Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists

Athenaeus was an ethnic Greek and seems to have been a native of Naucrautis, Egypt. Although the dates of his birth and death have been lost, he seems to have been active in the late second and early third centuries of the common era. His surviving work The Deipnosophists (Dinner-table Philosophers) is a fifteen-volume text focusing on dining customs and surrounding rituals.

The following is an adaptation of The Deipnosophists / Athenaeus, trans. Charles Burton Gulick. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937.

§ 4.34. “But among the Galatians,” says Phylarchus in his sixth book, “it is the custom to place on the tables a great number of loaves broken indiscriminately, and meat just taken out of the cauldrons, which no one touches without first waiting for the king to see whether he touches anything of what is served up before him.” But in his third book the same Phylarchus says that “Ariamnes the Galatian, being an exceedingly rich man, gave notice that be would give all the Galatians a banquet every year; and that he did so, managing in this manner: He divided the country, measuring it by convenient stages along the roads; and at these stages he erected, tents of stakes and rushes and osiers, each containing about four hundred men, or somewhat more, according as the district required, and with reference to the number that might be expected to throng in from the villages and towns adjacent to the stage in question. And there he placed huge cauldrons, full of every sort of meat; and he had the cauldrons made in the preceding year before he was to give the feast, sending for artisans from other cities. And he caused many victims to be slain — numbers of oxen, and pigs, and sheep, and other animals — every day; and he caused casks of wine to be prepared, and a great quantity of grain. And not only,” he continues, “did all the Galatians who came from the villages and cities enjoy themselves, but even all the strangers who happened to be passing by were not allowed to escape by the slaves who stood around, but were pressed to come in and partake of what had been prepared.”

§ 4.36. And Posidonius the Stoic, in the Histories which he composed in a manner by no means inconsistent with the philosophy which he professed, writing of the laws that were established and the customs which prevailed in many nations, says: “The Celts place food before their guests, putting grass for their seats, and they serve it up on wooden tables raised a very little above the ground: and their food consists of a few loaves, and a good deal of meat brought up floating in water, and roasted on the coals or on spits. And they eat their meat in a cleanly manner enough, but like lions, taking up whole joints in both their hands, and gnawing them; and if there is any part which they cannot easily tear away, they cut it off with a small sword which they have in a sheath in a private depository. And those who live near the rivers eat fish also, and so do those who live near the Mediterranean sea, or near the Atlantic ocean; and they eat it roasted with salt and vinegar and cumin seed: and cumin seed they also throw into their wine. But they use no oil, on account of its scarcity; and because they are not used to it, it seems disagreeable to them. But when many of them sup together, they all sit in a circle; and the bravest sits in the middle, like the leader of a chorus; because he is superior to the rest either in his military skill, or in birth, or in riches: and the man who gives the entertainment sits next to him; and then on each side the rest of the guests sit in regular order, according as each is eminent or distinguished for anything. And their armour-bearers, bearing their large oblong shields, stand behind; and their spear-bearers sit down opposite in a circle, and feast in the same manner as their masters. And those who act as cup-bearers and bring round the wine, bring it round in jars made either of earthenware or of silver, like ordinary casks in shape. And their platters on which they serve up the meat are also made of the same material; but some have bronze platters, and some have wooden or plaited baskets. And the liquor which is drunk is, among the rich, wine brought from Italy or from the country about Marseilles; and this is drunk unmixed, but sometimes a little water is mixed with it. But among the poorer classes what is drunk is a beer made of wheat prepared with honey, and oftener still without any honey; and they call it corma. And they all drink it out of the same cup, in small portions, not drinking more than a ladle at a time; but they take frequent turns: and a slave carries the liquor round, beginning at the right hand and going on to the left; and this is the way in which they are waited on, and in which they worship the gods, always turning towards the right hand.”

§ 4.37. And Posidonius continuing, and relating the riches of Lyernius the father of Bityis, who was subdued by the Romans, says that “he, aiming at becoming a leader of the populace, used to drive in a chariot over the plains, and scatter gold and silver among the myriads of Celts who followed him; and that he enclosed a fenced space of twelve furlongs in length every way, square, in which he erected wine-presses, and filled them with expensive liquors; and that he prepared so vast a quantity of food that for very many days any one who chose was at liberty to go and enjoy what was there prepared, being waited on without interruption or cessation. And once, when he had issued beforehand invitations to a banquet some poet from some barbarian nation came too late and met him on the way, and sung a hymn in which he extolled his magnificence, and bewailed his own misfortune in having come too late: and Lyernius was pleased with his ode, and called for a bag of gold, and threw it to him as be was running by the side of his chariot; and that he picked it up, and then went on singing, saying that his very footprints upon the earth over which he drove produced benefits to men.” These now are the accounts of the Celts given by Posidonius in the third and in the twentieth books of his History.

