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)



Sed quis e portu potius Italico prodit ac de suillo pecore expedit? tametsi Scrofam potissimum de ea re dicere oportere cognomen eius significat. cui Tremelius, ‘Ignorare,’ inquit, ‘videre, cur appeller Scrofa. itaque ut etiam hi propter te sciant, cognosce meam gentem suillum cognomen non habere, nec me esse ab Eumaeo ortum. avus meus primum appellatus est Scrofa, qui quaestor cum esset Licinio Nervae praetori in Macedonia provincia relictus, qui praeesset exercitui, dum praetor rediret, hostes, arbitrati occasionem se habere victoriae, impressionem facere coeperunt in castra. avos, cum cohortaretur milites ut caperent arma atque exirent contra, dixit celeriter se illos, ut scrofa porcos, disiecturum, id quod fecit. nam eo proelio hostes ita fudit ac fugavit, ut eo Nerva praetor imperator sit appellatus, avus cognomen invenerit ut diceretur Scrofa.
(Varro, De Re Rustica 2.4.1-2)

“But who sails forth from harbour, and preferably from an Italian harbour, to discourse about swine?* I need hardly ask, for that Scrofa should be chosen to speak on that subject this surname of his indicates.” “You seem,” said Tremelius in reply, “not to know why I have the nickname Scrofa. That these gentlemen, too, may learn the reason while you are being enlightened, you must know that my family does not bear a swinish surname, and that I am no descendant of Eumaeus.** My grandfather was the first to be called Scrofa. He was quaestor to the praetor Licinius Nerva, in the province of Macedonia, and was left in command of the army until the return of the praetor.*** The enemy, thinking that they had an opportunity to win a victory, began a vigorous assault on the camp. 2 In the course of his plea to the soldiers to seize arms and go to meet them, my grandfather said that he would scatter those people as a sow scatters her pigs; and he was as good as his word. For he so scattered and routed the enemy in that battle that because of it the praetor Nerva received the title of Imperator, and my grandfather earned the surname of Scrofa.****

* The other speakers are “half-Greek” (2.1.2). Now a genuine Italian is to speak of swine. And who more fittingly than one who bears a name Scrofa, which also means “brood-sow”?
** The swineherd of Odysseus (Odyss., 14.22) who received and fed his master on his return.
*** This cannot refer to the year 167 B.C., in which Nerva was praetor (Livy, 45.44); and it is possible that it occurred in 142 B.C., during a revolt in Macedonia.
**** But Macrobius (Saturn., 1.6) gives a different story: His slaves had stolen and killed a neighbour’s sow, and had hidden it under his wife’s bed. When the house was searched, he swore that he had no other sow in the house than the one under the bed-clothes, where his wife was lying.

(tr. William Davis Hooper, revised by Harrison Boyd Ash; with their notes)