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with a shared Hellenic education talking as equals. However, this stress on
the cultural homogeneity of the speakers is regularly nuanced by references
to the local origins of individual participants, who are drawn from a range of
cities across the Greek world. In much the same way, Plutarch pays frequent
attention to their differences of philosophical persuasion or of profession,
explaining, for example, that one is a rhetor, another a grammarian, another
a doctor and so on.61 These sporadic reminders of difference contribute to
an impression of cosmopolitanism in their conversations, conjuring up a
spor†dhn d ¬ ˆnag”graptai kaª oÉ diakekrim”nwv, ˆll ¬ Þv ™kaston e«v mnžmhn §lqen.
59
60 Cf. n. 3, above, on parallels for this claim (not always justi¬ed) in Aulus Gellius and others.
61 Cf. n. 42, above.
Plutarch™s Sympotic Questions 63
picture of a network of cohesive elite hospitality stretching through the cities
of the Greek world, while also foregrounding the possibility that differences
of background might contribute to differences in their conversational con-
tributions. There is a similarly frequent though sporadic attention given to
the geographical settings of these conversations: some are introduced with
no speci¬c setting, while others are carefully grounded in speci¬c occasions
and speci¬c cities. In 2.2, for example, we hear of a gathering at Eleusis:
˜At Eleusis, after the mysteries, at the height of the festival, we were having
dinner at the house of Glaukias the rhetor. When the others had ¬nished
eating, Xenokles the Delphian as usual began to tease my brother for his
Boeotian gluttony™ (2.2 (635a)). The phrase ˜as usual™ (ãsper e«Ûqei) lets
us in on a world where ease of travel and widespread sharing of a common
literary heritage oils the wheels of elite guest-friendship across the Greek
world. The stereotype of Boeotians as gluttonous reminds us, however, that
it is a world where local difference is still conspicuous, even if frivolously
treated. In 7.7, we see Plutarch hosting a similarly cosmopolitan gathering
in his home city:
When Diogenianos the Pergamene was visiting in Chaironeia, there was a conver-
sation over drinking about types of entertainment, and we had trouble ¬ghting
off a bearded Stoic sophist who brought up Plato™s criticism of those who listen to
¬‚ute-girls in their symposia but who are unable to entertain themselves through
conversation. Philip of Prusa, even though he came from the same philosophical
stable, told us to forget about those guests of Agathon™s, who spoke more pleasantly
than any ¬‚ute or lyre. (7.7 (710b))
The effect of these repeated patterns is to draw attention to the way in
which shared Greek culture is formed from Panhellenic diversity. And the
world it conjures up, where a cosmopolitan, Hellenic philosophical identity
will often be combined with political engagement in speci¬c local contexts,
is one which Plutarch himself was committed to throughout his life, in his
devotion to his home city of Chaironeia.62
Rome can be made a part of this world, as I suggested earlier.63 The
addressee of the Sympotic questions, Sosius Senecio, is a Roman politician
probably from the west.64 Plutarch suggests that Senecio can use the text as a

62 See Jones (1971) 3“64 on Plutarch™s career, including detailed discussion of the identity of the many
friends mentioned in the Quaest. conv. and elsewhere.
63 See Jones (1971) 48“64 on Plutarch™s western friends; Swain (1990) 129“31 on Roman participants
learning Greek styles of speech.
64 See Swain (1996) 426“7 on Senecio™s western identity; even if Senecio did not come from the west
of the empire, as Swain claims, he nevertheless ˜presented himself consistently as a Roman, and held
high positions in Trajan™s administration™, as Stadter (2002) 23, n. 27 points out.
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64 j a son k on ig
spur to his own progress in philosophy, using it to reconstruct entertaining
and edifying conversations he has been involved in. As that suggestion
implies, Senecio is present at many of the discussions Plutarch describes,
trying his hand at Greek styles of ingenious, philosophical speech. The same
is true of a number of other Romans, most conspicuously Mestrius Florus.
