Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book I.

Some, my dear Sossius Senecio imagine that this sentence, [Greek omitted] was principally designed against the stewards of a feast, who are usually troublesome and press liquor too much upon the guests. For the Dorians in Sicily (as I am informed) called the steward, [Greek omitted] a REMEMBRANCER. Others think that this proverb admonisheth the guests to forget everything that is spoken or done in company; and agreeably to this, the ancients used to consecrate forgetfulness with a ferula to Bacchus, thereby intimating that we should either not remember any irregularity committed in mirth and company, or apply a gentle and childish correction to the faults. But because you are of opinion (as Euripides says) that to forget absurdities is indeed a piece of wisdom, but to deliver over to oblivion all sort of discourse that merry meetings do usually produce is not only repugnant to that endearing quality that most allow to an entertainment, but against the known practice of the greatest philosophers (for Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, Speusippus, Epicurus, Prytanis, Hieronymus, Dion the Academic, have thought it a worthy and noble employment to deliver down to us those discourses they had at table), and since it is your pleasure that I should gather up the chiefest of those scattered topics which both at Rome and Greece amidst our cups and feasting we have disputed on, in obedience to your commands I have sent three books, each containing ten problems; and the rest shall quickly follow, if these find good acceptance and do not seem altogether foolish and impertinent.

QUESTION I.

Whether at Table It is Allowable to Philosophize?

SOSSIUS, SENECIO, ARISTO, PLUTARCH, CRATO, and OTHERS.

The first question is, Whether at table it is allowable to philosophize? For I remember at a supper at Athens this doubt was started, whether at a merry meeting it was fit to use philosophical discourse, and how far it might be used? And Aristo presently cried out: What then, for heaven’s sake, are there any that banish philosophy from company and wine? And I replied: Yes, sir, there are, and such as with a grave scoff tell us that philosophy, like the matron of the house, should never be heard at a merry entertainment; and commend the custom of the Persians, who never let their wives appear, but drink, dance, and wanton with their whores. This they propose for us to imitate; they permit us to have mimics and music at our feasts, but forbid philosophy; she, forsooth, being very unfit to be wanton with us, and we in a bad condition to be serious. Isocrates the rhetorician, when at a drinking bout some begged him to make a speech, only returned: With those things in which I have skill the time doth not suit; and in those things with which the time suits I have no skill.

And Crato cried out: By Bacchus, he was right to forswear talk, if he designed to make such long-winded discourses as would have spoiled all mirth and conversation; but I do not think there is the same reason to forbid philosophy as to take away rhetoric from our feasts. For philosophy is quite of another nature; it is an art of living, and therefore must be admitted into every part of our conversation, into all our gay humors and our pleasures, to regulate and adjust them, to proportion the time, and keep them from excess; unless, perchance, upon the same scoffing pretence of gravity, they would banish temperance, justice, and moderation. It is true, were we to feast before a court, as those that entertained Orestes, and were silence enjoined by law, that might prove no mean cloak of our ignorance; but if Bacchus is really [Greek omitted] (A LOOSER of everything), and chiefly takes off all restraints and bridles from the tongue, and gives the voice the greatest freedom, I think it is foolish and absurd to deprive that time in which we are usually most talkative of the most useful and profitable discourse; and in our schools to dispute of the offices of company, in what consists the excellence of a guest, how mirth, feasting, and wine are to be used and yet deny philosophy a place in these feasts, as if not able to confirm by practice what by precepts it instructs.

And when you affirmed that none ought to oppose what Crato said, but determine what sorts of philosophical topics were to be admitted as fit companions at a feast, and so avoid that just and pleasant taunt put upon the wrangling disputers of the age,

Come now to supper, that we may contend;

and when you seemed concerned and urged us to speak to that head, I first replied: Sir, we must consider what company we have; for if the greater part of the guests are learned men — as for instance, at Agatho’s entertainment, characters like Socrates, Phaedrus, Pausanias, Euryximachus; or at Callias’s board, Charmides, Antisthenes, Hermogenes, and the like — we will permit them to philosohize, and to mix Bacchus with the Muses as well as with the Nymphs; for the latter make him wholesome and gentle to the body, and the other pleasant and agreeable to the soul. And if there are some few illiterate persons present, they, as consonants with vowels, in the midst of the other learned, will participate not altogether inarticulately and insignificantly. But if the greater part consists of such who can better endure the noise of any bird, fiddle-string, or piece of wood than the voice of a philosopher, Pisistratus hath shown us what to do; for being at difference with his sons, when he heard his enemies rejoiced at it, in a full assembly he declared that he had endeavored to persuade his sons to submit to him, but since he found them obstinate, he was resolved to yield and submit to their humors. So a philosopher, midst those companions that slight his excellent discourse, will lay aside his gravity, follow them, and comply with their humor as far as decency will permit; knowing very well that men cannot exercise their rhetoric unless they speak, but may their philosophy even whilst they are silent or jest merrily, nay, whilst they are piqued upon or repartee. For it is not only (as Plato says) the highest degree of injustice not to be just and yet seem so; but it is the top of wisdom to philosophize, yet not appear to do it; and in mirth to do the same with those that are serious, and still seem in earnest. For as in Euripides, the Bacchae, though unprovided of iron weapons and unarmed, wounded their invaders with their boughs, thus the very jests and merry talk of true philosophers move those that are not altogether insensible.

I think there are topics fit to be used at table, some of which reading and study give us, others the present occasion; some to incite to study, others to piety and great and noble actions, others to make us rivals of the bountiful and kind; which if a man cunningly and without any apparent design inserts for the instruction of the rest, he will free these entertainments from many of those considerable evils which usually attend them. Some that put borage into the wine, or sprinkle the floor with water in which verbena and maiden-hair have been steeped, as good raise mirth and jollity in the guests (in imitation of Homer’s Helen, who with some medicament diluted the pure wine she had prepared), do not understand that that fable, coming from round Egypt, after a long way ends at last in easy and fit discourse. For whilst they were drinking Helen relates the story of Ulysses,

How Fortune’s spite the hero did control,
And bore his troubles with a manly soul.
(“Odyssey,” iv. 242.)

