Deipnosophistae

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Frontispiece to the 1657 edition of the Deipnosophists, edited by Isaac Casaubon, in Greek and Latin

The Deipnosophistae (deipnon, "dinner", and sophistai, "professors"; original Greek title Δειπνοσοφισταί, Deipnosophistai, English Deipnosophists) may be translated as The Banquet of the Learned or Philosophers at Dinner or The Gastronomers. The Deipnosophists is a long work of literary and antiquarian research by the Hellenistic author Athenaeus of Naucratis in Egypt, written in Rome in the early 3rd century AD. The protagonist is Larensi(u)s, the host of a leisurely banquet whose main purpose is literary, historical and antiquarian conversation. Characters include grammarians, lexicographers, jurists, musicians and hangers-on.

Contents[edit]

The Deipnosophistae professes to be an account given by the author to his friend Timocrates of a series of banquets (apparently three) held at the house of Larensius, a scholar and wealthy patron of the arts. It is thus a dialogue within a dialogue, after the manner of Plato,[1] although each conversation is so long that, realistically, it would occupy several days. Among the numerous guests,[2] Masurius, Zoilus, Democritus, Galen, Ulpian and Plutarch are named, but most are probably to be taken as fictitious personages,[3] and the majority take little or no part in the conversation. If Ulpian is identical with the famous jurist, the Deipnosophistae must have been written after his death in 223; but the jurist was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, whereas Ulpian in Athenaeus dies a natural death. Prosopographical investigation, however, has shown the possibility of identifying several guests with real persons from other sources;[4] the Ulpian in the dialog has also been linked to the renowned jurist's father.[5]

The work is invaluable for providing fictionalized information about the Hellenistic literary world of the leisured class during the Roman Empire. To the majority of modern readers, even more useful is the wealth of information provided in the Deipnosophists about earlier Greek literature.[6] In the course of discussing classic authors, the participants make quotations, long and short, from the works of about 700 earlier Greek authors and 2,500 separate writings, many of them otherwise unrecorded. Food and wine, luxury, music, sexual mores, literary gossip and philology are among the major topics of discussion, and the stories behind many artworks such as the Venus Kallipygos are also transmitted in its pages.

Food and cookery[edit]

The Deipnosophists is an important source of cookery recipes in classical Greek. It quotes the original text of one recipe from the lost cookbook by Mithaecus, the oldest in Greek and the oldest recipe by a named author in any language. Other authors quoted for their recipes include Glaucus of Locri, Dionysius, Epaenetus, Hegesippus of Tarentum, Erasistratus, Diocles of Carystus, Timachidas of Rhodes, Philistion of Locri, Euthydemus of Athens, Chrysippus of Tyana, Paxamus and Harpocration of Mende.

Homosexuality[edit]

In addition to its main focuses, the text offers an unusually clear portrait of homosexuality in late Hellenism. Books XII-XIII holds a wealth of information for studies of homosexuality in Roman Greece. It is subject to a big discussion that includes Alcibiades, Charmides, Autolycus, Pausanias and Sophocles. Furthermore, numerous books and now lost plays on the subject are mentioned, including the dramatists Diphilus, Cratinus, Aeschylus, and Sophocles and the philosopher Heraclides of Pontus.[citation needed]

Survival and reception[edit]

The Deipnosophistae was originally in fifteen books.[7] The work survives in one manuscript from which the whole of books 1 and 2, and some other pages too, disappeared long ago. An Epitome or abridgment (to about 60%) was made in medieval times, and survives complete: from this it is possible to read the missing sections, though in a disjointed form. The encyclopaedist Sir Thomas Browne wrote a Latin essay on Athenaeus which reflects a revived interest in the Banquet of the Learned amongst scholars following the publication of the Deipnosophistae in 1612 by the Classical scholar Isaac Casaubon. Browne wrote of it:

Would that a little part survived of the writers from whom Athenaeus quotes, scattered here and there, notable, startling or amusing sayings, and whets the appetite of his eager reader..... Mimes, fools, parasites, lute-girls are bearable and not inappropriate amusement for a drinking party. There is a most amusing story in Athenaeus about the boys in the inn at Agrigentum. They are so mad with drink that they think they are sailing in a ship tossed about by a wild storm. To lighten the ship they throw out all the carpets and crockery, call the police 'mermen', offer rewards for their rescue to those who reproach them, and do not even return to their senses when the onlookers take their things.

Writing in 1867, poet James Russell Lowell characterized the Deipnosophists and its author thus:

the somewhat greasy heap of a literary rag-and-bone-picker like Athenaeus is turned to gold by time.

Modern readers[who?] question whether the Deipnosophistae genuinely evokes a literary symposium of learned disquisitions on a range of subjects suitable for such an occasion, or whether it has a satirical edge, rehashing the cultural clichés of the urbane literati of its day.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Viz. his Symposium. The first words (1.1f-2a) mimic the beginning of Phaedo. See (e.g.) Wentzel(1896). "Athenaios (22)". Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Band II, Halbband 4. col. 2028.15ff.
  2. ^ Kaibel (1890, vol. 3) pp. 561-564 lists twenty-four by name, plus several anonymi.
  3. ^ Kaibel (1887, vol. 1) p. VI.
  4. ^ Baldwin, Barry (1977). "The Minor Characters in Athenaeus". Acta Classica 20: 37–48. 
  5. ^ Baldwin, Barry (1976). "Athenaeus and his Work". Acta Classica 19: 21–42. 
  6. ^ "…for us, one of the most important books from Antiquity". Wentzel(1896) col. 2028.34ff
  7. ^ Marginal indications in the manuscript may, but need not, reflect an earlier edition in 30 books. See Der neue Pauly Athenaios[3]. col. 198; Kaibel (1887, vol. 1) p. XXII.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists ed. and tr. C. B. Gulick. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927-41. 7 vols. (Loeb Classical Library)
  • Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters ed. and tr. S. Douglas Olson. Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 2007-2012. 8 vols. (Loeb Classical Library)
  • Georg Kaibel, Athenaei Naucratitae Dipnosophistarum Libri XV. Leipzig: Teubner, 1887-1890, 3 vols. (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
  • Athenaei Dipnosophistarum epitome ed. S. P. Peppink. Leiden, 1937-9.
  • Athenaeus and his world: reading Greek culture in the Roman Empire ed. David Braund, John Wilkins. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000.
  • Food in antiquity ed. John Wilkins, David Harvey, Mike Dobson. Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1995.
  • Andrew Dalby, Siren feasts: a history of food and gastronomy in Greece (London: Routledge, 1996) especially pp. 168–180.
  • Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents ed. Thomas K. Hubbard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) pp. 76–82 (translation of a passage from book 13).
  • Warren Johansson, 'Athenaeus' in Encyclopedia of Homosexuality ed. Wayne R. Dynes (Garland Publishing, 1990) p. 87.

External links[edit]