pdf Download PDF

The Dictates of Language:
Food, Words, and Narcissism in Athenaeus’s Dinner of the Sophists1


Athenaeus is perhaps not the most famous author of symposiastic literature. Unlike the symposia of big names such as Xenophon, Plato, and Plutarch, his work, though comprising no fewer than fifteen books, has only recently received increased scholarly attention.2 Among classicists, he is still mostly used as a sourcebook for the reconstruction of classical literary works, primarily ancient comedies, that we no longer possess but that are cited quite extensively in Athenaeus for the sake of their linguistic oddities.

My contribution will deal with Athenaeus in his own right, even if this discussion will probably not lead to a completely positive appreciation of this writer.3 He does occupy, however, a distinctive place in the history [End Page 47] of sympotic writing, and he reveals a side effect of the obsession of Greek imperial culture with linguistic perfection and the cultivation of knowledge of the classical past. As a touchstone for our modern culinary behavior, moreover, a discussion of Athenaeus can stir up reflections about culinary etiquette and culinary conversation. This paper thus neatly inscribes itself among those that show that the recent increase of interest in food is a relevant hermeneutic element in the study of culture.

The angle from which we will treat this issue is that of Lacanian psychology. As the title of this article indicates, my main argument is that the dictates of linguistic preoccupations are so strong in Athenaeus that they deprive the dinner’s participants, as well as the reader, of the possibility of enjoying a sensory perception of food that goes beyond the mediation of language. The vocabulary of Lacanian psychology will enable us to bring out this psychological side effect of the participants’ narcissistic preoccupation with self-display at the dinner table.


In order to understand Athenaeus’s work, it is worthwhile to discuss his cultural environment, commonly labelled in scholarly literature the Second Sophistic (for an introduction, see Whitmarsh 2005). During the first centuries c.e., there was a re-emergence of a so-called sophistic movement, consisting of self-conscious intellectuals who took pride in their Greek cultural heritage and presented themselves as educated people, pepaideumenoi. These pepaideumenoi travelled around and delivered vivid rhetorical performances on classical subjects, thus ideologically reaffirming Greek cultural anteriority and superiority over Rome and claiming for themselves a notable place in society. Elite Roman citizens, for their part, tended to honor Greek education to such an extent that many young Romans went to Greece in order to complete their educational curriculum and thereafter maintained an intimate, friendly relationship with Greek intellectuals.4 [End Page 48]

Apart from rhetorical talent, cultural knowledge was of major importance for those who wanted to seek public recognition for their education. The craze for ancient things went so far that aspiring imperial intellectuals spoke and wrote in an artificial Attic language in which, ideally, each word and syntactic phenomenon was attested in the classical literature of fifth-century Athens or, at least, soon thereafter. The use of such an artificial language was obviously meant to set the elite intellectuals apart from mere bystanders, but also served as weaponry for individual sophists and other intellectuals in their quest for public recognition (see, especially, Kim 2010). Philostratus, the Greek author of the Lives of the Sophists, narrates many anecdotes that illustrate the tense rivalry between intellectuals who competed for what Pierre Bourdieu later came to label “symbolic capital” (see Schmitz 1997).

It is probably no coincidence that this culture also witnesses an increasing interest in the ordering of knowledge (see König and Whitmarsh 2007 and, for Athenaeus specifically, Too 2000). This is an era in which epitomization and categorization saw a huge upsurge. Diligent study of the classics was widely advertised, and rhetorical education focused on exercises to enhance a pupil’s ability to reproduce memorized material in a vivid rhetorical fashion.5 After all, since there were no diplomas to guarantee the permanent recognition of one’s learning, knowledge could only be socially validated in so far as it could be publically performed (see Lauwers 2011). Such, then, is the world of the Second Sophistic.