For that, in my opinion, was the Nepenthe, the care-dissolving medicament, viz, that story exactly fitted to the then disasters and juncture of affairs. The pleasing men, though they designedly and apparently instruct, draw on their maxims rather with persuasive and smooth arguments, than the violent force of demonstrations. You see that even Plato in his Symposium, where he disputes of the chief end, the chief good, and is altogether on subjects theological, doth not lay down strong and close demonstrations; he doth not make himself ready for the contest (as he is wont) like a wrestler, that he may take the firmer hold of his adversary and be sure of giving him the trip; but draws men on by more soft and pliable attacks, by pleasant fictions and pat examples.

Besides the questions should be easy, the problems known, the interrogations plain, familiar, and not intricate and dark that they might neither vex the unlearned, nor fright them from the disquisition. For — as it is allowable to dissolve our entertainment into a dance, but if we force our guests to toss quoits or play at cudgels, we shall not only make our feast unpleasant, but hurtful and unnatural — thus light and easy disquisitions do pleasantly and profitably excite us, but we must forbear all contentions and (to use Democritus’s word) wrangling disputes, which perplex the proposers with intricate and inexplicable doubts, and trouble all the others that are present. Our discourse should be like our wine, common to all, and of which every one may equally partake; and they that propose hard problems seem no better fitted for society than Aesop’s fox and crane. For the fox vexed the crane with thin broth poured out upon a plain table, and laughed at her when he saw her, by reason of the narrowness of her bill and the thinness of the broth, incapable of partaking what he had prepared; and the crane, in requital, inviting the fox to supper, brought forth her dainties in a pot with a long and narrow neck, into which she could conveniently thrust her bill, whilst the fox could not reach one bit. Just so, when philosophers midst their cups dive into minute and logical disputes, they are very troublesome to those that cannot follow them through the same depths; and those that bring in idle songs, trifling disquisitions, common talk, and mechanical discourse destroy the very end of conversation and merry entertainments, and abuse Bacchus. Therefore, as when Phrynichus and Aeschylus brought tragedy to discourse of fictions and misfortunes, it was asked, What is this to Bacchus? — so methinks, when I hear some pedantically drawing a syllogism into table-talk, I have reason to cry out, Sir, what is this to Bacchus? Perchance one, the great bowl standing in the midst, and the chaplets given round, which the god in token of the liberty he bestows sets on every head, sings one of those songs called [Greek omitted] (CROOKED OR OBSCURE); this is not fit nor agreeable to a feast. Though some say these songs were not dark and intricate composures; but that the guests sang the first song all together, praising Bacchus and describing the power of the god; and the second each man sang singly in his turn, a myrtle bough being delivered to every one in order, which they call an [Greek omitted] because he that received it was obliged [Greek omitted] to sing; and after this a harp being carried round the company, the skilful took it, and fitted the music to the song; this when the unskilful could not perform, the song was called [Greek omitted] because hard to them, and one in which they could not bear a part. Others say this myrtle bough was not delivered in order, but from bed to bed; and when the uppermost of the first table had sung, he sent it to the uppermost of the second, and he to the uppermost of the third; and so the second in like manner to the second; and from these many windings and this circuit it was called [Greek omitted] CROOKED.

QUESTION II.

Whether the Entertainer Should Seat the Guests, or Let Every Man Take His Own Place.

TIMON, A GUEST, PLUTARCH, PLUTARCH’S FATHER, LAMPRIAS, and OTHERS.

My brother Timon, making a great entertainment, desired the guests as they came to seat themselves; for he had invited strangers and citizens, neighbors and acquaintance, and all sorts of persons to the feast. A great many being already come, a certain stranger at last appeared, dressed as fine as hands could make him, his clothes rich, and an unseemly train of foot-boys at his heels; he walking up to the parlor-door, and, staring round upon those that were already seated, turned his back and scornfully retired; and when a great many stepped after him and begged him to return, he said, I see no fit place left for me. At that, the other guests (for the glasses had gone round) laughed abundantly, and desired his room rather than his company.

But after supper, my father addressing himself to me, who sat at another quarter of the table — Timon, said he, and I have a dispute, and you are to be judge, for I have been upon his skirts already about that stranger; for if according to my directions he had seated every man in his proper place, we had never been thought unskilful in this matter, by one

Whose art is great in ordering horse and foot.
(“Iliad,” ii 554.)

And story says that Paulus Aemilius, after he had conquered Perseus the king of Macedon, making an entertainment besides his costly furniture and extraordinary provision, was very critical in the order of his feast; saying, It is the same man’s task to order a terrible battle and a pleasing, entertainment, for both of them require skill in the art of disposing right, and Homer often calls the stoutest and the greatest princes [Greek omitted] disposers of the people; and you use to say that the great Creator, by this art of disposing, turned disorder into beauty, and neither taking away nor adding any new being, but setting everything in its proper place, out of the most uncomely figure and confused chaos produced this beauteous, this surprising face of nature that appears. In these great and noble doctrines indeed you instruct us; but our own observation sufficiently assures us, that the greatest profuseness in a feast appears neither delightful nor genteel, unless beautified by order. And therefore it is absurd that cooks and waiters should be solicitous what dish must be brought first, what next, what placed in the middle, and what last; and that the garlands, and ointment, and music (if they have any) should have a proper place and order assigned, and yet that the guests should be seated promiscuously, and no respect be had to age, honor, or the like; no distinguishing order by which the man in dignity might be honored, the inferior learn to give place, and the disposer be exercised in distinguishing what is proper and convenient. For it is not rational that, when we walk or sit down to discourse, the best man should have the best place, and not the same order be observed at table; or that the entertainer should in civility drink to one before another, and yet make no difference in their seats, at the first dash making the whole company one Myconus (as they say), a hodge-podge and confusion. This my father brought for his opinion.

