Several times at these public meetings divers agreeable discourses were raised; and it fell out that once a very splendid treat, adorned with variety of dainties, gave occasion for enquiries concerning food, whether the land or sea yielded better. Here when a great part of the company were highly commending the land, as abounding with many choice, nay, an infinite variety of all sorts of creatures, Polycrates calling to Symmachus, said to him: But you, sir, being an animal bred between two seas, and brought up among so many which surround your sacred Nicopolis, will not you stand up for Neptune? Yes, I will, replied Symmachus, and therefore command you to stand by me, who enjoy the most pleasant part of all the Achaean Sea. Well, says Polycrates, the beginning of my discourse shall be grounded upon custom ; for as of a great number of poets we usually give one, who far excels the rest, the famous name of poet; so though there be many sorts of dainties, yet custom has so prevailed, that the fish alone, or above all the rest, is called ὄψον, because it is more excellent than all others. For we do not call those gluttonous and great eaters who love beef, as Hercules, who after flesh used to eat green figs; nor those that love figs, as Plato; nor lastly, those that are for grapes, as Arcesilaus; but those who frequent the fish-market, and soonest hear the market-bell. Thus when Demosthenes told Philocrates that the gold he got by treachery was spent upon whores and fish, he upbraids him as a gluttonous and lascivious fellow. And Ctesiphon said pat enough, when a certain glutton cried aloud in the Senate that he should burst asunder: No, by no means let us be baits for your fish! And what was his meaning, do you think, who made this verse,
You capers gnaw, when you may sturgeon eat?And what, for God's sake, do those men mean who, inviting one another to sumptuous collations, usually say: To-day [p. 304] we will dine upon the shore? Is it not that they suppose, what is certainly true, that a dinner upon the shore is of all others most delicious? Not by reason of the waves and stones in that place,—for who upon the sea-coast would be content to feed upon a pulse or a caper?—but because their table is furnished with plenty of fresh fish. Add to this, that sea-food is dearer than any other. Wherefore Cato, inveighing against the luxury of the city, did not exceed the bounds of truth, when he said that at Rome a fish was sold for more than an ox. For they sell a small pot of fish for a price which a hecatomb of sheep with an ox would hardly bring. Besides, as the physician is the best judge of physic, and the musician of songs; so he is able to give the best account of the goodness of meat who is the greatest lover of it. For I will not make Pythagoras and Xenocrates arbitrators in this case; but Antagoras the poet, and Philoxenus the son of Eryxis, and Androcydes the painter, of whom it was reported that, when he drew a landscape of Scylla, he drew fish in a lively manner swimming round her, because he was a great lover of them. So Antigonus the king, surprising Antagoras the poet in the habit of a cook, broiling congers in his tent, said to him: Dost thou think that Homer was dressing congers when he writ Agamemnon's famous exploits? And he as smartly replied: Do you think that Agamemnon did so many famous exploits when he was enquiring who dressed congers in the camp? These arguments, says Polycrates, I have urged in behalf of fishmongers, drawing them from testimony and custom.