Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists

BOOK 6, Pages 229-234

Translated by C.D.Yonge (1854). A few words and spellings have been changed.

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[15.] G   [229] But with respect to the use of silver plate, my good friend Ulpianus, you make me stop to consider a little; but I recollect what is said by Alexis in his Exile :-
  For where an earthen pot is to be let
  For the cook's use.

For down to the times of the supremacy of the Macedonians the attendants used to perform their duties with vessels made of earthenware, as my countryman Juba declares. But when the Romans altered the way of living, giving it a more expensive direction, then Cleopatra, arranging her style of living in imitation of them, she, I mean, who ultimately destroyed the Egyptian monarchy, not being able to alter the name, she called gold and silver plate κέραμον ; and then she gave the guests what she called the κέραμα to carry away with them; and this was very costly. And on the Rhosic earthenware, which was the most beautiful, Cleopatra spent five minae every day. But Ptolemy the king, in the eighth book of his commentaries, writing of Masinissa the king of the Libyans, speaks as follows :- "His entertainments were arranged in the Roman fashion, everything being served up in silver κέραμον. And the second course he arranged in the Italian mode. His dishes were all made of gold; made after the fashion of those which are plaited of bulrushes or ropes. And he employed Greek musicians."

[16.] G   But Aristophanes the comic writer, whom Heliodorus the Athenian says, in his treatise concerning the Acropolis, (and it occupies fifteen books,) was a native of Naucratis, in his play called Plutus, after the god who gave his name to the play and appeared on the stage, says that dishes of silver were in existence, just as all other things might be had made of the same metal. And his words are :-
  But every vinegar cruet, dish and ewer
  Is made of brass; while all the dirty dishes
  In which they serve up fish are made of silver.
  The oven too is made of ivory.

And Plato says, in his Ambassadors :-
  Epicrates and his good friend Phormisius,
  Received many and magnificent gifts
  From the great king ; a golden cruet-stand,
  And silver plates and dishes.

[230] And Sophron, in his Female Actresses, says: -
  The whole house shone
  With store of gold, and of much silver plate.

[17.] G   And Philippides, in his Disappearance of Silver, speaks of the use of it as ostentatious and uncommon, and aimed at only by some foreigners who had made fortunes but lately :-
  (A)   I felt a pity for all human things,
  Seeing men nobly born to ruin hasting,
  And branded slaves eating on silver plates
  The salt-fish bought for two or three obols,
  Or three coppers' worth of capers in a silver bowl
  Whose weight is fifty drachmas of purest silver.
  And formerly it would have been hard to see
  One single flagon vowed unto the gods.
  (B)   That is still true now.
  For if one man should vow
  A gift like that, some other man would steal it.

And Alexis, in his Little House, introducing a young man in love displaying his wealth to his mistress, represents him as making her some such speech as this :-
  (A)   I told the slaves, (for I brought two from home,)
  To place the carefully wiped silver vessels
  Fairly in sight. There was a silver goblet,
  And cups which weighed two drachmas; a beaker too
  Whose weight was four ; a wine-cooler, ten obols,
  Slighter than even Philippides' own self.
  (B)   And yet these things are not so ill-contrived
  To make a show . .. .

And I am myself acquainted with one of our own fellow-citizens who is as proud as he is poor, and who, when all his silver plate put together scarcely weighed a drachma, used to keep calling for his servant, a single individual, and the only one he had, but still he called him by hundreds of different names. "Here, you Strombichides, do not put on the table any of my winter plate, but my summer plate." And the character in Nicostratus, in the play entitled The Kings, is just such another. There is a braggart soldier, of whom he speaks -
  There is some vinegar and a wine-cooler,
  Thinner than thinnest gauze.

For there were at that time people who were able to beat out silver till it was as thin as a piece of skin.

[18.] G   And Antiphanes, in his Lemnian Women, says :-
  A three-legged table now is laid, and on it
  A luscious cheesecake, ye honoured gods,
  And this year's honey in a silver dish.

And Sopater the parodist, in his Orestes, writes :-
  A silver dish, bearing a stinking shad.

And in the drama entitled Lentil Soup he says :-
  But at his supper he does sport a cruet
  Of shining silver, richly chased with figures,
  And bas-reliefs of dragons : such as Thibron
  Used to display, most delicate of men,
  Stripped of his talents by the arts of Tantalus.

And Theopompus the Chian, in his Letters of Advice to Alexander, when he enters into a discussion about Theocritus his fellow-citizen, says:- "But he drinks out of silver cups and out of golden cups, and uses other vessels of the same kind upon his table. A man who formerly not only did not drink out of silver vessels, but who had not brazen ones either; he used to be content with the commonest earthenware, and even that very often cracked and chipped."

And Diphilus says, in his Painter :-
  A splendid breakfast then appeared, consisting
  [231] Of all that was desirable or new ;
  First every kind of oyster ; then a phalanx
  Of various side-dishes, and a heap
  Of broiled meats fresh from the gridiron,
  And potted meats in silver mortars pounded.

And Philemon says in his Physician :-
  And a large basket full of silver plate.

And Menander, in his Self-Tormentor, says-
  A bath, maid-servants, lots of silver plate.

And in his Hymnis he writes -
  But I am come in quest of silver plate.

And Lysias, in his Oration on the Golden Tripod, if indeed the speech be a genuine one of his, says :- "It was still possible to give silver or gold plate." But those who pride themselves on the purity of their Greek, say that the proper expression should "silver ornament" and "gold ornament".