And my brother said: I am not so much wiser than Bias, that, since he refused to be arbitrator between two only of his friends, I should pretend to be a judge between so many strangers and acquaintance; especially since it is not a money matter, but about precedence and dignity, as if I invited my friends not to treat them kindly, but to abuse them. Menelaus is accounted absurd and passed into a proverb, for pretending to advise when unasked; and sure he would be more ridiculous that instead of an entertainer should set up for a judge, when nobody requests him or submits to his determination which is the best and which the worst man in the company; for the guests do not come to contend about precedency, but to feast and be merry. Besides, it is no easy task to distinguish for some claim respect by reason of their age, others — from their familiarity and acquaintance; and, as those that make declamations consisting of comparisons, he must have Aristotle’s [Greek omitted] and Thrasymachus’s [Greek omitted] (books that furnish him with heads of argument) at his fingers’ ends; and all this to no good purpose or profitable effect but to bring vanity from the bar and the theatre into our feasts and entertainments, and, whilst by good fellowship endeavor to remit all other passions, especially pride and arrogance, from which, in my opinion we should be more careful to cleanse our souls than to wash our feet from dirt, that our conversation be free, simple, and full of mirth. And while by such meetings we strive to end all differences that have at any time risen amongst the invited, we should make them flame anew, and kindle them again by emulation, by thus humbling some and puffing up others. And if, according as we seat them, we should drink oftener and discourse more with some than others and set daintier dishes before them, instead of being friendly we should be lordly in our feasts. And if in other things we treat them all equally, why should we not begin at the first part, and bring it into fashion for all to take their seats promiscuously, without ceremony or pride, and to let them see, as soon as they enter, that they are invited to a dinner whose order is free and democratical, and not, as particular chosen men to the government of a city where aristocracy is the form; since the richest and the poorest sit promiscuously together.

When this had been offered on both sides, and all present required my determination, I said: Being an arbitrator and not a judge, I shall close strictly with neither side, but go indifferently in the middle between both. If a man invites young men, citizens, or acquaintance, they should (as Timon says) be accustomed to be content with any place, without ceremony or concernment; and this good nature and unconcernedness would be an excellent means to preserve and increase friendship. But if we use the same method to strangers, magistrates, or old men, I have just reason to fear that, whilst we seem to thrust our pride at the fore-door, we bring it in again at the back, together with a great deal of indifferency and disrespect. But in this, custom and the established rules of decency must guide; or else let us abolish all those modes of respect expressed by drinking to or saluting first; which we do not use promiscuously to all the company but according to their worth we honor every one

With better places, meat, and larger cups,
(“Iliad,” xii. 311.)

as Agamemnon says, naming the place first, as the chiefest sign of honor. And we commend Alcinous for placing his guest next himself:—

He stout Laomedon his son removed,
Who sat next him, for him he dearly loved;
(“Iliad,” xx. 15.)

for to place a suppliant stranger in the seat of his beloved son was wonderful kind, and extreme courteous. Nay even amongst the gods themselves this distinction is observed; for Neptune, though he came last into the assembly,

sat in the middle seat,
(“Odyssey,” vii. 170.)

as if that was his proper place. And Minerva seems to have that assigned her which is next Jupiter himself; and this the poet intimates, when speaking of Thetis he says,

She sat next Jove, Minerva giving Place.
(Ibid. xxiv. 100.)

And Pindar plainly says,

She sits just next the thunder-breathing flames.

Indeed Timon urges, we ought not to rob many to honor one, which he seems to do himself, even more than others; for he robs that which makes something that is individual common; and suitable honor to his worth is each man’s possession. And he gives that preeminence to running fast and making haste, which belongs to virtue, kindred, magistracies, and such other qualities; and whilst he endeavors not to affront his guests, he necessarily falls into that very inconvenience; for he must affront every one by defrauding them of their proper honor. Besides, in my opinion it is no hard matter to make this distinction, and seat our guests according to their quality; for first, it very seldom happens that many of equal honor are invited to the same banquet; and then, since there are many honorable places, you have room enough to dispose them according to content, if you can but guess that this man must be seated uppermost, that in the middle, another next to yourself, friend, acquaintance, tutor, or the like, appointing every one some place of honor; and as for the rest, I would supply their want of honor with some little presents, affability, and kind discourse. But if their qualities are not easy to be distinguished, and the men themselves hard to be pleased, see what device I have in that case; for I seat in the most honorable place my father, if invited; if not my grandfather, father-inlaw, uncle, or somebody whom the entertainer hath a more particular reason to esteem. And this is one of the many rules of decency that we have from Homer; for in his poem, when Achilles saw Menelaus and Antilochus contending about the second prize of the horse-race, fearing that their strife and fury would increase, he gave the prize to another, under pretence of comforting and honoring Eumelus, but indeed to take away the cause of their contention.

When I had said this, Lamprias, sitting (as he always doth) upon a low bed, cried out: Sirs, will you give me leave to correct this sottish judge? And the company bidding him speak freely and tell me roundly of my faults, and not spare, he said: And who can forbear that philosopher who disposes of places at a feast according to the birth, wealth, or offices of the guests, as if they were in a theatre or the Council House, so that pride and arrogance must be admitted even into our mirth and entertainments? In seating our guests we should not have any respect to honor, but mirth and conversation; not look after every man’s quality, but their agreement and harmony with one another, as those do that join several different things in one composure. Thus a mason doth not set an Athenian or a Spartan stone, because formed in a more noble country, before an Asian or a Spanish; nor a painter give the most costly color the chiefest place; nor a shipwright the Corinthian fir or Cretan cypress; but so distribute them as they will best serve to the common end, and make the whole composure strong, beautiful, and fit for use. Nay, you see even the deity himself (by our Pindar named the most skilful artificer) doth not everywhere place the fire above and the earth below; but, as Empedocles hath it,

The Oysters Coverings do directly prove,
That heavy Earth is sometimes rais’d above;

not having that place that Nature appoints, but that which is necessary to compound bodies and serviceable to the common end, the preservation of the whole. Disorder is in everything an evil; but then its badness is principally discovered, when it is amongst men whilst they are making merry; for then it breeds contentions and a thousand unspeakable mischiefs, which to foresee and hinder shows a man well skilled in good order and disposing right.

