Symposiacs, by Plutarch

Book III

Simonides the poet, my Sossius Senecio, seeing one of the company sit silent and discourse nobody, said: Sir, if you are fool, it is wisely done; if a wise man, very foolishly. It is good to conceal a man’s folly (but as Heraclitus says) it is very hard to do it over a glass of wine —

Which doth the gravest men to mirth advance,
And let them loose to sing, to laugh, and dance,
And speak what had been better unsaid.
(“Odyssey,” xiv. 464.)

In which lines the poet in my mind shows the difference between being a little heated and downright drunk; for to sing, laugh, and dance may agree very well with those that have gone no farther than the merry cup; but to prattle, and speak what had been better left unsaid, argues a man to be quite gone. And therefore Plato thinks that wine is the must ingenious discoverer of men’s humors; and Homer, when he says —

At feasts they had not known each other’s minds,
(Ibid. xxi. 35.)

evidently shows that he knew wine was powerful to open men’s thoughts, and was full of new discoveries. It is true from the bare eating and drinking, if they say nothing we can give no guess at the tempers of the men; but because drinking leads them into discourse, and discourse lays a great many things open and naked which were secret and hid before, therefore to sport a glass of wine together lets us into one another’s humors. And therefore a man may reasonably fall foul on Aesop: Why sir, would you have a window in every man’s breast, through which we may look in upon his thoughts? Wine opens and exposes all, it will not suffer us to be silent, but takes off all mask and visor, and makes us regardless of the severe precepts of decency and custom. Thus Aesop or Plato, or any other that designs to look into a man, may have his desires satisfied by the assistance of a bottle; but those that are not solicitous to pump one another, but to be sociable and pleasant, discourse of such matters and handle such questions as make no discovery of the bad parts of the soul, but such as comfort the good, and, by the help of neat and polite learning, lead the intelligent part into an agreeable pasture and garden of delight This made me collect and dedicate the first to you this third dedication of table discourses, the first of which is about chaplets made of flowers.

QUESTION I.

Whether It is Fitting to Wear Chaplets of Flowers at Table.

ERATO, AMMONIUS, TRYPHO, PLUTARCH, and OTHERS.

At Athens Erato the musician keeping a solemn feast to the Muses, and inviting a great many to the treat, the company was full of talk, and the subject of the discourse garlands. For after supper many of all sorts of flowers being presented to the guests, Ammonius began to jeer me for choosing a rose chaplet before a laurel, saying that those made of flowers were effeminate, and fitted toyish girls and women more than grave philosophers and men of music. And I admire that our friend Erato, that abominates all flourishing in songs, and blames good Agatho, who first in his tragedy of the Mysians ventured to introduce the chromatic airs, should himself fill his entertainment with such various and such florid colors; yet, while he shuts out all the soft delights that through the ears can enter to the soul, he should introduce others through the eyes and through the nose, and make these garlands, instead of signs of piety, to be instruments of pleasure. For it must be confessed that this ointment gives a better smell than those trifling flowers, which wither even in the hands of those that wreathe them. Besides, all pleasure must be banished the company of philosophers, unless it is of some use or desired by natural appetite; for as those that are carried to a banquet by some of their invited friends (as, for instance, Socrates carried Aristodemus to Agatho’s table) are as civilly entertained as the bidden guests, but he that goes on his own account is shut out of doors; thus the pleasures of eating and drinking, being invited by natural appetite, should have admission; but all the others which come on no account and have only luxury to introduce them, ought in reason to be denied.

At this some young men, not thoroughly acquainted with Ammonius’s humor, being abashed, privately tore their chaplets; but I, perceiving that Ammonius proposed this only for discourse and disputation’s sake, applying myself to Trypho the physician, said: Sir, you must put off that sparkling rosy chaplet as well as we, or declare, as I have often heard you, what excellent preservatives these flowery garlands are against the strength of liquor. But here Erato putting in said: What, is it decreed that no pleasure must be admitted without profit? And must we be angry with our delight, unless hired to endure it? Perhaps we may have reason to be ashamed of ointments and purple vests, because so costly and expensive, and to look upon them as (in the barbarian’s phrase) treacherous garments and deceitful odors; but these natural smells and colors are pure and simple as fruits themselves, and without expense or the curiosity of art. And I appeal to any one, whether it is not absurd to receive the pleasant savors Nature gives us, and enjoy and reject those smells and colors that the seasons afford us, because forsooth they blossom with delight, if they have no other external profit or advantage. Besides, we have an axiom against you, for if (as you affirm) Nature makes nothing in vain, those things that have no other use were designed on purpose to please and to delight. Besides, observe that to thriving trees Nature hath given leaves, both for the preservation of the fruit and of the stock itself; for those sometimes warming, sometimes cooling it, the seasons creep on by degrees, and do not assault it with all their violence at once. But now the flower, whilst it is on the plant, is of no profit at all, unless we use it to delight our nose with the admirable smell, and to please our eyes when it opens that inimitable variety of colors. And therefore, when the leaves are plucked off, the plants as it were suffer injury and grief. There is a kind of an ulcer raised, and an unbecoming nakedness attends them; and we must not only (as Empedocles says)

By all means spare the leaves that grace the palm,

but likewise of all other trees, and not injuriously against Nature robbing them of their leaves, bring deformity on them to adorn ourselves. But to pluck the flowers doth no injury at all. It is like gathering of grapes at the time of vintage; unless plucked when ripe, they wither of themselves and fall. And therefore, like the barbarians who clothe themselves with the skins more commonly than with the wool of sheep, those that wreathe leaves rather than flowers into garlands seem to me to use the plants neither according to the dictates of reason nor the design of Nature. And thus much I say in defence of those who sell chaplets of flowers; for I am not grammarian enough to remember those poems which tell us that the old conquerors in the sacred games were crowned with flowers. Yet, now I think of it, there is a story of a rosy crown that belongs to the Muses; Sappho mentions it in a copy of verses to a woman unlearned and unacquainted with the Muses:—

Thou shalt unregarded lie
Cause ne’er acquainted with the Muses’ Rose.
(From Sappho, Frag. 68.)

