Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book II.

Of the several things that are provided for an entertainment, some, my Sossius Senecio, are absolutely necessary; such are wine, bread, meat, lounges, and tables. Others are brought in, not for necessity, but pleasure; such are songs, shows, mimics, and buffoons; which, when present, delight indeed, but when absent, are not eagerly desired; nor is the entertainment looked upon as mean because such things are wanting. Just so of discourses; some the sober men admit as necessary to a banquet, and others for their pretty nice speculations, as more profitable and agreeable than the fiddle and the pipe. My former book gives you examples of both sorts. Of the first are these, Whether we should philosophize at table? — Whether the entertainer should appoint proper seats, or leave the guests to agree upon there own? Of the second, Why lovers are inclined to poetry? And the question about the tribe of Aeantis. The former I call properly [Greek omitted] but both together I comprehend under the general name of Symposiacs. They are promiscuously set down, not in the exact method, but as each singly occurred to memory. And let not my readers wonder that I dedicate these collections to you, which I have received from others or your own mouth; for if all learning is not bare remembrance, yet to learn and to remember are very commonly one and the same.


What, As Xenophon Intimates, are the Most Agreeable Questions and Most Pleasant Raillery at an Entertainment?


Now each book being divided into ten questions, that shall make the first in this, which Socratial Xenophon hath as it were proposed; for he tells that, Gobryas banqueting with Cyrus, amongst other things he found admirable in the Persians, was surprised to hear them ask one another such questions that it was more pleasant to be interrogated than to be let alone, and pass such jests on one another that it was more pleasant to be jested on than not. For if some, even whilst they praise, offend, why should not their polite and neat facetiousness be admired, whose very raillery is delightful and pleasant to him that is the subject of it? Once you said: I wish I could learn what kind of questions those are; for to be skilled in and make right use of apposite questions and pleasant raillery, I think is no small part of conversation.

A considerable one, I replied; but pray observe whether Xenophon himself, in his descriptions of Socrates’s and the Persian entertainments, hath not sufficiently explained them. But if you would have my thoughts, first, men are pleased to be asked those questions to which they have an answer ready; such are those in which the persons asked have some skill and competent knowledge; for when the inquiry is above their reach, those that can return nothing are troubled, as if requested to give something beyond their power; and those that do answer, producing some crude and insufficient demonstration, must needs be very much concerned, and apt to blunder on the wrong. Now, if the answer not only is easy but hath something not common, it is more pleasing to them that make it; and this happens, when their knowledge is greater than that of the vulgar, as suppose they are well skilled in points of astrology or logic. For not only in action and serious matters, but also in discourse, every one hath a natural disposition to be pleased (as Euripides hath it)

To seem far to outdo himself.

And all are delighted when men put such questions as they understand, and would have others know that they are acquainted with; and therefore travellers and merchants are most satisfied when their company is inquisitive about other countries, the unknown ocean, and the laws and manners of the barbarians; they are very ready to inform them, and describe the countries and the creeks, imagining this to be some recompense for their toil, some comfort for the dangers they have passed. In short, whatever though unrequested, we are wont to discourse of, we are desirous to be asked; because then we seem to gratify those whom otherwise our prattle would disturb and force from our conversation. And this is the common disease of travellers. But more genteel and modest men love to be asked about those things which they have bravely and successfully performed, and which modesty will not permit to be spoken by themselves before company; and therefore Nestor did well when, being acquainted with Ulysses’s desire of reputation, he said,

Tell, brave Ulysses, glory of the Greeks,
How you the horses seized.
(“Iliad,” x. 544.)

For man cannot endure the insolence of those who praise themselves and repeat their own exploits, unless the company desires it and they are forced to a relation; therefore it tickles them to be asked about their embassies and administrations of the commonwealth, if they have done anything notable in either. And upon this account the envious and ill-natured start very few questions of that they sort; that thwart and hinder all such kind of motions, being very unwilling to give any occasion or opportunity for that discourse which shall tend to the advantage of the relater. In short, we please those to whom we put them, when we start questions about those matters which their enemies hate to hear.

Ulysses says to Alcinous,

You bid me tell what various ills I bore,
That the sad tale might make me grieve the more.
(Sophocles, “Oedipus at Colonus,” 510.)

And Oedipus says to the chorus,

’Tis pain to raise again a buried grief.
(“Odyssey,” ix. 12.)

But Euripides on the contrary,

How sweet it is, when we are lulled in ease,
To think of toils! — when well, of a disease!
(Euripides, “Andromeda,” Frag. 131.)

True indeed, but not to those that are still tossed, still under a misfortune. Therefore be sure never ask a man about his own calamities; it is irksome to relate his losses of children or estate, or any unprosperous adventure by sea or land; but ask a man how he carried the cause, how he was caressed by the king, how he escaped such a storm, such an assault, thieves, and the like; this pleaseth him, he seems to enjoy it over again in his relation, and is never weary of the topic. Besides, men love to be asked about their happy friends, or children that have made good progress in philosophy or the law, or are great at court; as also about the disgrace and open conviction of their enemies; or of such matters they are most eager to discourse, yet are cautious of beginning it themselves, lest they should seem to insult over and rejoice at the misery of others. You please a hunter if you ask him about dogs, a wrestler about exercise, and an amorous man about beauties; the ceremonious and superstitious man discourses about dreams, and what success he hath had by following the directions of omens or sacrifices, and by the kindness of the gods; and some questions concerning those things will extremely please him. He that inquires anything of an old man, though the story doth not at all concern him, wins his heart, and urges one that is very willing to discourse:—

Nelides Nestor, faithfully relate
How great Atrides died, what sort of fate;
And where was Menelaus largely tell?
Did Argos hold him when the hero fell?
(“Odyssey,” iii. 247.)