We all agreed that he had said well, but asked him why he would not instruct us how to order things aright, and communicate his skill. I am content, says he, to instruct you, if you will permit me to change the present order of the feast, and will yield as ready obedience to me as the Thebans to Epaminondas when he altered the order of their battle. We gave him full power; and he, having turned all the servants out, looked round upon every one, and said: Hear (for I will tell you first) how I design to order you together. In my mind, the Theban Pammenes justly taxeth Homer as unskilful in love matters, for setting together, in his description of an army, tribe and tribe, family and family; for he should have joined the lover and the beloved, so that the whole body being united in their minds might perfectly agree. This rule will I follow, not set one rich man by another, a youth by a youth, a magistrate by a magistrate, and a friend by a friend; for such an order is of no force, either to beget or increase friendship and good-will. But fitting that which wants with something that is able to supply it, next one that is willing to instruct I will place one that is as desirous to be instructed; next a morose, one good-natured; next a talkative old man a youth patient and eager for a story; next a boaster, a jeering smooth companion; and next an angry man, a quiet one. If I see a wealthy fellow bountiful and kind, I will take some poor honest man from his obscure place, and set him next, that something may run out of that full vessel to the other empty one. A sophister I will forbid to sit by a sophister, and one poet by another;

For beggars beggars, poets envy poets.
(Hesiod, “Work and Days,” 26)

I separate the clamorous scoffers and the testy, by putting some good-nature between them, so they cannot jostle so roughly on one another; wrestlers, hunters, and farmers I put in one company. For some of the same nature, when put together, fight as cocks; others are very sociable as daws. Drinkers and lovers I set together, not only those who (as Sophocles says) feel the sting of masculine love, but those that are mad after virgins or married women; for they being warmed with the like fire, as two pieces of iron to be joined, will more readily agree; unless perhaps they both fancy the same person.

QUESTION III.

Upon What Account is the Place at the Table Called Consular Esteemed Honorable.

THE SAME.

This raised a dispute about the dignity of places, for the same seat is not accounted honorable amongst all nations; in Persia the midst, for that is the place proper to the king himself; in Greece the uppermost; at Rome the lowermost of the middle bed, and this is called the consular; the Greeks about Pontus, and those of Heraclea, reckon the uppermost of the middle bed to be the chief. But we were most puzzled about the place called consular; for though it is esteemed most honorable, yet it is not because it is either the first or the midst; and its other circumstances are either not proper to that alone, or very frivolous. Though I confess three of the reasons alleged seemed to have something in them. The first, that the consuls, having dissolved the monarchy and reduced everything to a more equal level and popular estate, left the middle, the kingly place, and sat in a lower seat; that by this means their power and authority might be less subject to envy, and not so grievous to their fellow-citizens. The second, that, two beds being appointed for the invited guests, the third — and the first place in it — is most convenient for the master of the feast, from whence like a pilot, he can guide and order everything, and readily overlook the management of the whole affair. Besides, he is not so far removed that he can easily discourse, talk to, and compliment his guests; for next below him his wife and children usually are placed; next above him the most honorable of the invited, that being the most proper place, as near the master of the feast. The third reason was, that it is peculiar to the this place to be most convenient for the despatch of any sudden business; for the Roman consul will not as Archias, the governor of Thebes, say, when letters of importance are brought to him at dinner, “serious things tomorrow” and then throw aside the packet and take the great bowl; but he will be careful, circumspect, and mind it at that very instant. For not only (as the common saying hath it)

Each throw doth make the dicer fear,

but even midst his feasting and his pleasure a magistrate should be intent on intervening business; and he hath this place appointed, as the most convenient for him to receive any message, answer it, or sign a bill; for there the second bed joining with the third, the turning at the corner leaves a vacant space, so that a notary, servant, guard, or a messenger from the army might approach, deliver the message, and receive orders; and the consul, having room enough to speak or use his hand, neither troubles any one, nor is hindered by any the guests.

QUESTION IV.

What Manner of Man Should a Director of a Feast Be?

CRATO, THEON, PLUTARCH, and OTHERS.

Crato my relative, and Theon my acquaintance, at a certain banquet, where the glasses had gone round freely, and a little stir arose but was suddenly appeased, began to discourse of the office of the steward of a feast; declaring that it was my duty to wear the chaplet, assert the decaying privilege, and restore that office which should take care for the decency and good order of the banquet. This proposal pleased every one, and they were all an end begging me to do it. Well then, said I, since you will have it so, I make myself steward and director of you all, command the rest to drink every one what he will but Crato and Theon, the first proposers and authors of this decree, I enjoin to declare in short what qualifications fit a man for this office, what he should principally aim at and how behave himself towards those under his command. This is the subject, and let them agree amongst themselves which head each shall manage.

