485 GREECE-MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.
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
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-