Such, at least in part, is also the world of Athenaeus.6 His work testifies to his wide learning, with a very peculiar interest in all types of food and symposiastic practices, gleaned from many classical scientific treatises and comical works. The form of the symposium probably struck him as an apt vehicle to communicate his interests to a wider readership who were willing to learn about sympotic history, sympotic entertainment, and sympotic etiquette.7 Moreover, in his zeal to offer his readers a worthy [End Page 49] symposium about symposiastic themes, Athenaeus presents us with a prototypical sample of sophistic culture by showing numerous intellectuals of various backgrounds (both Greek and Latin) engaged in a struggle of wits, with the dishes that are brought to the table mostly guiding the discussion. Just as sophists seek opportunities to receive public commendation for their knowledge and rhetorical prowess, Athenaeus’s dinner guests try to seize each and every opportunity to shine in the presence of their peers, completing and sometimes mercilessly refuting their fellow intellectuals’ discourses. Underneath the benign guise of the symposium, we thus find a constant impetus to realize the narcissistic goal of putting oneself forward as the prime locus of cultural knowledge.


Why read Athenaeus with a Lacanian eye? The merits of doing so will become apparent after an introduction to Lacan’s theory of language and pleasure. Presenting himself as a faithful disciple of Freud, Lacan argues that the subject is not merely a free and untainted individual, but is indispensably constituted by (and thus becomes subjected to) the order of language.8 In Lacan’s interpretation, Freud’s unconscious necessarily has the structure of language, and language is thus interwoven with every articulation of a subject’s desires or drives.

In order to understand the subject’s complicated situation, Lacan introduces his theory of the three orders: the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real.9 The first element articulates the subject’s desires and imaginings, which are already partly constituted by the desires of others (the parents) even before the subject is born. The second involves the subject’s inextricable socialization and the resulting acceptance of the norms and values that are part of his society, emblematically symbolized in his use of a common language by which his life is structured and constructed. The last order, that of the Real, consists of what cannot be articulated through the Symbolic order; it manifests itself in a frightening representation of unsocialized, raw experiences.

For our discussion of food in this essay, we will primarily focus on the latter two orders. I believe that food has the potential to break [End Page 50] through the boundaries of the Symbolic order and give access to a less mediated reality of sensory perceptions. Of course, even an inexperienced diner realizes that food conveys cultural codes; yet the immediacy of its impact on our senses allows it to occupy a peculiar position between the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real orders. The power of the smell, look, and taste of food is strong, so much so that Proust’s experience with his madeleines is readily recognizable, albeit often with a different food with different personal associations. In other words, even though we share cultural norms regarding food, there is also something very Real about the sensory experience of it.

In the later stages of his work, Lacan developed a theory around the concept of jouissance (see Braunstein 2003). Jouissance is for him the type of enjoyment that stems from the unconscious. It is partly constituted by the restraints of the norms of the Symbolic order, but exceeds these norms and thus jeopardizes the stability of the symbolic construction of the subject within human society. “We must keep in mind that jouissance is prohibited to whoever speaks, as such—or, put differently, it can only be said between the lines by whoever is a subject of the Law, since the Law is founded on that very prohibition.”10

Jouissance has been the object of a rich reception and assimilation, as, for example, in feminist theory, where it has been used by Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray to define the female type of enjoyment that operates outside the realm of male discourse. Jouissance has also been linked to the pleasure of reading by Roland Barthes, who makes a radical distinction between a pleasurable and a joyful reading—the latter implying a rupture in the subject and the consequent urge to participate in the text’s writing of the self.11

What is important to retain from the concept of jouissance for this discussion is that there is a type of enjoyment to be derived from food—think about the metaphor of the culinary orgasm—that defies the boundaries of the self as they are constructed by the Symbolic order and maintained by the subject’s narcissistic submission to this order for its stable preservation. While the subject’s restriction to the pleasure inside the Symbolic [End Page 51] order keeps him or her safe from an exposure to something radically alien, this restriction also precludes the experience of an extravagant joy that can bring about an enriching redefinition of the self outside the imposed Symbolic order. In line with Barthes’ theory, food has the potential to break open the narcissistic preoccupations of the self with itself by revealing a type of joy outside the level of discourse. However, by subordinating food to the order of language and to narcissistic preoccupations with intellectual self-fashioning, Athenaeus (and the sophists in his work) muzzle food’s “real” potential to bring about this experience. Or in Lacanian terms: in Athenaeus’s work, food is denied its potential status as an objet petit a.12


