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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Adequate number of diners at banquet

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One of the most important social events since ancient times is the banquet or symposium. Participate in the same food at the same table identifies people, according to the elemental adage “you’ll have what you eat” , in an elementary exercise in logic, who eat the same, reared in the same.

It is one of the most ritualized social events at all times. There are certain rules of protocol to organize banquets and distribute the diners in the appropriate tables. The tables can be square, rectangular, oval, round, large or small, depending on the needs and objectives to be.

A plausible objective is to pretend that all diners a table participate in a single conversation.

Somewhere, I do not remember, I read that the correct number for this according to an English manual is the maximum eight diners, from this number several outbreaks of conversation and no one shows. Experience has shown me that this indeed happens.

Interestingly, as so often, this already warned the ancients, for whom to invite or be invited to a wedding is a social event of great importance.

The famous scholar Ausonius, professor of Emperor Gratian, has a pamphlet, opusculum or small work, (that  is what the word “opusculum” means), called Ephemeris (Journal or, equivalently, a full day occupations)

Note: ephemeris derived from lat. Ephemerides, and this  from Greek  ἐφημερίς,-ίδος (from ἐπί on in and ἡμέρα day), description  or commentary of the facts or occupations of each day from morning till evening.

Well, in this booklet Ausonius has a little poem , the number 5, which titled: Time for the invitation, which reads:

And now the time for inviting my friends draws
on. So, that no fault of mine may make them late
for lunch, hurry at your best pace, boy, to the neigh-
bours' houses you know without my telling who
they are and back with you before these words are
done. I have invited five to lunch ; for six persons,
counting the host, make the right number for a
meal : if there be more, it is no meal but a melee.
Ah, he is off! And I am left to deal with Sosias.

(Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn White, M.A.)

Ephemeris,  id est totius diei negotium
Locus invitationis

Tempus vocandis namque amicis adpetit;
ne nos vel illis demoremur prandium,
propere per aedes curre vicinas, puer.
scis ipse, qui sint: iamque dum loquor, redi.
5quinque advocavi; sex enim convivium
cum rege iustum: si super, convicium est..
abiit; relicti nos sumus cum Sosia.

There is a reference to the number of diners in Historia Augusta, Verus (Iuli Capitolini) V, 1, where  we read about an inordinate banquet offered by Lucius Verus, co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius, both adopted sons of Antoninus Pius:

One such banquet, indeed, became very notorious. This was the first banquet, it is said, at which couches were placed for twelve, although there is a very well-known saying about the proper number of those present at a banquet that "seven make a dinner, nine make a din".Text and translation are transcribed from the Loeb Classical Library edition. (Ttranslation  by David Magie)

Et notissimum eius quidem fertur tale convivium, in quo primum duodecim accubuisse dicitur, cum sit notissimum dictum de numero convivarum : "Septem convivium, nevem vero convicium;"

Gellius attributes to Varro a practical, cultured and erudite proposal. Gellius tells us in  XIII 11:

Marcus Varro's opinion of the just and proper number of banqueters; his views about the dessert and about sweetmeats

That is a very charming book of Marcus Varro's, one of his Menippean Satires, entitled You know not what the Late Evening may Bring, 5 in which he descants upon the proper number of guests at a dinner, and about the order and arrangement of the entertainment itself. Now he says 6 that the number of the guests ought to begin with that of the Graces and end with that of the Muses; that is, [p. 439] it should begin with three and stop at nine, so that when the guests are fewest, they should not be less than three, when they are most numerous, not more than nine. “For it is disagreeable to have a great number, since a crowd is generally disorderly, 1 and at Rome it stands, 2 at Athens it sits, but nowhere does it recline.

