Convivae

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Lepidissimus liber est M. Varronis ex Satiris Menippeis, qui inscribitur Nescis Quid Vesper Serus Vehat, in quo disserit de apto convivarum numero deque ipsius convivii habitu cultuque. dicit autem, convivarum numerum incipere oportere a Gratiarum numero et progredi ad Musarum, [id est proficisci a tribus et consistere in novem], ut, cum paucissimi convivae sunt, non pauciores sint quam tres, cum plurimi, non plures quam novem (fr. 333). “Nam multos,” inquit, “esse non convenit, quod turba plerumque est turbulenta et Romae quidem stat, sedet Athenis, nusquam autem cubat (fr. 334). ipsum deinde convivium constat,” inquit, “ex rebus quattuor et tum denique omnibus suis numeris absolutum est, si belli homunculi collecti sunt, si electus locus, si tempus lectum, si apparatus non neglectus (fr. 335). nec loquaces autem,” inquit, “convivas nec mutos legere oportet, quia eloquentia in foro et apud subsellia, silentium vero non in convivio, sed in cubiculo esse debet (fr. 336).”
(Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 13.11.1-3)

That is a very charming book of Marcus Varro’s, one of his Menippean Satires, entitled You know not what the Late Evening may Bring, in which he descants upon the proper number of guests at a dinner, and about the order and arrangement of the entertainment itself. Now he says that the number of the guests ought to begin with that of the Graces and end with that of the Muses; [that is, it should begin with three and stop at nine], so that when the guests are fewest, they should not be less than three, when they are most numerous, not more than nine. “For it is disagreeable to have a great number, since a crowd is generally disorderly, and at Rome it stands, at Athens it sits, but nowhere does it recline. Now, the banquet itself,” he continues, “has four features, and then only is it complete in all its parts: if a nice little group has been got together, if the place is well chosen, the time fit, and due preparation not neglected. Moreover, one should not,” he says, “invite either too talkative or too silent guests, since eloquence is appropriate to the Forum and the courts, but silence to the bed-chamber and not to a dinner.” (tr. John C. Rolfe)

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