Before proceeding, let us respond to a possible objection to the findings below that every sympotic text inevitably turns food into language. At least for texts from classical antiquity, this is mostly not the case. Only rarely does food play a main role in sympotic literature, as the guests in Plato, Xenophon,13 and their like take more interest in the conversations themselves (see Romeri 2002.70–89). Apart from wine, which enhances the level of philosophical speculation (see, e.g., Plut. QC 714a–17a), food is seldom the topic of conversation, for these philosophers feel that there are more important things to be discussed. It suffices to point to a parody of the typical symposium, viz. in Petronius’s Cena Trimalchionis,14 where the nouveau-riche Trimalchio pulls off a spectacular presentation of the dishes served as the main source of entertainment. Such a parody makes us realize that an excessive interest in food is quite unsophisticated and unphilosophical for an ancient Greco-Roman audience. In the culture of the Second Sophistic as well, we witness parodies by Lucian, who depicts [End Page 52] some mock-philosophers’ great interest in food at a dinner table in order to discredit their philosophical seriousness (see, e.g., Luc. Lapith.).

Athenaeus notably breaks with this generic convention and makes food one of the main topics of the conversation. However, Athenaeus’s interest as voiced by the participants at the party is in words about food rather than in the food itself.15 Whenever a new dish is brought in, the participants’ immediate impetus is to debate whether the word describing the dish—crab, sweetmeats, cod, etc.—was actually attested in the literature of classical antiquity. In order to give a quick idea of the way in which the work discusses the nutritious elements on the table, I here cite an account by Athenaeus of almonds (Ath. 2.52b–d):

Almonds: Almonds from Naxos were mentioned by the ancients. And really good ones, he says, grow on the island of Naxos, as I am convinced. Phrynichus: “He knocked out all my molars, so that I couldn’t crack an almond from Naxos.” Exceptional almonds are also grown on the island of Cyprus. Next to those from elsewhere, they are long and crooked at the end. The Spartans, so Seleucus says in his Glosses, call the soft nuts mukēroi, and the inhabitants of Tenos use this word to describe the sweet nuts. Amerias, for his part, says that the almond is called mukēros. When they are eaten before dinner, almonds provoke heavy drinking. Eupolis: “Give me some almonds from Naxos to chew on, and wine from Naxian vines to drink!”16

The description of almonds goes on for another couple of pages, including an anecdote about a heavy-drinking physician who used to eat them, matters of etymology, the accentuation of the word, a discussion of the Greek word for nutcracker, the question as to whether one ought [End Page 53] to eat them before or after dinner, and considerations about the digestion of almonds and other nuts; all this, of course, interwoven with quotations from an impressive number of literary, linguistic, and medical sources.

The two main characters in Athenaeus’s work are the Cynic philosopher Cynulcus and the tireless instigator of conversation Ulpian. Ulpian’s nickname is, quite tellingly, Keitoukeitos, referring to the Greek keitai ē ou keitai, meaning “is it attested or not?” (Ath. 1.1e). The nickname itself illustrates Ulpian’s preoccupation with the knowledge of ancient culture and linguistics. In the following passage, Cynulcus and Ulpian go head-to-head over the fact that the former demands to be served decocta (in all likelihood water that is boiled and immediately chilled). Quite inconveniently for a Greek überlinguist like Ulpian, the word δήκοκτα in Greek is borrowed from Latin and should thus be considered a barbarism (Ath. 3.121e–22a):

In response to what was said, Cynulcus asked for decocta to drink, saying that he should wash salt words out with sweet streams. Ulpian became outraged at him and beating his pillow with his hand, he says: “How long will you go on with your barbarisms? Until I leave the symposium, unable to endure your words?” And Cynulcus said: “Since I find myself spending my present time in the imperial city of Rome, my best sir, according to my habitual behaviour, I use the local tongue. For it is possible to find, even among the ancient poets and writers who were heavily committed to the Greek language, Persian words that appear through their common usage, such as ‘parasangs,’ ‘astandai,’ or ‘angaroi,’ and ‘schoinos,’17 whether masculine or feminine; the latter is a measure of distance, which many people thus refer to. I know, moreover, that many Atticists use Macedonian words through the mixture of peoples.”