But if Trypho can produce anything to our advantage from physic, pray let us have it.

Then Trypho taking the discourse said: The ancients were very curious and well acquainted with all these things, because plants were the chief ingredients of their physic. And of this some signs remain till now; for the Tyrians offer to Agenor, and the Magnesians to Chiron, the first supposed practitioners of physic, as the first fruits, the roots of those plants which have been successful on a patient. And Bacchus was not only counted a physician for finding wine, the most pleasing and most potent remedy, but for bringing ivy, the greatest opposite imaginable to wine, into reputation, and for teaching his drunken followers to wear garlands of it, that by that means they might be secured against the violence of a debauch, the heat of the liquor being remitted by the coldness of the ivy. Besides, the names of several plants sufficiently evidence the ancients curiosity in this matter; for they named the walnut-tree [Greek omitted], because it sends forth a heavy and [Greek omitted] drowsy spirit, which affects their heads who sleep beneath it; and the daffodil, [Greek omitted], because it benumbs the nerves and causes a stupid narcotic heaviness in the limbs, and therefore Sophocles calls it the ancient garland flower of the great (that is, the earthy) gods. And some say rue was called [Greek omitted] from its astringent quality; for, by its dryness preceding from its heat, it fixes [Greek omitted] or dries the seed, and is very hurtful to great-bellied women. But those that imagine the herb amethyst [Greek omitted], and the precious stone of the same name, are called so because powerful against the force of wine are much mistaken; for both receive there names from their color; for its leaf is not of the color of strong wine, but resembles that of weak diluted liquor. And indeed I could mention a great many which have their names from their proper virtues. But the care and the experience of the ancients sufficiently appears in those of which they made their garlands when they designed to be merry and frolic over a glass of wine; for wine, especially when it seizes on the head, and weakens the body just at the very spring and origin of the sense, disturbs the whole man. Now the effluvia of flowers are an admirable preservative against this, they secure the brain, as it were a citadel, against the effects of drunkenness; for those that are hot upon the pores and give the fumes free passage to exhale, and those moderately cold repel and keep down the ascending vapors. Such are the violet and rose; for the odors of both these are prevalent against any ache and heaviness in the head. The flowers of the privet and crocus bring those that have drunk freely into a gentle sleep; for they send forth a smooth and gentle effluvia, which softly takes off all asperities that arise in the body of the drunken; and so all things being quiet and composed, the violence on the noxious humor is abated and thrown off. The smells of some flowers being received into the brain cleanse the organs and instruments of sense, and gently by their heat, without any violence or force, dissolve the humors, and warm and cherish the brain itself, which is naturally cold. And upon this account, they call those little posies they hang about their necks [Greek omitted], and anointed their breasts with the oils that were squeezed from them; and of this Alcaeus is a witness, when he bids his friends,

Pour ointments o’er his laboring temples, pressed
With various cares, and o’er his aged breast.

For the warm odors shoot upward into the very brain, being drawn up by the nostrils. For they did not call those garlands hung about the neck [Greek omitted] because they thought the heart was the seat and citadel of the mind [Greek omitted], for on that account they should rather have called them [Greek omitted], but, as I said before, from their vapor and exhalation. Besides, it is no strange thing that these smells of garlands should be of so considerable a virtue; for some tell us that the shadow of the yew, especially when it blossoms, kills those that sleep under it; and a subtle spirit ariseth from pressed poppy, which suddenly overcomes the unwary squeezers. And there is an herb called alyssus, which to some that take it in their hands, to others that do but look on it, is found a present remedy against the hiccough; and some affirm that planted near the stalls it preserves sheep and goats from the rot and mange. And the rose is called [Greek omitted], probably because it sends forth a stream [Greek omitted] of odors; and for that reason it withers presently. It is a cooler, yet fiery to look upon; and no wonder, for upon the surface a subtile heat, being driven out by the inward heat, looks vivid and appears.

QUESTION II.

Whether Ivy is of a Hot or Cold Nature.

AMMONIUS, TRYPHO, ERATO.

