To this polite discourse of Hagias they urged me to reply. And I said: Hagias, it is true, hath reason to be troubled at this unusual disappointment, because having so great a belly (for he was an excellent trencher-man) he had no larger mess than others; for in a fish eaten in common, Democritus says, there are no bones. But that very thing is especially apt to bring us a share beyond our own proper allowance. For it is equality, as the old woman in Euripides hath it,
That fastens towns to towns, and friends to friends;1and entertainments chiefly stand in need of this. The necessity is from nature as well as custom, and is not lately introduced or founded only on opinion. For when the same dish lies in common before all, the man that is slow and eats little must be offended at the other that is too quick for him, as a slow ship at the swift sailer. Besides, snatching, contention, shoving, and the like, are not, in my mind, neighborly beginnings of mirth and jollity; but they are absurd, doggish, and often end in anger or reproaches, not only against one another, but also against the entertainer himself or the carvers of the feast. But as long as Moera and Lachesis (division and distribution) kept an equality in feasts, nothing uncivil or disorderly appeared, and they called the feasts δαῖτες, distributions, the entertained [p. 258] δαιτυμόνες, and the carvers δαιτροί, distributers, from dividing and distributing to every man his proper mess. The Lacedaemonians had officers called distributers of the flesh, no mean men, but the chief of the city; for Lysander himself by King Agesilaus was constituted one of these in Asia. But when luxury crept into our feasts, distributing was thrown out; for I suppose they had not leisure to divide these numerous tarts, cheese-cakes, pies, and other delicate varieties; but, surprised with the pleasantness of the taste and tired with the variety, they left off cutting it into portions, and left all in common. This is confirmed from the present practice; for in our religious or public feasts, where the food is simple and inartificial, each man hath his mess assigned him; so that he that endeavors to retrieve the ancient custom will likewise recover thrift and almost lost frugality again. But, you object, where only property is, community is lost. True indeed, where equality is not; for not the possession of what is proper and our own, but the taking away of another's and coveting that which is common, is the cause of all injury and contention; and the laws, restraining and confining these within the bounds of propriety, receive their name from their office, being a power distributing equality to every one in order to the common good. Thus every one is not to be honored by the entertainer with the garland or the chiefest place; but if any one brings with him his sweet heart or a minstrel-wench, they must be common to him and his friends, that all things may be huddled together in one mass, as Anaxagoras would have it. Now if propriety in these things doth not in the least hinder but that things of greater moment, and the only considerable, as discourse and civility, may be still common, let us leave off disgracing distributions or the lot, the son of Fortune (as Euripides hath it), which hath no respect either to riches or honor, but which in its inconsiderate wheel now and then raiseth [p. 259] up the humble and the poor, and makes him master of himself, and, by accustoming the great and rich to endure and not be offended at equality, pleasingly instructs.