The Celtic Literature Collective

Athenaeus of Naucratis

Book IV.

34. “But among the Galatians1,” says Phylarchus in his sixth book, “it is the custom to place on the tables a great number of loaves broken promiscuously, and meat just taken out of the kettles, which no one touches without first waiting for the king to see whether he touches anything of what is served up before him.” But in his third book the same Phylarchus says that “Ariamnes the Galatian, being an exceedingly rich man, gave notice that be would give all the Galatians a banquet every year; and that he did so, managing in this manner: He divided the country, measuring it by convenient stages along the roads; and at these stages he erected, tents of stakes and rushes and osiers, each containing about four hundred men, or somewhat more, according as the district required, and with reference to the number that might be expected to throng in from the villages and towns adjacent to the stage in question. And there he placed huge kettles, full of every sort of meat; and he had the kettles made in the preceding year before he was to give the feast, sending for artizans from other cities. And he caused many victims to be slain,—numbers of oxen, and pigs, and sheep, and other animals,—every day; and he caused casks of wine to be prepared, and a great quantity of ground corn. And not only,” he continues, “did all the Galatians who came from the villages and cities enjoy themselves, but even all the strangers who happened to be passing by were not allowed to escape by the slaves who stood around, but were pressed to come in and partake of what had been prepared.”

35. Xenophon also mentions the Thracian suppers in the seventh book of his Anabasis, describing the banquet given by Seuthes in the following words—“But when they all came to the supper, and the supper was laid so that they might all sit round in a circle, then tripods were brought to all the guests; and they were about twenty in number, all full of meat ready carved: and leavened loaves of large size were stuck to the joints of meat with skewers. And most especially were tables always placed before the guests, for that was the custom. And first of all Seuthes behaved in this manner: taking the loaves which were near him, be broke them into small pieces, and threw the pieces to whoever he chose; and he acted in the same way with the meat, leaving before himself only just as much as he. could eat; and the rest also did the same,—those I mean before whom the tables were set. But a certain Arcadian, Arystas by name, a terrible fellow to eat, said that throwing the bread and meat about was folly; and taking a large loaf in his hand, of the size of three chœnixes, and putting the meat upon his knees, made his supper in that manner. And they brought round horns of wine, and all pledged one another; but Arystas, when the cup-bearer came to him with the wine, said, as he saw that Xenophon was no longer eating any supper, ‘Give him the wine, for he has time to drink it, but I have not time yet.’ And then there arose laughter. And as the liquor went round, a Thracian came in, having a white horse, and taking a horn full of wine, said, ‘O Seuthes, I pledge you, and I make you a present of my horse: and if you ride him you will catch whatever you wish to catch; and when you retreat you will never need to fear an enemy.’ And another man brought in his son, and gave him to him in the same manner, pledging him in wine: and another gave him garments for his wife. And Timasion, pledging him, gave him a silver goblet and a scimitar worth ten minæ. But Onesippus, an Athenian, rising up, said that there was an ancient and excellent law, that those who had anything should give it to the king as a compliment, and that the king should make presents to those who had nothing. But Xenophon rose up boldly, and taking the horn, said— ‘I, O Seuthes, give you myself and these my companions to be faithful friends to you; and not one of them is unwilling that I should do so: and now they are present here asking for nothing, but being willing to encounter labour and danger on your behalf.’ And Seuthes, rising up, drank to Xenophon, and spilt the rest of the contents of the born at the same time that he did. And after this there came in men who played on horns such as are used for giving orders with, and also on trumpets made of raw bull’s-hide, in excellent tune, as if they had been playing on a magadis.”

