49), ὑπ’ ᾿Αντιγόνου τὸν ᾿Ακροκό-ρινθον κωθωνιζόμενος ἐξέπεσεν καὶ αὐτῆς τῆς Κορίνθου, καταστρατηγηθεὶς ὑπὸ τοῦ Σικυωνίου ᾿Αράτου, ὁ πρότερον ἐν τοῖς διαλόγοις πρὸς Ζήνωνα διαμιλλώμενος ὡς ὁ σοφὸς πάντως ἂν εἴη καὶ στρατηγὸς ἀγαθός, μόνον τοῦτο διὰ τῶν ἔργων διαβεβαιωσάμενος ὁ καλὸς τοῦ Ζήνωνος οἰκετιεύς.