Both Florus and Senecio can hold their own in the philosophical banter of
the Plutarchan symposium, although both are represented as having things
left to learn. At one point, for example, Florus, in a ¬t of ostentatious
Hellenic role-playing, objects to the inclusion of Egyptian material in a
discussion; Plutarch takes him to task for failing to realise the capaciousness
of the Greek interpretative tradition, its capacity to accommodate other
cultural traditions (5.10 (684f“685a)).
Moreover, it is striking that many of these conversations are set at local
festivals, at sympotic gatherings which have a semi-of¬cial ¬‚avour. Often
the symposium hosts are festival of¬cials or local priests, holding small
banquets for friends and local notables in their own homes “ a common
convention in festivals in the east, where the dividing line between the
private symposium and the large-scale civic banquet was far from clear.
The implication, as I aim to show in the examples which follow, is that
the philosophical conversations of Plutarch and his guests are somehow
equivalent to the social interaction of sacri¬cial banquets, and the skills of
agonistic competition, though Plutarch also hints at differences between
them, representing his quaestiones as more elevated versions of those festive
activities. If we follow the implications of that parallel, sympotic conversa-
tion is to be seen as a performance of cultural memory just as much as the
processions and sacri¬ces which traced their way through the city streets of
the Greek east so frequently.
Approximately 25 per cent of the Sympotic questions™ conversations are
explicitly set at speci¬ed festival occasions65 (it is dif¬cult to give an exact
¬gure, since in some cases the text makes it dif¬cult to be sure about whether
consecutive chapters are held on the same occasion). Of those, I give just
two examples. 5.2, ¬rst of all, is a discussion of whether or not the poetry
contest is the most ancient component of the Pythian games. Plutarch starts
the dialogue as follows: ˜At the Pythian festival there was a discussion about
whether the newer competitions ought to be abolished™ (674d). He then
he sets out some of the main arguments used on either side. It sounds at
65 The number of conversations does not correspond to the number of chapters, since some conversa-
tions are spread over more than one chapter. I count a total of ¬fty-seven conversations; of those, I
count fourteen which are set at speci¬ed festival occasions: 1.10, 2.2, 2.4“5, 2.10, 3.7, 4.1, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3,
6.8, 6.10, 7.5 and 9.1“15.
Plutarch™s Sympotic Questions 65
¬rst as though the discussion which Plutarch summarises is a symposium
discussion, but we then learn in the next paragraph that these opening
sentences actually refer to a discussion of that topic in a Pythian Council
meeting, where Plutarch himself had spoken against making any change to
the festival programme:
During the Council meeting I argued against those who wanted to change the
established programme and who criticised the contest as if it was a musical instru-
ment with too many strings and too many notes. And then at the dinner which
Petraios the agonothete hosted for us, when the same topic of conversation came
up again (¾mo©wn l»gwn prospes»ntwn), I once again defended the musical
arts; and I demonstrated that poetry was not a late and recent addition to the
sacred games, but that it had been awarded victory crowns even in the ancient
past. (674e“f )
The learned and ingenious styles and topics of speech which we ¬nd in
Plutarch™s symposium conversations seem to be useful and authoritative for
more public, of¬cial contexts too, in the sense that they contribute to highly
publicised decisions about festival programming. Plutarch hints here that
there is no clear dividing line between frivolous private speech and author-
itative public pronouncement. The phrase ¾mo©wn l»gwn prospes»n-
twn “ ˜since similar topics of conversation happened to come up at dinner™
“ backs up the impression of links between the two different types of speech.
Plutarchan symposium conversation, by that standard, has political signif-
icance, whatever its surface appearance of frivolity.
