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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

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

XENIA, APOPHORETA (gifts)

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Xenia and Apophoreta are the names of two of the books of Epigrams by Marcus Valerius Martial (40-104), specifically the books XIII and XIV.

Marcial published approximately 1,500 epigrams, short compositions, usually satirical (not exclusively) where mental acuity is enclosed. Xenia has 127 and Apophoreta 223.

XENIA is a Greek word which originally means "hospitality" and also refers to the gifts that are given to foreigners or visitors, and in first place to ambassadors from other cities. In the case of Martial refers to gifts given in banquets which participants take away as a souvenir.

Apophoreta means "gift to take" (from the Greek ἀπό  apo- of, from and φορεῖν, to take) also refers to the custom of giving gifts to the guests of banquets that could be taken as a souvenir to mark the Saturnalia celebrations , which were held in December. These major parties were a mix of our current Christmas and Carnival. This is undoubtedly the origin of the still in force custom of exchanging gifts at the Christmas dinner.

The Greek origin of the words reminds us of the importance of hospitality and symposium or banquet in the Old Greco-Roman World and the exchange of gifts as a tool to strengthen social relationships.

Sometimes gifts in these banquets were obtained with a kind of lottery, pulling out a little note referring to the gift, often in an enigmatic riddle, that each guest had won; Therefore this was also an intellectual game. "Apophoreta" also stands for the notes that accompany those gifts.

Petronius, in the famous Cena Trimalchio of his Satyricon, 56: presents a drawing of this type:

He was just putting the philosophers out of business when lottery tickets were passed around in a cup.  A slave boy assigned to that duty read aloud the names of the souvenirs:

"Silver s--ham," a ham was brought in with some silver vinegar cruets on top of it;
"cervical"--something soft for the neck--a piece of the cervix--neck--of a sheep was brought in;
"serisapia"--after wit--"and contumelia"--insult--we were given must wafers and an apple-melon--and a phallus--contus--;
"porri"--leeks--"and persica," he picked up a whip and a knife; "passeres"--sparrows" and a fly--trap," the answer was raisins--uva passa--and Attic honey;
"cenatoria"--a dinner toga--"and forensia"--business dress--he handed out a piece of meat--suggestive of dinner--and a note-book--suggestive of business--;
"canale"--chased by a dog--"and pedale"--pertaining to the foot--, a hare and a slipper were brought out; "lamphrey"-
-murena--"and a letter," he held up a mouse--mus--and a frog--rana--tied together, and a bundle of beet--beta--the Greek letter beta--.

We laughed long and loud, there were a thousand of these jokes, more or less, which have now escaped my memory. (translation by W. C. Firebaugh)

Iam etiam philosophos de negotio deiciehat, cum pittacia in scypho circumferri  coeperunt, puerque super hoc positus officium apophoreta recitavit.
"Argentum sceleratum": allata est perna, supra quam acetabula erant posita.
"Cervical": offla collaris allata est.
"Serisapia et contumelia": xerophagiae ex sale  datae sunt et contus cum malo.
"Porri et persica": flagellum et cultrum accepit.
"Passeres et muscarium": uvam passam et mel  Atticum.
"Cenatoria et forensia": offlam et tabulas accepit.
"Canale et pedale": lepus et solea est allata.
"Muraena et littera": murem cum rana alligatum fascemque betae accepit.
Diu risimus. Sexcenta huiusmodi fuerunt, quae iam exciderunt memoriae meae.

Well, Marcial wrote these two books, one similar to each other but also with some differences, in little poems of two verses (gr. δί-, two and στιχον, verse; we had then two verses , an hexameter and a pentameter).

Although appearing in editions of Martial at the end of his work, they were actually written before, perhaps as order from employers to accompany banquets’ gifts. With these orders Martial would earn some money or get some recourse to pursue its nothing luxurious life; the poet spent twenty years of subsistence in the large Rome. It is thought that he published them for the Saturnalia in the year 84-85.
About its literary value as custom poetry, have issued several judgments, although undeniable quality and sharpness of many of them. But in any case it should be recognized its value as a historical record of real-life time.

The Xenia gifts are perishable goods (food and drink) and Apophoreta gifts are non-perishable goods.

