Deipnon (δεῖπνον). The principal meal of the Greeks and Romans, corresponding to our dinner rather than supper. As the meals are not always clearly distinguished, it will be convenient to give a brief account of all of them under the present head.
The materials for an account of the Greek meals, during the classical period of Athens and Sparta, are almost confined to incidental allusions of Plato and the comic writers. Several ancient authors, termed δειπνολόγοι, are mentioned by Athenaeus; but, unfortunately, their writings only survive in the fragments quoted by him. His great work, the Deipnosophistae, is an inexhaustible treasury of this kind of knowledge, though very ill-arranged. See Athenaeus.
The poems of Homer contain a real picture of early manners, in every way worthy of the antiquarian's attention. As they stand apart from all other writings, it will be convenient to exhibit in one view the state of things which they describe. It is not to be expected, however, that the Homeric meals should at all agree with the customs of a later period. Athenaeus (i. 8), who has entered fully into the subject, remarks on the simplicity of the Homeric banquets, in which kings and private men all partake of the same food. It was common enough for royal personages to prepare their own meals, and Odysseus ( Od.xv. 322) declares himself no mean proficient in the culinary art.
Three names of meals occur in the Iliad and Odyssey—ἄριστον, δεῖπνον, δόρπον or δόρπος. The word ἄριστον uniformly means the early as δόρπον does the late meal; but δεῖπνον, though generally meaning the mid-day meal, is sometimes used where we should expect ἄριστον ( Od.xv. 397) or even δόρπον ( Od.xvii. 170). We should be careful, however, how we argue from the unsettled habits of a camp to the regular customs of ordinary life.
In the Homeric Age it was usual to sit at table; and this custom, we are told, was kept up in historical times by the Cretans. Each guest had generally his own table, and an equal share of food was placed before each (hence δαὶς ἐΐση), except when a specially distinguished guest was honoured by getting a larger portion ( Il.vii. 321). What strikes us as peculiar in the Homeric dinners is their religious character. They partake more or less of the nature of a sacrifice, beginning with an offering of part of the meat to the gods, and both beginning and ending with a libation of wine; while the terms for slaughtering animals for a meal (ἱερεύειν, θύειν) and for the slaughtered animals (ἱερήϊα) are borrowed from the language of religious ceremony. The description of the dinner given by Eumaeus to Odysseus ( Od.xiv. 420) gives a good picture of a dinner in the Homeric Age in humble society; and that given by Achilles to Odysseus ( Il.ix. 219 foll.) may be taken as typical of the banquets of the great in the same period.
Beef, mutton, swine's and goat's flesh were the ordinary meats, generally eaten roasted, though sometimes boiled ( Il.xxi. 363). Fish and fowls were almost unknown (Eustath. ad Homer Od.xii. 330). Many sorts of wine are mentioned, notably the Maronean and the Pramnian. Nestor had wine eleven years old ( Homer Od.iii. 391). A small quantity was poured into each guest's cup to make a libation with (ἐπαρξάμενοι δεπάεσσιν), before the wine was regularly served out for drinking. The guests drank to each other ( Od.iii. 40), and a second libation to the gods closed the repast ( Od.iii. 332).
The Greeks of a later age usually partook of three meals, called ἀκράτισμα, ἄριστον, and δεῖπνον. The last, which corresponds to the δόρπον of the Homeric poems, was the evening meal or dinner; the ἄριστον was luncheon; and the ἀκράτισμα, which answers to the ἄριστον of Homer, was the early meal or breakfast.
The ἀκράτισμα was taken immediately after rising in the morning ( Aves, 1286). It usually consisted of bread dipped in unmixed wine (ἄκρατος), whence it derived its name (Athen. i. 11).
Next followed the ἄριστον or luncheon. The time at which it was taken is uncertain, though we may conclude from many circumstances that it was about the middle of the day, and that the meal answered to the Roman prandium. The market time, at which provisions seem to have been bought for the ἄριστον, was from nine o'clock till noon. In Aristophanes ( Vesp.605-612) Philocleon describes the pleasure of returning home after attending the courts, and partaking of a good ἄριστον. It was usually a simple meal, but of course varied according to the habits of individuals ( Oecon.xi. 18).