My second example comes from 8.4:
When the Isthmian games were happening, during the second of Sospis™ spells as
agonothete, I avoided most of the dinners, when he entertained together all the
foreign visitors, and often all the citizens as well. Once, however, when he invited
his closest and most scholarly friends to his home, I was present too. When the
¬rst course was cleared away, someone came in bringing a palm-frond and a woven
garland to Herodes the rhetor, sent by a famous competitor who had won a contest
in the encomium contest. He accepted them, then had them taken away again; and
then he said he had no idea why different contests have different types of garland,
while all of them alike give palm-fronds as prizes. (723b)
They then proceed to discuss that problem at length. Here we see several
characteristic features. For one thing Plutarch hints that the conversational
skills which Plutarch and others “ like the rhetor Herodes “ are displaying
are connected with the skills on display in the festival™s contests. It is as if
Herodes™ style of speech “ which is in a very loose sense encomiastic, in
the sense that his answer to the question under discussion involves him
in praising the palm tree “ has been the model for his pupil™s victory in
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66 j a son k on ig
the competition. The opening lines also imply that the banquet Plutarch
attends is part of Sospis™ of¬cial duties as agonothete. Plutarch thus repre-
sents the conversation as an episode which falls within the boundaries of
festival time, although he also insists on his own discriminating dislike of
banquets where too many people are present. In that sense the conversa-
tions he records are not direct equivalents of general festival practice, but
instead are represented as more elevated versions of festival banquets and
festival contests as they are most commonly done.
This grounding of philosophical discussion within particular social occa-
sions, even within the bounds of festival time, is, of course, not new for
the literary-philosophical symposium tradition.66 We need only look back
to the fourth-century bce Symposium of Xenophon, which shows Socrates
and friends relaxing at a banquet held to celebrate the victory of the boy
Autolykos in the pankration at the Panathenaic games, to see that; or the
Symposium of Plato, in honour of Agathon™s victory at the Dionysia. But
Plutarch™s text takes this structural feature to a new level by recording
a whole range of symposium conversations, set at many different social
occasions, and many different festivals, and so driving home the point
that the true philosopher can do philosophy in any setting. In choosing
that structure for his work, Plutarch offers us glimpses of conventions of
festival feasting which we see from a very different angle in the many
Imperial-period inscriptions which record provisions made by benefactors
for sacri¬cial banquets.67 Many of the common features of the banquets
those inscriptions record are replayed in a more elevated, philosophically
in¬‚ected form within the conversations of the Sympotic questions.
For readers familiar with the conventions of sacri¬cial feasting, that
resemblance may well have enhanced the sense that the philosophising of
Plutarch and his fellow guests was an activity particularly appropriate to
festival time. For example, the presence of young men learning from their
elders in Plutarch™s sympotic dialogues picks up the common motif of young
men attending banquets together with their fathers, preparing themselves,
presumably, to take up their roles as full citizens.68 Moreover, banquet

66 That said, there were models available “ which Plutarch chooses not to follow “ for almost entirely
non-contextualised portrayal of erudite sympotic conversation, perhaps most famously in the sym-
potic writing of Epicurus, which seems to have conspicuously neglected any detailed attention to
dramatic setting: see Usener (ed.) (1887) 115, with reference to several passages of Athenaeus (177b,
182a, 186e, 187b); Plutarch™s own familiarity with Epicurus™ Symposium is clear from a number of
references, including, in the Quaest. conv., prologue 1, 3.5 and 3.6.
67 See Schmitt-Pantel (1992) 255“420 on sacri¬cial feasting in the Hellenistic and Imperial periods, and
471“82 on the way in which Plutarch™s Quaest. conv. engages with the realities of public banqueting.
68 See Schmitt-Pantel (1992) 396“7.
Plutarch™s Sympotic Questions 67
inscriptions often stress the presence of foreign visitors in festival banquets,
often with particular attention given to Roman visitors, just as Plutarch™s
text fosters an atmosphere of cosmopolitan hospitality, where Greek cultural
tradition can forge unity across local and even Greek/Roman boundaries.69
Most importantly of all, perhaps, inscriptions celebrating banquets “ like
inscriptions celebrating festival benefaction or agonistic victory “ tend to
be very much aware of their part in a series. In some cases, for example,
we ¬nd inscriptions for individual benefactors recording a whole string
of different banquets and distributions spread across the year, each one
slightly different from all the others.70 In other cases, large numbers of
almost identical banquet inscriptions seem to have been put up very close
to each other within Greek cities, recording each new event through famil-
iar, formulaic language, adjusted only to take account of variations in the
identity of benefactors or setting.71 These inscriptional series conjure up an
impression of the recurring rhythms of festival time as something which
structures the life of the city. Plutarch draws on those patterns of represen-
tation in his Sympotic questions, showing us how the recurring rhythms of
sympotic conversation are both framed by and equivalent to “ though also
elevated above “ the repeated patterns of the local and Panhellenic festival
calendar.
In what sense, then, does Plutarch politicise his patterns of textual
organisation? He does so, I have argued, above all by showing us that
the gesture of combining the speci¬c and the universal, of drawing uni-
versal signi¬cance out of fragmented detail, is not only an abstract, intel-
lectual one. It is also, as the framing passages of his dialogues make clear,
a process which is central to social and political interaction throughout
the Greek east, where Panhellenism always requires an awareness of local
speci¬city. Plutarch repeatedly characterises the speech of himself and his
fellow guests as an elevated equivalent of festival competition and display,
carried out within a philosophical version of cosmopolitan festival com-
mensality. In making that equation, he brings an added dimension to his
portrayal of the techniques of active reading by which, so he suggests, the
diversity of the world can best be understood. It is not only that these
techniques ¬nd a productive breeding-ground within the cosmopolitan,
elite society of the Greek city; they are also, Plutarch suggests, perfor-
mances which can match the central role played by festival performance
69 See Schmitt-Pantel (1992) 389“96.
70 E.g, see the long inscription in honour of the banquets and distributions funded by Epaminondas
of Akraiphia at IG vii, 2712, with Oliver (1971).
71 E.g., see the series of second-century ce banquet inscriptions from Syros in IG xii, 659“67.
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68 j a son k on ig
and festival commensality within Hellenic cultural self-de¬nition. The text
hints, moreover “ by repeated juxtaposition of locally speci¬c dramatic
framing with philosophical discussion “ that the technique of allowing
universal knowledge to emerge from engagement with the smallest and
seemingly most insigni¬cant details of argument may be related to the fun-
damentally Greek instinct, ingrained within centuries of civic ritual and
political engagement, of constructing Panhellenic unity through attention
to local diversity. I began this chapter with claims about the potential for
both thematic and ideological unity to be encoded within the random accu-
mulations of miscellanistic compilation. Plutarch™s unwieldy collection of
scienti¬c, literary, historical conversations, I have argued, is powerfully,
and paradoxically, imbued with both, not only through the complex nar-
rative patterns which lie beneath its surface, carefully designed to provoke
response from us as readers if only we can read with proper philosophical
attention; but also through the way in which Plutarch imprints those pat-
terns with political resonance, foregrounding their link with the civic and
religious rhythms of his contemporary world.
chapter 3

Galen and Athenaeus in the Hellenistic library
John Wilkins




int rodu cti on
The ordering of knowledge was a major issue for two writers of the late sec-
ond and early third centuries ce. Athenaeus in his Deipnosophistae (Sophists
at dinner) and Galen in a number of nutritional and pharmacological trea-
tises set out to review the state of knowledge in the domain of food, nutri-
tion and culture. The Galenic treatises under discussion here, although
only a small part of his output, re¬‚ect important aspects of his research
methodology; of the works of Athenaeus, only the Deipnosophistae sur-
vives.1 The Deipnosophistae and Galen™s treatises on nutrition and pharma-
cology have in common not only a subject matter based on foods, drinks
and medical treatises, but also an aim to research previous technical works
and a strategy for cataloguing complex data. The data could be found
by library-based research, and tested by experiment and personal experi-
ence. Once gathered, this data could be ordered in a list or catalogue, or
other format. In this respect, Galen and Athenaeus resemble, for example,
the lexicographer Pollux, some of the Hellenistic doctors, and others who
produced catalogues in their own and previous centuries, although they
apply those techniques rather differently from each other. Galen prefaces
his works with chapters or whole books on methodology, while Athenaeus
combines cataloguing with anecdote (for which compare Aulus Gellius and
Aelian) and sympotic forms that resemble Plutarch™s Sympotic questions.2
The domains of food and pharmacology had become vast and complex
by the second century ce. This was partly due to the diversity of practice
found in the many Greek and non-Greek cities of the Mediterranean. A
second factor was the stimulation to the ¬‚ow of foods and related goods
from Asia into the Mediterranean area that followed the expeditions of

1 For recent discussions of his treatises on the kings of Syria and a comedy of Archippus see Braund
(2000b) and Wilkins (2000).
2 Cf. Chapter 2, above.

69
70 j oh n wi lki ns
Alexander. The third and crucial factor was the centralising power of Rome
in the Mediterranean world and beyond, which drew all things to itself.
As Aelius Aristides put it, all things came to Rome, so there was no need
to travel to the areas of production in order to enjoy regional specialities.
Rome was an international centre of exchange for many goods: the two
that concern us here are foods and intellectual products. How was an
intellectual to re¬‚ect the vastness and complexity of the Empire? Galen
as a doctor and an intellectual was drawn to Rome from Pergamum and
became court physician to Marcus Aurelius, while Athenaeus, whether or
not he travelled to Rome personally, set his Deipnosophistae at a series of
meals at the home of the rich Roman magistrate Larensis.
In addition to the great supply of foods and drugs that became available
to Rome and the other major Mediterranean cities from all quarters of the
Empire, there was an accompanying expansion in nomenclature as local
names were no longer necessarily attached only to their own place of origin.
At the same time there had been, from the fourth century bce. onwards,
systematic attempts to classify and order the relationships between certain
classes of plants, animals and foodstuffs. Examples relevant to this study
are Regimen I“IV of the Hippocratic doctors, medical treatises of Diocles
of Carystus and Mnesitheus of Athens, and the zoological and botanical
works of Aristotle and Theophrastus. Over a period of several centuries,
attempts to systematise and classify were often at odds with each other and
sometimes internally contradictory. So it was that when Athenaeus and
Galen came to review these works as an aid to their own classi¬cations,
many apparent errors needed to be cleared out of the way before work
could proceed.
These two authors thus face many of the same challenges. As we shall
see, they also respond to many of them in similar ways. However, there
are also important differences between their objectives and the ordering
principles they employ. Charting some of those similarities and differences
is one of the main aims of this chapter. Galen was writing treatises for the
use of doctors, patients and on occasion a wider educated audience. On
the properties of foods (henceforth Food) and On the properties and mixtures
of simple medicines (henceforth Simples) are technical texts,3 which com-
plement other works of Galen on physiology and the digestive processes,
such as On the natural faculties, On mixtures and On the opinions of Hip-
pocrates and Plato. Galen™s aim, for example in Food, was to classify foods

3 For the reader™s convenience, since I use them throughout my discussion, I have adopted these English
titles for texts that are abbreviated elsewhere in the volume as SMT and Alim. fac.
Galen and Athenaeus in the Hellenistic library 71
coherently and authoritatively in order to assist a branch of medicine that
he declared to be particularly useful (1.1). The aim of Athenaeus seems to be
less straightforward. He appears to review the evidence for food and eating
practices over a millennium of Greek culture, from Homer to his own day.