36. And Posidonius the Stoic, in the histories which he composed in a manner by no means inconsistent with the philosophy which he professed, writing of the laws that were established and the customs which prevailed in many nations, says—“The Celtæ place food before their guests, putting grass for their seats, and they serve it up on wooden tables raised a very little above the ground: and their food consists of a few loaves, and a good deal of meat brought up floating in water, and roasted on the coals or on spits. And they eat their meat in a cleanly manner enough, but like lions, taking up whole joints in both their hands, and gnawing them; and if there is any part which they cannot easily tear away, they cut it off with a small sword which they have in a sheath in a private depository. And those who live near the rivers eat fish also, and so do those who live near the Mediterranean sea, or near the Atlantic ocean; and they eat it roasted with salt and vinegar and cummin seed: and cummin seed they also throw into their wine. But they use no oil, on account of its scarcity; and because they are not used to it, it seems disagreeable to them. But when many of them sup together, they all sit in a circle; and the bravest sits in the middle, like the coryphæus of a chorus; because he is superior to the rest either in his military skill, or in birth, or in riches: and the man who gives the entertainment sits next to him; and then on each side the rest of the guests sit in regular order, according as each is eminent or distinguished for anything. And their armour-bearers, bearing their large oblong shields, called θυρεοί stand behind; and their spear-bearers sit down opposite in a circle, and feast in the same manner as their masters. And those who act as cup-bearers and bring round the wine, bring it round in jars made either of earthenware or of silver, like ordinary casks in shape, and the name they give them is ἄμβικος. And their platters on which they serve up the meat are also made of the same material; but some have brazen platters, and some have wooden or plaited baskets. And the liquor which is drunk is, among the rich, wine brought from Italy or from the country about Marseilles; and this is drunk unmixed, but sometimes a little water is mixed with it. But among the poorer classes what is drunk is a beer made of wheat prepared with honey, and oftener still without any honey; and they call it corma. And they all drink it out of the same cup, in small draughts, not drinking more than a cyathus at a time; but they take frequent draughts: and a slave carries the liquor round, beginning at the right hand and going on to the left; and this is the way in which they are waited on, and in which they worship the gods, always turning towards the right hand.”

37. And Posidonius continuing, and relating the riches of Lyernius the father of Bityis, who was subdued by the Romans, says that “he, aiming at becoming a leader of the populace, used to drive in a chariot over the plains, and scatter gold and silver among the myriads of Celts who followed him; and that he enclosed a fenced space of twelve furlongs in length every way, square, in which he erected wine-presses, and filled them with expensive liquors; and that he prepared so vast a quantity of eatables that for very many days any one who chose was at liberty to go and enjoy what was there prepared, being waited on without interruption or cessation. And once, when he had issued beforehand invitations to a banquet some poet from some barbarian tribe came too late and met him on the way, and sung a hymn in which he extolled his magnificence, and bewailed his own misfortune in having come too late: and Lyernius was pleased with his ode, and called for a bag of gold, and threw it to him as be was running by the side of his chariot; and that he picked it up, and then went on singing, saying that his very footprints upon the earth over which he drove produced benefits to men.” These now are the accounts of the Celtæ given by Posidonius in the third and in the twentieth books of his History.

38. But in the fifth book, speaking of the Parthians, he says—“But a friend who is invited does not share the same table, but sitting on the ground while the king reclines near on a lofty couch, eats whatever is thrown to him from the king, like a dog. And very often he is torn away from his feast on the ground for some trifling cause, and is scourged with rods and knotted whips; and when he is all covered with blood he falls down on his face on the floor, and adores the man who has punished him as his benefactor.”

And in his eleventh book, speaking of Seleucus the king, and relating how he came against Media, and warred against Arsaces, and was taken prisoner by the barbarian, and how he remained a long time in captivity to Arsaces, being treated like a king by him, he writes thus—“Among the Parthians, at their banquets, the king had a couch on which he reclined Peripatetic school, in the hundred-and-tenth book of his History, relates that the Romans at their feasts practise single combats, writing as follows—“The Romans used to exhibit spectacles of single combats, not only in their public shows and in their theatres, having derived the custom from the Etruscans, but they did so also at their banquets. Accordingly, people often invited their friends to an entertainment, promising them, in addition to other things, that they should see two or three pairs of single combatants. And when they had bad enough of meat and drink, they then called in the combatants: and as soon as one of them was killed, the guests clapped, being delighted at the exhibition. And in one instance a man left it in his will that some beautiful women, whom be had purchased as slaves, should engage in single combat: and in another case a man desired that some youthful boys whom lie had loved should do so; but the people would not tolerate such notorious proceedings, and declared the will invalid.” And Eratosthenes says, in the first book of his Catalogue of the Victors at Olympia, that the Etruseans used to box to the music of the flute.

