Thursday, August 12, 2010

when in Rome . . .

I've been reading through Plutarch's whirl-wind explication of Roman culture in Roman Questions (Moralia IV; LCL 305). One of Plutarch's questions reminded me of the time we spent in Sheffield, UK. First, Plutarch (according to F. C. Babbitt's translation).
Why did they not allow the table to be taken away empty, but insisted that something should be upon it?

Was it that they were symbolizing the necessity of ever allowing some part of the present provision to remain over for the future, and to-day to be mindful of to-morrow, or did they think it polite to repress and restrain the appetite while the means of enjoyment was still at hand? For persons who have accustomed themselves to refrain from what they have are less likely to crave for what they have not.

Or does the custom also show a kindly feeling towards the servants? For they are not so well satisfied with taking as with partaking, since they believe that they thus in some manner share the table with their masters.

Or should no sacred thing be suffered to be empty, and the table is a sacred thing? (QR 64)

As I was reading, I imagined a hapless Greek traveller, enjoying the lavish hospitality of a Roman patron and graciously eating every bit of food his host sets on the table before him, only to find that his host then feels obliged to replenish the table. Reminds me of this advertisement, for HSBC.

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