And he  gives  us advice to the  success of the banquet:

Now, the banquet itself,” he continues, “has four features, and then only is it complete in all its parts: if a nice little group has been got together, if the place is well chosen, the time fit, and due preparation not neglected. Moreover, one should not,” he says, “invite either too talkative or too silent guests, since eloquence is appropriate to the Forum and the courts, but silence to the bed-chamber and not to a dinner.” He thinks, then, that the conversation at such a time ought not to be about anxious and perplexing affairs, but diverting and cheerful, combining profit with a certain interest and pleasure, such conversation as tends to make our character more refined and agreeable. “This will surely follow,” he says, “if we talk about matters which relate to the common experience of life, which we have no leisure to discuss in the Forum and amid the press of business. Furthermore, the host,” he says, “ought rather to be free from meanness than over-elegant,” and, he adds: “At a banquet not everything should be read, 3 but such things as are at once edifying and enjoyable.” (Translation by John C. Rolfe )

Quem M. Varro aptum iustumque esse numerum convivarum existimarit; ac de mensis secundis et de bellariis
Lepidissimus  liber est M. Varronis ex Satiris Menippeis, qui inscribitur Nescis Quid Vesper Serus Vehat, in quo disserit de apto convivarum numero deque ipsius convivii habitu cultuque.  Dicit autem, convivarum numerum incipere oportere a Gratiarum numero et progredi ad Musarum, id est proficisci a tribus et consistere in novem, ut, cum paucissimi convivae sunt, non pauciores sint quam tres, cum plurimi, non plures quam novem. “Nam multos,” inquit, “esse non convenit, quod turba plerumque est turbulenta et Romae quidem stat,  sedet Athenis, nusquam autem cubat.
Ipsum deinde convivium constat,” inquit, “ex rebus quattuor et tum denique omnibus suis numeris absolutum est, si belli homunculi conlecti sunt, si electus locus, si tempus lectum, si apparatus non neglectus. Nec loquaces autem,” inquit, “convivas nec mutos legere oportet, quia eloquentia in foro et aput subsellia, silentium vero non in convivio, set in cubiculo esse debet.” Sermones igitur id temporis habendos censet non super rebus anxiis aut tortuosis, sed iucundos atque invitabiles et cum quadam inlecebra et voluptate utiles, ex quibus ingenium nostrum venustius fiat et amoenius.  "Quod profecto" inquit "eveniet, si de id genus rebus ad communem vitae usum pertinentibus confabulemur, de quibus in foro atque in negotiis agendis loqui non est otium. Dominum autem" inquit "convivii esse oportet non tam lautum quam sine sordibus", et "In convivio legi non omnia debent, sed ea potissimum, quae simul sint βιωφελῆ ( biophele)  et delectent". Neque non de secundis quoque mensis, cuiusmodi esse eas oporteat, praecipit. His enim verbis utitur: "Bellaria" inquit "ea maxime sunt mellita, quae mellita non sunt; πέμμασιν ( pemmasin ) enim cum pepsei  πέψει (pepsei)   societas infida". Quod Varro hoc in loco dixit "bellaria", ne quis forte in ista voce haereat, significat id vocabulum omne mensae secundae genus. Nam quae πέμματα (pemmata)      Graeci aut τραγήματα    (tragemata) dixerunt, ea veteres nostri "bellaria" appellaverunt. Vina quoque dulciora est invenire in comoediis antiquioribus hoc nomine appellata dictaque esse ea "Liberi bellaria".

It seems that in ancient Rome was the most frequent diners were nine, precisely the number of the Muses.

Note: The Graces and the Muses are frequently associated. The Graces, symbolizing the glamor, sexy, beauty, nature, are three daughters of Zeus and Oceánide Eurynome (there are other genealogies): Aglaia (the Resplendent), Euphrosyne (the Beautiful soul) and Talia (The Flourishing).

The Muses were nine daughters of Zeus and Titaness Mnemosyne (Memory) (there are other genealogies), all sponsor and promote the arts and beauty, but then they are specialized in any of them: Clio (glorious), of History, Euterpe (Delicious) of music, Thalia (Flowering) of comedy, Melpomene (Held at hymns and poems) of the tragedy, Terpsichore (Delicious Dancer) of dance, Erato (Adorable) of lyric poetry, Polyhymnia (hymns Singer) of chants and sacred poetry, Urania (Celestial) of astronomy and science and Calliope (Beautiful Voice) of eloquence and epic poetry.
 

   
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