), a native of Naucratis, a town on the left side of the Canopic mouth of the Nile, is called by Suidas a γραμματικός
, a term which may be best rendered into English, a literary man.
Suidas places him in the "times of Marcus,
" but whether by this is meant Marcus Aurelius is uncertain, as Caracalla was also Marcus Antoninus. We know, however, that Oppian, who wrote a work called Halieutica
inscribed to Caracalla, was a little anterior to him (Athen. 1.13
), and that Commodus was dead when he wrote (xii. p. 537), so that he may have been born in the reign of Aurelius, but flourished under his successors. Part of his work must have been written after A. D. 228, the date given by Dio Cassius for the death of Ulpian the lawyer, which event he mentions. (xv. p. 686.)
, i.e. the
Banquet of the Learned
Athenaeus' extant work is entitled the Deipnosophistae
, i.e. the Banquet of the Learned,
or else, perhaps, as has lately been suggested, The Contrivers of Feasts.
It may be considered one of the earliest collections of what are called Ana,
being an immense mass of anecdotes, extracts from the writings of poets, historians, dramatists, philosophers, orators, and physicians, of facts in natural history, criticisms, and discussions on almost every conceivable subject, especially on Gastronomy, upon which noble science he mentions a work (now lost) of Archestratus [ARCHESTRATUS], whose place his own 15 books have probably supplied.
It is in short a collection of stories from the memory and common-place book of a Greek gentleman of the third century of the Christian era, of enormous reading, extreme love of good eating, and respectable ability. Some notion of the materials which he had amassed for the work, may be formed from the fact, which he tells us himself, that he had read and made extracts from 800 plays of the middle comedy only. (viii. p. 336.)
Athenaeus represents himself as describing to his friend Timocrates, a banquet given at the house of Laurentius (Λαρήνσιος
), a noble Roman, to several guests, of whom the best known are Galen, a physician, and Ulpian, the lawyer.
The work is in the form of a dialogue, in which these guests are the interlocutors, related to Timocrates: a double machinery, which would have been inconvenient to an author who had a real talent for dramatic writing, but which in the hands of Athenaeus, who had none, is wholly unmanageable.
As a work of art the failure is complete. Unity of time and dramatic probability are utterly violated by the supposition that so immense a work is the record of the conversation at a single banquet, and by the absurdity of collecting at it the produce of every season of the year. Long quotations and intricate discussions introduced apropos of some trifling incident, entirely destroy the form of the dialogue, so that before we have finished a speech we forget who was the speaker. And when in addition to this confusion we are suddenly brought back to the tiresome Timocrates, we are quite provoked at the clumsy way in which the book is put together.
But as a work illustrative of ancient manners, as a collection of curious facts, names of authors and fragments, which, but for Athenaeus, would utterly have perished; in short, as a body of amusing antiquarian research, it would be difficult to praise the Deipnosophistae too highly.
The work begins, somewhat absurdly, considering the difference between a discussion on the Immortality of the Soul, and one on the Pleasures of the Stomach, with an exact imitation of the opening of Plato's Phaedo,--Athenaeus and Timocrates being substituted for Phaedo and Echecrates.
The praises of Laurentius are then introduced, and the conversation of the savants begins.
It would be impossible to give an account of the contents of the book; a few specimens therefore must suffice. We have anecdotes of gourmands, as of Apicius (the second of the three illustrious gluttons of that name), who is said to have spent many thousands on his stomach, and to have lived at Minturnae in the reign of Tiberius, whence he sailed to Africa, in search of good lobsters; but finding, as he approached the shore, that they were no larger than those which he ate in Italy, he turned back without landing. Sometimes we have anecdotes to prove assertions in natural history, e. g.
it is shewn that water is nutritious (1), by the statement that it nourishes the τέττιξ
, and (2) because fluids generally are so, as milk and honey, by the latter of which Democritus of Abdera allowed himself to be kept alive over the Thesmophoria (though he had determined to starve himself), in order that the mourning for his death might not prevent his maidservants from celebrating the festival.
The story of the Pinna and Pinnoteer (πιννοφύλαξ
) is told in the course of the disquisitions on shell-fish.
The pinna is a bivalve shell-fish (ὄστρεον
), the pinnoteer a small crab, who inhabits the pinna's shell.
As soon as the small fish on which the pinna subsists have swum in, the pinnoteer bites the pinna as a signal to him to close his shell and secure them. Grammatical discussions are mixed up with gastronomic; e. g.
the account of the ἀμυγδάλη
begins with the laws of its accentuation; of eggs, by an inquiry into the spelling of the word, whether ὠόν
, or ὠάριον
. Quotations are made in support of each, and we are told that ὠά
was fonnerly the same as ὑπερῷα
, from which fact he deduces an explanation of the story of Helen's birth from an egg.
