"Chapter Five" by Petronius.
The third day had now arrived, the date appointed for the free banquet at Trimalchio's; but with so many wounds as we had, we deemed it better policy to fly than to remain where we were. So we made the best of our way to our inn, and our hurts being only skin-deep after all, we lay in bed and dressed them with wine and oil.
Still one of the rascals was lying on the ground disabled, and we were afraid we might yet be discovered. Whilst we were still debating sadly with ourselves how we might best escape the storm, a slave of Agamemnon's broke into our trembling conclave, crying, "What! don't you recollect whose entertainment it is this day?-- Trimalchio's, a most elegant personage; he has a time-piece in his dining-room and a trumpeter specially provided for the purpose keeps him constantly informed how much of his lifetime is gone." So, forgetting all our troubles, we proceed to make a careful toilette, and bid Giton, who had always hitherto been very ready to act as servant, to attend us at the bath.
Meantime in our gala dresses, we began to stroll about, or rather to amuse ourselves by approaching the different groups of ball-players. Amongst these we all of a sudden catch sight of a bald-headed old man in a russet tunic, playing ball amid a troupe of long-haired boys. It was not however so much the boys, though these were well worth looking at, that drew us to the spot, as the master himself, who wore sandals and was playing with green balls. He never stooped for a ball that had once touched ground, but an attendant stood by with a sackful, and supplied the players as they required them. We noticed other novelties too. For two eunuchs were stationed at opposite points of the circle, one holding a silver chamber-pot, while the other counted the balls, not those that were in play and flying from hand to hand, but such as fell on the floor.
We were still admiring these refinements of elegance when Menelaus runs up, saying, "See! that's the gentleman you are to dine with; why! this is really nothing else than a prelude to the entertainment." He had not finished speaking when Trimalchio snapped his fingers, and at the signal the eunuch held out the chamber-pot for him, without his ever stopping play. After easing his bladder, he called for water, and having dipped his hands momentarily in the bowl, dried them on one of the lads' hair.
There was no time to notice every detail; so we
entered the bath, and after stewing in the sweating-room, passed instantly into the cold chamber. Trimalchio, after being drenched with unguent, was being rubbed down, not however with ordinary towels but with pieces of blanketing of the softest and finest wool. Meanwhile three bagnio doctors were swilling Falernian under his eyes; and seeing how the fellows were brawling over their liquor and spilling most of it, Trimalchio declared it was a libation they were making in his particular honor.
Presently muffled in a wrap-rascal of scarlet frieze, he was placed in a litter, preceded by four running-footmen in tinseled liveries, and a wheeled chair, in which his favorite rode, a little old young man, sore-eyed and uglier even than his master. As the latter was borne along, a musician took up his place at this head with a pair of miniature flutes, and played softly to him, as if he were whispering secrets in his ear. Full of wonder we follow the procession and arrive at the same moment as Agamemnon at the outer door, on one of the pillars of which was suspended a tablet bearing the words:
GOING ABROAD WITHOUT THE MASTER'S
SHALL RECEIVE ONE HUNDRED LASHES
Just within the vestibule stood the doorkeeper, dressed in green with a cherry-colored sash, busy picking peas in a silver dish. Over the threshold hung a gold cage with a black and white magpie in it, which greeted visitors on their entrance.
But as I was staring open-eyed at all these fine sights, I came near tumbling backwards and breaking my legs. For to the left hand as you entered, and not far from the porter's lodge, a huge chained dog was depicted on the wall, and written above in capital letters: ‘WARE DOG! ‘WARE DOG! My companions made merry at my expense; but soon regaining confidence, I fell to examining the other paintings on the walls. One of these represented a slave-market, the men standing up with labels round their necks, while in another Trimalchio himself, wearing long hair, holding a caduceus in his hand and led by Minerva, was entering Rome. Further on, the ingenious painter had shown him learning accounts, and presently made steward of the estate, each incident being made clear by explanatory inscriptions. Lastly, at the extreme end of the portico, Mercury was lifting the hero by the chin and placing him on the highest seat of a tribunal. Fortune stood by with her cornucopia, and the three Fates, spinning his destiny with a golden thread.
I noticed likewise in the portico a gang of running-footmen exercising under a trainer. Moreover I saw in a corner a vast armory; and in a shrine inside were ranged Lares of silver, and a marble statue of Venus, and a golden casket of ample dimensions, in which they said the great man's first beard was preserved. I now asked the hall-keeper what were the subjects of the frescoes in the atrium itself? "The Iliad and Odyssey," he replied, "and on your left the combat of gladiators given under Laenas."
We had no opportunity of examining the numerous paintings more minutely, having by this time reached the banquet-hall, at the outer door of which the house-steward sat receiving accounts. But the thing that surprised me most was to notice on the doorposts of the apartment fasces and axes fixed up, the lower part terminating in an ornament resembling the bronze beak of a ship, on which was inscribed:
TO GAIUS POMPEIUS TRIMALCHIO
CINNAMUS HIS TREASURER
Underneath this inscription hung a lamp with two lights, depending from the vaulting. Two other tablets were attached to the doorposts. One, if my memory serves me, bore the following inscription:
ON DECEMBER THIRTIETH AND
OUR MASTER GAIUS DINES ABROAD
The other showed the phases of the moon and the seven planets, while lucky and unlucky days were marked by distinctive studs.