Here is a multitude of questions and variety of subjects; which is much better than to confine and cramp his answers, and so deprive the old man of the most pleasant enjoyment he can have. In short, they that had rather please than distaste will still propose such questions, the answers to which shall rather get the praise and good-will than the contempt and hatred of the hearers. And so much of questions.

As for raillery, those that cannot use it cautiously with art, and time it well, should never venture at it. For as in a slippery place, if you but just touch a man as you pass by, you throw him down; so when we are in drink, we are in danger of tripping at every little word that is not spoken with due address. And we are more apt to be offended with a joke than a plain and scurrilous abuse; for we see the latter often slip from a man unwittingly in passion, but consider the former as a thing voluntary, proceeding from malice and ill-nature; and therefore we are generally more offended at a sharp jeerer than a whistling snarler. Such a jest has indeed something designedly malicious about it, and often seems to be an insult skilfully devised and prepared. For instance, he that calls thee salt-fish monger plainly and openly abuseth; but he that says, I remember when you wiped your nose upon your sleeve, maliciously jeers. Such was Cicero’s to Octavius, who was thought to be descended from an African slave; for when Cicero spoke something, and Octavius said he did not hear him, Cicero rejoined, Remarkable, for you have a hole through your ear. And Melanthius, when he was ridiculed by a comedian, said, You pay me now something that you do not owe me. And upon this account jeers vex more; for like bearded arrows they stick a long while, and gall the wounded sufferer. Their smartness is pleasant, and delights the company; and those that are pleased with the saving seem to believe the detracting speaker. For according to Theophrastus, a jeer is a figurative reproach for some fault or misdemeanor; and therefore he that hears it supplies the concealed part, as if he knew and gave credit to the thing. For he that laughs and is tickled at what Theocritus said to one whom he suspected of a design upon his clothes, and who asked him if he went to supper at such a place — Yes, he replied, I go, but shall likewise lodge there all night — doth, as it were, confirm the accusation, and believe the fellow was a thief. And therefore an impertinent jeerer makes the whole company seem ill-natured and abusive, as being pleased with and consenting to the scurrility of the jeer. It was one of the excellent laws in Sparta, that none should be bitter in their jests, and the jeered should patiently endure; but if he took offence, the other was to forbear, and pursue the frolic no farther. How is it possible therefore to determine such raillery as shall delight and please the person that is jested on, when to be smart without offence is no mean piece of cunning and address?

First then, such as will vex and gall the conscious must please those that are clean, innocent, and not suspected of the matter. Such a joke is Xenophon’s, when he pleasantly brings in a very ugly ill-looking fellow, and is smart upon him for being Sambaulas’s minion. Such was that of Aufidius Modestus, who, when our friend Quinitus in an ague complained his hands were cold, replied, Sir, you brought them warm from your province; for this made Quintius laugh, and extremely pleased him; yet it had been a reproach and abuse to a covetous and oppressing governor. Thus Socrates, pretending to compare faces with the beauteous Critobulus, rallied only, and not abused. And Alcibiades again was smart on Socrates, as his rival in Agatho’s affection. Kings are pleased when jests are put upon them as if they were private and poor men. Such was the flatterer’s to Philip, who chided him: Sir, don’t I keep you? For those that mention faults of which the persons are not really guilty intimate those virtues with which they are really adorned. But then it is requisite that those virtues should be evident and certainly belong to them; otherwise the discourse will breed disturbance and suspicion. He that tells a very rich man that he will procure him a sum of money — a temperate sober man, and one that drinks water only, that he is foxed, or hath taken a cup too much — a hospitable, generous, good-humored man, that he is a niggard and pinch-penny — or threatens an excellent lawyer to meet him at the bar — must make the persons smile and please the company. Thus Cyrus was very obliging and complaisant, when he challenged his playfellows at those sports in which he was sure to be overcome. And Ismenias piping at a sacrifice, when no good omens appeared, the man that hired him snatched the pipe, and played very ridiculously himself; and when all found fault, he said: To play satisfactorily is the gift of Heaven. And Ismenias with a smile replied: Whilst I played, the gods were so well pleased that they were careless of the sacrifice; but to be rid of thy noise they presently received it.

But more, those that jocosely put scandalous names upon things commendable, if it be opportunely done, please more than he that plainly and openly commends; for those that cover a reproach under fair and respectful words (as he that calls an unjust man Aristides, a coward Achilles) gall more than those that openly abuse. Such is that of Oedipus, in Sophocles —

The faithful Creon, my most constant friend.
(Sophocles, “Oedipus Tyrannus,” 385.)

The familiar irony in commendations answers to this on the other side. Such Socrates used, when he called the kind endeavor and industry of Antisthenes to make men friends pimping, bawds-craft, and allurement; and others that called Crates the philosopher, who wherever he went was caressed and honored, the door-opener.

Again, a complaint that implies thankfulness for a received favor is pleasant raillery. Thus Diogenes of his master Antisthenes:—

That man that made me leave my precious ore,
Clothed me with rags, and forced me to be poor;
That man that made me wander, beg my bread,
And scorn to have a house to hide my head.