We here witness a pedantic conversation between a hypercorrect worshipper of Atticism and a pragmatist antiquarian who authorizes his behavior with the classics. The question that arises is whether the table [End Page 54] guests are allowed the same liberty to borrow words from other languages as the ancients themselves. Cynulcus and Ulpian both acknowledge the exemplarity of the ancient authors and thus seem to stand on an antiquarian common ground, but they come to different assessments as to how far this exemplarity reaches. As we observe, even the most banal demand for water can spark a verbal riot between two cocky table guests who are both convinced that they have the ancients on their side.

The impact of the learned conversation about food on the food itself can be felt in an intervention of the host Larensius, who, of course, also takes care of the nutritious part of the meal and can thus bring about a neat intermingling of discourse and food. “After many other things about each of the dishes served were spoken, Larensius said: ‘I, too, have something to propose for you, in the style of our excellent Ulpian here. For we are fed with questions (zētēseis gar sitoumetha). What do you think a tetrax is?’”(Ath. 9.398b). Larensius, dwelling on a conceptual similarity between intellectual and alimentary nourishment, makes a programmatic statement by extolling the questions as the really important food for the participants.18 The tetrax turns out to be the Asian sandgrouse, and during Larensius’s learned exposition on the bird, someone actually walks in with a sandgrouse in a cage. “Not long after we admired the beautiful colouring of the bird, it was prepared and served, and its meat was very much like that of the ostrich, on which we had dined on numerous occasions” (Ath. 9.399a).

It thus appears that Larensius had deliberately prepared this extravagant combination of discourse and food in order to demonstrate his wide learning. Once again, the demands of intellectual self-fashioning prevail over the urge to really indulge in the sensory experience: the choice of a particular type of food seems at least partly inspired by its rarity and the host’s profound knowledge about it. No wonder that the guests’ amazement at Larensius’s learnedness and the appearance of the living bird easily seem to outdo the actual taste, which is dully and briefly likened to the familiar taste of the ostrich.19 [End Page 55]

A final example illustrates the symposiasts’ learned detachment from the food itself and, at the same time, underscores the self-assertive character of the speakers’ interventions. This time, Cynulcus addresses Ulpian and aggressively seizes the opportunity to shine (Ath. 7.275c–d):

At the end of the dinner, the Cynics were enjoying themselves most of all, thinking that they were celebrating the Phagesia festival.20 Cynulcus said: “Ulpian, as long as we are still dining—for you nourish yourself with words (logois gar hestiai)—I throw a question at your feet: who proclaimed the festivals of the Phagesia and the Phagesiposia?” Ulpian had no idea and ordered the slaves to stop serving even though it was already evening. “I do not know that, wisest of men, so seize your opportunity to speak, so that you can dine more and with more pleasure.” And the other said: “If you will express your gratitude when you have heard it, I will speak.” And after Ulpian had acknowledged that, he said the following . . .”

Cynulcus’s assertion that Ulpian nourishes himself on words neatly echoes Larensius’s previous remark. In the middle of the other Cynics’ gluttony, Cynulcus sees an opportunity to challenge Ulpian and advertise his own knowledge. The passage illustrates the always stressful position of the head-of-the-pack Ulpian, whose knowledge is yet again under scrutiny, but it also contains a cunning discursive technique on Cynulcus’s part, for he manages to steer the discussion aggressively in a direction where he can demonstrate his education. The technique of turning the conversation towards a subject’s desired topic is called in sociological research “conversational narcissism,”21 an apt label, given that narcissists tend to [End Page 56] place themselves in the spotlight and to value their own image and reputation more highly than the conversational well-being of others. In fact, throughout the Dinner of the Sophists, we find many such narcissistic interventions, as most of the speakers guide the table talk toward their field of expertise rather than supporting the previous speaker in his topic.22 The work mainly consists of long monologues in which the speaker gets the chance to glorify his knowledge, only to be subsequently bested by the next speaker. To talk at Larensius’s table requires the demonstration of knowledge in search of public commendation rather than a communal search for solutions and smooth conversation. Tellingly, when Cynulcus, on another occasion, fails to receive acclamation for his polymathy, he angrily continues his discourse with some more citations, while calling his fellow dinner guests uneducated people and accusing them of reading the wrong books.23 In this intellectual ping-pong game, Ulpian seems like a supportive instigator, but his questions also testify to a certain degree of conversational narcissism, as he frequently appears to force his own interest in linguistic matters upon his fellow dinner guests and starts off such investigations with remarks of his own.

