Book III
XIV
 

On the occasion of a common dinner-party[1] where some of the company would present themselves with a small, and others with a large supply of viands, Socrates would bid the servants[2] throw the small supplies into the general stock, or else to help each of the party to a share all round. Thus the grand victuallers were ashamed in the one case not to share in the common stock, and in the other not to throw in their supplies also.[3] Accordingly in went the grand supplies into the common stock. And now, being no better off than the small contributors, they soon ceased to cater for expensive delicacies.

At a supper-party one member of the company, as Socrates chanced to note, had put aside the plain fare and was devoting himself to certain dainties.[4] A discussion was going on about names and definitions, and the proper applications of terms to things.[5] Whereupon Socrates, appealing to the company: "Can we explain why we call a man a 'dainty fellow'? What is the particular action to which the term applies?[6]-- since every one adds some dainty to his food when he can get it.[7] But we have not quite hit the definition yet, I think. Are we to be called dainty eaters because we like our bread buttered?"[8]

No! hardly! (some member of the company replied).

Socrates. Well, but now suppose a man confine himself to eating venison or other dainty without any plain food at all, not as a matter of training,[9] but for the pleasure of it: has such a man earned the title? "The rest of the world would have a poor chance against him,"[10] some one answered. "Or," interposed another, "what if the dainty dishes he devours are out of all proportion to the rest of his meal--what of him?"[11]

Socrates. He has established a very fair title at any rate to the appellation, and when the rest of the world pray to heaven for a fine harvest: "May our corn and oil increase!" he may reasonably ejaculate, "May my fleshpots multiply!"

At this last sally the young man, feeling that the conversation set somewhat in his direction, did not desist indeed from his savoury viands, but helped himself generously to a piece of bread. Socrates was all-observant, and added: Keep an eye on our friend yonder, you others next him, and see fair play between the sop and the sauce.[12]

Another time, seeing one of the company using but one sop of bread[13] to test several savoury dishes, he remarked: Could there be a more extravagant style of cookery, or more murderous to the dainty dishes themselves, than this wholesale method of taking so many dishes together?--why, bless me, twenty different sorts of seasoning at one swoop![14] First of all he mixes up actually more ingredients than the cook himself prescribes, which is extravagant; and secondly, he has the audacity to commingle what the chef holds incongruous, whereby if the cooks are right in their method he is wrong in his, and consequently the destroyer of their art. Now is it not ridiculous first to procure the greatest virtuosi to cook for us, and then without any claim to their skill to take and alter their procedure? But there is a worse thing in store for the bold man who habituates himself to eat a dozen dishes at once: when there are but few dishes served, out of pure habit he will feel himself half starved, whilst his neighbour, accustomed to send his sop down by help of a single relish, will feast merrily, be the dishes never so few.

He had a saying that {euokheisthai}, to "make good cheer,"[15] was in Attic parlance a synonym for "eating," and the affix {eu} (the attributive "good") connoted the eating of such things as would not trouble soul or body, and were not far to seek or hard to find. So that to "make good cheer" in his vocabulary applied to a modest and well-ordered style of living.[16]

[1] For the type of entertainment see Becker, "Charicles," p. 315 (Eng. tr.)

[2] "The boy."

[3] Or, "were ashamed not to follow suit by sharing in the common stock and contributing their own portion."

[4] For the distinction between {sitos} and {opson} see Plat. "Rep." 372 C.

[5] Or, "The conversation had fallen upon names: what is the precise thing denoted under such and such a term? Define the meaning of so and so."

[6] {opsophagos} = {opson} (or relish) eater, and so a "gourmand" or "epicure"; but how to define a gourmand?

[7] Lit. "takes some {opson} (relish) to his {sitos} (food)."

[8] Lit. "simply for that" (sc. the taking of some sort of {opson}. For {epi touto} cf. Plat. "Soph." 218 C; "Parmen." 147 D.

[9] Lit. "{opson} (relish) by itself, not for the sake of training," etc. The English reader wil bear in mind that a raw beefsteak or other meat prescribed by the gymnastic trainer in preference to farinaceous food ({sitos}) would be {opson}.

[10] Or, more lit. "Hardly any one could deserve the appellation better."

[11] Lit. "and what of the man who eats much {opson} on the top of a little ({sitos})?" {epesthion} = follows up one course by another, like the man in a fragment of Euripides, "Incert." 98: {kreasi boeiois khlora suk' epesthien}, who "followed up his beefsteak with a garnish of green figs."

[12] Lit. "see whether he will make a relish of the staple or a staple of the relish" ("butter his bread or bread his butter").

[13] {psomos}, a sop or morsel of bread (cf. {psomion}, N. T., in mod. Greek = "bread").

[14] Huckleberry Finn (p. 2 of that young person's "Adventures") propounds the rationale of the system: "In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better."

[15] {euokheisthai}, cf. "Cyrop." IV. v. 7; "Pol. Ath." ii. 9; Kuhner cf. Eustah. "ad Il." ii. p. 212, 37, {'Akhaioi ten trophen okhen legousin oxutonos}. Athen. viii. 363 B. See "Hipparch," viii. 4, of horses. Cf. Arist. "H. A." viii. 6.

[16] See "Symp." vi. 7; and for similar far-fetched etymologies, Plat. "Crat." passim.