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Lecture 10: Politics and Power.



Homeric Feasts of Merit - Sarpedon to Glaucus: `Glaucus, why do the Lycians at home distinguish you and me above all with marks of honour, the best seats at the banquet, the best meat, never-empty cups? Why do they all look upon us as gods? And why were we granted that great estate on the banks of the Xanthus, with its lovely orchards and its splendid fields of wheat? Does not all this oblige us now to take our places in the front line of the ranks of Lycia and fling ourselves into the heat of battle? Then our armoured Lycians will say this about us: "So they are not inglorious after all, our Kings who rule Lycia, eating fat sheep and drinking the sweetest wine. Indeed they are mighty warriors who fight in the front line of the Lycian ranks."' Iliad 12.310-321

The King's Dinner, Herodotus 7.118-120: `Things were even worse for the Greeks who had to entertain the Persian army and provide a dinner for the king. They were utterly ruined, and were obliged to leave house and home. For instance, when the Thasians, on behalf of their towns on the mainland billeted and fed the army, Antipater, the son of Orgeus, a citizen of the highest repute, to who the arrangements had been entrusted, proved that the meal cost 400 talents of silver. And similar accounts were returned by the officers in the other towns. A great deal of fuss had been made about the meal, and orders for its preparation had been issued a long time in advance; accordingly, the moment that word came form the officers who carried out the king's commands, people in every town distributed their stores of grain and employed themselves for months on end in making barley and wheat flour, in buying up and fattening the best cattle they could find and feeding poultry in coops and waterfowl in ponds, to be ready for the army when it came. In addition to this they ordered the manufacture of drinking-cups and mixing-bowls of gold and silver, and of everything else that is needed to adorn the table. All this, of course, was for the king himself and those who dined with him; for the troops themselves the preparations were confined to food. On the arrival of the army,there was always a tent ready for Xerxes to rest in, while the men bivouacked in the open; but it was when dinner-time came that the real trouble began for the unfortunate hosts. The guests ate their fill, and after spending the night in the place, pulled up the tent the next morning, seized the cups and table-gear and everything else it contained, and marched off without leaving a single thing behind. A man of Abdera, called Megacreon, spoke to the point on this subject when he advised all the people of the town to take their wives to the temples and pray heaven to continue to spare them one half of their troubles, with proper gratitude for the blessing received, that King Xerxes was not in the habit of taking two meals a day.'

Theopompus FGrHist 115 F113: Whenever the king visits any of his subjects twenty talents are spent on his dinner, sometimes thirty, in some cases more. For the dinner, like the tribute, has from ancient times been imposed on all cities in proportion to their size.

Alexander, Plutarch Alexander 23: `As for delicacies, Alexander was so restrained in his appetite that often when the rarest fruits or fish were brought him from the sea coast, he would distribute them so generously among his companions that there would be nothing left for himself. His evening meal, however, was always a spendid affair, and so did his expenditure on hospitality until it reached the sum of ten thousand drachmae. At this point he fixed a limit and those who entertained Alexander were told that they must not exceed this sum.' cf. Diodorus Siculus 17.108,4

Secondary material

*J.Davidson, Courtesans... c.7-9

David Lewis, `The King's Dinner' in Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg and Amélie Kuhrt edd. Achaemenid History Workshop II The Greek Sources (Leiden, 1987)