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[22.] G   [232] And Ephorus, or Demophilus, his son, in the thirtieth book of his Histories, speaking of the temple of Delphi, says, "But Onomarchus and Phayllus and Phalaecus not only carried off all the treasures of the god, but at last their wives carried off also the ornaments of Eriphyle, which Alcmaeon consecrated at Delphi by the command of the god, and also the necklace of Helen, which had been given by Menelaus. For the god had given each of them oracles: he had said to Alcmaeon, when he asked him how he could be cured of his madness -
  You ask a precious gift, relief from madness;
  Give me a precious gift yourself; the chain
  With which your mother buried, steeds and all,
  Your sire, her husband, brave Amphiaraus.

And he replied to Menelaus, who consulted him as to how he might avenge himself on Paris -
  Bring me the golden ornament of the neck
  Of your false wife; which Aphrodite once did give
  A welcome gift to Helen; and then Paris
  Shall glut your direst vengeance by his fall.

[233] And it so fell out that a violent quarrel arose among the women about these ornaments - which should take which. and when they had drawn lots for the choice, the one of them, who was very ugly and stern, got Eriphyle's necklace, but the one who was conspicuous for beauty and wanton got the ornaments of Helen; and she, being in love with a young man of Epirus, went away with him, but the other contrived to put her husband to death."

[23.] G   But the divine Plato, and Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian, not only forbade all costly ornaments to be introduced into their model states, but they would not permit even silver or gold to be brought into them, thinking that of the products of mines, iron and copper were sufficient, and banishing the other metals as injurious to those states which were in good order. But Zenon the Stoic, thinking everything unimportant except the legitimate and honest use of the precious metals, forbade either wishing for or denouncing them; but still he recommended chiefly the use of those which were more commonly accessible and less superfluous; in order that men, having the dispositions of their minds formed so as neither to fear nor to admire anything which is not honourable on the one hand or discreditable on the other, should use only what is natural as much as possible, and yet should not fear what is of an opposite character, but abstain from such in obedience to reason and not to fear. For nature has not banished any of the above-mentioned things out of the world, but has made subterranean veins of these metals, the working of which is very laborious and difficult in order that they who desire such things may arrive at the acquisition after toil and suffering; and that not only those men themselves who work in the mines, but those also who collect what has been extracted from the mines, may acquire this much wished for opulence at the expense of countless labours.

Therefore a little of these metals lies on the surface just to serve as a sample of the rest which is beneath, since in the remotest corners of the earth also there are rivers bearing down gold-dust in their waters; and women and men destitute of bodily strength scratching among the sand, detach these particles from the sand, and then they wash them and bring them to the smelting-pot, as my countryman Poseidonius says [ Fr_48 ] is done among the Helvetii, and among others of the Celtic tribes. And the mountains which used formerly to be called the Rhipaean mountains, and which were subsequently named the Olbian (as if happy), and which are now called the Alps, (they are mountains in Gaul,) when once the woods upon them had caught fire spontaneously, ran with liquid silver. The greater quantity of this metal, however, is found by mining operations carried on at a great depth, and attended by great hardship, according to the statement of Demetrius Phalereus, in consequence of the desire of avarice to draw Pluto himself out of the recesses of the earth; and, accordingly, he says facetiously that - "Men having often abandoned what was visible for the sake of what was uncertain, have not got what they expected, and have lost what they had, being unfortunate by an enigmatical sort of calamity."

[24.] G   But the Lacedaemonians being forbidden by their national institutions from introducing gold or silver into Sparta, as the same Poseidonius relates, or from possessing any in private, did possess it nevertheless, but then they deposited it among their neighbours the Arcadians. But subsequently the Arcadians became enemies to them instead of friends, as they had been; picking a quarrel with them with the express view of seizing on this deposit without being called to account for it, by reason of the enmity now subsisting. Therefore it is said that the gold and silver which had formerly been at Lacedaemon was consecrated at Delphi to Apollo; and that when Lysander brought gold publicly into the city he was the cause of many evils to the state by so doing. [234] And it is said that Gylippus, who liberated the Syracusans, was put to death by starvation, having been condemned by the ephors, because he had embezzled some of the money sent to Sparta by Lysander. But that which had been devoted to the god and been granted to the people as a public ornament and public property, it was not decent for any mortal to treat with contempt.

[25.] G   That tribe of Gauls which is called the Scordistae, does not introduce gold into their country either, but still they are not the less ready to plunder the territories of their neighbours, and to commit injustice;  # and that nation is a remnant of the Gauls who formed the army of Brennus when he made his expedition against the temple of Delphi. And a certain Bathanattus, acting as their leader, settled them as a colony in the districts around the Ister, from whom they call the road by which they returned the Bathanattan road, and even to this day they call his posterity the Bathanatti. And these men shun gold, and do not introduce it into their territories, as a thing on account of which they have suffered many calamities; but they do use silver, and for the sake of that they commit the most enormous atrocities. Although the proper course would be, not to banish the whole class of the thing of which they were formerly plundered, but the impiety which could perpetrate such a sacrilege. And even if they did not introduce silver into their country, still they would commit excesses in the pursuit of copper and iron; and even if they had not these things, still they would continue to rage in war against other nations for the sake of meat and drink, and other necessaries.

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