The principal meal, however, was the δεῖπνον. It was usually taken rather late in the day, frequently not before sunset (Lysias, de Caed. Eratosth. 22).
The Athenians were a social people, and were very fond of dining in company. Entertainments were usually given, both in the Heroic Age and later times, when sacrifices were offered to the gods, either on public or private occasions; and also on the anniversary of the birthdays of members of the family, or of illustrious persons, whether living or dead. Plutarch ( Symp.viii. 1. 1) speaks of an entertainment being given on the anniversary of the birthdays of both Socrates and Plato.
Dining clubs were very common, the members of which contributed each a certain sum of money, called συμβολή, or brought their own provisions with them. When the first plan was adopted, they were said ἀπὸ συμβολῶν δειπνεῖν, and one individual was generally intrusted with the money to procure the provisions and make all the necessary preparations (Terence, Eunuch. iii. 4). When the second plan was adopted, they were said ἀπὸ σπυρίδος δειπνεῖν, because the provisions were brought in baskets. This kind of entertainment is spoken of by Xenophon ( Mem.iii. 14. 1). In Homer the word ἔρανος corresponds with the later ἀπὸ συμβολῶν δεῖπνον, while εἰλαπίνη denotes a public entertainment on a festival or some such occasion (Athen. viii. 362 e).
The most usual kind of entertainments, however, were those in which a person invited his friends to his own house. It was expected that they should come dressed with more than ordinary care, and also have bathed shortly before; hence, when Socrates was going to an entertainment at Agathon's, we are told that he both washed and put on his shoes—things which he seldom did (Plato, Symp.174A). As soon as the guests arrived at the house of their host, their shoes or sandals were taken off by the slaves, and their feet washed (ὑπολύειν and ἀπονίζειν). In ancient works of art we frequently see a slave or other person represented in the act of taking off the shoes of the guests, of which an example is given on the next page from a terra-cotta in the British Museum. After their feet had been washed, the guests reclined on the κλῖναι or couches.
Sitting at meals was, as has already been remarked, the practice of the Heroic Age, but in the classical period was confined to Crete. Women, however, when admitted to banquets on extraordinary occasions, such as a marriage (for they were generally excluded from table when guests were invited), took the sitting posture (Lucian, Conv.13), and so did children ( Symp.i. 8). A very common representation on funeral monuments is the family meal, with the husband reclining, and the wife and children sitting at his side. Where women are represented as reclining at a meal, they are meant for hetaerae.
It was usual for only two persons to recline on each couch. In ancient works of art we usually see the guests represented in this way, but sometimes there is a larger number on one long κλίνη. The guests reclined with their left arms on striped pillows (ὑπαγκώνια), and having their right arms free. (Cf. Aristoph. Vesp.1210.)
After the guests had placed themselves on the κλῖναι, the slaves brought in water to wash their hands; and then the dinner was served up, the expression for which was τὰς τραπέζας εἰσφέρειν ( Suet. Vesp.1216). By τὰς τραπέζας εἰσφέρειν we are to understand not merely the dishes, but the tables themselves (Philoxen. ap. Athen. iv. 146 f). It appears that a table, with provisions upon it, was placed before each κλίνη: and thus we find in all ancient works of art which represent banquets or symposia, a small table or tripod placed before the κλίνη: and when there are more than two persons on the κλίνη, several such tables. These tables were evidently small enough to be moved with ease.
In eating, the Greeks had no knives or forks, but made use of their fingers only, except in eating soups or other liquids, which they partook of by means of a spoon (μύστρον), or a piece of bread scooped out in the shape of a spoon (μυστίλη) (Suidas, s. v. μυστίλη). After eating, they wiped their fingers on pieces of bread, called ἀπομαγδαλιαί, which were then thrown to the dogs ( Aristoph. Eq.415). Napkins (χειρόμακτρα) were not used till the Roman period.
