I think there are topics fit to be used at table, some of which reading and study give us, others the present occasion; some to incite to study, others to piety and great and noble actions, others to make us rivals of the bountiful and kind; which if a man cunningly and without any apparent design inserts for the instruction of the rest, he will free these entertainments from many of those considerable [p. 201] evils which usually attend them. Some that put borage into the wine, or sprinkle the floor with water in which verbena and maiden-hair have been steeped, as good to raise mirth and jollity in the guests (in imitation of Homer's Helen, who with some medicament diluted the pure wine she had prepared), do not understand that that fable, coming round from Egypt, after a long way ends at last in easy and fit discourse. For whilst they were drinking, Helen relates the story of Ulysses,
How Fortune's spite the hero did control,For that, in my opinion, was the Nepenthe, the care-dissolving medicament,—that story exactly fitted to the then disasters and juncture of affairs. The pleasing men, though they designedly and apparently instruct, draw on their maxims with persuasive and smooth arguments, rather than the violent force of demonstrations. You see that even Plato in his Symposium, where he disputes of the chief end, the chief good, and is altogether on subjects theological, doth not lay down strong and close demonstrations; he doth not prepare himself for the contest (as he is wont) like a wrestler, that he may take the faster hold of his adversary and be sure of giving him the trip; but he draws men on by more soft and pliable attacks, by pleasant fictions and pat examples.
And bore his troubles with a manly soul.