Sunday, September 03, 2017


The Wine Course

Petronius, Satyricon 34 (tr. Michael Heseltine, rev. E.H. Warmington, with their notes; I corrected Opinius in note 1 to Opimius):
Just then some glass jars carefully fastened with gypsum were brought on, with labels tied to their necks, inscribed, "Falernian of Opimius's vintage, 100 years in bottle."1 As we were poring over the tickets Trimalchio clapped his hands and cried, "Ah me, so wine lives longer than miserable man. So let us be merry.2 Wine is life. I put on real wine of Opimius's year. I produced some inferior stuff yesterday, and there was a much finer set of people to dinner." As we drank and admired each luxury in detail, a slave brought in a silver skeleton,3 made so that its joints and sockets could be moved and bent in every direction. He threw it down once or twice on the table so that the supple sections showed several attitudes, and Trimalchio said appropriately: "Alas for us poor mortals, all that poor man is is nothing. So we shall all be, after the world below takes us away. Let us live then while it can go well with us."

1 Since Trimalchio is apparently a character of Nero's reign (A.D. 54–68), his wine if supposed to be genuine Opimian would taste pretty bad, because Opimius was consul in 121 B.C. But the guests enjoyed it. If the labels also are supposed to be genuine, that is, put on after one hundred years' keep, and if Trimalchio is supposed to be accurate (though he is an ignorant man), they were put on during the reign of Augustus (30 B.C.–A.D. 14).

2 The word tangomenas is obscure. It occurs also at the end of Chapter 73, again with faciamus. Tango menas (Birt, Rhein. Mus., LXXV, 118 ff.) "I touch mendoles (anchovies)" conveys no sense; nor does tango Manes (Ohlert). In a drinking mood Alcaeus (Fr. 94. Diehl; J. Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, Vol. I, LCL, pp 418–419) has τέγγε πλεύμονας οἴνῳ "wet your lungs with wine," and Buecheler suggested tengomenas in Petronius's phrase.

3 Some representation of a skeleton was often present where Romans ate, apparently a reminder that though one eats now, one will die later. larva usually means a ghost.

Statim allatae sunt amphorae vitreae diligenter gypsatae, quarum in cervicibus pittacia erant affixa cum hoc titulo: "Falernum Opimianum annorum centum." Dum titulos perlegimus, complosit Trimalchio manus et "Eheu" inquit "ergo diutius vivit vinum quam homuncio. Quare tangomenas faciamus. Vinum vita est. Verum Opimianum praesto. Heri non tam bonum posui, et multo honestiores cenabant." Potantibus ergo nobis et accuratissime lautitias mirantibus larvam argenteam attulit servus sic aptatam, ut articuli eius vertebraeque luxatae in omnem partem flecterentur. Hanc cum super mensam semel iterumque abiecisset, et catenatio mobilis aliquot figuras exprimeret, Trimalchio adiecit:
"Eheu nos miseros, quam totus homuncio nil est.
Sic erimus cuncti, postquam nos auferet Orcus.
    Ergo vivamus, dum licet esse bene."
vinum vita Goes: vita vinum H
luxatae Heinsius: laxatae H, locatae L
Martin S. Smith, ed., Petronii Arbitri Cena Trimalchionis (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), pp. 74-75:
§ 6 Falernum Opimianum ...: Pliny (NH xiv.55) states that some of the famous vintage of Opimius' consulship (121 B.C.) survived to his day but could be used only to give body to younger wine. B. Baldwin suggests (AJP lxxxviii (1967), 173-5) that Trimalchio's vulgarity here consists in serving as a choice beverage by itself an old wine normally used by then merely as a seasoning.

Everyday wines could bear an inscription showing their age rather than the date of production, just as whisky today may be labelled, for example, 'twenty years old' as a guarantee of its maturity. Roman inscriptions of this kind, however, relate to wine only a few years old. Both through the choice of centum and through the addition of the remote consular date the label on Trimalchio's wine extends this practice absurdly.

§ 7 tangomenas faciamus: this phrase, which recurs at 73.6, must mean something like 'let's drink our fill' each time. No satisfactory explanation of tangomenas has yet been proposed, although the ending -omenas resembles a Greek middle or passive participle. As for the stem, two types of suggestion have been made: (i) the Greek τέγγω 'dip', 'soak', could fit (cf. Alcaeus fr. 39), if we supply some feminine noun, e.g. epulas or potiones. Presumably the word was confused with the familiar tangere. (ii) tangere itself may fit, cf. 66.3 'de melle me usque tetigi', Apic. viii.2.1 'cervum coctum intro foras tanges'; but the use of a Greek ending then becomes puzzling. The best that can be claimed for such explanations is that they are not patently absurd. It should be added that the phrase may form part of a hexameter, so it may be that Trimalchio is quoting some familiar tag.

§ 8 larvam argenteam: Herodotus (ii.78) and Plutarch (Mor. 357 f) describe an Egyptian custom of bringing out a skeleton or something similar at a feast as a reminder of the fragility of human life. A cup in the Bosco Reale treasure from Pompeii has several skeletons on it, with the inscription ζῶν μετάλαβε· τὸ γὰρ αὔριον ἄδηλον ἐστι, i.e. 'join in while you are alive, for tomorrow is uncertain' (for an illustration see M. Rostovtzeff, Soc. and Econ. Hist. of the Roman Empire, plate vii).

sic aptatam ...: 'made so that its joints and backbone could be moved freely and turned in every direction'. Heinsius's conjecture luxatae gives better sense than laxatae H. The two words are sometimes confused in manuscripts, e.g. at Plin. NH viii.179.

§ 10. This combination of two hexameters and one pentameter occurs occasionally in Greek and Latin epitaphs, e.g. Kaibel, Epigrammata Graeca 558, 5-7 (Rome), 309 (Smyrna), Buecheler and Lommatzsch, Carm. Lat. Epigr. 428, 13-15 (Stabiae). No doubt the material in these epitaphs is conventional, but the fact that the first of them comes from a physician's memorial to his wife is a warning not to assume that this combination necessarily betrays a striking lack of education.

esse bene: 'enjoy ourselves'. In familiar language esse is used with an adverb where the adjective would be regular, e.g. 59.1 'suaviter sit potius'. See L.-H.-S. 170 f., Hof. LU 166.
The Bosco Reale cup:

Some dancing and drinking skeletons in a print by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913):

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