For it had not been half so pleasant to have said, that man that made me wise, content, and happy. And a Spartan, making as if he would find fault with the master of the exercises for giving him wood that would not smoke, said, He will not permit us even to shed a tear. And he calls a hospitable man, and one that treats often, a kidnapper, and a tyrant who for a long time would not permit him to see his own table; and he whom the king hath raised and enriched, that says he had a design upon him and robbed him of his sleep and quiet. So if he that hath an excellent vintage should complain of Aeschlus’s Cabeiri for making him want vinegar, as they haul jocosely threatened. For such as these have a pungent pleasantness, so that the praised are not offended nor take it ill.

Besides, he that would be civilly facetious must know the difference between a vice and a commendable study or recreation; for instance, between the love of money or contention and of music or hunting; for men are grieved if twitted with the former, but take it very well if they are laughed at for the latter. Thus Demosthenes the Mitylenean was pleasant enough when, knocking at a man’s door that was much given to singing and playing on the harp, and being bid come in, he said, I will, if you will tie up your harp. But the flatterer of Lysimachus was offensive; for being frighted at a wooden scorpion that the king threw into his lap, and leaping out of his seat, he said after he knew the humor, And I’ll fright your majesty too; give me a talent.

In several things about the body too the like caution is to be observed. Thus he that is jested on for a flat or hooked nose usually laughs at the jest. Thus Cassander’s friend was not at all displeased when Theophrastus said to him, ’Tis strange, sir, that your eyes don’t play, since your nose is so near and so well fitted for a pipe to give them the tune; and Cyrus commanded a long hawk-nosed fellow to marry a flat-nosed girl, for then they would very well agree. But a jest on any for his stinking breath or filthy nose is irksome; for baldness it may be borne, but for blindness or infirmity in the eyes it is intolerable. It is true, Antigonus would joke upon himself, and once, receiving a petition written in great letters, he said, This a man may read if he were stark blind. But he killed Theocritus the Chian for saying — when one told him that as soon as he appeared before the king’s eyes he would be pardoned — Sir, then it is impossible for me to be saved. And the Byzantine to Pasiades saying, Sir, your eyes are weak, replied, You upbraid me with this infirmity, not considering that thy son carries the vengeance of Heaven on his back: now Pasiades’s son was hunch-backed. And Archippus the popular Athenian was much displeased with Melanthius for being smart on his crooked back; for Melanthius had said that he did not stand at the head of the state but bowed down before it. It is true, some are not much concerned at such jeers. Thus Antigonus’s friend, when he had begged a talent and was denied, desired a guard, lest somebody should rob him of that talent he was now to carry home. Different tempers make men differently affected, and that which troubles one is not regarded by another. Epaminondas feasting with his fellow-magistrates drank vinegar; and some asking if it was good for his health, he replied, I cannot tell that, but I know it makes me remember what I drink at home. Therefore it becomes every man that would rally, to look into the humors of his company, and take heed to converse without offence.

Love, as in most things else, so in this matter causes different effects; for some lovers are pleased and some displeased at a merry jest. Therefore in this case a fit time must be accurately observed; for as a blast of wind puffs out a fire whilst it is weak and little, but when thoroughly kindled strengthens and increaseth it; so love, before it is evident and confessed, is displeased at a discoverer, but when it breaks forth and blazes in everybody’s eyes, then it is delighted and gathers strength by the frequent blasts of joke and raillery. When their beloved is present it will gratify them most to pass a jest upon their passion, but to fall on any other subject will be counted an abuse. If they are remarkably loving to their own wives, or entertain a generous affection for a hopeful youth, then are they proud, then tickled when jeered for such a love. And therefore Arcesilaus, when an amorous man in his school laid down this proposition, in my opinion one thing cannot touch another, replied, Sir you touch this person, pointing to a lovely boy that sat near him.

Besides, the company must be considered; for what a man will only laugh at when mentioned amongst his friends and familiar acquaintance, he will not endure to be told of before his wife, father, or his tutor, unless perhaps it be something that will please those too; as for instance, if before a philosopher one should jeer a man for going barefoot or studying all night; or before his father, for carefulness and thrift; or in the presence of his wife, for being cold to his companions and doting upon her. Thus Tigranes, when Cyrus asked him, What will your wife say when she hears that you are put to servile offices? replied, Sir, she will not hear it, but be present herself and see it.

Again, those jokes are accounted less affronting which reflect somewhat also on the man that makes them; as when one poor man, base-born fellow, or lover jokes upon another. For whatever comes from one in the same circumstances looks more like a piece of mirth than a designed affront; but otherwise it must needs be irksome and distasteful. Upon this account, when a slave whom the king had lately freed and enriched behaved himself very impertinently in the company of some philosophers, asking them, how it came to pass that the broth of beans whether white or black, was always green, Aridices putting another question, why, let the whips be white or not, the wales and marks they made were still red, displeased him extremely, and made him rise from the table in a great rage and discontent. But Amphias the Tarsian, who was supposed to be sprung from a gardener, joking upon the governor’s friend for his obscure and mean birth, and presently subjoining, But ’tis true, I sprung from the same seed, caused much mirth and laughter. And the harper very facetiously put a cheek to Philip’s ignorance and impertinence; for when Philip pretended to correct him, he cried out, God forbid, sir, that ever you should be brought so low as to understand these things better than I. For by this seeming joke he instructed him without giving any offence. And therefore some of the comedians seem to lay aside their bitterness in every jest that may reflect upon themselves; as Aristophanes, when he is merry upon a baldpate; and Cratinus in his play “Pytine” upon drunkenness and excess.