They made some slight excuse at first; but the whole company urging them to obey, Crato began thus. A captain of a watch (as Plato says) ought to be most watchful and diligent himself, and the director of merry companions ought to be the best. And such a one he is, that will not be easily overtaken or apt to refuse a glass; but as Cyrus in his epistle to the Spartans says, that in many other things he was more fit than his brother to be a king, and chiefly because he could bear abundance of wine. For one that is drunk must have an ill carriage and be apt to affront; and he that is perfectly sober must be unpleasant, and fitter to be a governor of a school than of a feast. Pericles as often as he was chosen general, when he put on his cloak, used to say to himself, as it were to refresh his memory, Take heed, Pericles, thou dost govern freemen, thou dost govern Greeks, thou dost govern Athenians. So let our director say privately to himself, Thou art a governor over friends, that he may remember to neither suffer them to be debauched nor stint their mirth. Besides he ought to have some skill in the serious studies of the guests and not be altogether ignorant of mirth and humor yet I would have him (as pleasant wine ought to be) a little severe and rough, for the liquor will soften and smooth him, and make his temper pleasant and agreeable. For as Xenophon says, that Clearchus’s rustic and morose humor in a battle, by reason of his bravery and heat, seemed pleasant and surprising; thus one that is not of a very sour nature, but grave and severe, being softened by a chirping cup becomes more pleasant and complaisant. But chiefly he should be acquainted with every one of the guests’ humors, what alteration the liquor makes in him, what passion he is most subject to, and what quantity he can bear; for it is not to be supposed different sorts of water bear various proportions to different sorts of wine (which kings’ cup-bearers understanding sometimes pour in more, sometimes less), and that man hath no such relation to them. This our director ought to know, and knowing, punctually observe; so that like a good musician, screwing up one and letting down another, he may make between these different natures a pleasing harmony and agreement; so that he shall not proportion his wine by measure, but give every one what was proper and agreeable, according to the present circumstances of time and strength of body. But if this is too difficult a task, yet it is necessary that a steward should know the common accidents of age and nature, such as these — that an old man will be sooner overtaken than a youth, one that leaps about or talks than he that is silent or sits still, the thoughtful and melancholy than the cheerful and the brisk. And he that understands these things is much more able to preserve quietness and order, than one that is perfectly ignorant and unskilful. Besides, I think none will doubt but that the steward ought to be a friend, and have no pique at any of the guests; for otherwise in his injunctions he will be intolerable, in his distributions unequal, in his jests apt to scoff and give offence. Such a figure, Theon, as out of wax, hath my discourse framed for the steward of a feast; and now I deliver him to you.

And Theon replied: He is welcome — a very well-shaped gentleman, and fitted for the office; but whether I shall not spoil him in my particular application, I cannot tell. In my opinion he seems such a one as will keep an entertainment to its primitive institution, and not suffer it to be changed, sometimes into a mooting hall, sometimes a school of rhetoric, now and then a dicing room, a playhouse, or a stage. For do not you observe some making fine orations and putting cases at a supper, others declaiming or reading some of their own compositions, and others proposing prizes to dancers and mimics? Alcibiades and Theodorus turned Polition’s banquet into a temple of initiation, representing there the sacred procession and mysteries of Ceres; now such things as these, in my opinion, ought not to be suffered by a steward, but he must permit such discourse only, such shows, such merriment, as promote the particular end and design of such entertainments; and that is, by pleasant conversation either to beget or maintain friendship and good-will among the guests; for an entertainment is only a pastime table with a glass of wine, ending in friendship through mutual goodwill.

But now because things pure and unmixed are usually surfeiting and odious, and the very mixture itself, unless the simples be well proportioned and opportunely put together, spoils the sweetness and goodness of the composition; it is evident that there ought to be a director to take care that the mirth and jollity of the guests be exactly and opportunely tempered. It is a common saying that a voyage near the land and a walk near the sea are the best recreation. Thus our steward should place seriousness and gravity next jollity and humor; that when they are merry, they should be on the very borders of gravity itself, and when grave and serious, they might be refreshed as sea-sick persons having an easy and short prospect to the mirth and jollity on land. For mirth may be exceeding useful, and make our grave discourses smooth and pleasant —

As near the bramble oft the lily grows,
And neighboring rue commands the blushing rose.

But against vain and empty tempers, that wantonly break in upon our feasts, like henbane mixed with the wine, he must advise the guests, lest scoffing and affronts creep in under these, lest in their questions or commands they grow scurrilous and abuse, as for instance by enjoining stutterers to sing, bald-pates to comb their heads, or a cripple to rise and dance. As the company abused Agapestor the Academic, one of whose legs was lame and withered, when in a ridiculing frolic they ordained that every man should stand upon his right leg and take off his glass, or pay a fine; and he, when it was his turn to command, enjoined the company to follow his example drink as he did, and having a narrow earthen pitcher brought in, he put his withered leg into it, and drank his glass and every one in the company, after a fruitless endeavor to imitate, paid his forfeit. It was a good humor of Agapestor’s and thus every little merry abuse must be as merrily revenged. Besides he must give such commands as will both please and profit, putting such as are familiar and easy to the person, and when performed will be for his credit and reputation. A songster must be enjoined to sing, an orator to speak, a philosopher to solve a problem, and a poet to make a song; for every one very readily and willingly undertakes that

In which he may outdo himself.

An Assyrian king by public proclamation promised a reward to him that would find out any new sort of luxury and pleasure. And let the governor, the king of an entertainments propose some pleasant reward for any one that introduceth inoffensive merriment, profitable delight and laughter, not such as attends scoffs and abusive jests, but kindness, pleasant humor, and goodwill; for these matters not being well looked after and observed spoil and ruin most of our entertainments. It is the office of a prudent man to hinder all sort of anger and contention; in the exchange, that which springs from covetousness; in the fencing and wrestling schools, from emulation; in offices and state affairs, from ambition; and in a feast or entertainment, from pleasantness and joke.

QUESTION V.

Why It is Commonly Said that Love Makes a Man a Poet.

SOSSIUS, PLUTARCH, and OTHERS.

One day when Sossius entertained us, upon singing some Sapphic verses, this question was started, how it could be true

That love in all doth vigorous thoughts inspire,
And teaches ignorants to tune the lyre?