§ 4.38. […] The Romans at their feasts once practiced single combats: “The Romans used to exhibit spectacles of single combats, not only in their public shows and in their theatres, having derived the custom from the Etruscans, but they did so also at their banquets. Accordingly, people often invited their friends to an entertainment, promising them, in addition to other things, that they should see two or three pairs of single combatants. And when they had bad enough of meat and drink, they then called in the combatants: and as soon as one of them was killed, the guests clapped, being delighted at the exhibition. And in one instance a man left it in his will that some beautiful women, whom be had purchased as slaves, should engage in single combat: and in another case a man desired that some youthful boys whom he had loved should do so; but the people would not tolerate such notorious proceedings, and declared the will invalid.” And Eratosthenes says, in the first book of his Catalogue of the Victors at Olympia, that the Etruscans used to box to the music of the flute.

§ 4.40. But Posidonius, in the third, and also in the twentieth book of his Histories, says: “The Celts sometimes have single combats at their entertainments. For being collected in arms, they go through the exercise, and make feints at, and sometimes they even go so far as to wound one another. And being irritated by this, if the bystanders do not stop them, they will proceed even to kill one another. But in olden times,” he continues, “there was a custom that a hind quarter of pork was put on the table, and the bravest man took it; and if any one else laid claim to it, then the two rose up to fight till one of them was slain. And other men in the theatre having received some silver or gold money, and some even for a number of earthen vessels full of wine, having taken pledges that the gifts promised shall really be given, and having distributed them among their nearest connexions, have laid themselves down on doors with their faces upwards, and then allowed some bystander to cut their throats with a sword.” […]

§ 6.49. And Posidonius of Apamea, in the twenty-third book of his Histories, says: “The Celts, even when they make war, take about with them companions to dine with them, whom they call parasites. And these men celebrate their praises before large companies assembled together, and also to private individuals who are willing to listen to them: they have also a description of people called Bards; who make them music; and these are poets, who recite their praises with songs.” […]

§ 6.234. […] The Gaulish nation called the Scordisci do not allow gold into their country either, even though they are eager to plunder the territories of their neighbours, and to commit violence; those people are 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 Danube. They call the road by which they returned the “Bathanattan road” after him, and even to this day they call his posterity the Bathanatti. And these men avoid gold, and do not allow it into their territories, since it has brought many disasters upon them; but they do use silver, and commit the most horrendous atrocities to get it. […]

§ 8.36. Aristotle also records the occurrence of a similar event in his Constitution of Massilia, writing as follows: “The people of Phocaea, in Ionia {Greece], founded Massilia because they were so devoted to commerce. Euxenus of Phocaea was a friend of the king [of the Celtic Segobrigi], Nannus (for that was his name). This Nannus was celebrating his daughter’s wedding when, by chance, Euxenus arrived and was invited in to attend the festival banquet. Now the marriage was to be conducted in the following manner: after the dinner the girl was to come in and mix a drink and give it to any one of the suitors present that she desired; and he to whom she gave it was to be bridegroom. When the girl entered she gave the cup, whether by accident or for some other reason, to Euxenus; the girl’s name was Petta. When this befell, the father, believing that her giving the cup had been done by divine will, thought it only right that Euxenus should have her, so he took her to wife and lived with her, after changing her name to Aristoxene. And there is a clan in Massilia to this day descended from the woman called “Protiadae”; for Protis was the son of Euxenus and Aristoxene.”

§ 10.443. […] In his second book of his History of Philip, Theopompus says that the Illyrians dine and drink seated, and even bring their wives to parties […] The people of Ardia [in modern Montenegro] own 300,000 bondsmen whose status is between freemen and slaves. They get drunk every day and have parties, and are too uncontrolled in their addiction to eating and drinking. Hence the Celts, when they made war on them, knowing the lack of self-control of the Ardiaeans, ordered their troops to prepare a dinner in their tents with the utmost possible splendour, but to put into the food a certain poisonous herb which irritates the bowels and causes them to empty themselves. When this was done, some of the Ardiaeans were overcome and killed by the Celts, and others threw themselves into the rivers, being unable to bear the pain in their intestines.