Besides, you must be very careful that the jest should seem to be extempore, taken from some present question or merry humor; not far-fetched, as if premeditate and designed. For as men are not much concerned at the anger and disputes among themselves at table while they are drinking, but if any stranger should come in and offer abuse, they would hate and look upon him as an enemy; so they will easily pardon and indulge a jest if undesignedly taken from any present circumstance; but if it is nothing to the matter in hand but fetched from another thing, it must look like a design and be resented as an affront. Such was that of Timagenes to the husband of a woman that often vomited — “Thou beginnest thy troubles by bringing home this vomiting woman,” saying [Greek omitted] (this vomiting woman), when the poet had written [Greek omitted] (this Muse); and also his question to Athenodorus the philosopher — Is affection to our children natural? For when the raillery is not founded on some present circumstance, it is an argument of ill-nature and a mischievous temper; and such as these do often for a mere word, the lightest thing in the world (as Plato says), suffer the heaviest punishment. But those that know how to time and apply a jest confirm Plato’s opinion, that to rally pleasantly and facetiously is the business of a scholar and a wit.


Why in Autumn Men Have Better Stomachs Than in Other Seasons of the Year.


In Eleusis, after the solemn celebration of the sacred mysteries, Glaucias the orator entertained us at a feast; where after the rest had done, Xenocles of Delphi, as his humor is, began to be smart upon my brother Lamprias for his good Boeotian stomach. I in his defence opposing Xenocles, who was an Epicurean, said, Pray, sir, do not all place the very substance of pleasure in privation of pain and suffering? But Lamprias, who prefers the Lyceum before the Garden, ought by his practice to confirm Aristotle’s doctrine; for he affirms that every man hath a better stomach in the autumn than in other seasons of the year, and gives the reason, which I cannot remember at present. So much the better (says Glaucias), for when supper is done, we will endeavor to discover it ourselves. That being over, Glaucias and Xenocles drew various reasons from the autumnal fruit. One said that it scoured the body, and by this evacuation continually raised new appetites. Xenocles affirmed, that ripe fruit had usually a pleasing, vellicating sapor, and thereby provoked the appetite better than sauces or sweetmeats; for sick men of a vitiated stomach usually recover it by eating fruit. But Lamprias said, that our natural heat, the principal instrument of nutrition, in the midst of summer is scattered and becomes rare and weak, but when autumn comes it unites again and gathers strength, being shut in by the ambient cold and contraction of the pores, and I for my part said: In summer we are more thirsty and use more moisture than in other seasons; and therefore Nature, observing the same method in all her operations, at this change of seasons employs the contrary and makes us hungry; and to maintain an equal temper in the body, she gives us dry food to countervail the moisture taken in the summer. Yet none can deny but that the food itself is a partial cause; for not only new fruit, bread, or corn, but flesh of the same year, is better tasted than that of the former, more forcibly provokes the guests, and enticeth them to eat on.


Which Was First the Bird or the Egg?


When upon a dream I had forborne eggs a long time, on purpose that in an egg (as in a heart) I might make experiment of a notable vision that often troubled me; some at Sossius Senecio’s table suspected that I was tainted with Orpheus’s or Pythagoras’s opinions, and refused to eat an egg (as some do the heart and brain) imagining it to be the principle of generation. And Alexander the Epicurean ridiculingly repeated,

To feed on beans and parents’ heads
Is equal sin;

As if the Pythagoreans meant eggs by the word [Greek omitted] (BEANS), deriving it from [Greek omitted](TO CONCEIVE), and thought it as unlawful to feed on eggs as on the animals that lay them. Now to pretend a dream for the cause of my abstaining, to an Epicurean, had been a defence more irrational than the cause itself; and therefore I suffered jocose Alexander to enjoy his opinion, for he was a pleasant man and an excellent scholar.

Soon after he proposed that perplexed question, that plague of the inquisitive, Which was first, the bird or the egg? And my friend Sylla, saying that with this little question, as with an engine, we shook the great and weighty problem (whether the world had a beginning), declared his dislike of such questions. But Alexander deriding the question as slight and impertinent, my relation Firmus said:. Well, sir, at present your atoms will do me some service; for if we suppose that small things must be the principles of greater, it is likely that the egg was before the bird; for an egg amongst sensible things is very simple, and the bird is more mixed, and contains a greater variety of parts. It is universally true that a principle is before that whose principle it is; now the seed is a principle, and the egg is somewhat more than the seed and less than the bird for as a disposition or a progress in goodness is something between a tractable mind and a habit of virtue, so an egg is as it were a progress of Nature tending from the seed to a perfect animal. And as in an animal they say the veins and arteries are formed first, upon the same account the egg should be before the bird, as the thing containing before the thing contained. Thus art first makes rude and ill-shapen figures and afterwards perfects everything with its proper form; and it was for this that the statuary Polycletus said, Then our work is most difficult, when the clay comes to be fashioned by the fingers. So it is probable that matter, not readily obeying the slow motions of contriving Nature, at first frames rude and indefinite masses, as the egg, and of these moulded anew, and joined in better order, the animal afterward is formed. As the canker is first, and then growing dry and cleaving lets forth a winged animal, called psyche; so the egg is first as it were the subject-matter of the generation. For it is certain that, in every change, that out of which the thing changes must be before the thing changing. Observe how worms and caterpillars are bred in trees from the moisture corrupted or concocted; now none can say but that the engendering moisture is naturally before all these. For (as Plato says) matter is as a mother or nurse in respect of the bodies that are formed, and we call that matter out of which anything that is made. And with a smile continued he, I speak to those that are acquainted with the mystical and sacred discourse of Orpheus, who not only affirms the egg to be before the bird, but makes it the first being in the whole world. The other parts, because deep mysteries, we shall now pass by; but let us look upon the various kinds of animals, and we shall find almost every one beginning from an egg — fowls and fishes; land animals, as lizards; amphibious, as crocodiles; some with two legs, as a cock; some without any, as a snake; and some with many, as a locust. And therefore in the solemn feast of Bacchus it is very well done to dedicate an egg, as the emblem of that which begets and contains everything in itself.

