previous next
I am satisfied, quoth Chersias, and since we are fallen upon our old discourse of housekeeping, which of the company can remember what remains to be said thereof? There remains, if I mistake not, to show what that measure is which may content any man. Cleobulus answered: The law has prescribed a measure for wise men; but as touching fools, I will tell you a story I once heard my mother relate to my brother. On a certain time the moon begged of her mother a coat that would fit her. How can that be done, quoth the mother, for sometimes you are full, sometimes the one-half of you seems lost and perished, sometimes only a pair of horns appear. So, my Chersias, to the desires of a foolish immoderate man no certain measure can be fitted; for, according to the ebbings and flowings of his lust and appetite, and the frequent or seldom casualties that befall him, accordingly his necessities ebb or flow, not unlike Esop's dog, who, being pinched and ready to starve with cold in winter, was of mind to build [p. 26] himself a house; but when summer came on, he lay all along upon the ground, and stretching himself in the sun thought himself monstrous big, and thought it a needless thing and besides no small piece of work to build him a house proportionable to that bulk and bigness. And do you not observe, O Chersias, continues he, many poor men,— how one while they pinch their bellies, upon what short commons they live, how sparing and niggardly and miserable they are; and another while you may observe the same men as distrustful and covetous withal, as if the plenty of city and country, the riches of king and kingdom were not sufficient to preserve them from want and beggary.

When Chersias had concluded this discourse, Cleodemus began thus: We see you that are wise men possessing these outward goods after an unequal manner. Good sweet sir, answered Cleobulus, the law weaver-like hath distributed to every man a fitting, decent, adequate portion, and in your profession your reason does what the law does here,—when you feed, or diet, or physic your patient, you give not an equal quantity to all, but what you judge to be convenient for each in his circumstances. Ardalus enquires: I pray what law compels our friend and Solon's host, Epimenides, to abstain from all other victuals, and to content himself with a little composition of his own, which the Greeks call ἄλιμος (hunger-relieving)? This he takes into his mouth and chews, and eats neither dinner nor supper. This instance obliged the whole company to be a little while silent, until Thales in a jesting way replied, that Epimenides did very wisely, for hereby he saved the trouble and charge of grinding and boiling his food, as Pittacus did. I myself sojourning at Lesbos overheard my landlady, as she was very busy at her hand-mill, singing as she used to do at her work, ‘Grind mill; grind mill; for even Pittacus, the prince of great Mitylene, grinds.’ 1 Quoth Solon [p. 27] Ardalus, I wonder you have not read the law of Epimenides's frugality in Hesiod's writings, who prescribes him and others this spare diet; for he was the person that gratified Epimenides with the seeds of this nutriment, when he directed him to enquire how great benefit a man might receive by mallows and asphodel.2 Do you believe, said Periander, that Hesiod meant this literally; or rather that, being himself a great admirer of parsimony, he hereby intended to exhort men to use a mean and spare diet, as most healthful and pleasant? For the chewing of mallows is very wholesome, and the stalk of asphodel is very luscious; but this ‘expeller of hunger and thirst’ I take to be rather physic than natural food, consisting of honey and I know not what barbarian cheese, and of many and costly seeds fetched from foreign parts. If to make up this composition so many ingredients were requisite, and so difficult to come by and so expensive, Hesiod might as well have kept his breath to cool his pottage, and never blessed the world with the discovery. And yet I admire how your host, when he went to perform the great purification for the Delians not long since, could overlook the monuments and patterns of the first aliment which the people brought into the temple,—and, among other cheap fruits such as grow of themselves, the mallows and the asphodel; the usefulness and innocency whereof Hesiod seemed in his work to magnify. Not only that, quoth Anacharsis, but he affirms both plants to be great restoratives. You are in the right, quoth Cleodemus; for it is evident Hesiod was no ordinary physician, who could discourse so learnedly and judiciously of diet, of the nature of wines, and of the virtue of waters and baths, and of women, the proper times for procreation, and the site and position of infants in the womb; insomuch, that (as I take it) Esop deserves much more the name of Hesiod's scholar and disciple than Epimenides, whose great [p. 28] and excellent wisdom the fable of the nightingale and hawk demonstrates. But I would gladly hear Solon's opinion in this matter; for having sojourned long at Athens and being familiarly acquainted with Epimenides, it is more than probable he might learn of him the grounds upon which he accustomed himself to so spare a diet.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus English (Frank Cole Babbitt, 1928)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: