Athenaeus the Navigator
The Journal of Hellenic Studies
Cambridge University Press
This study concerns navigation in a geographical sense and in the sense of the reader finding a way through a complex text with the help of points of reference. Recent studies in Athenaeus have suggested that he was a more sophisticated writer than the second-hand compiler of Hellenistic comment on classical Greek authors, which has been a dominant view. Building on these studies, this article argues that Athenaeus' approach to his history of ancient dining draws on traditional poetic links between the symposium and the sea, and expands such metaphors with a major interest in place and provenance, which also belongs to the literature of the symposium. Provenance at the same time evokes a theme of imperial thought, that Rome can attract to herself all the good things of the earth that are now under her sway. Good things include foods and the literary heritage of Greece now housed in imperial libraries. Athenaeus deploys themes of navigation ambiguously, to celebrate diversity and to warn against the dangers of luxury. Notorious examples of luxury are presented – the Sybarites and Capuans, for example – but there seem to be oblique warnings to Rome as well. Much clearer censure is reserved for the gastronomic poem of Archestratus of Gela, which surveys the best cities in which to eat certain fish. The Deipnosophists deplore the immorality of the poet and his radical rewriting of their key authors Homer and Plato, while at the same time quoting him extensively for the range of his reference to geography and fish. This commentary on Archestratus is a good example of the Deipnosophists' guidance to the reader, Roman or otherwise, who wishes to ‘navigate’ the complicated history of the Greek deipnon and symposium.
Copyright © The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 2008. Published version reproduced with the permission of the publisher.
Vol. 128, pp. 132 - 152