In Xenia epigrams are grouped by types of food: the first fifty concern plants (first the basics like beans, wheat, lentils, flour, barley ..., then vegetables, fruits ...); fifty seconds for dishes like poultry , quadruplets as a main dish, fish; twenty five for sauces, including the famous "garum" (sort of brine or vinegar prized throughout the Empire); and other twenty five dedicated to wines what constitutes a "wines’ guide" of the moment. Somehow the order of the epigrams corresponds to the order or sequence of presentation of food at the banquet. The last, the 127, refers to the custom of giving garlands of flowers to diners.
In Apophoreta a huge variety of objects appears, grouped in sets: toiletries, cosmetics and perfumes, lighting, various balls, cookware and utensils, dresses like togas, capes ..., bedding, furniture like tables, shelves, cases, game boards, perfumes, dresses like togas, capes ... sculptures, paintings, books, animals and slaves, some with obvious sexual function. Interestingly he alternated valuable gifts and the cheap gifts, as no doubt happen at banquets.

I will put a few examples of each book (the space of an article does not offer another possibility) to help make the decision to read them entirety.

Note: translation based on Bohn's Classical Library (1897)

XENIA

XIV. Lettuce.

Tell me why lettuce, which used to close the repasts of our forefathers, now commences our feasts?

Lactucae
Cludere quae cenas lactuca solebat avorum,
Dic mihi, cur nostras inchoat illa dapes?

XVI. Radishes

These radishes which I present to you, and which are suited to the cold season of winter, Romulus still eats in heaven.

Rapa
Haec tibi brumali gaudentia frigore rapa
Quae damus, in caelo Romulus esse solet.

XVIII. Leeks

Whenever you have eaten strong-smelling shreds of the Tarentine leek, give kisses with your mouth shut.

Porri sectivi
Fila Tarentini graviter redolentia porri
Edisti quotiens, oscula clusa dato

XXXIV. Bulbs.

If your wife is old, and your members languid, bulbs can do no more for you than fill your belly.

Note: The onion was regarded as an aphrodisiac

Bulbi
Cum sit anus coniunx et sint tibi mortua membra,
Nil aliud bulbis quam satur esse potes.

XXXV. Susage.

Daughter of a Picenian pig, I come from Lucania; by me a grateful garnish is given to snow-white pottage.

Note: Lucania produced famous cold meats, including "longaniza" word that derives from "lucanica" contaminated with "n" taken perhaps the word "longa" given the form of the longaniza.

Lucanicae
Filia Picenae venio Lucanica porcae:
Pultibus hinc niveis grata corona datur.

APOPHORETA

XIII. Wooden coffers

If there be anything still remaining at the bottom of my coffer, it shall be yours. There is nothing: then the coffer itself shall be yours.

Loculi lignei
Si quid adhuc superest in nostri faece locelli,
Munus erit. Nihil est: ipse locellus erit.

XXIV. A golden hair-pin

That your oiled tresses may not injure your splendid silk dress, let this pin fix your twisted hair, and keep it up.

Acus aurea
Splendida ne madidi violent bombycina crines,
Figat acus tortas sustineatque comas.

XXXIX. A night-lamp

I am a night-lamp, privy to the pleasures of the couch; do whatever you please, I shall be silent.

Lucerna cubicularis
Dulcis conscia lectuli lucerna,
Quidquid vis facias licet, tacebo.

XLIX. Dumb-bells

Why do strong arms fatigue themselves with frivolous dumb-bells? To dig a vineyard is a worthier exercise for men.

Halteres
Quid pereunt stulto fortes haltere lacerti?
Exercet melius vinea fossa viros.

Note. Halters (ἁλτῆρες) are few objects of stone or metal that are used in gymnastic exercises of the Greeks and Romans. They are commonly used by jumpers carrying them on both hands, but is also often used simply to exercise the body, in the same way that our dumbbells or weights. Precisely from this Greek word derives "weightlifting" fondness for "halteres", sport consisting of lifting weights.

As a curiosity, I will finally say that Xenia served as a model for a joint work of Goethe and Schiller, just call Xenien in German, who wrote against critics and mediocrity of the moment, by the way without much success.


 

   
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