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[8arg] In conversation at the table of the philosopher Taurus questions of this kind were proposed and discussed: “why oil congeals often and readily, wine seldom, vinegar hardly ever,” and “that the waters of rivers and springs freeze, while the sea does not.”

THE philosopher Taurus at Athens usually entertained us at dinner at the time of day when evening had already come on; for there that is the time for dining. 1 The entire basis and foundation of the meal usually consisted of one pot of Egyptian beans, to which were added gourds cut in small pieces.

[p. 231] One day when this dish had been brought and placed upon the table, and we were ready and awaiting the meal, Taurus ordered a slave-boy to pour some oil into the pot. The slave was a boy of Attic birth, at most eight years old, overflowing with the merry wit characteristic of his race and his time of life. He brought an empty Samian flask, from oversight, as he said, supposing there was oil in it, turned it up and, as he usually did, passed it with his hand over all parts of the pot; but no oil came out. The boy, in anger, looked savagely at the flask, shook it violently, and again turned it over the pot; and when we were all quietly and furtively laughing at his actions, he said in Greek, and excellent Attic Greek at that: “Don't laugh; there's oil in it; but don't you know how cold it was this morning; it's congealed.” “You rascal,” said Taurus with a laugh, “run and fetch some oil.”

But when the boy had gone out to buy oil, Taurus, not at all put out by the delay, said: “The pot needs oil, and, as I see, is intolerably hot; let us withhold our hands and meanwhile, since the slave has just told us that oil is in the habit of congealing, let us consider why oil congeals often and readily, but wine rarely.” And he looked at me and bade me give my opinion. Then I replied that I inferred that wine congealed less quickly because it had in it certain seeds of heat and was naturally more fiery, and that was why Homer called 2 it αἴθοψ, 3 and not, as some supposed, on account of its colour.

[p. 233] “It is indeed,” says Taurus, “as you say. For it is well known that wine, when we drink it, warms the body. But oil is equally calorific and has no less power of warming the body. Besides, if those things which are warmer are frozen with greater difficulty, it follows that those which are colder freeze more readily. But vinegar is the most cooling of all things and yet it never freezes. Is the reason then for the quicker freezing of oil to be found in its lightness? For those things seem to congeal more readily which are lighter and smoother.”

Taurus says besides that it is also worth inquiring why the waters of rivers and streams freeze, while all the sea is incapable of freezing. “Although Herodotus,” said he, “the writer of history, contrary to the opinion of almost all who have investigated these matters, writes 4 that the Bosphoric sea, which is called Cimmerian, 5 and all that part of the sea which is termed Scythian, 6 is bound fast by the cold and brought to a standstill.” While Taurus was thus speaking, the boy had returned, the pot had cooled off, and the time had come to eat and hold our peace.

1 In Rome the dinner-hour was considerably earlier, usually the ninth hour, or about three o'clock in the afternoon; see Hor. Epist. 1. 7. 71; Mart. iv. 8. 6. To-day, too, the dinner-hour is later in Athens than in Rome, although the difference is not so great as in ancient times.

2 Iliad i. 462, etc.

3 In Homer this word, from αἰθός, “fire” and ὄψ, “eye,” means “fiery-looking” or “sparkling,” rather than “fiery.” Gellius seems to be wrong so far as Homer is concerned, although some other writers used αἴθοψ in the sense of “fiery,” as applied to persons.

4 iv. 28 (ii., p. 226, L.C.L.).

5 The Cimmerian Bosphorus, the present Strait of Yenikale, connecting the Palus Maeotis (Sea of Azov) with the Pontus Euxinus or Black Sea.

6 Herodotus does not use the term “Scythian Sea,” but says “the sea,” referring to the Palus Maeotis and the Euxine. See the map, Herod., L.C.L., vol. ii.

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