Some may say: “So what? If Athenaeus wants to indulge in linguistic quibble-quabble and compose a literary work of this sort to this end, let him have his pleasure.” I concede the point, yet there is something more to all this. What Athenaeus here describes seems to be portrayed as a cultural ideal (cf. König 2012.94). There are identifiable historical people present at the table such as the host Larensius (who is often identified with the Roman pontifex Lucius Livius Larensis) and the famous physician Galen. We can only assume that Athenaeus, who gives every impression of being serious about his literary work, intended to glorify these conversationalists. And even if people such as Ulpian and Cynulcus seem less than exemplary in their interventions when compared to Larensius and Galen, they are not explicitly rebuked or satirized for it. The absence of such negative moral judgments from the author makes it all the more likely that Athenaeus aims to offer a fairly realistic depiction of a typical dinner conversation at Larensius’s house. Therefore, even if [End Page 57] his literary work offers no direct access to an actual historical symposium, it is plausible that the Dinner of the Sophists ought to be seen as a mixture of realism and idealism, and this makes it prime material for the reconstruction of an underlying mentality.

Indeed, if it is suggested in Athenaeus that a extensive display of knowledge is of paramount importance for intellectual self-fashioning in the imperial period, the work also attests to the consequences of such an attitude for the food on the table and its impact on its consumers. To return to Lacan, in a culture where narcissistic preoccupations with self-conscious knowledge display are so dominant, these preoccupations instantly block out the sensory perception of food and reduce it to the order of language—where it becomes a marker of narcissistic intellectual self-fashioning. The characters in Athenaeus’s work stick to, and get stuck with, what they know. Food is thus deprived of the possibility of breaking through the boundaries of the subject. In a culture where people so willingly submit themselves to the code of cultural self-fashioning, there may be culinary pleasure in the debate about food, but there can be no culinary jouissance.24 Athenaeus’s work, testifying to the narcissistic urge of the Second Sophistic to cultivate linguistic and cultural knowledge for the sake of proper self-presentation, incontrovertibly submits food to the Symbolic order, where it succumbs to the predominance of the signifier over the signified.


It is not our goal to condemn either Athenaeus as an author or the cultural climate in which he operated. What we have tried to show, however, is that some cultural choices come at a certain price. In this case, an abundant predilection for knowledge display can become so dominant that it stands in the way of a joyful culinary experience—an experience that a good number of twenty-first-century people would conceive of as an important [End Page 58] component of human life. In as much as he can be regarded as a representative of his sophistic culture, Athenaeus may offer us a surprising window into the practical consequences of the cultural norms of his elite society and into the psychological effects that food consumption had on the minds of his contemporary intellectuals.

Even though there is, in my opinion, something repulsive about Athenaeus’s blunt reduction of food to its signifier, it is far from certain that there is a natural middle position that allows us to have it all. According to Lacan, we have inescapably become socialized beings through language, and whenever we want to communicate or write about food, there is a Symbolic component that restrains the emergence of the Real. But to end with a paradox that Lacan no doubt would have appreciated, can a culture, through its norms and values, be more or less open to the subjective experience of jouissance, which by definition can only be experienced outside of the realm of social conventions? It is a provocative question that flirts with the contradictio in terminis, though it cannot be denied that the confrontation between Athenaeus’s text and our own culinary value scale presents us with something to chew on. Let this then be a virtue of Athenaeus’s Dinner of the Sophists and a reason for wholeheartedly endorsing him at the end of this essay.