This evidence is presented in the form of a discussion over food and wine
in the tradition of sympotic prose literature.4 Athenaeus adds a variety of
forms, one of which might invade another. An alphabetical list of items
might, for example, be temporarily suspended to allow room for a number
of speeches from the comic stage, as happens in book 7. Or a list of foods
might be interrupted by the dramatic arrival of a character into the dining
room, such as the cook in book 9. Such invasion of one form by another
might suggest poor writing, as some have suggested of Athenaeus. But it
might also re¬‚ect a culture which was so familiar with literary forms of
ordering and classi¬cation that the disturbance of one by another provided
particular pleasure to the reader. There is a certain destabilisation of hier-
archy and canonical texts in Athenaeus, which raises important questions
for the reading of texts in the second and third centuries ce.5
Galen and Athenaeus concentrate on the Greek-speaking cities of the
East. Yet both are aware of the demands of Rome. Galen has a great geo-
graphical range that is Mediterranean-wide and clearly brings the Hippo-
cratic Regimen II up to date, geographically speaking. Athenaeus, mean-
while, sets his work at a series of lavish meals in Rome at the home of a host
who is said to have the best library in the Greco-Roman world. His semi-
¬ctional diners also on occasion cite Latin authorities. Neither Galen nor
Athenaeus, however, draws on obvious Roman authorities such as Pliny the
Elder, Celsus or Columella, who might have contributed to their efforts to
identify clearly particular species of plants or animals. The extent of their
engagement with Latin authors as well as with the power of Rome will be
discussed further below.
These two authors are of particular interest in the current century since
they are ¬rst-rate witnesses to the intellectual preoccupations of their times
and were objects of the greatest interest in the Renaissance and later cen-
turies. Yet they are less read in our own time. Technical treatises are often rel-
egated to the cupboard containing such topics as the history of medicine and
the history of science,6 while the Deipnosophistae is sometimes dismissed as

4 For which see Romeri (2002).
5 This is not the place to discuss the nature of the Deipnosophistae, but I return to this topic in
concluding remarks at the end of this chapter.
6 There are naturally many works on Galen that take a broader perspective. See for example the essays
collected in Nutton (1988) and Kollesch and Nickel (eds.) (1993)
72 j oh n wi lki ns
incoherent, even, in its current form, as a pale and fragmentary image of the
imagined original of Athenaeus.7 This chapter argues against those judge-
ments for a more sensitive acknowledgement of the richness and cultural
interest of both.

f ormat
The presentation of the results of research is largely determined by the
format of the ¬nal product. Galen set out to write treatises that would cata-
logue foods and drugs in a coherent order. The items in Foods are arranged
in three books, one of cereals and pulses, one of other plants (herbs, fruits
and vegetables), and one of meat and ¬sh. Galen takes account of how
earlier treatises had been ordered (2.1; see further below), and of his target
readership. In both treatises, previous medical scholarship is examined at
length, and in Simples, methodology is given considerable attention. So,
for example, the desirability or otherwise of an alphabetical order is con-
sidered at some length.8 In pharmacology, more than foods are at issue.
In addition to plants, animals and ¬sh, metals and other products are also
found to have pharmacological properties. After the ¬ve books introducing
methodological problems in pharmacology, different categories are located
in six different books. The ordering of Simples indicates more than one
principle at work internally, and also a different ordering principle from
that used in Foods. Galen has then composed Foods and Simples as two
cataloguing treatises, to provide a resource for doctors and other readers,
and for cross-referencing within Galen™s own writings. So Simples is often
referred to in Foods, while both treatises are referred to in On the preservation
of good health (Hygieina). Galen almost certainly has different readerships
and different purposes in mind. Simples is earlier; devotes more space to
methodology; has fewer anecdotes, and is often referred to for de¬nitive
statements on properties (or dunameis). Foods may then be comparatively
less technical and more accessible to the general reader. It is certainly a
richer hunting ground for the social historian.9 Here Galen gives good evi-
dence that he has his whole output in good order. Galen™s own commentary
on this is well known in the short treatises On my own books and On the
7 On the supposed version of the Deipnosophistae in thirty books, and the processes of epitomisation
it has undergone, see Kaibel (ed.) (1887“90), Arnott (2000) and Rodr´guez-Noriega Guill´n (2000).

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