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XIII

[13arg] On the brief topics discussed at the table of the philosopher Taurus and called Sympoticae, or Table Talk. 1


THIS custom was practised and observed at Athens by those who were on intimate terms with the philosopher Taurus; when he invited us to his home, in order that we might not come wholly tax-free, 2 as the saying is, and without a contribution, we brought to the simple meal, not dainty foods, but ingenious topics for discussion. Accordingly, each one of us came with a question which he had thought up and prepared, and when the eating ended, conversation began. The questions, however, were neither weighty nor serious, but certain neat but trifling ἐνθυμημάτια, or problems, which would pique a mind enlivened with wine; for instance, the examples of playful subtlety which I shall quote.

The question was asked, when a dying man died—when he was already in the grasp of death, or while he still lived? And when did a rising man rise—when he was already standing, or while he was still seated? And when did one who was learning an art become an artist—when he already was one, or when he was still learning? For whichever answer you make, your statement will be absurd and laughable, and it will seem much more absurd, if you say that it is in either case, or in neither.

But when some declared that all these questions were pointless and idle sophisms, Taurus said: “Do not despise such problems, as if they were mere trifling [p. 127] amusements. The most earnest of the philosophers have seriously debated this question. 3 Some have thought that the term 'die' was properly used, and that the moment of death came, while life still remained; others have left no life in that moment, but have claimed for death all that period which is termed dying.' Also in regard to other similar problems they have argued for different times and maintained opposite opinions. But our master Plato,” 4 said he, “assigned that time neither to life nor to death, and took the same position in every discussion of similar questions. For he saw that the alternatives were mutually contrary, that one of the two opposites could not be maintained while the other existed, and that the question arose from the juxtaposition of two opposing extremes, namely life and death. Therefore he himself devised, and gave a name to, a new period of time, lying on the boundary between the two, which he called in appropriate and exact language ἐξαίφνης φύσις, or 'the moment of sudden separation.' And this very term, as I have given it,” said he, “you will find used by him in the dialogue entitled Parmenides.

Of such a kind were our “contributions” 5 at Taurus' house, and such were, as he himself used to put it, the τραγημάτια or “sweetmeats” of our desserts.

1 Really, talk “over the wine,” or after-dinner talk.

2 The reference is to a dinner to which each guest brought his contribution (symbolon); cf. Hor. Odes, iv. 12. 14 f., non ego te meis immunem meditor tinguere poculis; Catull. xiii.

3 See Pease, “Things without Honor,” Class. Phil. xxi. (1926), pp. 97 ff.

4 Parm. 21, p. 156 D; cf. vi. 21, above.

5 See note 2, p. 125.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), TESTAMENTUM
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), VOCONIA LEX
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