THIS raised a dispute about the dignity of places, for the same place is not accounted honorable amongst all nations; [p. 211] in Persia the midst, for that is the place proper to the king himself; in Greece the uppermost; at Rome the lowermost of the middle bed, and this is called the consular; the Greeks about Pontus, as those of Heraclea, reckon the uppermost of the middle bed to be the chief. But we were most puzzled about the place called consular; for though it is esteemed most honorable, yet it is not for any well-defined reason, as if it were either the first or the midst; and its other circumstances are either not proper to that alone, or very frivolous. Though I confess three of the reasons alleged seemed to have something in them. The first was, that the consuls, having dissolved the monarchy, and reduced every thing to a more equal level and popular estate, left the middle, the kingly place, and sat in a lower seat; that by this means their power and authority might be less subject to envy, and not so grievous to their fellow-citizens. The second was, that, two beds being appointed for the invited guests, the third—and the first place in this—is most convenient for the master of the feast, whence, like a coachman or a pilot, he can guide and order every thing, and readily overlook the management of the whole affair. Besides, he is not so far removed but that he may easily discourse, talk to, and compliment his guests; for next below him his wife and children usually are placed; next above him the most honorable of the invited, that being the most proper place, as near the master of the feast. The third reason was, that it is peculiar to this place to be most convenient for the despatch of any sudden business; for the Roman consul is not such a one as Archias the governor of Thebes, so as to say, when letters of importance are brought to him at dinner, ‘serious things to-morrow,’ and then throw aside the packet and take the great bowl; but he will be careful, circumspect, and mind it at that very instant. For not only (as the common saying hath it) [p. 212]
Each throw doth make the skilful dicer fear,but even midst his feasting and his pleasure a magistrate should be intent on intervening business; and he hath this place appointed, as the most convenient for him to receive any message, answer it, or sign a bill; for there the second bed joining with the third,1 the turning at the corner leaves a vacant space, so that a notary, servant, guardsman, or a messenger from the army might approach, deliver the message, and receive commands; and the consul, having room enough to speak or use his hand, neither troubles any one, nor is hindered by any of the guests.