Since Philoxenus, on the contrary, asserts, that the Cyclops

With sweet-tongued Muses cured his love.

Some said that love was bold and daring, venturing at new contrivances, and eager to accomplish, upon which account Plato calls it the enterpriser of everything; for it makes the reserved man talkative, the modest complimental, the negligent and sluggish industrious and observant; and, what is the greatest wonder, a close, hard, and covetous fellow, if he happens to be in love, as iron in fire, becomes pliable and soft, easy, good-natured, and very pleasant; as if there were something in that common jest. A lover’s purse is tied with the blade of a leek. Others said that love was like drunkenness; it makes men warm, merry, and dilated; and, when in that condition, they naturally slide down to songs and words in measure; and it is reported of Aeschylus, that he wrote tragedies after he was heated with a glass of wine; and my grandfather Lamprias in his cups seemed to outdo himself in starting questions and smart disputing, and usually said that, like frankincense, he exhaled more freely after he was warmed. And as lovers are extremely pleased with the sight of their beloved, so they praise with as much satisfaction as they behold; and as love is talkative in everything, so more especially in commendation; for lovers themselves believe, and would have all others think, that the object of their passion is pleasing and excellent; and this made Candaules the Lydian force Gyges into his chamber to behold the beauty of his naked wife. For they delight in the testimony of others, and therefore in all composures upon the lovely they adorn them with songs and verses, as we dress images with gold, that more may hear of them and that they may be remembered the more. For if they present a cock, horse, or any other thing to the beloved, it is neatly trimmed and set off with all the ornaments of art; and therefore, when they would present a compliment, they would have it curious, pleasing, as verse usually appears.

Sossius applauding these discourses added: Perhaps we may make a probable conjecture from Theophrastus’s discourse of Music, for I have lately read the book. Theophrastus lays down three causes of music — grief, pleasure and enthusiasm; for each of these changes the usual tone, and makes the voice slide into a cadence; for deep sorrow has something tunable in its groans, and therefore we perceive our orators in their conclusions, and actors in their complaints, are somewhat melodious, and insensibly fall into a tune. Excess of joy provokes the more airy men to frisk and dance and keep their steps, though unskilful in the art; and, as Pindar hath it,

They shout, and roar, and wildly toss their heads.

But the graver sort are excited only to sing, raise their voice, and tune their words into a sonnet. But enthusiasm quite changes the body and the voice, and makes it far different from its usual constitution. Hence the very Bacchae use measure, and the inspired give their oracles in measure. And we shall see very few madmen but are frantic in rhyme and rave in verse. This being certain, if you will but anatomize love a little, and look narrowly into it, it will appear that no passion in the world is attended with more violent grief, more excessive joy, or greater ecstasies and fury; a lover’s soul looks like Sophocles’s city:—

At once ’tis full of sacrifice,
Of joyful songs, of groans and cries.’
(Sophocles, “Oedipus Tyrannus,” 4.)

And therefore it is no wonder, that since love contains all the causes of music — grief, pleasure, and enthusiasm — and is besides industrious and talkative, it should incline us more than any other passion to poetry and songs.

QUESTION VI.

Whether Alexander Was a Great Drinker.

PHILINUS, PLUTARCH, and OTHERS.

Some said that Alexander did not drink much, but sat long in company, discoursing with his friends; but Philinus showed this to be an error from the king’s diary, where it was very often registered that such a day, and sometimes two days together, the king slept after a debauch; and this course of life made him cold in love, but passionate and angry, which argues a hot constitution. And some report his sweat was fragrant and perfumed his clothes; which is another argument of heat, as we see the hottest and driest climates bear frankincense and cassia; for a fragrant smell, as Theophrastus thinks, proceeds from a due concoction of the humors, when the noxious moisture is conquered by the heat. And it is thought probable, that he took a pique at Calisthenes for avoiding his table because of the hard drinking, and refusing the great bowl called Alexander’s in his turn, adding, I will not drink of Alexander’s bowl, to stand in need of Aesculapius’s. And thus much of Alexander’s drinking.

Story tells us, that Mithridates, the famous enemy of the Romans, among other trials of skill that he instituted, proposed a reward to the greatest eater and the stoutest drinker in his kingdom. He won both the prizes himself; he outdrank every man living, and for his excellency that way was called Bacchus. But this reason for his surname is a vain fancy and an idle story; for whilst he was an infant a flash of lightning burnt his cradle, but did his body no harm, and only left a little mark on his forehead, which his hair covered when he was grown a boy; and after he came to be a man, another flash broke into his bedchambers, and burnt the arrows in a quiver that was hanging under him; from whence his diviners presaged, that archers and light-armed men should win him considerable victories in his wars; and the vulgar gave him this name, because in those many dangers by lightning he bore some resemblance to the Theban Bacchus.

From hence great drinkers were the subject of our discourse; and the wrestler Heraclides (or, as the Alexandrians mince it, Heraclus), who lived but in the last age, was accounted one. He, when he could get none to hold out with him, invited some to take their morning’s draught, others to dinner, to supper others, and others after, to take a merry glass of wine; so that as the first went off, the second came, and the third and fourth company and he all the while without any intermission took his glass round, and outsat all the four companies.

Amongst the retainers to Drusus, the Emperor Tiberus’s son, was a physician that drank down all the court; he, before he sat down, would usually take five or six bitter almonds to prevent the operation of the wine; but whenever he was forbidden that, he knocked under presently, and a single glass dozed him. Some think these almonds have a penetrating, abstersive quality, are able to cleanse the face, and clear it from the common freckles; and therefore, when they are eaten, by their bitterness vellicate and fret the pores, and by that means draw down the ascending vapors from the head. But, in my opinion, a bitter quality is a drier, and consumes moisture; and therefore a bitter taste is the most unpleasant. For, as Plato says, dryness, being an enemy to moisture, unnaturally contracts the spongy and tender nerves of the tongue. And green ulcers are usually drained by bitter injections. Thus Homer:—

He squeezed his herbs, and bitter juice applied;
And straight the blood was stanched, the sore was dried.
(“Iliad,” xi. 846.)

