But Matron the parodist, says Plutarch, has given a very agreeable account of an Attic banquet; and as it is very rare I will not scruple, my friends, to repeat it to you—
The feast for much and varied food renown'd,
Given by Xenocles, O Muse, resound;1
For when at Athens he his cards sent round,
I went invited, hungry as a hound.
What loaves I saw, how large, how round, how fine,2—
So white, on them alone one well might dine!
Boreas, enamour'd of the well-baked train,
Gazed on them fondly;3 while along the plain
The stately Xenocles survey'd the ground,
And placed the guests the goodly board around.
Near him the parasite Chærephoon stood,
And like a cormorant gazed upon the food,4
Ever at other's cost well pleased to eat:
Meanwhile the cooks prepared the dainty treat,
The skilful cooks, to whom is given all sway
The sumptuous feast to quicken or delay.
Then all the rest the herbs and greens did seize,
But me the solid meats did rather please;
Rich oysters guarded in their solid shell,
While to Phœnician-brine I said farewell;
And threw away the urchin's tasteless meat,
Which rattled falling at the servant's feet,
Loud as the waves the rocky shore which flout,5
While they in fun the prickly spines pull'd out.
There came th' anchovy of Phaleric race
Holding a dirty veil before its face,6
Friend of the Triton, to the Cyclops dear;
* * * * *
And pinna's sweet, and cockles fat were there
Which the wave breeds beneath its weedy bed
The gristly turbot, and the mullet red.
First in the fray on them I laid my hand,
And called on Phœbus, by his slave to stand;
But when Stratocles, scorning fear, I saw
Hold in his hand the mullet's luscious jaw,
[p. 221] I seized it too, and while it came apart,
Quick with the dainty bit rejoiced my heart.
There, too, the silver-footed Thetis came,
The fair-hair'd cuttle-fish, the mighty dame,
Fairest of Nereus' daughters, none but she
Of fish can both with black and white agree.7
There, too, the conger, Tityos of the main,
Lay on nine tables and o'erspread the plain.8
Next came the eel, who charm'd the mighty Jove,
And soften'd his stern soul to tender love.
So mighty that two wrestlers, of the days
Of old Astyanax, could scarcely raise
Her from the ground and place her on the board,
Nine fathoms long, and full nine cubits broad.
Up stairs, down stairs the busy cooks did haste,
While more fresh dishes on the board they placed.
Next forty large black pots appear'd in view,
And forty platters from Eubœa too.
Then various Iris, Jove's commands to bear,
In shape of cuttle-fish flew through the air.
The shining perch, the black tail next appear'd;
A mortal fish to join immortals dared.
Alone, apart in discontented mood,
A gloomy dish, the sullen tunny stood;9
For ever sad with proud disdain he pined,
And the lost arms for ever stung his mind.
The shark, to masons and upholders dear,
Good nurse of youth, though rough its skin appear;10
Nor do I know on earth a nicer food,
Though what came next is very near as good,
A roasted cestreas; nor alone it lay,
For twelve fine sargi came the self-same way.11
And a dark amias, of every sea
Who knows the depths, great Neptune's comrade he.
And squills the minstrels of Olympian Jove,
Whom none to look at, all to taste of, love.
The chrysophrys, for shining beauty famed,
The crab's hard shell refusing to be tamed.
All these, and many more besides, I saw
Crush'd in each hungry guest's devouring jaw.
The royal sturgeon led the second band,
Towards whom, though nearly full, I stretch'd my hand;
He like ambrosia to my senses look'd,
Which I had always thought for gods alone was cookd.
Then came alamprey, large and richly fed,
As when he seeks the dragon's daughter's bed.
And next, (the goddesses such sandals wear,)
Of mighty soles a firm and well-match'd pair.
[p. 222] Then the sea thrushes young and fierce, who dive
Mid the deep rocks and tear their prey alive.
The sargus, mormyrus, hippurus, spar,
The shad, the gale; so countless fishes are.
The feast to view the guests' eyes joyful beam'd,
And all the house with the rich odour steam'd.
The host bade all sit down: myself, I thought
This woman's food, and something solid sought.
Large in the centre lay a vacant space,
Which herbs and salads did with verdure grace.
Then a sea blackbird came, a morsel nice,
And disappear'd, devoured in a trice.
Then came a ham, t' its foes a helpless prey,
And while it lasted none could keep away.
But when the feast was o'er I wept with sorrow
To think I could not eat on till to-morrow,
But must fall back on barley-meal and cheese.
* * * * * *
Black broth subdued him and boil'd pettitoes;
Then came some ducks from Salamis, sacred isle,
Borne by the cook, who with a cheerful smile,
Marshall'd them where the Athenian phalanx stood;
And Chærephon survey'd the various food,
That he might know to choose and eat the best;
Then like a lion leapt he on the feast,12
And seized a mighty leg of turkey hot,
To make his supper when he home had got.
Then groats which Vulcan made into a cake,
And in Attic pan full thirteen months did bake
But when our wish for food was satisfied,
We wash'd our hands in ocean's foaming tide;
One beauteous slave came round with rich perfume,
Another garlands strew'd around the room.
Then foam'd around old Bacchus' rosy tide,
And each guest merrily with his fellow vied.
Then the dessert was served; the juicy pear,
The apple and pomegranate too were there.
The grape, the nurse of Bacchus, and the plum,
And fig, and medlar on the table come.
But I ate nought, I was so full before,
Till I that lovely child of Ceres saw,
A large sweet round and yellow cake; how then
Could I from such a dish, my friends, abstain?
Had I ten mouths, aye, and as many hands,
A brazen stomach within brazen bands,13
They all would on that lovely cake have sprung.
And so the feast of Stratocles I've sung.