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Lecture 9: Distinction: Democracy and Class


The Democracy

Aristophanes Acharnians, 65ff.: Ambassador: `They entertained us as guests, and often we were forced to drink sweet wine from cups of glass and cups of gold, neat wine!... The Barbarians, you know, consider only those who eat and drink in huge quantities to be men of account'

Dicaeopolis: `And here we consider them to be cocksucking degenerates.'

Ambassador: `Then the King entertained us, and set before us whole oxen pot-roasted.'

Aristophanes, Wasps, 493-502, Bdelycleon:`If someone buys a grouper but turns his nose up at the sprats, straightaway the sprats-seller next to him declares "This man here would appear to be on a spree for tyranny". And if then you order a leek to give flavour to the small fry, the vegetable-woman says, "Tell me then, so you're after a leek; I suppose it's with a view to tyranny, or maybe you think Athens should be taxed to supply you with flavourings?"'

Plato, Defence of Socrates, 36de: `What do I deserve for behaving in this way? Some reward, gentlemen, if I am bound to suggest what I really deserve, a reward that best suits the services I have performed. Well what is appropriate for a poor man who is also a public benefactor and who needs leisure-time for giving you moral encouragement? Nothing could be more appropriate for such a person than being fed for free at the city's expense. For he deserves it much more than any victor in the races at Olympia, whether he wins with a single horse or a team of four. These people give you the semblance of success, but I give you the reality; they do not need free food, but I do.'

Plutarch Cimon, c.10: `Cimon took away the fences from his fields, so that strangers and strangers in need might have it in their power to take fearlessly of the fruits of the land; and every day he gave a dinner at his house, - simple, it is true, but sufficient for many, to which any poor man who wished came in and so received sustenance which cost him no effort and left him free to devote himself solely to public affairs. But Aristotle says that it was not for all Athenians, but only for his demesmen, the laciadae, that he provided free dinner.'

Athenaeus 1.3df: `Conon, too, after he defeated the Spartans in the sea-battle off Cnidus and surrounded the piraeus with a wall, offered a hecatomb - a real one, and not one falsely so-called - at which he feasted all Athens. And when Alcibiades won first second and fourth places at Olympia in the chariot-race (416 BCE) he sacrificed to Olympian Zeus and entertained the entire assemblage.... Again Ion of Chios, when he won a victory with a tragedy at Athens gave every Athenian a jar of Chian wine.'

Plutarch, Alcibiades c. 12: Moreover this splendour of his at Olympia was made even more conspicuous by the emulous rivalry of the cities on his behalf. The Ephesians equipped him with a tent of magnificent adornment; the Chians furnished him with provender for his horses and with innumerable animals for sacrifice; the Lesbians with wine and other provisions for his unstinted entertainment of the multitude.

Passion for fish

Antiphanes 188 K-A:`Euthynus, with a ring on his finger and sandals on his toes and anointed with perfumed oils was settling some little fish business I don't know what; but then two veteran fish-lovers came along, the kind of men who gulp down fish-slices in the marketplace. When they saw what he was doing they almost died, outraged at the fishlessness he had created, terribly outraged. They gathered crowds around them and made a speech to the effect that they could not live with such a situation, that it was unendurable that some of you should be spending great sums of money on the fleet to fight for naval supremacy, while not even a bit of fish was making it into port. What was the point of controlling the Aegean? It should be possible to pass laws to force compliance, a naval escort should be provided for the fish. As it was, one man had monopolized the fishermen and another, in heaven's name, had persuaded them to bring the catch to him. It's simply not democratic for them to eat so many fish.'

Strabo 14.2.21: `A lyre-player was giving a demonstration of his art. Everybody was listening, until at a certain point the fish-bell rang and they abandoned him and went off to the fish-stalls, except for one man, who happened to be hard of hearing. So the musician went up to him and said "I must express my gratitude, sir, for your courtesy and appreciation; all the others disappeared the moment they heard the fish-bell." To which the other responded "What's that? has the bell rung already?" and when the musician said that it had, he quickly said goodbye and went to join the others.