And he guesses well, that what is bitter to the taste is a drier. Besides, the powders women use to dry up their sweat are bitter, and by reason of that quality astringent. This then being certain, it is no wonder that the bitterness of the almonds hinders the operation of the wine, since it dries the inside of the body and keeps the veins from being overcharged; for from their distention and disturbance they say drunkenness proceeds. And this conjecture is much confirmed from that which usually happens to a fox; for if he eats bitter almonds without drinking, his moisture suddenly fails, and it is present death.

QUESTION VII.

Why Old Men Love Pure Wine.

PLUTARCH and OTHERS.

It was debated why old men loved the strongest liquors. Some, fancying that their natural heat decayed and their constitution grew cold, said such liquors were most necessary and agreeable to their age; but this was mean and the obvious, and besides, neither a sufficient nor a true reason; for the like happens to all their other senses. For they are not easily moved or wrought on by any qualities, unless they are in intense degrees and make a vigorous impression; but the reason is the laxity of the habit of their body, for that, being grown lax and weak, loves a smart stroke. Thus their taste is pleased most with strong sapors, their smelling with brisk odors; for strong and unalloyed qualities make a more pleasing impression on the sense. Their touch is almost senseless to a sore, and a wound generally raises no sharp pain. The like also in their hearing may be observed; for old musicians play louder and sharper than others, that they may move their own dull tympanum with the sound. For what steel is to the edge in a knife, that spirit is to the sense in the body; and therefore, when the spirits fail, the sense grows dull and stupid, and cannot be raised, unless by something, such as strong wine, that makes a vigorous impression.

QUESTION VIII.

Why Old Men Read Best at a Distance.

PLUTARCH, LAMPRIAS, and OTHERS.

To my discourse in the former problem some objection may be drawn from the sense of seeing in old men; for, if they hold a book at a distance, they will read pretty well, nearer they cannot see a letter and this Aeschylus means by these verses:—

Behold from far; for near thou canst not see;
A good old scribe thou mayst much sooner be.

And Sophocles more plainly:—

Old men are slow in talk, they hardly hear;
Far off they see; but all are blind when near.

And therefore, if old men’s organs are more obedient to strong and intense qualities, why, when they read, do they not take the reflection near at hand, but, holding the book a good way off, mix and weaken it by the intervening air, as wine by water?

Some answered, that they did not remove the book to lesson the light, but to receive more rays, and let all the space between the letters and their eyes be filled with lightsome air. Others agreed with those that imagine the rays of vision mix with one another; for since there is a cone stretched between each eye and the object, whose point is in the eye and whose basis is the object, it is probable that for some way each cone extends apart and by itself; but, when the distance increases, they mix and make but one common light; and therefore every object appears single and not two, though it is seen by both eyes at once; for the conjunction of the cones makes these two appearances but one. These things supposed, when old men hold the letters close to their eyes, the cones not being joined, but each apart and by itself, their sight is weak; but when they remove it farther, the two lights being mingled and increased, see better, as a man with both hands can hold that for which either singly is too weak.

But my brother Lamprias, though unacquainted with Hieronymus’s notions, gave us another reason. We see, said he, some species that come from the object to the eye, which at their first rise are thick and great; and therefore when near disturb old men, whose eyes are stiff and not easily penetrated; but when they are separated and diffused into the air, the thick obstructing parts are easily removed, and the subtile remainders coming to the eye gently and easily slide into the pores; and so the disturbance being less, the sight is more vigorous and clear. Thus a rose smells most fragrant at a distance; but if you bring it near the nose, it is not so pure and delightful; and the reason is this — many earthy disturbing particles are carried with the smell, and spoil the fragrancy when near, but in a longer passage those are lost, and the pure brisk odor, by reason of its subtility, reaches and acts upon the sense.

But we, according to Plato’s opinion, assert that a bright spirit darted from the eye mixes with the light about the object, and those two are perfectly blended into one similar body; now these must be joined in due proportion one to another; for one part ought not wholly to prevail on the other, but both, being proportionally and amicably joined, should agree in one third common power. Now this (whether flux, illuminated spirit, or ray) in old men being very weak, there can be no combination, no mixture with the light about the object; but it must be wholly consumed, unless, by removing the letters from their eyes, they lessen the brightness of the light, so that it comes to the sight not too strong or unmixed, but well proportioned and blended with the other. And this explains that common affection of creatures seeing in the dark; for their eyesight being weak is overcome and darkened by the splendor of the day; because the little light that flows from their eyes cannot be proportionably mixed with the stronger and more numerous beams; but it is proportionable and sufficient for the feeble splendor of the stars, and so can join with it, and cooperate to move the sense.

QUESTION IX.

Why Fresh Water Washes Clothes Better Than Salt.

THEON, THEMISTOCLES, METRIUS, FLORUS, PLUTARCH; and OTHERS.

Theon the grammarian, when Metrius Florus gave us an entertainment, asked Themistocles the Stoic, why Chrysippus, though he frequently mentioned some strange phenomena in nature (as that salt meat soaked in salt water grows fresher than before; fleeces of wool are more easily separated by a gentle than a quick and violent force, and men that are fasting eat slower than those who took a breakfast), yet never gave any reason for the appearance. And Themistocles replied, that Chrysippus only proposed such things by the by, as instances to correct us, who easily assent and without any reason to what seems likely, and disbelieve everything that seems unlikely at the first sight. But why, sir, are you concerned at this? For if you are speculative and would inquire into the causes of things you need not want subjects in your own profession; but pray tell me why Homer makes Nausicaa wash in the river rather than the sea, though it was near, and in all likelihood hotter, clearer, and fitter to wash with than that? And Theon replied: Aristotle hath already given an account for this from the grossness of the sea water; for in this an abundance of rough earthy particles is mixed, and those make it salt; and upon this account swimmers or any other weights sink not so much in sea water as in fresh for the latter, being thin and weak, yields to every pressure and is easily divided, because it is pure and unmixed and by reason of this subtility of parts it penetrates better than salt water, and so looseneth from the clothes the sticking particles of the spot. And is not this discourse of Aristotle very probable?