Upon this discourse, when we all hummed Trypho, Ammonius with a smile said: It is not decent by any contradiction to pull in pieces, like a chaplet, this various and florid discourse of Trypho’s. Yet methinks the ivy is a little oddly interwoven, and unjustly said by its cold powers to temper the heat of strong wine; for it is rather fiery and hot, and its berries steeped in wine make the liquor more apt to inebriate and inflame. And from this cause, as in sticks warped by the fire, proceeds the crookedness of the boughs. And snow, that for many days will lie on other trees, presently melts from the branches of the ivy, and wastes all around, as far as the warmth reaches. But the greatest evidence is this. Theophrastus tells us, that when Alexander commanded Harpalus to plant some Grecian trees in the Babylonian gardens, and — because the climate is very hot and the sun violent — such as were leafy, thick, and fit to make a shade, the ivy only would not grow; though all art and diligence possible were used, it withered and died. For being hot itself, it could not agree with the fiery nature of the soil; for excess in similar qualities is destructive, and therefore we see everything as it were affects its contrary; a cold plant flourishes in a hot ground, and a hot plant is delighted with a cold. Upon which account it is that bleak mountains, exposed to cold winds and snow, bear firs, pines, and the like, full of pitch, fiery, and excellent to make a torch. But besides, Trypho, trees of a cold nature, their little feeble heat not being able to diffuse itself but retiring to the heart, shed their leaves; but their natural oiliness and warmth preserve the laurel, olive, and cypress always green; and the like too in the ivy may be observed. And therefore it is not likely our dear friend Bacchus, who called wine [Greek omitted] intoxicating and himself [Greek omitted], should bring ivy into reputation for being a preservative against drunkenness and an enemy to wine. But in my opinion, as lovers of wine, when they have not any juice of the grape ready, drink ale, mead, cider, or the like; thus he that in winter would have a vine-garland on his head, and finding the vine naked and without leaves, used the ivy that is like it; for its boughs are twisted and irregular, its leaves moist and disorderly confused, but chiefly the berries, like ripening clusters, make an exact representation of the vine. But grant the ivy to be a preservative against drunkenness — that to please you, Trypho, we may name Bachus a physician — still I affirm that power to proceed from its heat, which either opens the pores or helps to digest the wine.

Upon this Trypho sat silent, studying for an answer. Erato addressing himself to us youths, said: Trypho wants your assistance; help him in this dispute about the garlands, or be content to sit without any. Ammonius too bade us not be afraid, for he would not reply to any of our discourses; and Trypho likewise urging me to propose something, I said: To demonstrate that the ivy is cold is not so proper a task for me as Trypho, for he often useth coolers and binders; but that proposition, that wine in which ivy berries have been is more inebriating, is not true; for that disturbance which it raiseth in those that drink it is not so properly called drunkenness as alienation of mind or madness, such as hyoscyamus and a thousand other things that set men beside themselves usually produce. The crookedness of the bough is no argument at all, for such violent and unnatural effects cannot be supposed to proceed from any natural quality or power. Now sticks are bent by the fire, because that draws the moisture, and so the crookedness is a violent distortion; but the natural heat nourishes and preserves the body. Consider, therefore, whether it is not the weakness and coldness of the body that makes it wind, bend, and creep upon the ground; for those qualities check its rise, and depress it in its ascent, and render it like a weak traveller, that often sits down and then goes on again. And therefore the ivy requires something to twine about, and needs a prop; for it is not able to sustain and direct its own branches, because it wants heat, which naturally tends upward. The snow is melted by the wetness of the leaf, for water destroys it easily, passing through the thin contexture, it being nothing but a congeries of small bubbles; and therefore in very cold but moist places the snow melts as soon as in hot. That it is continually green doth not proceed from its heat, for to shed its leaves doth not argue the coldness of a tree. Thus the myrtle and well fern, though not hot, but confessedly cold, are green all the year. Some imagine this comes from the equal and duly proportioned mixture of the qualities in the leaf, to which Empedocles hath added a certain aptness of pores, through which the nourishing juice is orderly transmitted, so that there is still supply sufficient. But now it is otherwise in trees whose leaves fall, by reason of the wideness of their higher and narrowness of their lower pores; for the latter do not send juice enough, nor do the former keep it, but as soon as a small stock is received pour it out. This may be illustrated from the usual watering of our gardens; for when the distribution is unequal, the plants that are always watered have nourishment enough, seldom wither, and look always green. But you further argue, that being planted in Babylon it would not grow. It was well done of the plant, methinks, being a particular friend and familiar of the Boeotian god, to scorn to live amongst the barbarians, or imitate Alexander in following the manners of those nations; but it was not its heat but cold that was the cause of this aversion, for that could not agree with the contrary quality. For one similar quality doth not destroy but cherish another. Thus dry ground bears thyme, though it is naturally hot. Now at Babylon they say the air is so suffocating, so intolerably hot, that many of the more prosperous sleep upon skins full of water, that they may lie cool.

QUESTION III.

Why Women are Hardly, Old Men Easily, Foxed.

FLORUS, SYLLA.