When, sated with all these fine sights, we were just making for the entrance of the banquet-hall, one of the slaves, stationed there for the purpose, called out, "Right foot first!" Not unnaturally there was a moment's hesitation, for fear one of us should break the rule. But this was not all; for just as we stepped out in line right leg foremost, another slave, stripped of his outer garments, threw himself before our feet, beseeching us to save him from punishment. Not indeed that his fault was a very serious one; in point of fact the Intendant's clothes had been stolen when in his charge at the bath,-- a matter of ten sesterces or so at the outside. So facing about, still right foot in front, we approached the Intendant, who was counting gold in the hall, and asked him to forgive the poor man. He looked up haughtily and said, "It's not so much the loss that annoys me as the rascal's carelessness. He has lost my dinner robes, which a client gave me on my birthday,-- genuine Tyrian purple, I assure you, though only once dipped. But there! I will pardon the delinquent at your request."
Deeply grateful for so signal a favor, we now returned to the banquet-hall, where we were met by the same slave for whom we had interceded, who to our
astonishment overwhelmed us with a perfect storm of kisses, thanking us again and again for our humanity. "Indeed," he cried, "you shall presently know who it is you have obliged; the master's wine is the cup-bearer's thank-offering."
Well! at last we take our places, Alexandrian slave-boys pouring snow water over our hands, and others succeeding them to wash our feet and cleanse our toe-nails with extreme dexterity. Not even while engaged in this unpleasant office were they silent, but sang away over their work. I had a mind to try whether all the house servants were singers and accordingly asked for a drink of wine. Instantly an attendant was at my side, pouring out the liquor to the accompaniment of the same sort of shrill recitative. Demand what you would, it was the same; you might have supposed yourself among a troupe of pantomime actors rather than at a respectable citizen's table.
Then the preliminary course was served in very elegant style. For all were now at table except Trimalchio, for whom the first place was reserved, by a reversal of ordinary usage. Among the other hors d'oeuvres stood a little ass of Corinthian bronze with a packsaddle holding olives, white olives on one side, black on the other. The animal was flanked right and left by silver dishes, on the rim of which Trimalchio's name was engraved and the weight. On arches built up in the form of miniature bridges were dormice seasoned with honey and poppy-seed. There were sausages, too, smoking hot on a silver grill, and underneath (to imitate coals) Syrian plums and pomegranate seeds.
We were in the middle of these elegant trifles when Trimalchio himself was carried in to the sound of music, and was bolstered up among a host of tiny cushions, a sight that set one or two indiscreet guests laughing. And no wonder; his bald head poked up out of a scarlet mantle, his neck was closely muffled, and over all was laid a napkin with a broad purple stripe or laticlave, and long fringes hanging down either side. Moreover he wore on the little finger of his left hand a massive ring of silver gilt, and on the last joint of the next finger a smaller ring, apparently of solid gold, but starred superficially with little ornaments of steel. Nay! to show this was not the whole of his magnificence, his left arm was bare, and displayed a gold bracelet and an ivory circlet with a sparkling clasp to put it on.
After picking his teeth with a silver toothpick, "My friends," he began, "I was far from desirous of coming to table just yet, but that I might not keep you waiting by my own absence, I have sadly interfered with my own amusement. But will you permit me to finish my game?" A slave followed him, bearing a draughtsboard of terebinth wood and crystal dice. One special bit of refinement I noticed; instead of the ordinary black and
white men he had medals of gold and silver respectively.
Meantime, whilst he is exhausting the vocabulary of a tinker over the game, and we are still at the hors d'oeuvres, a dish was brought in with a basket on it, in which lay a wooden hen, her wings outspread round her as if she were sitting. Instantly a couple of slaves came up, and to the sound of lively music began to search the straw, and pulling out a lot of peafowl's eggs one after the other, handed them round to the company. Trimalchio turns his head at this, saying, "My friends, it was by my orders the hen set on the peafowl's eggs yonder; but by God! I am very much afraid they are half-hatched. Nevertheless we can try whether they are eatable." For our part, we take our spoons, which weighed at least half a pound each, and break the eggs, which were made of paste. I was on the point of throwing mine away, for I thought I discerned a chick inside. But when I overheard a veteran guest saying, "There should be something good here!" I further investigated the shell, and found a very fine fat beccafico swimming in yolk of egg flavored with pepper.
Trimalchio had by this time stopped his game and been helped to all the dishes before us. He had just announced in a loud voice that any of us who wanted a second supply of honeyed wine had only to ask for it, when suddenly at a signal from the band, the hors d'oeuvres are whisked away by a troupe of slaves, all singing too. But
in the confusion a silver dish happened to fall and a slave picked it up again from the floor; this Trimalchio noticed, and boxing the fellow's ears, rated him soundly and ordered him to throw it down again. Then a groom came in and began to sweep up the silver along with the other refuse with his besom.
He was succeeded by two long-haired Ethiopians, carrying small leather skins, like the fellows that water the sand in the amphitheater, who poured wine over our hands; for no one thought of offering water.
After being duly complimented on this refinement, our host cried out, "Fair play's a jewel!" and accordingly ordered a separate table to be assigned to each guest. "In this way," he said, "by preventing any crowding, the stinking servants won't make us so hot."
Simultaneously there were brought in a number of wine-jars of glass carefully stoppered with plaster, and having labels attached to their necks reading:
FALERNIAN; OPIMIAN VINTAGE
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OLD.
Whilst we were reading the labels, Trimalchio ejaculated, striking his palms together, "Alackaday! to think wine is longer lived than poor humanity! Well! bumpers then! There's life in wine. ‘Tis the right Opimian, I give you my word. I didn't bring out any so good yesterday, and much better men than you were dining with me."
So we drank our wine and admired all this luxury in good set terms. Then the slave brought in a silver skeleton, so artfully fitted that its articulations and vertebræ were all movable and would turn and twist in any direction. After he had tossed this once or twice on the table, causing the loosely jointed limbs to take various postures, Trimalchio moralized thus:
Alas! how less than naught are we;
Fragile life's thread, and brief our day!
What this is now, we all shall be;
Drink and make merry while you may.