40. But Posidonius, in the third, and also in the twentieth book of his Histories, says—“The Celtæ sometimes have single combats at their entertainments. For being collected in arms, they go through the exercise, and make feints at, and sometimes they even go so far as to wound one another. And being irritated by this, if the bystanders do not stop them, they will proceed even to kill one another. But in olden times,” he continues, “there was a custom that a hind quarter of pork was put on the table, and the bravest man took it; and if any one else laid claim to it, then the two rose up to fight till one of them was slain.2 And other men in the theatre having received some silver or gold money, and some even for a number of earthen vessels full of wine, having taken pledges that the gifts promised shall really be given, and having distributed them among their nearest connexions, have laid themselves down on doors with their faces upwards, and then allowed some bystander to cut their throats with a sword.”

And Euphorion the Chalcidian, in his Historical Memorials, writes as follows—“But among the Romans it is common for five minæ to be offered to any one who chooses to the Jocasta of Strattis, the comic poet, who in the play entitled The Phœnician Women, is represented as saying—

I wish to give you both some good advice:
When you boil lentils, pour no perfume o’er them.

And Sopater, too, whom you were mentioning just now, in his Descent to Hell, speaks in these terms

Ulysses, king of Ithaca—’Tis perfume On lentils thrown: courage, my noble soul!

And Clearchus the Peripatetic philosopher, in his treatise on Proverb; gives the saying, “Perfume thrown on lentils; “as a proverb which my grandfather Varro also mention; he, I mean, who was nicknamed Menippius. And many of the Boman grammarians, who have not bad much intercourse with many Greek poets or historians, do not know where it is that Varro got his Iambic from. But you seem to me, O Cynulcus, (for you delight in that name, not using the name by which your mother has called you from your birth,) according to your friend Timon, to be a noble and great man, not knowing that the lentil soup obtained mention from the the former Epicharmus, in his Festival, and in his Islands, and also from Antiphanes the comic poet; who, using the diminutive form, has spoken of it in his Wedding, under the following form of expression—

A little lentil soup (κόγχιον), a slice of sausage.

And Magnus immediately taking up the conversation, said,—The most universally excellent Laurentius has well and cleverly met this hungry dog on the subject of the lentil soup. But I, like to the Galatians of the Paphian Sopater, among whom it is a custom whenever they have met with any omineat success in war to sacrifice their prisoners to the gods,—

I too, in imitation of those men,
Have vow’d a fiery sacrifice to the gods—
Three of these secretly enroll’d logicians.
And now that I have heard your company
Philosophise and argue subtlely,
Persisting firmly, I will bring a test,
A certain proof of all your arguments:
First smoking you. And if then any one
When roasted shrinks and draws away his leg,
He shall be sold to Zeno for his master
For transportation, as bereft of wisdom.

Book VI

25. But that tribe of Gauls which is called the Cordistæ, does not introduce gold into their country either, still they are not the less ready to plunder the territories of their neighbours, and to commit injustice; and that nation is a remnant of the Gauls who formed the army of Brennus when he made his expedition against the temple of Delphi.3 And a certain Bathanatius, acting as their leader, settled them as a colony in the districts around the Ister4, from whom they call the road by which they returned the Batbanatian road; and even to this day they call his posterity the Bathanati. And these men proscribe gold, and do not introduce it into their territories, as a thing on account of which they have suffered many, calamities; but they do use silver, and for the sake of that they commit the most enormous atrocities. Although the proper course would be, not to banish the whole class of the thing of which they were formerly plundered, but the impiety which could perpetrate such a sacrilege. And even if they did not introduce silver into their country, still they would commit excesses in the pursuit of copper and iron; and even if they had not these things, still they would continue to rage in war against other nations for the sake of meat and drink, and other necessaries.

49. And Posidonius of Apamea, in the twenty-third book of his histories, says, “The Celtæ, even when they make war, take about with them companions to dine with them, whom they call parasites. And these men celebrate their praises before large companies assembled together, and also to private individuals who are willing to listen to them: they have also a description of people called Bard; who make them music; and these are poets, who recite their praises with songs. And in his thirty-fourth book, the same writer speaks of a man whose name was Apollonius, as having been the parasite of Antiochus surnamed Grypu; king of Syria. And Aristodemus relates that Bithy; the parasite of king Lysimacbus; once, when Lysimachus threw a wooden figure of a scorpion on his cloak, leaped up in a great fright; but pre sently, when he perceived the truth, he said, “I, too, will frighten you, O king!—give me a talent.” For Lysimachus. was very stingy. And Agatharchides the Onidian, in the twenty-second book of his history of Europe, says that Anthemocritus the pancratiast was the parasite of Aristomachus, the tyrant of the Argives.

