Monday, July 16, 2012


Stingy Hosts

Adam Sisman, Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000), pp. 168-169:
Boswell was amazed when Lonsdale ate a whole plate of fresh oysters without offering anybody else one. Most insulting of all, Lonsdale denied his guests wine, while drinking it himself. When a new guest naively asked for some white wine, Lonsdale replied, "No. That has never been asked for here." In a private moment, one of the hangers-on explained that while Lonsdale would spend thousands of pounds at elections, he was a miser who begrudged sixpence, let alone the six shillings a bottle of claret cost.
James Lowther, earl of Lonsdale (1736–1802), was one of the richest men in England. There are many striking parallels in classical literature to Lonsdale's stingy behavior toward his guests. Here are just a few.

Martial 3.60 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Since I am asked to dinner, no longer, as before, a purchased guest, why is not the same dinner served to me as to you? You take oysters fattened in the Lucrine lake, I suck a mussel through a hole in the shell; you get mushrooms, I take hog funguses; you tackle turbot, but I brill. Golden with fat, a turtle-dove gorges you with its bloated rump; there is set before me a magpie that has died in its cage. Why do I dine without you although, Ponticus, I am dining with you? The dole has gone: let us have the benefit of that; let us eat the same fare.

Cum vocer ad cenam non iam venalis ut ante,
  cur mihi non eadem quae tibi cena datur?
ostrea tu sumis stagno saturata Lucrino,
  sugitur inciso mitulus ore mihi:
sunt tibi boleti, fungos ego sumo suillos:
  res tibi cum rhombo est, at mihi cum sparulo.
aureus inmodicis turtur te clunibus implet,
  ponitur in cavea mortua pica mihi.
cur sine te ceno cum tecum, Pontice, cenem?
  sportula quod non est prosit, edamus idem.
Martial 6.11 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Do you wonder that to-day there is no Pylades, that there is no Orestes? Pylades, Marcus, drank the same wine as Orestes, and no better bread or field-fare was given to Orestes; but equal and the same was the dinner of the two. You gorge Lucrine oysters, watery mussels from Pelorus feed me; yet my palate too, Marcus, is that of a gentleman. Cadmean Tyre clothes you, Gaul with her greasy wool me: would you have me, Marcus, in a coarse wrapper love you in purple? That I may prove myself a Pylades, let someone prove himself to me an Orestes. That does not come about by talk, Marcus: by love win love.

Quod non sit Pylades hoc tempore, non sit Orestes
  miraris? Pylades, Marce, bibebat idem,
nec melior panis turdusve dabatur Orestae,
  sed par atque eadem cena duobus erat.
tu Lucrina voras, me pascit aquosa peloris:
  non minus ingenua est et mihi, Marce, gula.
te Cadmea Tyros, me pinguis Gallia vestit:
  vis te purpureum, Marce, sagatus amem?
ut praestem Pyladen, aliquis mihi praestet Oresten.
  hoc non fit verbis, Marce: ut ameris, ama.
Pliny, Letters 2.6 (tr. Betty Radice):
[1] It would take too long to go into the details (which anyway don't matter) of how I happened to be dining with a man—though no particular friend of his—whose elegant economy, as he called it, seemed to me a sort of stingy extravagance. [2] The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, dividing into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended himself and for us, another for his lesser friends (all his friends are graded) and his and our freedmen. [3] My neighbour at table noticed this and asked me if I approved. I said I did not. 'So what do you do?' he asked. 'I serve the same to everyone, for when I invite guests it is for a meal, not to make class distinctions; I have brought them as equals to the same table, so I give them the same treatment in everything.' [4] 'Even the freedmen?' ‘Of course, for then they are my fellow-diners, not freedmen.' 'That must cost you a lot.' 'On the contrary.' 'How is that?' 'Because my freedmen do not drink the sort of wine I do, but I drink theirs.' [5] Believe me, if you restrain your greedy instincts it is no strain on your finances to share with several others the fare you have yourself. It is this greed which should be put down and 'reduced to the ranks' if you would cut down your expenses, and you can do this far better by self-restraint than by insults to others.

[6] The point of this story is to prevent a promising young man like yourself from being taken in by this extravagance under guise of economy which is to be found at the table in certain homes. Whenever I meet with such a situation, my affection for you prompts me to quote it as a warning example of what to avoid. [7] Remember then that nothing is more to be shunned than this novel association of extravagance and meanness; vices which are bad enough when single and separate, but worse when found together.