To this discourse of Firmus, Senecio replied: Sir, your last similitude contradicts your first, and you have unwittingly opened the world (instead of the door, as the proverb goes) against yourself. For the world was before all, being the most perfect; and it is rational that the perfect in Nature should be before the imperfect, as the sound before the maimed, and the whole before the part. For it is absurd that there should be a part when there is nothing whose part it is; and therefore nobody says the seed’s man or egg’s hen, but the man’s seed and hen’s egg; because those being after these and formed in them, pay as it were a debt to Nature, by bringing forth another. For they are not in themselves perfect, and therefore have a natural appetite to produce such a thing as that out of which they were first formed; and therefore seed is defined as a thing produced that is to be perfected by another production. Now nothing can be perfected by or want that which as yet is not. Everybody sees that eggs have the nature of a concretion or consistence in some animal or other, but want those organs, veins, and muscles which animals enjoy. And therefore no story delivers that ever any egg was formed immediately from earth; and the poets themselves tell us, that the egg out of which came the Tyndaridae fell down from heaven. But even till this time the earth produceth some perfect and organized animals, as mice in Egypt, and snakes, frogs, and grasshoppers almost everywhere, some external and invigorating principle assisting in the production. And in Sicily, where in the servile war much blood was shed, and many carcasses rotted on the ground, whole swarms of locusts were produced, and spoiled the corn over the whole isle. Such spring from and are nourished by the earth; and seed being formed in them, pleasure and titillation provoke them to mix, upon which some lay eggs, and some bring forth their young alive; and this evidently proves that animals first sprang from earth, and afterwards by copulation, after different ways, propagated their several kinds. In short, it is the same thing as if you said the womb was before the woman; for as the womb is to the egg, the egg is to the chick that is formed in it; so that he that inquires how birds should be when there were no eggs, might ask as well how men and women could be before any organs of generation were formed. Parts generally have their subsistence together with the whole; particular powers follow particular members, and operations those Powers, and effects those operations. Now the effect of the generative power is the seed and egg; so that these must be after the formation of the whole. Therefore consider, as there can be no digestion of food before the animal is formed, so there can be no seed nor egg; for those, it is likely, are made by some digestion and alterations; nor can it be that, before the animal is, the superfluous parts of the food of the animal should have a being. Besides, though seed may perhaps pretend to be a principle, the egg cannot; for it doth not subsist first, nor hath it the nature of a whole, for it is imperfect. Therefore we do not affirm that the animal is produced without a principle of its being; but we call the principle that power which changes, mixes, and tempers the matter, so that a living creature is regularly produced; but the egg is an after-production, as the blood or milk of an animal after the taking in and digestion of the food. For we never see an egg formed immediately of mud, for it is produced in the bodies of animals alone; but a thousand living creatures rise from the mud. What need of many instances? None ever found the spawn or egg of an eel; yet if you empty a pit and take out all the mud, as soon as other water settles in it, eels likewise are presently produced. Now that must exist first which hath no need of any other thing that it may exist, and that after, which cannot be without the concurrence of another thing. And of this priority is our present discourse. Besides, birds build nests before they lay their eggs; and women provide cradles, swaddling cloths and the like; yet who says that the nest is before the egg, or the swaddling cloths before the infant. For the earth (as Plato says doth not imitate a woman, but a woman, and so likewise all other females, the earth. Moreover, it is probable that the first production out of the earth, which was then vigorous and perfect, was self-sufficient and entire, nor stood in need of those secundines, membranes, and vessels, which now Nature forms to help the weakness and supply the defects of breeders.


Whether or No Wrestling is the Oldest Exercise.


Sosicles of Coronea having at the Pythian games won the prize from all the poets, gave us an entertainment. And the time for running, cuffing, wrestling, and the like drawing on, there was a great talk of the wrestlers; for there were many and very famous men, who came to try their skill. Lysimachus, one of the company, a procurator of the Amphictyons, said he heard a grammarian lately affirm that wrestling was the most ancient exercise of all, as even the very name witnessed; for some modern things have the names of more ancient transferred to them; thus to tune a pipe is called fitting it, and playing on it is called striking; both these names being transferred to it from the harp. Thus all places of exercise they call wrestling schools, wrestling being the oldest exercise, and therefore giving its name to the newer sorts. That, said I, is no good argument, for these palaestras or wrestling schools are called so from wrestling [Greek omitted] not because it is the most ancient exercise, but because it is the only sort in which they use clay [Greek omitted] dust, and oil; for in these there is neither racing nor cuffing, but wrestling only, and that feature of the pancratium in which they struggle on the ground — for the pancratium comprises both wrestling and cuffing. Besides, it is unlikely that wrestling, being more artificial and methodical than any other sort of exercise, should likewise be the most ancient; for mere want or necessity putting us upon new inventions, produces simple and inartificial things first, and such as have more of force in them than sleight and skill. This ended, Sosicles said: You speak right, and I will confirm your discourse from the very name; for, in my opinion, [Greek omitted] wrestling, is derived from [Greek omitted] i.e. to throw down by sleight and artifice. And Philinus said, it seems to me to be derived from [Greek omitted] the palm of the hand, for wrestlers use that part most, as cuffers do the [Greek omitted] fist; and hence both these sorts of exercises have their proper names, the one [Greek omitted] the other [Greek omitted]. Besides, since the poets use the word [Greek omitted] for [Greek omitted] and [Greek omitted], to sprinkle, and this action is most frequent amongst wrestlers, this exercise [Greek omitted] may receive its name from that word. But more, consider that racers strive to be distant from one another; cuffers, by the judges of the field, are not permitted to take hold; and none but wrestlers come up breast to breast, and clasp one another round the waist, and most of their turnings, liftings, lockings bring them very close. It is probable that this exercise is called [Greek omitted] from [Greek omitted] or [Greek omitted] to come up close or to be near together.