50. And Timocles has spoken in general terms of parasites in his Boxer, when he calls them ἐπισίτιοι, in these words—

You will find here some of the parasites (ἐπισίτιοι)
Who eat at other men’s tables till they burst,
That you might say they give themselves to athletes
To act as quintain sacks.

54. But Satyrus, in his Life of Philip, say; “When Philip lost his eye, Oleisophus came forth with him, with bandages on the same eye as the king; and again, when his leg was hurt, he came out limping, along with the king. And if ever Philip ate any harsh or sour food, he would contract his features, as if he, too, had the same taste in his mouth. But in the country of the Arabs they used to do these things, not out of flattery, but in obedience to some law; so that whenever the king had anything the matter with any one of his limbs, the courtiers pretended tote suffering the same inconvenience: for they think it. ridiculous to. be willing to be buried with him when be dies, but not to pay him the compliment of appearing to be subject to the same sufferings as he is while alive, he sustains any injury But Nicolaus of Damascus,—and he was one of the Peripatetic school,—in his very voluminous history (for it consisted of a hundred and forty-four books), in the hundred and eleventh book says, that Adiatomus the king of the Sotiani (and that is a Celtic tribe) had six hundred picked men about him, who were called by the Gauls, in their national language, Siloduri— which word means in Greek, Bound under a vow. “And the king has them as companions, to live with him and to die with him; as that is the vow which they all take. In return for which, they also share his power, and wear the same dress, and eat the same food; and they die when he die; as a matter of absolute necessity, if the king dies of any disease; or if he dies in war, or in any other manner. And no one can even say that any of them has shown any fear of death, or has in the least sought to evade it when the king is dead.”


37. These, then, are the things, said Democritus, which I myself have brought in the way of my contribution, not going to eat fish myself, for the sake of my excellent friend Ulpiau; who, on account of the national customs of the Syrians, has deprived us of our fish, continually bringing forward one thing after another. And Antipater of Tarsus, the Stoic philosopher, in the fourth book of his treatise on Superstition, tells us that it is said by some people that Gatis, the queen of the Syrians, was so exceedingly fond of fish, that she issued a proclamation that no one should eat fish without Gatis being invited (ἄτερ Γάτιδος); and that the common people, out of ignorance, thought her name was Atergatis, and abstained wholly from fish. And Mnaseus, in the second book of his History of Asia, speaks thus—” But I think that Atergatis was a very bad queen, and that she ruled the people with great harshness, so that she even forbad them by law to eat fish, and ordered them to bring all the fish to her, because she was so fond of that food; and, on account of this order of hers, a custom still prevails, when the Syrians pray to the goddess, to offer her golden or silver fish; and for the priests every day to place on the table before the god real fish also, carefully dressed, both boiled and roasted, which the priests of the goddess eat themselves.” And a little further on, he says again—” But Atergatis (as Xanthus the Lydian says), being taken prisoner by Mopsus, king of Lydia, was drowned with her son in the lake near Ascalon, because of her insolence, and was eaten up by fishes.”

38. And you, perhaps, my friends, have willingly passed by (as if it were some sacred fish) the fish mentioned by Ephippus the comic poet, which he says was dressed for Geryon, in his play called Geryon. The lines are these

A. When the natives of the land
Catch a fish which is not common,
But fine, as large ss the whole isle
Of Crete, he furnishes a dish
Able to hold a hundred such;
And orders all who live around,
Sindi, and Lycians, and Paphians,
Cranai, and Mygdoniotæ,
To cut dowa wood, because the king
Is boiling this enormous fish.
So then they bring a load of wood,
Enough to go all round the city,
And light the fire. Then they bring
A lake of water to make brine,
And for eight months a hundred carts
Are hard at work to carry salt.
And around the dish’s edge
Five five-oar'd boats keep always rowing;
And bid the slaves take care the fire
Burns not the Lycian magistrates.