[1] Longum est altius repetere nec refert, quemadmodum acciderit, ut homo minime familiaris cenarem apud quendam, ut sibi videbatur, lautum et diligentem, ut mihi, sordidum simul et sumptuosum. [2] Nam sibi et paucis opima quaedam, ceteris vilia et minuta ponebat. Vinum etiam parvolis lagunculis in tria genera discripserat, non ut potestas eligendi, sed ne ius esset recusandi, aliud sibi et nobis, aliud minoribus amicis - nam gradatim amicos habet -, aliud suis nostrisque libertis. [3] Animadvertit qui mihi proximus recumbebat, et an probarem interrogavit. Negavi. 'Tu ergo' inquit 'quam consuetudinem sequeris?' 'Eadem omnibus pono; ad cenam enim, non ad notam invito cunctisque rebus exaequo, quos mensa et toro aequavi.' [4] 'Etiamne libertos?' 'Etiam; convictores enim tunc, non libertos puto.' Et ille: 'Magno tibi constat.' 'Minime.' 'Qui fieri potest?' 'Quia scilicet liberti mei non idem quod ego bibunt, sed idem ego quod liberti.' [5] Et hercule si gulae temperes, non est onerosum quo utaris ipse communicare cum pluribus. Illa ergo reprimenda, illa quasi in ordinem redigenda est, si sumptibus parcas, quibus aliquanto rectius tua continentia quam aliena contumelia consulas.

[6] Quorsus haec? ne tibi, optimae indolis iuveni, quorundam in mensa luxuria specie frugalitatis imponat. Convenit autem amori in te meo, quotiens tale aliquid inciderit, sub exemplo praemonere, quid debeas fugere. [7] Igitur memento nihil magis esse vitandum quam istam luxuriae et sordium novam societatem; quae cum sint turpissima discreta ac separata, turpius iunguntur.
Lucian, On Salaried Posts in Great Houses 26 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
When night overtakes you hungry and thirsty, after a wretched bath you go to your dinner at an unseasonable hour, in the very middle of the night; but you are no longer held in the same esteem and admiration by the company. If anyone arrives who is more of a novelty, for you it is "Get back!" In this way you are pushed off into the most unregarded corner and take your place merely to witness the dishes that are passed, gnawing the bones like a dog if they get as far as you, or regaling yourself with gratification, thanks to your hunger, on the tough mallow leaves with which the other food is garnished, if they should be disdained by those nearer the head of the table.

Moreover, you are not spared other forms of rudeness. You are the only one that does not have an egg. There is no necessity that you should always expect the same treatment as foreigners and strangers: that would be unreasonable! Your bird, too, is not like the others; your neighbour's is fat and plump, and yours is half a tiny chick, or a tough pigeon—out-and-out rudeness and contumely! Often, if there is a shortage when another guest appears of a sudden, the waiter takes up what you have before you and quickly puts it before him, muttering: "You are one of us, you know." Of course when a side of pork or venison is cut at table, you must by all means have especial favour with the carver or else get a Prometheus-portion, bones hidden in fat. That the platter should stop beside the man above you until he gets tired of stuffing himself, but speed past you so rapidly—what free man could endure it if he had even as much resentment as a deer? And I have not yet mentioned the fact that while the others drink the most delectable and oldest of wines, you alone drink one that is vile and thick, taking good care always to drink out of a gold or silver cup so that the colour may not convict you of being such an unhonoured guest. If only you might have your fill, even of that! But as things are, though you ask for it repeatedly, the page "hath not even the semblance of hearing"!
Lucian, Saturnalia 22 (tr. K. Kilburn):
Tell them, moreover, to invite the poor to dinner, taking in four or five at a time, not as they do nowadays though, but in a more democratic fashion, all having an equal share, not one man stuffing himself with dainties with the servant standing waiting for him to eat himself to exhaustion, then when this servant comes to us he passes on while we are still getting ready to put out our hand, only letting us glimpse the platter or the remnants of the cake. And tell him not to give a whole half of the pig when it's brought in, and the head as well, to his master, bringing the others bones covered over. And tell the wine-servers not to wait for each of us to ask seven times for a drink but on one request to pour it out and hand it to us at once, filling a great cup as they do for their master. And let the wine be one and the same for all the guests—where is it laid down that he should get drunk on wine with a fine bouquet while I must burst my belly on new stuff?
The most extensive treatment of this theme in ancient literature is Juvenal's fifth satire, too long to quote here in full. Here are just a few lines (67-75, tr. G.G. Ramsay):
See with what a grumble another of them has handed you a bit of hard bread that you can scarce break in two, or lumps of dough that have turned mouldy—stuff that will exercise your grinders and into which no tooth can gain admittance. For Virro himself a delicate loaf is reserved, white as snow, and kneaded of the finest flour. Be sure to keep your hands off it: take no liberties with the bread-basket! If you are presumptuous enough to take a piece, there will be someone to bid you put it down: "What, Sir Impudence? Will you please fill yourself from your proper tray, and learn the colour of your own bread?"

ecce alius quanto porrexit murmure panem
vix fractum, solidae iam mucida frusta farinae,
quae genuinum agitent, non admittentia morsum.
sed tener et niveus mollique siligine fictus
servatur domino. dextram cohibere memento;
salva sit artoptae reverentia. finge tamen te
inprobulum, superest illic qui ponere cogat:
'vis tu consuetis, audax conviua, canistris
impleri panisque tui novisse colorem?'

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