Why, in Reckoning Up Different Kinds of Exercises, Homer Puts Cuffing First, Wrestling Next, and Racing Last.


This discourse being ended, and Philinus hummed, Lysimachus began again, What sort of exercise then shall we imagine to be first? Racing, as at the Olympian games? For here in the Pythian, as every exercise comes on, all the contenders are brought in, the boy wrestlers first, then the men, and the same method is observed when the cuffers and fencers are to exercise; but there the boys perform all first, and then the men. But, says Timon interposing, pray consider whether Homer hath not determined this matter; for in his poems cuffing is always put in the first place, wrestling next, and racing last. At this Menecrates the Thessalian surprised cried out, Good God, what things we skip over! But, pray sir, if you remember any of his verses to that purpose, do us the favor to repeat them. And Timon replied: That the funeral solemnities of Patroclus had this order I think every one hath heard; but the poet, all along observing the same order, brings in Achilles speaking to Nestor thus:

With this reward I Nestor freely grace,
Unfit for cuffing, wrestling, or the race.

And in his answer he makes the old man impertinently brag:—

I cuffing conquered Oinop’s famous son,
With Anceus wrestled, and the garland won,
And outran Iphiclus.
(“Iliad,” xxiii. 620 and 634.)

And again he brings in Ulysses challenging the Phaeacians

To cuff, to wrestle, or to run the race;

and Alcinous answers:

Neither in cuffing nor in wrestling strong
But swift of foot are we.
(“Odyssey” viii. 206 and 246.)

So that he doth not carelessly confound the order, and, according to the present occasion, now place one sort first and now another; but he follows the then custom and practice and is constant in the same. And this was so as long as the ancient order was observed.

To this discourse of my brother’s I subjoined, that I liked what he said, but could not see the reason of this order. And some of the company, thinking it unlikely that cuffing or wrestling should be a more ancient exercise than racing, they desired me to search farther into the matter; and thus I spake upon the sudden. All these exercises seem to me to be representations of feats of arms and training therein; for after all, a man armed at all points is brought in to show that that is the end at which all these exercises and trainings end. And the privilege granted to the conquerors, viz., as they rode into the city, to throw down some part of the wall — hath this meaning; that walls are but a small advantage to that city which hath men able to fight and overcome. In Sparta those that were victors in any of the crowned games had an honorable place in the army and were to fight near the king’s person. Of all other creatures a horse only can have a part in these games and win the crown, for that alone is designed by nature to be trained to war, and to prove assisting in a battle. If these things seem probable, let us consider farther, that it is the first work of a fighter to strike his enemy and ward the other’s blows; the second, when they come up close and lay hold of one another, to trip and overturn him; and in this, they say, our countrymen being better wrestlers very much distressed the Spartans at the battle of Leuctra. And Aeschylus describes a warrior thus —

One stout, and skilled to wrestle in his arms;

and Sophocles somewhere says of the Trojans —

They rid the horse, they could the bow command
And wrestle with a rattling shield in hand.

But it is the third and last, either when conquered to fly, when conquerors to pursue. And therefore it is likely that cuffing is set first, wrestling next, and racing last; for the first bears the resemblance of charging or warding the blows; the second, of close fighting and repelling; the third, of flying a victorious, or pursuing a routed enemy.


Why Fir-Trees, Pine-Trees, and the Like Will Not Be Grafted Upon.


Soclarus entertaining us in his gardens, round which the river Cephissus runs, showed us several trees strangely varied by the different grafts upon their stocks. We saw an olive upon a juniper, a peach upon a myrtle, pear grafts on an oak, apple upon a plane, a mulberry on a fig and a great many such like, which were grown strong enough to bear. Some joked on Soclarus as nourishing stranger kinds of things than the poets’ Sphinxes or Chimaeras, but Crato set us to inquire why those stocks only that are of an oily nature will not admit such mixtures for we never see a pine, fir, or cypress bear a graft of another kind.

And Philo subjoined: There is, Crato, a reason for this amongst the philosophers, which the gardeners confirm and strengthen. For they say, oil is very hurtful to all plants, and any plant dipped in it like a bee, will soon die. Now these trees are of a fat and oily nature, insomuch that they weep pitch and rosin; and, if you cut then gore (as it were) appears presently in the wound. Besides, a torch made of them sends forth an oily smoke, and the brightness of the flame shows it to be fat; and upon this account these trees are as great enemies to all other kinds of grafts as oil itself. To this Crato added, that the bark was a partial cause; for that, being rare and dry, could not afford either convenient room or sufficient nourishment to the grafts; but when the bark is moist, it quickly joins with those grafts that are let into the body of the tree.

