Barry Newman's Blog

April 18, 2012

A Table of the Lord (part V)

The “table” in the Graeco-Roman literature

In the Graeco-Roman literature references can be found to tables being used for the conveying of wine and food.  For example, Athenaeus writes, “To quote Nicostratus: ‘Nay let her pour out quickly the “Good Daemon” cup and carry the table out of my way.  I’ve had enough of feeding but I can accept a ‘Good Daemon’.  Take up the table girl and get it out of my way.’”[1]  Again Athenaeus: “Theophrastus in his work On Drunkenness says: ‘The unmixed wine which is given upon ending the dinner and which they call a ‘toast in honour of the Good Daemon’ is taken only in small quantity, just as a reminder, through a mere taste, of the strength in the god’s generous gift … and after making obeisance three times they take it from the tables as though supplicating the god that they may do nothing indecent or have too strong a desire for the drinking.”[2]

A table could also be referred to as being the table of a god.  For example, Diodorus, though speaking of the Egyptians, wrote, “Similar to it (the couch of the god) is the table of the god which stands near the couch.”[3]

Again Athenaeus: “And Philochorus in the second book of his Attic History says, ‘After the mixture to the Good Daemon had been given it was customary to have the tables removed, as is shown in the case of Dionysius of Sicily by his own sacrilege.  For in Syracuse there was a gold table dedicated to Asclepius.  When Dionysius had drunk in his honour unmixed wine of the Good Daemon he ordered the table to be removed’”.[4]  Though a table could be dedicated to a god it was not always a table that could not be used for simply eating and drinking at. Athenaeus quoting Pyrgion in his third book on Cretan customs, wrote, “There was also chairs reserved for guests and a third table at the right as one entered the halls, which they called ‘the table of Zeus, god of strangers’ or ‘the stranger’s table’”.[5]

An interesting comment is also made by Athenaeus concerning what might be referred to by the use of the word, “trapeza”. “The men of ancient times used the word ‘tables’ in a general sense”[6].  He then illustrated this by indicating how “tables” was used to refer to “courses”.

As with the Old and New Testaments, sometimes the prime reference is to the table as an object, sometimes (according to Athenaeus) “table” can be a way of referring to the meal on the table, and a table could be designated as a table “belonging to someone” – a particular god.

One should note that, the word for “table” in the Greek Septuagint is unsurprisingly also “trapeza”.  One should also note that in the LXX, Malachi 1: 7 and 12 uses “trapeza” when referring to the table of the presence but no definite article is involved. Here is an instance where the translation should refer to “the table of the Lord” though the definite article is absent.


[1] in Athenaeus VII, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971, xv, 693b, pp. 210 – 213

[2] ibid.,  xv, 693c, pp. 212, 213

[3] Diodorus Siculus, III, Books IV, 59 – VIII LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Oldfather, C.H.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1970, pp. 226, 227

[4] in Athenaeus, ibid., xv, 693e, pp. 214, 215 (In note b on p. 215 Gulick writes: “The sacrilege consisted in appropriating for his own use a votive offering”).

[5] in Athenaeus II, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987, pp. 156, 157

[6]Athenaeus VI, LOEB Classical Library, (trans. Gulick, C.B.), Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1980, pp. 462, 463

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