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PARASI´TI (παράσιτοι) properly denotes those who dine with, or beside, others: of whose position Athenaeus (vi. p. 34), commenting on the later degradation of the word, says that it was formerly ἱερόν τι χρῆμα καὶ τῷ συνθοίνῳ παρόμοιον. From the general sense of “dining beside,” we have in the earlier times two senses of the word, civil and sacred, and later a quite different sense. It must be observed that παράσιτος differs from σύσσιτος in that it implies a difference of rank and status; and, whereas the σύσσιτοι are those who dine together ex officio, the πάρασιτοι are those who are invited to join: them. Hence in the original civil meaning the πράσιτοι were those who dined in the Prytaneum (or in the Tholos) not being magistrates, but invited guests: that this was originally the case is shown by the fact that Solon forbade the same parasite σιτεῖσθαι πολλάκις (Plut. Sot. 25). After the separate official dinners in the Tholos were instituted, the terms παράσιτοι included those subordinate clerks, &c. ( “parasites” of the Prytaneis) who were, some time after the Roman conquest, termed ἀείσιτοι. [PRYTANEUM] The παράσιτοι of the priests were ministers in the temples above the rank of mere temple servants who assisted the priests in the sacred rites, and dined with them after the sacrifice; and when the word is used to denote a distinct office, it has this meaning. Athenaeus (l.c.) in his account quotes various laws and decrees, but he is clearly not quite certain of their meaning. From the obscurely-worded law on p. 235 c, we should infer that the παράσιτοι had, besides their ritual duties, to collect (as if sacred ἐκλογεῖς) certain dues of corn for their temple, that they stored the offerings of corn in a παρασίτειον (which, however, from analogy we should have expected to mean the lodgings of parasiti in the temple precincts), that they were charged with providing food therefrom for those who came for religious purposes to the temple, and that out of funds committed to them they had to pay for repairs of the temple buildings. What the sense of ἐκ τῆς βουκολίας ἐκλέγειν can be, it is impossible to say. There is no warrant for giving to βουκολία the sense of a “country district,” attached to the temple, whence corn was due, which might give an intelligible meaning. Schweighäuser's emendation ἐκτὸς βουκολίας, “absque dolo malo,” is ingenious, but not a probable expression. Various deities are mentioned in the passages cited by Athenaeus, in whose temples there were parasiti, but there is no reason to suppose that their employment was limited to those temples. When it is said that the archons are to choose parasiti from the demes, the civil parasiti are probably meant (as in ἄρχοντες καὶ παράσιτοι ἀνέθεσαν, p. 234f.). From the analogy of πάρεδροι, the assistants of magistrates, we may imagine that the priest of the temple chose his παράσιτοι.

From the fact that the priest received one-third of the victim and the παράσιτοι the same amount, it is clear that there was always more [p. 2.344]than one παράσιτος in a temple, since the priest's share would certainly be larger than his subordinate's.

Parasites in the modern sense no doubt existed in early times: the comedies of Aristophanes testify to them, and Philippus, who is introduced in the Symposium of Xenophon, is a good specimen of the class (cf. Epicharm. ap. Athen. 6.235); but the name παράσιτος was only so applied in writers of. Middle and New Comedy (the first who so used it is said to have been Alexis), upon which the honourable sense gradually fell into disuse. In these later comedians (from whom numerous passages are quoted by Athenaeus, vi. pp. 236-248) the parasites are standing characters.

The features common to all these parasites are importunity, love of sensual pleasures, and above all the desire of getting a good dinner without paying for it. According to the various means which they employed to attain this object, they may be divided into three classes. The first are γελωτοποιοί, or jesters (cf. Theophrast. 11.4; Jebb ad loc.), who, in order to get an invitation, not only tried to amuse, but endured the grossest insults and even personal maltreatment (Alciph. Ep. 3.6, 7, 49). This profession of voluntary enslavement was so systematic that they had note-books with a collection of jests (Plut. Stich. 3.2, 1; Pers. 3.1, 67). Among these we may class Philippus in the Symposium of Xenophon, Ergastilus in the Captivi, and Gelasimus in the Stichus. The second class are the κόλακες or flatterers (see Athen. 6.248 d), who by praising vain persons endeavoured to obtain an invitation. Such were Gnatho in the Eunuchus, and Artotragus in the Miles Gloriosus. The third class are the θεραπευτικοί, or the officious, who by service even of the lowest and most degrading description tried to win favour (Plut. de Adul. 23; de Educat. 17). Characters of this class are the parasites in the Asinaria and Menaechmi, and especially Curculio in the Persae and Saturio in the Phormio. We find the parasites haunting the market, the palaestrae, the baths, and other public places in search of a patron. Some examples of the disgusting humiliations which parasites endured are mentioned by Athenaeus (vi. p. 249) and Plutarch (Symp. 7.6; cf. D. L. 2.67; Epictet. 4.1.55; Dio Chrys. vi. p. 602, ῥαπιζόμενοι καὶ αἰσχρὰ λέγοντες). Under the Roman empire the parasite seems to have been constantly at the tables of the wealthy Roman, and to have been treated in much the same way. (Hor. Sat. 2.7, 102; Mart. 2.18, 53, 72; Lucian, de Parasit. 58.) Their position is described particularly in Juvenal, Sat. v. (where see Mayor's notes), and Plin. Ep. 2.6. (Becker-Göll, Charikles, 1.157; Blümner, Privatalt. 502; Hermann, Gr. Alt. ii.2 36.)

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