Then Soclarus added: This too ought to be considered, that that which receives a graft of another kind ought to be easy to be changed, that the graft may prevail, and make the sap in the stock fit and natural to itself. Thus we break up the ground and soften it, that being thus broken it may more easily be wrought upon, and applied to what we plant in it; for things that are hard and rigid cannot be so quickly wrought upon nor so easily changed. Now those trees, being of very light wood, do not mix well with the grafts, because they are very hard either to be changed or overcome. But more, it is manifest that the stock which receives the graft should be instead of a soil to it, and a soil should have a breeding faculty; and therefore we choose the most fruitful stocks to graft on, as women that are full of milk, when we would put out a child to nurse. But everybody knows that the fir, cypress, and the like are no great bearers. For as men very fat have few children (for, the whole nourishment being employed in the body, there remains no overplus to make seed), so these trees, spending all their sap in their own stock, flourish indeed and grow great; but as for fruit, some bear none at all, some very little, and that too slowly ripens; therefore it is no wonder that they will not nourish another’s fruit, when they are so very sparing to their own.


About the Fish Called Remora or Echeneis.


Chaeremonianus the Trallian, when we were at a very noble fish dinner, pointing to a little, long, sharp-headed fish, said the echeneis (ship-stopper) was like that, for he had often seen it as he sailed in the Sicilian sea, and wondered at its strange force; for it stopped the ship when under full sail, till one of the seamen perceived it sticking to the outside of the ship, and took it off. Some laughed at Chaeremonianus for believing such an incredible and unlikely story. Others on this occasion talked very much of antipathies, and produced a thousand instances of such strange effects; for example, the sight of a ram quiets an enraged elephant; a viper lies stock-still, if touched with a beechen leaf; a wild bull grows tame, if bound with the twigs of a fig-tree; and amber draws all light things to it, except basil and such as are dipped in oil; and a loadstone will not draw a piece of iron that is rubbed with onion. Now all these, as to matter of fact, are very evident; but it is hard, if not altogether impossible, to find the cause.

Then said I: This is a mere shift and avoiding of the question, rather than a declaration of the cause; but if we please to consider, we shall find a great many accidents that are only consequents of the effect to be unjustly esteemed the causes of it; as for instance, if we should fancy that by the blossoming of the chaste-tree the fruit of the vine is ripened; because this is a common saying —

The chaste-tree blossoms, and the grapes grow ripe;

Or that the little protuberances in the candle-snuff thicken the air and make it cloudy; or the hookedness of the nails is the cause and not an accident consequential to an ulcer. Therefore as those things mentioned are but consequents to the effect, though proceeding from one and the same cause, so one and the same cause stops the ship, and joins the echeneis to it; for the ship continuing dry, not yet made heavy by the moisture soaking into the wood, it is probable that it lightly glides, and as long as it is clean, easily cuts the waves; but when it is thoroughly soaked, when weeds, ooze, and filth stick upon its sides, the stroke of the ship is more obtuse and weak; and the water, coming upon this clammy matter, doth not so easily part from it; and this is the reason why they usually calk their ships. Now it is likely that the echeneis in this case, sticking upon the clammy matter, is not thought an accidental consequent to this cause, but the very cause itself.


Why They Say Those Horses Called [Greek Omitted] are Very Mettlesome.


Some say the horses called [Greek omitted] received that name from the fashion of their bridles (called [Greek omitted]), that had prickles like the teeth on the wolf’s jaw; for being fiery and hard-mouthed, the riders used such to tame them. But my father, who seldom speaks but on good reason, and breeds excellent horses, said, those that were set upon by wolves when colts, if they escaped, grew swift and mettlesome, and were called [Greek omitted] Many agreeing to what he said, it began to be inquired why such an accident as that should make them more mettlesome and fierce; and many of the company thought that, from such an assault, fear and not courage was produced; and that thence growing fearful and apt to start at everything, their motions became more quick and vigorous, as they are in wild beasts when entangled in a net. But, said I, it ought to be considered whether the contrary be not more probable; for the colts do not become more swift by escaping the assault of a wild beast, but they had never escaped unless they had been swift and mettlesome before. As Ulysses was not made wise by escaping from the Cyclops, but by being wise before he escaped.


Why the Flesh of Sheep Bitten by Wolves is Sweeter Than that of Others, and the Wool More Apt to Breed Lice.


After the former discourse, mention was made of those sheep that wolves have bitten; for it is commonly said of them, that their flesh is very sweet, and their wool breeds lice. My relative Patroclias seemed to be pretty happy in his reasoning upon the first part, saying, that the beast by biting it did mollify the flesh; for wolves’ spirits are so hot and fiery, that they soften and digest the hardest bones and for the same reason things bitten by wolves rot sooner than others. But concerning the wool we could not agree, being not fully resolved whether it breeds those lice, or only opens a passage for them, separating the flesh by its fretting roughness or proper warmth; and appeared that this power proceeded from the bite of wolf, which alters even the very hair of the creature that it kills. And this some particular instances seem to confirm; for we know some huntsmen and cooks will kill a beast with one stroke, so that it never breathes after, whilst others repeat their blows, and scarce do it with a great deal of trouble. But (what is more strange) some, as they kill it, infuse such a quality that the flesh rots presently and cannot be kept sweet above a day; yet others that despatch it as soon find no such alteration, but the flesh will keep sweet a long while. And that by the manner of killing a great alteration is made even in the skins, nails, and hair of a beast, Homer seems to witness, when, speaking of a good hide, he says —

An ox’s hide that fell by violent blows;
(“Iliad,” iii. 375.)

for not those that fell by a disease or old age, but by a violent death, leave us tough and strong hides; but after they are bitten by wild beasts, their hoofs grow black, their hair falls, their skins putrefy and are good for nothing.