This suggests to him a quotation from Eriphus, who says that Leda produced goose's eggs; and so he wanders on through every variety of subject connected with eggs.
This will give some notion of the discursive manner in which he extracts all kinds of facts from the vast stores of his erudition. Sometimes he connects different pieces of knowledge by a mere similarity of sounds. Cynulcus, one of the guests, calls for bread (ά̀ρτος
),"not however for Artus
king of the Messapians ;" and then we are led back from Artus the king to Artus the eatable, and from that to salted meats, which brings in a grammatical discussion on the word τάριχος
, whether it is masculine in Attic or not. Sometimes antiquarian points are discussed, especially Homeric. Thus, he examines the times of day at which the Homeric meals took place, and the genuineness of some of the lines in the Iliad
and Odyssey, as
ᾔδεε γὰρ κατὰ Δυμὸν ἀδελφέον, ὡς ἐπονεῖτο,
which he pronounces spurious, and only introduced to explain
αὐτόματος δὲ οἱ ἦλθε βοὴν ἀγαθὸς Μενέλαος.
His etymological conjectures are in the usual style of ancient philology.
In proving the religious duty of drunkenness, as he considers it, he derives θοίνη
from θεῶν ἕνεκα οἰνοῦσθαι
from μετὰ τὸ θύειν
. We often obtain from him curious pieces of information on subjects connected with ancient art, as that the kind of drinking-cup called ῥυτόν
was first devised by Ptolemy Philadelphus as an ornament for the statues of his queen, Arsinoe. [ARSINOE, No. 2.] At the end of the work is a collection of scolia and other songs, which the savans recite. One of these is a real curiosity,--a song by Aristotle in praise of ἀρετή
Among the authors, whose works are now lost, from whom Athenaeus gives extracts, are Alcaeus, Agathon the tragic poet, Antisthenes the philosopher, Archilochus the inventor of iambics, Menander and his contemporary Diphilus, Epiimenides of Crete, Empedocles of Agrigentum, Cratinus, Eupolis (Hor. Sat.
1.4.1), Alcman, Epicurus (whom he represents as a wasteful glutton), and many others whose names are well known.
In all, he cites nearly 800 authors and more than 1200 separate works. Athenaeus was also the author of a lost book περὶ τῶν ἐν Συρίᾳ βασιλενσάντων
, which probably, from the specimen of it in the Deipnosophists, and the obvious unfitness of Athenaeus to be a historian, was rather a collection of anecdotes than a connected history.
Of the Deipnosophists
the first two books, and parts of the third, eleventh, and fifteenth, exist only in an Epitome, whose date and author are unknown.
The original work, however, was rare in the time of Eustathius (latter part of 12th cent.); for Bentley has shewn, by examining nearly a hundred of his references to Athenaeus, that his only knowledge of him was through the Epitome. (Phalaris,
p. 130, &c.) Perizonius (preface to Aelian quoted by Schweighäuser) has proved that Aelian transferred large portions of the work to his Various Histories
(middle of 3rd cent.), a robbery which must have been committed almost in the life-time of the pillaged author. The Deipnosophists
also furnished to Macrobius the idea and much of the matter of his Saturnalia
(end of 4th cent.); but no one has availed himself so largely of Athenaeus's erudition as Eustathius.
Only one original MS. of Athenaeus now exists, called by Schweighäuser the Codex Veneto-Parisiensis. From this all the others which we now possess are copies; so that the text of the work, especially in the poetical parts, is in a very unsettled state. The MS. was brought from Greece by cardinal Bessarion, and after his death was placed in the library of St. Mark at Venice, whence it was taken to Paris by order of Napoleon, and there for the first time collated by Schweighäuser's son.
It is probably of the date of the 10th century. The subscript is always placed after, instead of under, the vowel with which it is connected, and the whole is written without contractions.
The first edition of Athenaeus was that of Aldus, Venice, 1514
; a second published at Basle, 1535
; a third by Casaubon at Geneva, 1597
, with the Latin version of Dalecampius (Jacques Dalechamp of Caen), and a commentary published in 1600
; a fourth by Schweighäuser, Strasburg, 14 vols. 8vo. 1801-1807, founded on a collation of the above-mentioned MS. and also of a valuable copy of the Epitome
; a fifth by W. Dindorf, 3 vols. 8vo., Leipsic, 1827
The last is the best, Schweighäuser not having availed himself sufficiently of the sagacity of previous critics in amending the text, and being himself apparently very ignorant of metrical laws.
There is a translation of Athenaeus into French by M. Lefevre de Villebrune, under the title "Banquet des Savans, par Athenée," 1789-1791, 5 vols. 4to.
A good article on Schweighäuser's edition will be found in the Edinburgh Review, vol. 3.1803