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ATTIC CULTURE.-ENTERTAINMENTS AND CONVERSATION. THE SOCIAL POSITION OF BOYS.
THESE Considerations, however, suggest to me to say something more particular concerning the tone of Greek dinner-parties, the preparation of which was so troublesome. I shall not spend one line on discussing the peculiar dishes, and the peculiar ways of dressing them—a minute and tedious enquiry, as any one may see who will open Athenæus. It is not at all so important to us to know what the Greeks ate, as to know with what manners and conversation they ate, and I cannot but think that most handbooks of Greek antiquities make the mistake of confining themselves so closely to the materials of old Greek life, that the really important features fall into the background.
We have, in addition to the allusions in the Middle and New Comedy, three detailed pictures of imaginary Greek dinner-parties, one the scene in Aristophanes' Wasps above alluded to (p. 206), in which the gentlemanly son instructs his father how to behave—a scene, by the way, which shows that I am correct in making this particular branch of refinement a feature of the
Platonic, and not the Periclean age. The two other pictures are the Symposia of Plato and of Xenophon, in each of which Socrates' presence at a banquet of aristocratic gentlemen is made the occasion of much philosophical and æsthetical conversation. The dialogue of Xenophon is as usual tamer and less brilliant than that of his rival, but probably more faithful to life, and a more natural specimen of Greek society than the deep and mystical composition of Plato, which, though now-a-days greatly admired, was by old critics, such as Dicæarchus1, despised as popтikóv.
Of course the whole tone of the entertainments was affected by the exclusion of married women, and of the children, who dined at midday 2. As I said before, conversation took a leading place in Athenian society. We,' says a Spartan character, (Mein. iii. p. 208) are great both at eating and working, but the Athenians at talking, and eating little, and the Thebans at eating a great deal.' Plato goes so far, in a striking passage of his Protagoras, as to charge with great stupidity those that introduce musicians into their feasts, as being people devoid of rational conversation, and hiring mercenary musicians to amuse their guests 3. 'The talk about the poets seems to me like a commonplace entertainment to which a vulgar company have recourse; who, because they are not able to amuse or converse one another, while they are drinking, with the sound of their own voices and conversation, by reason of their stupidity,
raise the price of flute-girls in the market, hiring for a great sum the voice of a flute instead of their own breath, to be the medium of intercourse among them: but when the company are real gentlemen and men of education, you will see no flute-girls, or dancing-girls, or harp-girls; and they have no nonsense or games, but are contented with one another's conversation, of which their own voices are the medium, and which they carry on by turns and in an orderly manner, even though they are very liberal in their potations.' This is exactly the sort of thing we find in Plato's own Symposium, of which there will be occasion to speak more particularly hereafter. This hostility to music at dinnerparties was evidently a marked feature in the Socratic society, for Aristophanes brings it out in his Clouds, where old Strepsiades is giving an account of how he and his son quarreled. As we were sitting at table,' says he, first I asked him to take up the lyre and sing some song of Simonides, such as, The Shearing of the Ram. But he replied that playing and singing at table were gone out of fashion (ἀρχαῖον εἶν ̓ ἔφασκε τὸ κιθαρίζειν ặdei te nívovė'), and only fit for women grinding at the mill,' but ends by singing some loose lyric of Euripides1. I think anyone who dines at those state dinners, where it is the fashion to have a band playing, will be disposed to agree with Plato that it is very injurious to conversation.
But I fear Xenophon's Symposium shows that we must not take Plato's standard as the usual one, and
Cp. Jowett's Plato, ii. p. 156 (p. 347 D) and Aristoph. Nubes, 1353 sqq. See also Meineke, Com. Frag. vol. iii. p. 119.
that professional musicians, and even jugglers, were commonly employed to amuse even those Athenian gentlemen, who, like the rich Callias, affected philosophy. In that dialogue the Syracusan who has been hired with his slaves for this purpose, is much annoyed at Socrates for distracting the attention of the guests by his talking powers; and all through, it is a sort of conflict between the juggler and the philosopher, whether gymnastic feats or philosophy are to have the upper hand.
But assuming that conversation was to prevail, we can easily see that this was the great reason why Attic feasts were limited to a few guests. The studied elegance and completeness of the appointments and the attendance, are always sacrificed if there be a crowd, and were not so much prized by cultivated gentlemen of that day, as to make them forget that the . conversation must remain general, and never degenerate into separate tétes-à-têtes. In the Symposium of Plato, and elsewhere, Socrates is at once pulled up if he whispers, or addresses separate individuals. Even in Herodotus' day, he represents the tyrant Cleisthenes testing his daughter's suitors τῷ λεγομένῳ ἐς μέσον—by their powers of general conversation. Thus there was in Plato's day no necessity for the officers mentioned at a later period by the Comedians, and called yvvaikovóμoi, who went round to private houses, and punished people who had too large a number of guests. The ostentation of these later days, and the decay of social culture, may have led them back into such absurdities as our state dinners, which can be paralleled by the feast which
Herodotus speaks of, as given at Thebes to the noble Persians of Mardonius' army, of whom fifty were invited, and a Greek gentleman sat beside each1. This was stately, but was not society. So then according to the highest Attic taste the number should not exceed the limits which render general conversation possible.
But despite of their powers of talking, the Greeks deprecated, as we do, any delay in serving the dinner, when the guests had arrived, especially as they assembled in the dining-room. What a misfortune,' says Alexis, (fr. incert. 13) 'to lie down at table before dinner is ready, for there is no chance of sleep, nor can we attend to what anyone says, for the mind is intent upon the table.' This then is the mauvais quart d'heure of the French. We may look back to the passage in Aristophanes' Wasps already cited (above p. 207) for hints as to the proper way of commencing the entertainment under such circumstances. But from the fact that such remarks on the appointments are not common in Plato and Xenophon, they probably felt what we should do, that praise of the banquet and the furniture before the host's face was hardly refined (ἀστεῖον).
I cannot but think that the same principles must have been applied to those stock contrivances for keeping up conversation which are so often mentioned in the Comedy, I mean the scolia, when one guest commenced a sentence in verse, and handed a branch to any other he chose, who was compelled to finish the
1 Cp. also the state-dinner given by Philip of Macedon, Æschines p. 143 (Teubner).