Whether the Ancients, by Providing Every One His Mess, Did Best or We, Who Set Many to the Same Dish.


When I was chief magistrate, most of the suppers consisted of distinct messes, where every particular guest had his portion of the sacrifice allowed him. Some were wonderfully well pleased with this order; others blamed it as unsociable and ungenteel, and were of the opinion that, as soon as I was out of my office, the manner of entertainments ought to be reformed; for, says Hagias, we invite one another not barely to eat and drink, but to eat and drink together. Now this division into messes takes away all society, makes many suppers, and many eaters, but no one sups with another; but every man takes his pound of beef, as from the meat shop, sets it before himself, and falls on. And is it not the same thing to provide a different cup and different table for every guest (as the Demophontidae treated Orestes), as now to set each man his loaf of bread and mess of meat, and feed him, as it were, out of his own proper manger? Only, it is true, we are not (as those that treated Orestes were) obliged to be silent and not discourse. Besides, that all the guests should have a share in everything, we may draw an argument from hence; — the same discourse is common to us all, the same songstress sings, and the same musician plays to all. So, when the same cup is set in the midst, not appropriated to any, it is a large spring of good fellowship, and each man may take as much as his appetite requires; not like this most unjust distribution of bread and meat, which prides itself forsooth in being equal to all, though unequal, stomachs; for the same share to a man of a small appetite is too much; to one of a greater, too little. And, sir, as he that administers the very same dose of physic to all sorts of patients must be very ridiculous; so likewise must that entertainer who, inviting a great many guests that can neither eat nor drink alike, sets before every one an equal mess, and measures what is just and fit by an arithmetical not geometrical proportion. When we go to a shop to buy, we all use, it is true, one and the same public measure; but to an entertainment each man brings his own belly, which is satisfied with a portion, not because it is equal to that which others have, but because it is sufficient for itself. Those entertainments where every one had his single mess Homer mentions amongst soldiers and in the camp, which we ought not to bring into fashion amongst us; but rather imitate the good friendship of the ancients, who, to show what reverence they had for all kinds of societies, not only respected those that lived with them or under the same roof, but also those that drank out of the same cup or ate out of the same dish. Let us never mind Homer’s entertainments; they were good for nothing but to starve a man, and the makers of them were kings more stingy and observant than the Italian cooks; insomuch that in the midst of a battle, whilst they were at handy-blows with their enemies, they could exactly reckon up how many glasses each man drank at his table. But those that Pindar describes are much better —

Where heroes mixed sat round the noble board,

because they maintained society and good fellowship; for the latter truly mixed and joined friends, but our modern system divides and asperses them as persons who, though seemingly very good friends, cannot so much as eat with one another out of the same dish.

To this polite discourse of Hagias they urged me to reply. And I said: Hagias, it is true, hath reason to be troubled at this unusual disappointment, because having so great a belly (for he was an excellent trencherman) he had no larger mess than others; for in a fish eaten together Democritus says, there are no bones. But that very thing is likely to increase our share beyond our own proper allowance. For it is equality, as the old woman in Euripides hath it,

That fastens towns to towns, and friends to friends;
(Euripides, “Phoenissae,” 536.)

and entertainments chiefly stand in need of this. The necessity is from nature as well as custom, and is not lately introduced or founded only on opinion. For when the same dish lies in common before all, the man that is slow and eats little must be offended at the other that is too quick for him, as a slow ship at the swift sailor. Besides, snatching, contention, shoving, and the like, are not, in my mind, neighborly beginnings of mirth and jollity; but they are absurd, doggish, and often end in anger or reproaches, not only against one another, but also against the entertainer himself or the carvers of the feast. But as long as Moera and Lachesis (DIVISION and DISTRIBUTION) maintained equality in feasts, nothing uncivil or disorderly was seen, and they called the feasts [Greek omitted], DISTRIBUTIONS, the entertained [Greek omitted], and the carvers [Greek omitted], DISTRIBUTERS, from dividing and distributing to every man his proper mess. The Lacedaemonians had officers called distributers of the flesh, no mean men, but the chief of the city; for Lysander himself by king Agesilaus was constituted one of these in Asia. But when luxury crept into our feasts, distributing was thrown out; for I suppose they had not leisure to divide these numerous tarts, cheese-cakes, pies, and other delicate varieties; but, surprised with the pleasantness of the taste and tired with the variety, they left off cutting it into portions, and left all in common. And this is confirmed from the present practice; for in our religious or public feasts, where the food is simple and inartificial, each man hath his mess assigned him; so that he that endeavors to retrieve the ancient custom will likewise recover thrift and almost lost frugality again. But, you object, where only property is, community is lost. True indeed, where equality is not; for not the possession of what is proper and our own, but the taking away of another’s and coveting that which is common, is the cause of all injury and contention; and the laws, restraining and confining these within the proper bounds, receive their name from their office, being a power distributing equally to every one in order to the common good. Thus every one is not to be honored by the entertainer with the garland or the chiefest place; but if any one brings with him his sweetheart or a singing girl, they must be common to him and his friends, that all possessions may be brought together, as Anaxagoras would have it. Now if propriety in these things doth not in the least hinder but that things of greater moment, and the only considerable, as discourse and civility, may be still common, let us leave off abasing distributions or the lot, the son of Fortune (as Euripides hath it), which hath no respect either to riches or honor, but in its inconsiderate wheel now and then raiseth up the humble and the poor, and makes him master of himself, and, by accustoming the great and rich to endure and not be offended at equality, pleasingly instructs.

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24