But now let us speak of the banquets celebrated by Homer. For the poet gives us the different times of them, and the persons present, and the causes of them. And Xenophon and Plato have done well to imitate him in this; who at the very beginning of their treatises set forth the cause which gave rise to the banquet, and mention the names of those who were present. But Epicurus never defines either the place or the time, nor does he preface his accounts with any preliminary statement. But Aristotle says that it is an unseemly thing for a man to come unwashed and covered with dust to a banquet. Then Homer instructs us who ought to be invited; saying that one ought to invite the chiefs, and men of high reputation—
He bade the noblest of the Grecian peers,1not acting on the principle asserted by Hesiod, for he bids men invite chiefly their neighbours—
Then bid your neighbours to the well-spread feast,For such a banquet would be one of rustic stupidity; and adapted to the most misanthropic of proverbs—
Who live the nearest, and who know you best.2
Friends who far off do live are never friends.For how can it be anything but nonsense that friendship should depend on place and not on disposition? Therefore we find in Homer, that after the cup had gone round,
Then the old man his counsels first disclosed;3but among people who did not regulate their banquets in an orderly manner we read—
Then first the flatterer rose with mocking speech.Besides, Homer introduces guests differing in ages and tastes, such as Nestor, Ulysses, and Ajax, who are all invited together. And speaking in general terms he represents all who lay claim to any sort of eminence as invited, and individually those who arrive at it by different roads. But Epicuus has represented all his guests as believers in the atonic theory, [p. 290] and this, too, though he had models both in the variety of the banquets of the great poet, and also in the elegant accounts of Plato and Xenophon; of whom Plato has introduced Eryximachus the physician, and Aristophanes the poet, and other professors of different branches of science, discussing matters of weight: and Xenophon has mingled with them some private individuals. Homer therefore has done much the best of all, and has given us by far the best banquets; and that again is best seen by comparing him with others. For the banquet of the suitors in Homer is just such as might be expected from young men devoted to drinking and love; and that of the Phæacians is more orderly, but still luxurious. And he has made a wide distinction between these entertainments and those which may be called military banquets, and those which have reference to political affairs and are conducted in a well-regulated manner: and again he has distinguished between public and family banquets. But Epicurus has described a banquet consisting of philosophers alone.