Florus thought it strange that Aristotle in his discourse of Drunkenness, affirming that old men are easily, women hardly, overtaken, did not assign the cause, since he seldom failed on such occasions. Therefore he proposed it to us (we were a great many acquaintance met at supper) as a fit subject for our inquiry. Sylla began: One part will conduce to the discovery of the other; and if we rightly hit the cause in relation to the women, the difficulty, as it concerns the old men, will be easily despatched; for their two natures are quite contrary. Moistness, smoothness, and softness belong to the one; and dryness, roughness, and hardness are the accidents of the other. As for women, I think the principal cause is the moistness of their temper; this produceth a softness in the flesh, a shining smoothness, and their usual purgations. Now when wine is mixed with a great deal of weak liquor, it is overpowered by that, loses its strength, and becomes flat and waterish. Some reason likewise may be drawn from Aristotle himself; for he affirms that those that drink fast, and take a large draught without drawing breath, are seldom overtaken, because the wine doth not stay long in their bodies, but having acquired an impetus by this greedy drinking, suddenly runs through; and women are generally observed to drink after that manner. Besides, it is probable that their bodies, by reason of the continual deduction of the moisture in order to their usual purgations, are very porous, and divided as it were into many little pipes and conduits; into which when the wine falls, it is quickly conveyed away, and doth not lie and fret the principal parts, from whose disturbance drunkenness proceeds. But that old men want the natural moisture, even the name [Greek omitted], in my opinion, intimates; for that name was given them not as stooping to the earth [Greek omitted] but as being in the habit of their body [Greek omitted] and [Greek omitted], earthlike and earthy. Besides, the stiffness and roughness prove the dryness of their nature. Therefore it is probable that, when they drink, their body, being grown spongy by the dryness of its nature, soaks up the wine, and that lying in the vessels it affects the senses and prevents the natural motions. For as floods of water glide over the close grounds, nor make them slabby, but quickly sink into the open and chapped fields; thus wine, being sucked in by the dry parts, lies and works in the bodies of old men. But besides, it is easy to observe, that age of itself hath all the symptoms of drunkenness. These symptoms everybody knows; viz., shaking of the joints, faltering of the tongue, babbling, passion, forgetfulness, and distraction of the mind; many of which being incident to old men, even whilst they are well and in perfect health, are heightened by any little irregularity and accidental debauch. So that drunkenness doth not beget in old men any new and proper symptoms, but only intend and increase the common ones. And an evident sign of this is, that nothing is so like an old man as a young man drunk.

QUESTION IV.

Whether the Temper of Women is Colder or Hotter Than that of Men.

APOLLONIDES, ATHRYILATUS.

Thus Sylla said, and Apollonides the marshal subjoined: Sir, what you discoursed of old men I willingly admit; but in my opinion you have omitted a considerable reason in relation to the women, viz., the coldness of their temper, which quencheth the heat of the strongest wine, and makes it lose all its destructive force and fire. This reflection seeming reasonable, Athryilatus the Thasian, a physician, kept us from a hasty conclusion in this matter, by saying that some supposed the female sex was not cold, but hotter than the male; and others thought wine rather cold than hot.

When Florus seemed surprised at this discourse, Athryilatus continued: Sir, what I mention about wine I shall leave to this man to make out (pointing to me, for a few days before we had handled the same matter). But that women are of a hot constitution, some suppose, may be proved, first, from their smoothness, for their heat wastes all the superfluous nourishment which breeds hair; secondly from their abundance of blood, which seems to be the fountain and source of all the heat that is in the body; — now this abounds so much in females, that they would be all on fire, unless relieved by frequent and sudden evacuations. Thirdly, from a usual practice of the sextons in burning the bodies of the dead, it is evident that females are hotter than males; for the bedsmen are wont to put one female body with ten males upon the same pile, for that contains some inflammable and oily parts, and serves for fuel to the rest. Besides, if that that is soonest fit for generation is hottest, and a maid begins to be furious sooner than a boy, this is a strong proof of the hotness of the female sex. But a more convincing proof follows: women endure cold better than men, they are not so sensible of the sharpness of the weather, and are contented with a few clothes.

And Florus replied: Methinks, sir, from the same topics I could draw conclusions against your assertion. For, first, they endure cold better, because one similar quality doth not so readily act upon another; and then again, their seed is not active in generation, but passive matter and nourishment to that which the male injects. But more, women grow effete sooner than men; that they burn better than the males proceeds from their fat, which is the coldest part of the body; and young men, or such as use exercise, have but little fat. Their monthly purgations do not prove the abundance, but the corruption and badness, of their blood; for being the superfluous and undigested part, and having no convenient vessel in the body it flows out, and appears languid and feculent, by reason of the weakness of its heat. And the shivering that seizes them at the time of their purgations sufficiently proves that which flows from them is cold and undigested. And who will believe their smoothness to be an effect of heat rather than cold, when everybody knows that the hottest parts of a body are the most hairy? For all such excrements are thrust out by the heat, which opens and makes passages through the skin; but smoothness is a consequent of that closeness of the superficies which proceeds from condensing cold. And that the flesh of women is closer than that of men, you may be informed by those that lie with women that have anointed themselves with oil or other perfumes; for though they do not touch the women, yet they find themselves perfumed, their bodies by reason of their heat and rarity drawing the odor to them. But I think we have disputed plausibly and sufficiently of this matter. . . .

QUESTION V.

Whether Wine is Potentially Cold.

ATHRYILATUS, PLUTARCH.

But now I would fain know upon what account you can imagine that wine is cold. Then, said I, do you believe this to be my opinion? Yes, said he, whose else? And I replied: I remember a good while ago I met with a discourse of Aristotle’s upon this very question. And Epicurus, in his Banquet, hath a long discourse, the sum of which is that wine of itself is not hot, but that it contains some atoms that cause heat, and others that cause cold; now, when it is taken into the body, it loses one sort of particles and takes the other out of the body itself, as it agrees with one’s nature and constitution; so that some when they are drunk are very hot, and others very cold.

