When this had been offered on both sides, and all present required my determination, I said: Being an arbitrator and not a judge, I shall close strictly with neither side, but go indifferently in the middle between both. If a man invites young men, citizens, or acquaintance, they should (as Timon says) be accustomed to be content with any place, without ceremony or concernment; and this good-nature and unconcernedness would be an excellent means to preserve and increase friendship. But if we use the same method to strangers, magistrates, or old men, I have just reason to fear that, whilst we seem to thrust our pride at the fore-door, we bring it in again at the back, together with a great deal of indifferency and disrespect. But in this, custom and the established rules of decency must guide; or else let us abolish all those modes of respect expressed by drinking to or saluting first; which we do not use promiscuously to all the company, but according to their worth we honor every one
With better places, meat, and larger cups,1[p. 207] as Agamemnon says, naming the place first, as the chiefest sign of honor. And we commend Alcinous for placing his guest next himself:
He stout Laomedon his son removed,For to place a suppliant stranger in the seat of his beloved son was wonderful kind, and extreme courteous. Nay, even amongst the Gods themselves this distinction is observed; for Neptune, though he came last into the assembly,
Who sat next him, for him he dearly loved;
Sat in the middle seat,3as if that was his proper place. And Minerva seems to have that assigned her which is next Jupiter himself; and this the poet intimates, when speaking of Thetis he says,
She sat next Jove, Minerva giving place.4And Pindar plainly says,
She sits just next the thunder-breathing flames.Indeed Timon urges, we ought not to rob many to honor one. Now it seems to me that he does this very thing himself, even more than others; for he robs that makes something that is proper common; and suitable honor to his worth is each man's property. And he gives that preeminence to running fast and making haste, which is due to virtue, kindred, magistracies, and such other qualities; and whilst he endeavors not to affront his guests, he necessarily falls into that very inconvenience; for he must affront every one by defrauding them of their proper honor. Besides, in my opinion it is no hard matter to make this distinction, and seat our guests according to their quality; for first, it very seldom happens that many of equal honor are invited to the same banquet; and then, since there are many honorable places, you have room [p. 208] enough to dispose them according to content, if you can but guess that this man must be seated uppermost, that in the middle, another next to yourself, or with his friend, acquaintance, tutor, or the like, appointing every one some place of honor; and as for the rest, I would supply their want of honor with some little presents, affability, and kind discourse. But if their qualities are not easy to be distinguished, and the men themselves hard to be pleased, see what device I have in that case; for I seat in the most honorable place my father, if invited; if not, my grandfather, father-in-law, uncle, or somebody whom the entertainer hath a more particular reason to esteem. And this is one of the many rules of decency that we have from Homer; for in his poem, when Achilles saw Menelaus and Antilochus contending about the second prize of the horserace, fearing that their strife and fury would increase, he gave the prize to another, under pretence of comforting and honoring Eumelus, but indeed to take away the cause of their contention.