WHEN I was chief magistrate, most of the suppers consisted of distinct messes, where every particular guest had his portion of the sacrifice allowed him. Some were wonderfully well pleased with this order; others blamed it as unsociable and ungenteel, and were of the opinion that, as soon as I was out of my office, the manner of entertainments ought to be reformed; for, says Hagias, we invite one another not barely to eat and drink, but to eat and drink together. Now this division into messes takes away all society, makes many suppers, and many eaters, but no one sups with another; but every man takes his pound of beef, as from the market, sets it before himself, and falls on. And is it not the same thing to provide a different cup and different table for every guest (as the Demophontidae treated Orestes), as now to set each man his loaf of bread and mess of meat, and feed him, as it were, out of his own proper manger? Only, it is true, we are not (as [p. 256] those that treated Orestes were) obliged to be silent and not discourse. Besides, to show that all the guests should have a share in every thing, we may draw an argument from hence;—the same discourse is common to us all, the same songstress sings, the same musician plays to all. So, when the same cup is set in the midst, not appropriated to any, it is a large spring of good fellowship, and each man may take as much as his appetite requires; not like this most unjust distribution of bread and meat, which prides itself forsooth in being equal to all, though unequal, stomachs; for the same portion to a man of a small appetite is too much; to one of a greater, too little. And, sir, as he that administers the very same dose of physic to all sorts of patients must be very ridiculous; so likewise must that entertainer who, inviting a great many guests that can neither eat nor drink alike, sets before every one an equal mess, and measures what is just and fit by an arithmetical not geometrical proportion. When we go to a shop to buy, we all use, it is true, one and the same public measure; but to an entertainment each man brings his own belly, which is satisfied with a portion, not because it is equal to that which others have, but because it is sufficient for itself. Those entertainments where every one had his single mess Homer mentions amongst soldiers and in the camp, which we ought not to bring into fashion amongst us; but we should rather imitate the good friendship of the ancients, who, to show what reverence they had for all kinds of societies, not only honored those that lived with them or under the same roof, but also those that drank out of the same cup or ate out of same dish. Let us never mind Homer's entertainments; they were good for nothing but to starve a man, and the makers of them were kings, more stingy and observant than the Italian cooks; insomuch that in the midst of a battle, whilst they were at handy-blows with their enemies, they [p. 257] could exactly reckon up how many glasses each man drank at his table. Those that Pindar describes are much better,
Where heroes mixed sat round the noble board,because they maintained society and good fellowship; for the latter truly mixed and joined friends, but this modern custom divides and asperses them as persons who, though seemingly very good friends, cannot so much as eat with one another out of the same dish.