This way of talking, said Florus, leads us by Protagoras directly to Pyrrho; for it is evident that, suppose we were to discourse of oil, milk, honey, or the like, we shall avoid all inquiry into their particular natures by saying that things are so and so by their mutual mixture with one another. But how do you prove that wine is cold? And I, being forced to speak extempore, replied: By two arguments. The first I draw from the practice of physicians, for when their patients’ stomachs grow very weak, they prescribe no hot things, and yet give them wine as an excellent remedy. Besides, they stop looseness and immoderate sweating by wine; and this shows that they think it more binding and constipating than snow itself. Now if it were potentially hot, I should think it as wise a thing to apply fire to snow as wine to the stomach.

Again, most teach that sleep proceeds from the coolness of the parts; and most of the narcotic medicines, as mandrake and opium, are coolers. Those indeed work violently, and forcibly condense, but wine cools by degrees; it gently stops the motion, according as it hath more or less of such narcotic qualities. Besides, heat has a generative power; for owing to heat the fluid flows easily and the vital spirit gets vigor and a stimulating force. Now the great drinkers are very dull, inactive fellows, no women’s men at all; they eject nothing strong, vigorous, and fit for generation, but are weak and unperforming, by reason of the bad digestion and coldness of their seed. And it is farther observable that the effects of cold and drunkenness upon men’s bodies are the same — trembling, heaviness, paleness, shivering, faltering of tongue, numbness, and cramps. In many, a debauch ends in a dead palsy, when the wine stupefies and extinguisheth all the heat. And the physicians use this method in curing the qualms and diseases gotten by debauch; at night they cover them well and keep them warm; and at day they annoint and bathe, and give them such food as shall not disturb, but by degrees recover the heat which the wine hath scattered and driven out of the body. Thus, I added, in these appearances we trace obscure qualities and powers; but as for drunkenness, it is easily known what it is. For, in my opinion, as I hinted before, those that are drunk are very much like old men; and therefore great drinkers grow old soonest, and they are commonly bald and gray before their time; and all these accidents certainly proceed from want of heat. But mere vinegar is of a vinous nature, and nothing quenches fire so soon as that; its extreme coldness overcomes and kills the flame presently. And of all fruits physicians use the vinous as the greatest coolers, as pomegranates and apples. Besides, do they not make wine by mixing honey with rain-water or snow; for the cold, because those two qualities are near akin, if it prevails, changes the luscious into a poignant taste? And did not the ancients of all the creeping beasts consecrate the snake to Bacchus, and of all the plants the ivy, because they were of a cold and frozen nature? Now, lest any one should think this is a proof of its heat, that if a man takes juice of hemlock, a large dose of wine cures him, I shall, on the contrary affirm that wine and hemlock juice mixed is an incurable poison, and kills him that drinks it presently. So that we can no more conclude it to be hot because it resists, than to be cold because it assists, the poison. For cold is the only quality by which hemlock juice works and kills.

QUESTION VI.

Which is the Fittest Time for a Man to Know His Wife?

YOUTHS, ZOPYRUS, OLYMPICHUS, SOCLARUS.

Some young students, that had not gone far in the learning of the ancients, inveighed against Epicurus for bringing in, in his Svmposium, an impertinent and unseemly discourse, about what time was best to lie with a woman; for an old man at supper in the company of youths to talk of such a subject, and dispute whether after or before supper was the most convenient time, argued him to be a very loose and debauched man. To this some said that Xenophon, after his entertainment was ended, sent all his guests home on horseback, to lie with their wives. But Zopyrus the physician, a man very well read in Epicurus, said, that they had not duly weighed that piece; for he did not propose that question first, and then discuss that matter on purpose; but after supper he desired the young men to take a walk, and he then discoursed on it, that he might persuade them to continence, and to abate their desires and restrain their appetites; showing them that it was very dangerous at all times, but especially after they had been eating or making merry. But suppose he had proposed this as the chief topic for discourse, doth it never become a philosopher to inquire which is the convenient and proper time? Ought we not to time it well, and direct our embrace by reason? Or may such discourse be otherwise allowed, and must they be thought unseemly problems to be proposed at table? Indeed I am of another mind. It is true, I should blame a philosopher that in the middle of the day, in the schools, before all sorts of men, should discourse of such a subject; but over a glass of wine between friends and acquaintance, when it is necessary to propose something beside dull, serious discourse, why should it be a fault to hear or speak anything that may inform our judgments or direct our practice in such matters? And I protest I had rather that Zeno had inserted his loose topics in some merry discourses and agreeable table-talk, than in such a grave, serious piece as his politics.

The youth, startled at this free declaration, sat silent; and the rest of the company desired Zopyrus to deliver Epicurus’s sentiment. He said: The particulars I cannot remember; but I believe he feared the violent agitations of such exercises, because the bodies employed in them are so violently disturbed. For it is certain that wine is a very great disturber, and puts the body out of its usual temper; and therefore, when thus disquieted, if quiet and sleep do not compose it but other agitations seize it, it is likely that those parts which knit and join the members may be loosened, and the whole frame be as it were unsettled from its foundation and overthrown. For then likewise the seed cannot freely pass, but is confusedly and forcibly thrown out, because the liquor hath filled the vessels of the body, and stopped its way. Therefore, says Epicurus, we must use those sports when the body is at quiet, when the meat hath been thoroughly digested, carried about and applied to several parts of the body, so that we begin to want a fresh supply of food. To this of Epicurus we might join an argument taken from physic. At day-time, while our digestion is performing, we are not so lusty nor eager to embrace; and presently after supper to endeavor it is dangerous, for the crudity of the stomach, the food being yet undigested, may be disorderly motion upon this crudity, and so the mischief be double. Olympicus, continuing the discourse, said: I very much like what Clinias the Pythagorean delivers. For the story goes that, being asked when a man should lie with a woman, he replied, when he hath a mind to receive the greatest mischief that he can. For Zopyrus’s discourse seems rational, and other times as well as those he mentions have their peculiar inconveniences. And therefore — as Thales the philosopher, to free himself from the pressing solicitations of his mother who advised him to marry, said at first, ’tis not yet time; and when, now he was growing old, she repeated her admonition, replied, nor is it now time — so it is best for every man to have the same mind in relation to those sports of Venus; when he goes to bed, let him say, ’tis not yet time; and when he rises, ’tis not now time.