B. Cease to blow this cold air on us, King of Macedon, extinguish
The Celts, and do not burn them more.

But I am not ignorant that Ephippus has said the very same thing in his play called the Peltast; in which the following lines also are subjoined to those which I have just quoted:—

Talking all this nonsense, he
Raises the wonder of the youths
With whom he feasts, though knowing not
The simplest sums and plainest figures;
But drags his cloak along the ground
With a most lordly, pompous air.

But, with reference to whom it is that Ephippus said this, it is now proper for you to inquire, my good friend tilpian, and then to tell us; and in this inquiry—If you find aught hard and inexplicable, Repeat it over, understand it clearly,—For I have much more leisure than I like; as Prometheus says in Æschylus.

Book X

60. And Theopompus, in his twenty-second book, speaking of the Chalcidians in Thrace, says: “For they disregarded all the most excellent habits, rushing readily with great eagerness to drinking and laziness, and every sort of intemperance. And all the Thracians are addicted to drinking; on which account Callimachus says—

For he could hardly bear the Phraeian way
Of drinking monstrous goblets at one draught;
And always did prefer a smaller cup.”

And, in his fiftieth book, Theopompus makes this statement about the Methymmeans: “And they live on the most sumptuous kind of food, lying down and drinking—and never doing anything at all worthy of the expense that they went to. So Cleomenes the tyrant stopped all this; he who also ordered the female pimps, who were accustomed to seduce free-born women, and also three or four of the most nobly born of those who had been induced to prostitute themselves, to be sewn in sacks and thrown into the sea.” And Hermippus, in his account of the Seven Wise Men, says Periander did the same thing. But in the second book of his History of the Exploits of Philip he says, ” The Illyrians both eat and drink in a sitting posture; and they take their wives to their entertainments; and it is reckoned a decorous custom for the women to pledge the guests who are present. And they lead home their husbands from their drinking parties; and they all live plainly, and when they drink, they girdle their stomach with broad girdles, and at first they do so moderately; but when they drink more vehemently, then they keep contracting their belt. And the Ariæans,” says he, have three hundred thousand slaves whom they call prospelatæ, and who correspond to the Helots; and they get drunk every day, and make large entertainments, and are very intemperate in their eating and drinking. On which account the Celtæ when making war npon them, knowing their intemperance, ordered all the soldiers to prepare as superb a feast as possible in the tent, and to put in the food some medicinal herbs which had the power to gripe and purge the bowels exceedingly. And when this had been done . . . . And so some of them were taken by the Celtæ and put to death, and some threw themselves into the rivers, being unable to endure the pains which they were suffering in their stomachs.”


79. But among the Spartans, as Agnon the Academic philosopher tells us, girls and boys are all treated in the same way before marriage: for the great lawgiver Solon has said—

Admiring pretty legs and rosy lips;—

as Æschylus and Sophocles have openly made similar statements; the one saying, in the Myrmidons—

You paid not due respect to modesty,
Led by your passion for too frequent kisses;—

and the other, in his Colohian Women, speaking of Ganymede, says—

Inflaming with his beauty mighty Jove.

But I am not ignorant that the stories which are told about Cratinus and Aristodemus are stated by Polomo Penegetes, in his Replies to Neanthes, to be all mere inventions. But you, O Cynulcus, believe that all these stories are true, let them be ever so false. And you take the greatest pleasure in all such poems as turn on boys and favounites of that kind; while the fashion of making favourites of boys was first introduced among the Grecians from Crete, as Timæus informs us. But others say that Laius was the originator of this custom, when he was received in hospitality by Pelops; and that he took a great fancy to his son, Chrysippus, whom he put into his chariot and carried off, and fled with to Thebes. But Praxilla the Sicyonian says that Chrysippus was carried off by Jupiter. And the Celtæ, too, although they have the most beautiful women of all the barbarians, still make great favourites of boys.5 . . . And the Persians, according to the statement of Herodotus, learnt from the Greeks to adopt this fashion.

1. Galatians: Celts who lived in Anatolia. Their migration is recounted by Pausanias

2. This is reflected in a much later text, Fled Bricrenn, in which the three champions of Ulster fight over who deserves the "champion's portion".

3. Again, see Pausanias.

4. The Danube.

5. The same observation is made by Diodorus Siculus.

Athenaeus. Deipnosophists, or, the Banquet of the Learned of Athenæus. Vol. I-III. ed. & trans. C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854.