It appears that the arrangement of the dinner was intrusted to certain slaves. The one who had the chief management of it was called τραπεζοποιός or τραπεζοκόμος (Athen. iv. 170 e; Pollux, iii. 41; vi. 13). The Greek word for a menu was γραμματίδιον (Athen. ii. 49 d).
It would exceed the limits of this work to give an account of the different dishes which were introduced at a Greek dinner, though their number is far below those which were usually partaken of at a Roman entertainment. The most common food among the Greeks was the μάζα, a kind of soft cake, which was prepared in different ways, as appears by the various names which were given to it (Pollux, vi. 76). The φυστὴ μάζα, of which Philocleon partakes on returning home from the courts ( Suet. Vesp.610), is said by the Scholiast to have been made of barley and wine. The μάζα continued to the latest times to be the common food of the lower classes. Wheaten or barley bread was the second most usual species of food; it was sometimes made at home, but more usually bought at the market. The vegetables ordinarily eaten were mallows (μαλάχη), lettuces (θρίδαξ), cabbages (ῥάφανοι), beans (κύαμοι), lentils (φακαῖ), etc. Pork was the favourite animal food, as was the case among the Romans. Sausages also were very commonly eaten. It is a curious fact, which Plato ( Rep.iii. 13 Rep., 404) has remarked, that we never read in Homer of the heroes partaking of fish. In later times, however, fish was one of the favourite foods of the Greeks, insomuch so that the name of ὄψον was applied to it κατ ἐξοχήν. A minute account of the fishes which the Greeks were accustomed to eat is given at the end of the seventh book of Athenaeus, arranged in alphabetical order.
The ordinary meal for the family was cooked by the mistress of the house, or by the female slaves under her direction; but for special occasions professional cooks (μάγειροι) were hired, of whom there appear to have been a great number ( Diog. Laert.ii. 72). They are frequently mentioned in the fragments of the comic poets, and those who were acquainted with all the refinements of their art were in great demand in other parts of Greece besides their own country. The Sicilian cooks, however, had the greatest reputation, and a Sicilian book on cookery by one Mithaecus is mentioned in the Gorgias of Plato (p. 518 B); but the most celebrated work on the subject was the Γαστρολογία of Archestratus (Athen. iii. 104 b).
A dinner given by an opulent Athenian usually consisted of two courses, called respectively πρῶται τράπεζαι and δεύτεραι τράπεζαι. Pollux (vi. 83), indeed, speaks of three courses, which was the number at a Roman dinner; and in the same way we find other writers under the Roman Empire speaking of three courses at Greek dinners; but before the Roman conquest of Greece and the introduction of Roman customs, we read of only two courses. The first course embraced the whole of what we consider the dinner—namely, fish, poultry, meat, etc. (ἐδέσματα); the second, which corresponded to our dessert and the Roman bellaria, consisted of different kinds of fruit, sweetmeats, confections, etc. (τρωγάλια). The Roman first course of salads, vegetables, etc., was unknown to the Greeks in the time of their independence.
When the first course was finished, the tables were taken away (αἴρειν, ἐκφέρειν, βαστάζειν τὰς τραπέζας), and water was given to the guests for the purpose of washing their hands. Crowns made of garlands of flowers were also then given to them, as well as various kinds of perfumes. Wine was not drunk till the first course was finished; but as soon as the guests had washed their hands, unmixed wine was produced in a large goblet, called μετάνιπτρον or μετανιπτρίς, of which each drank a little, after pouring out a small quantity as a libation. This libation was said to be made to the “good spirit” (ἀγαθοῦδαίμονος), and was usually accompanied with the singing of the paean and the playing of flutes. After this libation mixed wine was brought in, and with their first cup the guests drank to Ζεὺς Σωτήρ ( Symp.ii. 1). With the σπονδαί the δεῖπνον closed; and at the introduction of the dessert (δεύτεραι τράπεζαι) the πότος, συμπόσιον, or κῶμος commenced, of which an account is given in the article Symposium.