What you say, Olympicus, said Soclarus interposing, befits wrestlers indeed; it smells, methinks, of their meals of flesh and casks of wine, but is not suitable to the resent company, for there are some young married men here,

Whose duty ’tis to follow Venus’ sports.

Nay, we ourselves seem to have some relation to Venus still, when in our hymns to the gods we pray thus to her,

Fair Venus, keep off feeble age.

But waiving this, let us inquire (if you think fit) whether Epicurus does well, when contrary to all right and equity he separates Venus and the Night, though Menander, a man well skilled in love matters, says that she likes her company better than that of any of the gods. For, in my opinion, night is a very convenient veil, spread over those that give themselves to that kind of pleasure; for it is not fit that day should be the time, lest modesty should be banished from our eyes, effeminacy grow bold, and such vigorous impressions on our memories be left, as might still possess us with the same fancies and raise new inclinations. For the sight (according to Plato) receives a more vigorous impression than any other bodily organ, and joining with the imagination, that lies near it, works presently upon the soul, and ever causes fresh desires by those images of pleasure which it brings. But the night, hiding many and the most furious of the actions, quiets and lulls nature, and doth not suffer it to be carried to intemperance by the eye. But besides this, how absurd is it, that a man returning from an entertainment merry perhaps and jocund, crowned and perfumed, should cover himself up, turn his back to his wife, and go to sleep; and then at day-time, in the midst of his business, send for her out of her apartment to serve his pleasure or in the morning, as a cock treads his hens. No, sir the evening is the end of our labor, and the morning the beginning. Bacchus the Loosener and Terpsichore and Thalia preside over the former; and the latter raiseth us up betimes to attend on Minerva the Work-mistress, and Mercury the merchandiser. And therefore songs, dances, and epithalamiums, merry-meetings, with balls and feasts, and sounds of pipes and flutes, are the entertainment of the one; but in the other, nothing but the noise of hammers and anvils, the scratching of saws, the city cries, citations to court or to attend this or that prince and magistrate are heard.

Then all the sports of pleasure disappear,
Then Venus, then gay youth removes:
No Thyrsus then which Bacchus loves;
But all is clouded and o’erspread with care.

Besides, Homer makes not one of the heroes lie with his wife or mistress in the day-time, but only Paris, who, having shamefully fled from the battle, sneaked into the embraces of his wife; intimating that such lasciviousness by day did not befit the sober temper of a man, but the mad lust of an adulterer. But, moreover, the body will not (as Epicurus fancies) be injured more after supper than at any other time, unless a man be drunk or overcharged — for in those cases, no doubt, it is very dangerous and hurtful. But if a man is only raised and cheered, not overpowered by liquor, if his body is pliable, his mind agreeing, and then he sports, he need not fear any disturbance from the load he has within him; he need not fear catching cold, or too great a transportation of atoms, which Epicurus makes the cause of all the ensuing harm. For if he lies quiet he will quickly fill again, and new spirits will supply the vessels that are emptied.

But this is to be especially taken care of, that, the body being then in a ferment and disturbed, no cares of the soul, no business about necessary affairs, no labor, should distract and seize it, lest they should corrupt and sour its humors, Nature not having had time enough for settling what has been disturbed. For, sir, all men have not the command of that happy ease and tranquillity which Epicurus’s philosophy procured him; for many great incumbrances seize almost upon every one every day, or at least some disquiets; and it is not safe to trust the body with any of these, when it is in such a condition and disturbance, presently after the fury and heat of the embrace is over. Let, according to his opinion, the happy and immortal deity sit at ease and never mind us; but if we regard the laws of our country, we must not dare to enter into the temple and offer sacrifice, if but a little before we have done any such thing. It is fit therefore to let night and sleep intervene, and after there is a sufficient space of time past between, to rise as it were pure and new, and (as Democritus was wont to say) “with new thoughts upon the new day.”

QUESTION VII.

Why New Wine Doth Not Inebriate As Soon As Other.

PLUTARCH, HIS FATHER, HAGIAS, ARISTAENETUS, and OTHER YOUTH.

At Athens on the eleventh day of February (thence called [Greek omitted] THE BARREL-OPENING), they began to taste their new wine; and in old times (as it appears), before they drank, they offered some to the gods, and prayed that that cordial liquor might prove good and wholesome. By us Thebans the month is named [Greek omitted], and it is our custom upon the sixth day to sacrifice to our good Genius and then taste our new wine, after the zephyr has done blowing; for that wind makes wine ferment more than any other, and the liquor that can bear this fermentation is of a strong body and will keep well. My father offered the usual sacrifice, and when after supper the young men, my fellow-students, commended the wine, he started this question: Why does not new wine inebriate as soon as other? This seemed a paradox and incredible to most of us; but Hagias said, that luscious things were cloying and would presently satiate, and therefore few could drink enough to make them drunk; for when once the thirst is allayed, the appetite would be quickly palled by that unpleasant liquor; for that a luscious is different from a sweet taste, even the poet intimates, when he says,

With luscious wine, and with sweet milk and cheese.
(“Odyssey, xx. 69.)