Probable indeed, I replied, but not true; for I have observed that with ashes, gravel, or, if these are not to be gotten, with dust itself they usually thicken the water, as if the earthy particles being rough would scour better than fair water, whose thinness makes it weak and ineffectual. And therefore he is mistaken when he says the thickness of the sea water hinders the effect, since the sharpness of the mixed particles very much conduces to make it cleansing; for that open the pores, and draws out the stain. But since all oily matter is most difficult to be washed out and spots a cloth, and the sea is oily, that is the reason why it doth not scour as well as fresh and that it is oily, even Aristotle himself asserts, for salt in his opinion hath some oil in it, and therefore makes candles, when sprinkled on them, burn the better and clearer than before. And sea water sprinkled on a flame increaseth it, and it more easily kindled than any other; in my opinion, makes it hotter than the fresh. And besides, I may urge another cause; for the end of washing is drying, and that seems cleanest which is driest; and the moisture that scours (as hellebore, with the humors that it purges) ought to fly away quickly together with the stain. The sun quickly draws out the fresh water, because it is so light but the salt water being rough lodges in the pores, and therefore is not easily dried.

And Theon replied: You say just nothing, sir; for Aristotle in the same book affirms that those that wash in the sea, if they stand in sun, are sooner dried than those that wash in the fresh streams. If it is true, I am answered, he says so; but I hope that Homer asserting the contrary will, by you especially, be more easily believed; for Ulysses (as he writes) after his shipwreck meeting Nausicaa,

A frightful sight, and with the salt besmeared

said to her maidens,

Retire a while, till I have washed my skin,

And when he had leaped into the river,

He from his head did scour the foaming sea.
(See “Odyssey,” vi. 137, 218, 226.)

The poet knew very well what happens in such a case; for when those that come wet out of the sea stand in the sun, the subtilest and lightest parts suddenly exhale, but the salt and rough particles stick upon the body in a crust, till they are washed away by the fresh water of a spring.

QUESTION X.

Why at Athens the Chorus of the Tribe Aeantis Was Never Determined to Be the Last.

PHILOPAPPUS, MARCUS, MILO, GLAUCIAS, PLUTARCH, and OTHERS.

When we were feasting at Serapion’s, who gave an entertainment after the tribe Leontis under his order and direction had won the prize (for we were citizens and free of that tribe), a very pertinent discourse, and proper to the then occasion, happened. It had been a very notable trial of skill, the king Philopappus being very generous and magnificent in his rewards, and defraying the expenses of all the tribes. He was at the same feast with us and being a very good-humored man and eager for instruction, he would now and then freely discourse of ancient customs, and as freely hear.

Marcus the grammarian began thus: Neanthes the Cyzicenian, in his book called the “Fabulous Narrations of the City,” affirms that it was a privilege of the tribe Aeantis that their chorus should never be determined to be the last. It is true, he brings some stories for confirmation of what he says; but if he falsifies, the matter is open, and let us all inquire after the reason of the thing. But, says Milo, suppose it be a mere tale. It is no strange thing replied Philopappus, if in our disquisitions after truth we meet now and then with such a thing as Democritus the philosopher did; for he one day eating a cucumber, and finding it of a honey taste, asked his maid where she bought it; and she telling him in such a garden, he rose from table and bade her direct him to the place. The maid surprised asked him what he meant; and he replied, I must search after the cause of the sweetness of the fruit, and shall find it the sooner if I see the place. The maid with a smile replied, Sit still, pray, sir, for I unwittingly put it into a honey barrel. And he, as it were discontented, cried out, Shame take thee, yet I will pursue my purpose, and seek after the cause, as if this sweetness were a taste natural and proper to the fruit. Therefore neither will we admit Neanthes’s credulity and inadvertency in some stories as an excuse and a good reason for avoiding this disquisition; for we shall exercise our thoughts by it, though no other advantage rises from that inquiry.

Presently every one poured out something in commendation of that tribe, mentioning every matter that made for its credit and reputation. Marathon was brought in as belonging to it, and Harmodius with his associates, by birth Aphidneans, were also produced as glorious members of that tribe. The orator Glaucias proved that that tribe made up the right wing in the battle at Marathon, from the elegies of Aeschylus, who had himself fought valiantly in the same encounter; and farther evinced that Callimachus the field marshal was of that tribe, who behaved himself very bravely, and was the principal cause next to Miltiades, with whose opinion he concurred, that that battle was fought. To this discourse of Glaucias I added, that the edict which impowered Miltiades to lead forth the Athenians, was made when the tribe Aeantis was chief of the assembly, and that in the battle of Plataea the same tribe won the greatest glory; and upon that account, as the oracle directed, that tribe offered a sacrifice for this victory to the nymphs Sphragitides, the city providing a victim and all other necessaries belonging to it. But you may observe (I continued) that other tribes likewise have their peculiar glories; and you know that mine, the tribe Leontids, yields to none in any point of reputation. Besides, consider whether it is not more probable that this was granted out of a particular respect, and to please Ajax, from whom this tribe received its name; for we know he could not endure to be outdone, but was easily hurried on to the greatest enormities by his contentious and passionate humor; and therefore to comply with him and afford him some comfort in his disasters, they secured him from the most vexing grievance that follows the misfortune of the conquered, by ordering that his tribe should never be determined to be last.

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