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In the earlier times the Greeks lived frugally. The fare of the Homeric heroes was of the

plainest. The meats were the flesh of the domestic animals roasted on spits. Home-made

bread was passed from hand to hand. Nor did the ancient Hellenes, like the gluttons of

Rome, eat to repletion and satiety. With the development of the means of living greater

variety was introduced. Poultry and game were added to the meats. Fish and cheese became

staple articles of food. Oysters and crabs and Boeotian eels came to be regarded as

delicacies on the tables of the rich. Most of the vegetables peculiar to the north

temperate zone where it slopes towards the tropics were abundantly served. Then came the

wines, of which the variety and qualities produced from the vintages of Hellas and the

Cyclades were superior to those of any contemporaneous country.

As a rule the preparation of the feast was intrusted to the supervision of the Greek

matron with whom it was a point of honor that her lord and his guests should banquet in

good style. Where the feast was of such proportions as to become a public reception rather

than a private meal, the services of professional cooks were procured for the occasion.

Though woman was then, as ever, the presiding genius of the preparation, she was allowed

no place at the board. When, however, there were no invited guests, the husband frequently

dined with his wife in the gynaconitis or woman's apartment of the house.

At nearly every meal, however, friends were invited; for in the gymnasia and market-place

man met man, and the two went together to dine. Before the meal was begun all the

participants carefully prepared themselves. They bathed. They perfumed themselves. They

put on their best attire. When all was ready, they exchanged salutations. An ode was sung.

The table was spread in the andronitis, or the man's hall of the house. The board was

adorned with coverings and hangings. Couches were spread; for the Greeks reclined at the

feast. The left arm rested on a cushion. The head was crowned with a chaplet of flowers.

On each couch were two guests. The place of honor was next to the host. Each was assigned

his place at the board. A slave spread the viands and brought the cups of wine. A spoon

was laid before each guest. Plates there were none; neither knives nor forks. The meats

were served already cut into bits, which the eaters took with their fingers. The drinking

was reserved for the close. Then the wine was mingled with two or three parts of water:

the Greek was by nature too much of an aesthete to drink fire at a banquet.

The servants of the table were the youngest and handsomest slaves. They crowned the heads

of the banqueters with flowers, and garlanded their breasts with myrtle and violets. After

the feast came the song and the dance, generally performed by the servants. The guests

were many times heated with wines, and not infrequently the feast degenerated into a

bacchanalian revel.

It was, however, the excess of nature rather than the deliberately sought intoxication

which the drinkers of the North indulged in for the sheer oblivion which followed. To the

Greek, delight, exhilaration, exuberance of spirit, the joyous ecstasy of companionship,

the thrill of elevated emotion, the forgetfulness rather than the oblivion of care and

dread-such were the motives of his abandonment to the pleasures of drink. So he and his

poets praised the wine. Anacreon but expressed the common question of the Greek race in

one of his odes:

"Thirsty earth drinks up the rain, Trees from earth drink that again, Ocean drinks the

air, the sun Drinks the sea, and him the moon. Any reason canst thou think. I should

thirst while all these drink?"

Such was the power and influence of the Greek feast that the greatest of the philosophers

and sages forebore not to participate in its pleasures and to praise both it and its

memories. So did even Socrates and Plato. When, in B. C. 416, the poet Agathon, on the day

after his victory in tragic verse, gave a banquet to his friends, the greatest minds of

the ancient world gathered in honor of the occasion; and the feast itself was made the

basis of Plato's Symposium, one of the most charming pieces of litera-