Wine at first is sweet; afterward, as it grows old, it ferments and begins to be pricked a little; then it gets a sweet taste.

Aristaenetus the Nicaean said, that he remembered he had read somewhere that sweet things mixed with wine make it less heady, and that some physicians prescribe to one that hath drunk freely, before he goes to bed, a crust of bread dipped in honey. And therefore, if sweet mixtures weaken strong wine, it is reasonable that wine should not be heady till it hath lost its sweetness.

We admired the acuteness of the young philosophers, and were well pleased to see them propose something out of the common road and give us their own sentiments on this matter. Now the common and obvious reason is the heaviness of new wine — which (as Aristotle says) violently presseth the stomach — or the abundance of airy and watery parts that lie in it; the former of which, as soon as they are pressed, fly out; and the watery parts are naturally fit to weaken the spirituous liquor. Now, when it grows old, the juice is improved, and though by the separation of the watery parts it loses in quantity, it gets in strength.

QUESTION VIII.

Why Do Those that are Stark Drunk Seem Not So Much Debauched As Those that are But Half Foxed?

PLUTARCH, HIS FATHER.

Well then, said my father, since we have fallen upon Aristotle, I will endeavor to propose something of my own concerning those that are half drunk; for, in my mind, though he was a very acute man, he is not accurate enough in such matters. They usually say, I think, that a sober man’s understanding apprehends things right and judges well; the sense of one quite drunk is weak and enfeebled; but of him that is half drunk the fancy is vigorous and the understanding weakened, and therefore, following their own fancies, they judge, but judge ill. But pray, sirs, what is your opinion in these matters?

This reason, I replied, would satisfy me upon a private disquisition; but if you will have my own sentiments, let us first consider, whether this difference doth not proceed from the different temper of the body. For of those that are only half drunk, the mind alone is disturbed, but the body not being quite overwhelmed is yet able to obey its motions; but when it is too much oppressed and the wine has overpowered it, it betrays and frustrates the motions of the mind, for men in such a condition never go so far as action. But those that are half drunk, having a body serviceable to the absurd motions of the mind, are rather to be thought to have greater ability to comply with those they have, than to have worse inclinations than the others. Now if, proceeding on another principle, we consider the strength of the wine itself, nothing hinders but that this may be different and changeable, according to the quantity that is drunk. As fire, when moderate, hardens a piece of clay, but if very strong, makes it brittle and crumble into pieces; and the heat of the spring fires our blood with fevers but as the summer comes on, the disease usually abates; what hinders then but that the mind, being naturally raised by the power of the wine, when it is come to a pitch, should by pouring on more be weakened again and its force abated? Thus hellebore, before it purges, disturbs the body; but if too small a dose be given, disturbs only and purges not at all; and some taking too little of an opiate are more restless than before; and some taking too much sleep well. Besides, it is probable that this disturbance into which those that are half drunk are put, when it comes to a pitch, leads to that decay. For a great quantity being taken inflames the body and consumes the frenzy of the mind; as a mournful song and melancholy music at a funeral raises grief at first and forces tears, but as it continues, by little and little it takes away all dismal apprehensions and consumes our sorrows. Thus wine, after it hath heated and disturbed, calms the mind again and quiets the frenzy; and when men are dead drunk, their passions are at rest.

QUESTION IX.

What is the Meaning of the Saying: Drink Either Five or Three, But Not Four?

ARISTO, PLUTARCH, PLUTARCH’S FATHER.

When I had said these things Aristo, as his habit was, cried out: A return has been decreed in banquets to a very popular and just standard, which, because it was driven away by unseasonable temperance as if by the act of a tyrant, has long remained in exile. For just as those trained in the canons of the lyre declare the sesquialter proportion produces the symphony diapente, the double proportion the diapason, the sesquiterte the diatessaron, the slowest of all, so the specialists in Bacchic harmonies have detected three accords between wine and water — Diapente, Diatrion, Diatessaron. For so they speak and sing, “drink five or three, but not four.” For five have the sesquialter proportion, three cups of water being mixed in two of wine; three, the double proportion, two being mixed with one; four, the sesquiterce, three cups of water to one of wine, which is the epitrite proportion for those exercising their minds in the council-chamber or frowning over dialectics, when changes of speeches are expected — a sober and mild mixture. But in regard to those proportions of two to one, that mixture gives the strength by which we are confused and made half drunk, “Exciting the chords of the soul never moved before.” For it does not admit of sobriety, nor does it induce the senselessness of pure wine. The most harmonious is the proportion of two to three, provoking sleep, generating the forgetfulness of cares, and like that cornfield of Hesiod,” which mildly pacifieth children and heals injuries.” It composes in us the harsh and irregular motions of the soul and secures deep peace for it. Against these sayings of Aristo no one had anything to offer in reply, since it was quite evident he was jesting. I suggested to him to take a cup and treat it as a lyre, tuning it to the harmony and order he praised. At the same time a slave came offering him pure wine. But he refused it, saying with a laugh that he was discussing logical not organic music. To what had been said before my father added that Jove seemed to have taken, according to the ancients, two nurses, Ite and Adrastea; Juno one, Euboea; Apollo also two, Truth and Corythalea; but Bacchus several, because he needed several measures of water to make him manageable, trained, milder, and more prudent.