Philemon, The Soldier: `For a yearning stole up on me to go forth and tell the world, and not only the world but the heavens too, how I prepared the dish - By Athena, how sweet it is to get it right every time - What a fish it was I had tender before me! What a dish I made of it! Not drugged senseless with cheeses, nor window-boxed with dandifying herbs, it emerged from the oven as naked as the day it was born. So tender, so soft was the fire I invested in the cooking of it. You wouldn't believe the result. It was just like when a chicken gets hold of something bigger than she can swallow and runs around in a circle, unable to let it out of her sight, determined to get it down, while the other chickens chase after her. It was just the same: the first man among them to discover the delights of the dish leapt up and fled taking the platter with him for a lap of the circuit, the others hot on his heels. I allowed myself a shriek of joy, as some snatched at something, some snatched at everything and others snatched at nothing at all. And yet I had merely taken into my care some mud-eating river-fish. If I had got hold of something more exceptional, a "little grey" from Attica, say, or a boar-fish from [Amphilochian] Argos, or from dear old Sicyon the fish that Poseidon carries to the gods in heaven, a conger-eel, then everyone would have attained to a state of divinity. I have discovered the secret of eternal life; men already dead I make to walk again, once they but smell it in their nostrils.'

Archestratus on `boar-fish':`But if you go to the prosperous land of Ambracia and happen to see the boar-fish, buy it! Even if it costs its weight in gold, don't leave without it, lest the dread vengeance of the deathless ones breathe down on you; for this fish is the flower of nectar...'

... on Rhodian dogfish:`It could mean your death, but if they won't sell it to you, take it by force... afterwards you can submit patiently to your fate.'

... on eels:`There you have the advantage over all the rest of us mortals, citizen of Messina, as you put such fare to your lips. The eels of the Strymon river, on the other hand, and those of lake Copais have a formidable reputation for excellence thanks to their large size and wondrous girth. All in all I think the eel rules over everything else at the feast and commands the field of pleasure, despite being the only fish with no backbone.'

Lynceus of Samos, How to shop: `One thing you will find useful, when standing at the fish-stalls face to face with the unblinking fishmongers, is abuse. Call Archestratus to the stand, the author of the Life of Luxury, or another one of the poets and read out a line, "the striped bream is an awful fish, completely worthless' and in Spring try the line "only buy tuna in winter", and in summer "the grey-mullet is wonderful when winter has arrived", and many other lines of that sort. For you will scare off all the shoppers and force the fishmonger to accept a price you think is right.'

Antiphanes 217 K-A:`Is it not strange, that if someone happens to be selling fish recently deceased, he addresses us with a devilish scowl and knotted brow, but if they are quite past their sell-by date, he laughs and jokes? It should be the other way round. In the first case the seller should laugh, and in the second go to the devil.'

Antiphanes 69 K-A: `Well then, Philumenus, what's your favourite fish?' `I like them all' `Go through them one by one, which fish would you like to taste?' `Well, once a fish-monger came to the country, and he had sprats with him and little red-mullets, and by Zeus he was popular with all of us!' `So, now you would like some of them?' `Yes, and if there is any other small one; for it is my opinion that all those large fishes are man-eaters'

Hegesander of Delphi ap. Ath.8.343d: `Plato objected to Aristippus returning from a shopping-spree with a large number of fish, but Aristippus answered that he had bought them for only two obols. Plato said he himself would have bought them at that price, to which Aristippus replied "Well, then, in that case, my dear Plato, you must realise that it is not I who am a fish a holic, but you who are a cheapskate."'

Secondary material

*J.Davidson, Courtesans... c.6, with caution

*J. Wilkins, `Fish-heads...' in G.Mars and V.Mars edd. Food, Culture and History I (London, 1993)

*O. Murray, `Democracy and the Drinking-group' in Sympotica


How does consumption differentiate peasant and city-dweller, rich and poor, present and past? How could consumption of food and drink be seen as a threat to property? How does communal feasting function within the power politics of the democracy?