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Tiresias: The Ancient Mediterranean Religions Source Database



9613
Plutarch, Dinner Of The Seven Wise Men, 2


nanPeriander had arranged for the entertainment, not in the city but in the dining-hall in the vicinity of Lechaeum, close by the shrine of Aphrodite, in whose honour the sacrifice was offered that day. For Periander, ever since his mother’s love-affair which xv.2.p.351"/ had led to her self-destruction, Cf. Parthenius, Love-affairs, 17. had offered no sacrifice to Aphrodite, but now, for the first time, owing to certain dreams of Melissa’s, he had set about honouring and conciliating the goddess. For each of the invited guests a carriage and pair, fashionably caparisoned, was brought to the door; for it was summer-time, and the whole length of the street even to the water’s edge was one mass of dust and confusion by reason of the great crowd of vehicles and people. Thales, however, when he saw the equipage at the door, smiled and dismissed it. And so we set out on foot, leaving the road and going through the fields in a leisurely fashion, and with us two was Neiloxenus of Naucratis, an able man, who had been on terms of intimacy with Solon and Thales and their group in Egypt. He, as it happened, had been sent a second time on a mission to Bias, the reason for which he did not know, save only that he suspected that he was bringing for Bias a second problem sealed up in a packet. His instructions were, that if Bias should give up trying to solve it, he should show the packet to the wisest among the Greeks. It is a piece of good fortune for me, said Neiloxenus, to have found you all together here, and, as you see, I am bringing the packet with me to the dinner ; and at the same time he showed it to us. Thales began to laugh, and said, If it is anything bad, go to Priene The home of Bias. again! For Bias will have a solution for this, just as he had his own solution of the first problem. What, said I, was the first problem? The king, said he, sent to Bias an animal for sacrifice, with instructions to take out and send back to him the worst and best portion of the meat. And our friend’s neat and clever solution was, to take out the tongue and send it to him, The same story is told in Moralia 38 B; in 506 C, and in Plutarch’s Comment. on Hesiod, 71 ( Works ad Days, 719), the same story is told of Pittacus. with the result that he is now manifestly in high repute and esteem. Not for this alone, said Neiloxenus, but he does not try to avoid, as the rest of you do, being a friend of kings and being called such. In your case, for instance, the king finds much to admire in you, and in particular he was immensely pleased with your method of measuring the pyramid, because, without making any ado or asking for any instrument, you simply set your walking-stick upright at the edge of the shadow which the pyramid cast, and, two triangles being formed by the intercepting of the sun’s rays, you demonstrated that the height of the pyramid bore the same relation to the length of the stick as the one shadow to the other. Cf. Pliny, Natural History, xxxvi. 17 (82). But, as I said, you have been unjustly accused of having an animosity against kings, and certain offensive pronouncements of yours regarding despots have been reported to him. For example, he was told that, when you were asked by Molpagoras the Ionian what was the most paradoxical thing you had ever seen, you replied, A despot that lived to be old. Specifically ascribed to Thales by Plutarch, Moralia, 578 D; cf. also infra, 152 A. And again he was told that on a certain convivial occasion there was a discussion about animals, and you maintained that of the wild animals the worst was the despot, and of the tame the flatterer. Ascribed to Bias by Plutarch, Moralia, 61 C. Now kings, although they would make out that they are altogether different from despots, do not take kindly to such remarks. But the fact is, said Thales, that Pittacus is responsible for that statement, which was once made in jest with reference to Myrsilus. But, as for myself, I should be amazed to see, he continued, not a despot but a pilot that lived to be old. However, so far as concerns transferring this from the one to the other, my feeling is exactly that of the young man who threw a stone at his dog, but hit his stepmother, whereupon he exclaimed, Not so bad after all! The same story is found in Moralia, 467 C. This is the reason why I regarded Solon as very wise in refusing to accept the position of despot. Cf. Plutarch, Life of Solon, chaps. xiv. and xv. (pp. 85 D-86 B). And as for your friend Pittacus, if he had never addressed himself to the task of ruling single-handed, he would not have said that it is hard to be good. Cf. Plato, Protagoras, 339 A; Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Gr. iii. p. 385 Simonides, No. 5. But Periander, apparently, in spite of his being afflicted with despotism as with an inherited disease, is making fair progress towards recovery The usual tradition ( e.g. Herodotus, v. 92) is that Periander grew worse rather than better. by keeping wholesome company—at least up to the present time—and by bringing about conferences with men of sense, and by refusing to entertain the suggestions offered by my fellow-citizen Thrasybulus about lopping off the topmost. The story is familiar in other connexions also; Roman tradition, for example, makes Tarquinius Superbus give this advice to his son (Livy, i. 54). Indeed, a despot who desires to rule slaves rather than men is not unlike a farmer who is willing to gather in a harvest of darnel and rest-harrow rather than of wheat and barley. For the exercise of dominion possesses one advantage to set against its many disadvantages, and this is the honour and glory of it, if rulers rule over good men by being better than they, and are thought to surpass their subjects in greatness. But rulers that are content with safety without honour ought to rule over a lot of sheep, horses, and cattle, and not over men. But enough of this, he continued, for our visitor here has precipitated us into a conversation that is quite inappropriate, since he has not been careful to bring up topics and questions suitable for persons on their way to dinner. Do you not honestly believe that, as some preparation is necessary on the part of the man who is to be host, there should also be some preparation on the part of him who is to be a guest at dinner? People in Sybaris, as it appears, have their invitations to women presented a year in advance so as to afford them plenty of time to provide themselves with clothes and jewellery to wear when they come to dinner Cf. Athenaeus, 521 C. ; but I am of the opinion that the genuine preparation on the part of the man who is to be the right kind of guest at dinner requires even a longer time, inasmuch as it is more difficult to discover the fitting adornment for character than the superfluous and useless adornment for the body. In fact, the man of sense who comes to dinner does not betake himself there just to fill himself up as though he were a sort of pot, but to take some part, be it serious or humorous, and to listen and to talk regarding this or that topic as the occasion suggests it to the company, if their association together is to be pleasant. A similar thought is found in Moralia, 660 B. Now an unsavoury dish can be declined, and, if the wine be poor, one may find refuge with the water-sprites; but a guest at dinner who gives the others a headache, and is churlish and uncivil, ruins and spoils the enjoyment of any wines and viands or of any girl’s music; nor is there any ready means by which one can spew out this sort of unsavouriness, but with some persons their mutual dislike lasts for their entire lifetime—stale dregs, as it were, of some insult or fit of temper which was called into being over wine. Wherefore Chilon showed most excellent judgement when he received his invitation yesterday, in not agreeing to come until he had learned the name of every person invited. For he said that men must put up with an inconsiderate companion on shipboard or under the same tent, if necessity compels them to travel or to serve in the army, but that to trust to luck regarding the people one is to be associated with at table is not the mark of a man of sense. Plutarch expands this thought in Moralia, 708 D. Now the skeleton which in Egypt they are wont, with fair reason, to bring in and expose at their parties, urging the guests to remember that what it is now, they soon shall be, although it is an ungracious and unseasonable companion to be introduced at a merry-making, yet has a certain timeliness, even if it does not incline the guests to drinking and enjoyment, but rather to a mutual friendliness and affection, and if it urges upon them that life, which is short in point of time, should not be made long by evil conduct.


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plutarch, symposium of the seven sages König, Saints and Symposiasts: The Literature of Food and the Symposium in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Culture (2012) 62
plutarch, sympotic questions' König, Saints and Symposiasts: The Literature of Food and the Symposium in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Culture (2012) 62