QUESTION X.

Why Flesh Stinks Sooner When Exposed to the Moon, Than to the Sun.

EUTHYDEMUS, SATYRUS.

Euthydemus of Sunium gave us at an entertainment a very large boar. The guests wondering at the bigness of the beast, he said that he had one a great deal larger, but in the carriage the moon had made it stink; he could not imagine how this should happen, for it was probable that the sun, being much hotter than the moon, should make it stink sooner. But, said Satyrus, this is not so strange as the common practice of the hunters; for, when they send a boar or a doe to a city some miles distant, they drive a brazen nail into it to keep it from stinking.

After supper Euthydemus bringing the question into play again, Moschio the physician said, that putrefaction was a colliquation of the flesh, and that everything that putrefied grew moister than before, and that all heat, if gentle, did stir the humors, though not force them out, but if strong, dry the flesh; and that from these considerations an answer to the question might be easily deduced. For the moon gently warming makes the body moist; but the sun by his violent beams dries rather, and draws all moisture from them. Thus Archilochus spoke like a naturalist,

I hope hot Sirius’s beams will many drain,

And Homer more plainly concerning Hector, over whose body Apollo spread a thick cloud,

Lest the hot sun should scorch his naked limbs.
(Iliad, xxiii, 190.)

Now the moon’s rays are weaker; for, as Ion says,

They do not ripen well the clustered grapes.

When he had done, I said: The rest of the discourse I like very well, but I cannot consent when you ascribe this effect to the strength and degree of heat, and chiefly in the hot seasons; for in winter every one knows that the sun warms little, yet in summer it putrefies most. Now the contrary should happen, if the gentleness of the heat were the cause of putrefaction. And besides, the hotter the season is, so much the sooner meat stinks; and therefore this effect is not to be ascribed to the want of heat in the moon, but to some particular proper quality in her beams. For heat is not different only by degrees; but in fires there are some proper qualities very much unlike one another, as a thousand obvious instances will prove. Goldsmiths heat their gold in chaff fires; physicians use fires of vine-twigs in their distillations; and tamarisk is the best fuel for a glass-house. Olive-boughs in a chimney warm very well, but hurt other baths: they spoil the plastering, and weaken the foundation; and therefore the most skilful of the public officers forbid those that rent the baths to burn olive-tree wood, or throw darnel seed into the fire, because the fumes of it dizzy and bring the headache to those that bathe. Therefore it is no wonder that the moon differs in her qualities from the sun; and that the sun should shed some drying, and the moon some dissolving, influence upon flesh. And upon this account it is that nurses are very cautious of exposing their infants to the beams of the moon; for they being full of moisture, as green plants, are easily wrested and distorted. And everybody knows that those that sleep abroad under the beams of the moon are not easily waked, but seem stupid and senseless; for the moisture that the moon sheds upon them oppresses their faculty and disables their bodies. Besides, it is commonly said, that women brought to bed when the moon is a fortnight old, have easy labors; and for this reason I believe that Diana, which was the same with the moon, was called the goddess of childbirth. And Timotheus appositely says,

By the blue heaven that wheels the stars,
And by the moon that eases women’s pains.

Even in inanimate bodies the power of the moon is very evident. For trees that are cut in the full of the moon carpenters refuse, as being soft, and, by reason of their moistness, subject to corruption; and in its wane farmers usually thresh their wheat, that being dry it may better endure the flail; for the corn in the full of the moon is moist, and commonly bruised in threshing. Besides, they say dough will be leavened sooner in the full, for then, though the leaven is scarce proportioned to the meal, yet it rarefies and leavens the whole lump. Now when flesh putrefies, the combining spirit is only changed into a moist consistence, and the parts of the body separate and dissolve. And this is evident in the very air itself, for when the moon is full, most dew falls; and this Alcman the poet intimates, when he somewhere calls dew the air’s and moon’s daughter, saying,

See how the daughter of the Moon and Air
Does nourish all things.

Thus a thousand instances do prove that the light of the moon is moist, and carries with it a softening and corrupting quality. Now the brazen nail that is driven through the flesh, if, as they say, it keeps the flesh from putrefying, doth it by an astringent quality proper to the brass. The rust of brass physicians use in astringent medicines, and they say those that dig brass ore have been cured of a rheum in their eyes, and that the hair upon their eyelids hath grown again; for the particles rising from the ore, being insensibly applied to the eyes, stops the rheum and dries up the humor, and upon this account, perhaps; Homer calls brass [Greek omitted] and [Greek omitted], and Aristotle says, that wounds made by a brazen dart or a brazen sword are less painful and sooner cured than those that are made of iron weapons, because brass hath something medicinal in itself, which in the very instant is applied to the wound. Now it is manifest that astringents are contrary to putrefying, and healing to corrupting qualities. Some perhaps may say, that the nail being driven through draws all the moisture to itself, for the humor still flows to the part that is hurt; and therefore it is said that by the nail there always appears some speck and tumor; and therefore it is rational that the other parts should remain sound, when all the corruption gathers about that.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plutarch/symposiacs/chapter3.html

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