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nor do I wish to do so. I am a plain country bumpkin, so speak plainly to me." "Then you are not versed in Homeric language?" "Let Homer talk, O cook, just as he pleases, but by Hestia what concern is this of ours?" “Because you and I must transact business according to his prescription, for I am a Homerist." The host goes on to say that he was obliged to take up the works of Philetas on cookery, to find out what each thing meant.
This then was one of the main social grievances which occupied the Middle Comedy and did not subside till Menander's day. But with his peculiar refinement I suppose that these discussions about the preparations for dinner parties were as much out of taste as they would be in our better society, and so the long lists of dishes, and the general prominence of cookery, vanishes from his plays, after a long and somewhat offensive importance of more than a century 1. With regard to the pompous phraseology of the cooks, it should be noticed that it was one of the main duties of the literary critics of that day to repress this tendency in various ranks and classes, and the cooks were not more severely dealt with than the tragic poets, who as a rule did not follow the exquisite simplicity of Euripides' diction, but aped the pomp of Eschylus without his titanic power.
The cooks however may have vanished from Menander's stage for another reason. With the Macedonian
1 Indeed we may go back much farther. Solon, Hipponax, and Simonides of Amorgos have left us fragments on dishes, just like the Comic fragments; cp. Bergk, pp. 436, 762, 787.
times came in the fashion, continued by the Romans, of having cooks among the slaves of their household, a custom apparently unknown to the earlier Athenians. Thus this social difficulty vanished, and the free man, with his Homeric talk, and his self-importance, made way for the expensive and well-educated, but submissive slave. The reader will here again notice the curious analogy to the history of medicine, for among the late Greeks, and among the Romans, the household physician was always a slave attached to the family.
But in the days of free Attic society, it may be imagined that the unlucky host could not trust implicitly the marketing of the Homeric cooks; he was often obliged to go himself to market, and to encounter there a class of men hardly less manageable, the Fishmongers, who were decidedly the most important catering class at Athens, seeing that the Attic people ate little meat, and lived chiefly on fish and vegetables. There were indeed butchers, who exposed joints of meat for sale, but to feast on such fare is noticed as Bootian coarseness, while the Thebans retorted that the Attic dinners might be elegantly served, but were miserably stingy1. So again the marriage feast of Iphicrates with the princess of Thrace was notorious throughout Greece for its lavish expenditure, and for the enormous joints, or even whole animals, which were put upon the table. I think so much may be fairly inferred despite of the comic exaggeration of the passage, which the Germans, of course, take au pied de la lettre. But 1 Plato, Laws, 849 E; Meineke, Com. Frag. iv. p. 433.
the maritime supremacy of Athens, combined as it was with all manner of restrictions on the trade of other ports, made the daily importation of fresh fish, as well as the systematic traffic in salt fish from the Black Sea and from Spain, one of the most striking features in the myriad life of the Peiræus. A few quotations on this point will not be unacceptable. Fish being, as I have said, the staple article of more refined Attic diet, the fishmongers were a large and important class. It is I think very strange, that among the various political men taunted with having risen by the exercise of low trades, there is not one who had practised the lucrative business of retailing fish, and I am disposed to infer that they were usually freedmen or metics. But however this may be, according to the poets of the Middle Comedy, and especially Antiphanes, their insolence and their extortion were unbearable.
Some of the allusions are very comical. 'Both in other respects,' says Antiphanes, (Mein. iii. p. 80) 'they say the Egyptians were clever fellows, and also in this, that they made the eel of equal dignity with the gods. For in reality it is much more precious (Turépa) than the gods. For to them we can attain by prayers, but eels we are only allowed to smell after paying at least twelve drachmæ or more, so utterly sacred is the creature.' And again: 'I used to think the Gorgons a mere invention (of the poets), but when I go to market I believe in them, for when I look upon the fishmongers, I become petrified, so that I have to speak to them with averted countenance; if I behold the tiny fish on which they put such a price I freeze with horror!' 'It is ten thousand
times easier,' too (p. 312) to ‘obtain an audience with the generals (the highest state officials) and to get a question answered by them, than by the cursed fishmongers in the market. If you ask one of them a question, either he takes up something lying near him, or stoops over it in silence like (the) Telephus (of Euripides). And this is fair enough, for they are every one of them homicides like him. But then as if he had not heard a word you say, muttering he shakes a polypus lying before him, and won't even utter whole words, but mutilates them into 'τάρων 'βολῶν γένοιτ ̓ ἂν (it might go for four obols)' and so forth; this is what you must submit to when you go marketing for fish.' 'When I see the generals,' says Alexis, (p. 391) drawing up their eyebrows (giving themselves airs), I feel vexed, but don't much wonder that those selected by the city for high honour should be more conceited than their neighbours, but when I see the ruffianly fishmongers looking down, and having their eyebrows drawn up to the crown of their heads, I choke with rage. And if you ask one of them, at what do you sell these two mullets, he says: 'ten obols.' 'A big price, would you take eight?' 'Yes, if you buy one of them.' 'Come friend, take the money and don't be joking. The price is fixed, off with you.' Is not this bitterer than gall itself?
It is idle to multiply these quotations, when the idea has been fully conveyed; they show plainly what is told in hundreds of other passages, that there was a sort of trade-union spirit among the retailers at Athens, and that they had succeeded in some branches of business, at all events, in keeping up high prices. The
city being four miles from the sea, it was nearly impossible to obtain fish directly from the boats, and thus the fishmongers were in a strong position. There were indeed laws enacted to prevent them from selling stale fish, for we are told that they were even forbidden to sprinkle it with water. But as they are alleged to have evaded this law by fainting in their stalls, and getting their friends to inundate them with water, so I suppose in other respects they contrived to make their profits in spite of these interferences.