Jeroen Lauwers
University of Leuven–Research Foundation Flanders


Barthes, Roland. 1973. Le plaisir du texte. Paris.
Braund, David, and John Wilkins (eds.) 2000. Athenaeus and his World: Reading Greek Culture in the Roman Empire. Exeter.
Braunstein, Néstor A. 2003. “Desire and Jouissance in the Teaching of Lacan,” in Jean-Michel Rabaté, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Lacan. Cambridge. 102–15.
Davidson, James. 2000. “Pleasure and Pedantry in Athenaeus,” in Braund and Wilkins 2000.292–303.
Derber, Charles. 1979. The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life. Cambridge, Mass.
Goldhill, Simon (ed.) 2001. Being Greek under Rome: Cultural Identity, the Second Sophistic, and the Developments of Empire. Cambridge.
Hansen, Dirk U. 2000. “Leser und Benutzer: Überlegungen zu Athenaios,” C&M 51.223–36. [End Page 59]
Jacob, Christian. 2000. “Athenaeus the Librarian,” in Braund and Wilkins 2000.85–110.
———. 2013. The Web of Athenaeus. Cambridge, Mass.
Kennedy, George A. 2003. Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric. Leiden.
Kim, Lawrence. 2010. “The Literary Heritage as Language: Atticism and the Second Sophistic,” in Egbert J. Bakker, ed., A Companion to Ancient Greek Language. Chichester. 468–82.
König, Jason. 2012. Saints and Symposiasts: The Literature of Food and the Symposium in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Culture. Cambridge.
König, Jason, and Tim Whitmarsh (eds.) 2007. Ordering Knowledge in the Roman Empire. Cambridge.
Lacan, Jacques. 1964. Le séminaire de Jacques Lacan. Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamentaux de la psychanalyse (Texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller). Paris.
———. 2006. Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English (trans. Bruce Fink). New York.
Romeri, Luciana. 2000. “The λογοδείπνον: Athenaeus between Banquet and Anti-Banquet,” in Braund and Wilkins 2000.256–71.
———. 2002. Philosophes entre mots et mets: Plutarque, Lucien, et Athénée autour de la table de Platon. Grenoble.
Schmitz, Thomas A. 1997. Bildung und Macht: Zur sozialen und politischen Funktion der zweiten Sophistik in der griechischen Welt der Kaiserzeit. München.
Swain, Simon. 1996. Hellenism and Empire: Language, Classicism, and Power in the Greek World a.d. 50–250. Oxford.
Too, Yun L. 2000. “The Walking Library: The Performance of Cultural Memories,” in Braund and Wilkins 2000.111–23.
Van Hoof, Lieve. 2010. Plutarch’s Practical Ethics: The Social Dynamics of Philosophy. Oxford.
Van Rossum-Steenbeek, Monica. 1997. Greek Reader’s Digests? Studies on a Selection of Subliterary Papyri. Leiden.
Wilkins, John. 2008. “Athenaeus the Navigator,” JHS 128.132–52.
Whitmarsh, Tim. 2001. Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: The Politics of Imitation. Oxford.
———. 2005. The Second Sophistic. Oxford. [End Page 60]


1. This paper was originally delivered at the Rhetorics of Food conference at Leuven (26–28 May 2014), organized by Hedwig Schwall. I wish to thank the participants for their kind criticisms. The writing of this paper took place during a scholarly stay at the Freie Universität Berlin, which was made possible through the financial support of a Junior Mobility Allowance of the University of Leuven.

2. A notable turning point in this reception was the 2000 volume edited by David Braund and John Wilkins. Recognition of the sophisticated character of Athenaeus’s work was taken one step further by Wilkins 2008, who interprets the text as a geographical navigation in a vein similar to Strabo, Posidonius, and Polybius.

3. I personally find it hard to recommend the reading of Athenaeus even to classicists. König 2012.92, very eager to identify with Athenaeus’s model reader and very mild in his appreciation of the text, argues for a reading in line with “a teasing awareness of the gap between actual and represented food.” His comparison between Athenaeus’s work and a mosaic in Thysdrus is only partly persuasive, as Athenaeus’s work does not dwell upon an actual representation of the food—there is no extensive ecphrasis—but rather focuses on the signifier of the food under discussion. From a phenomenological point of view, this is a major difference from the salient representation of food in the mosaic. Jacob 2013.47–54 also identifies the problematic relation between words and food in Athenaeus (in a manner that resembles my own discussion below), but he interprets this relation as a cunning literary exploration on Athenaeus’s part rather than as an inevitable side effect of the typically sophistic display of knowledge, as I will argue below.

4. The notion of cultural authority and identity is of much interest among Second Sophistic scholars. See, e.g., Swain 1996, Goldhill 2001, and Whitmarsh 2001. On Plutarch’s rhetorical exploitation of his relationship with powerful Romans, see Van Hoof 2010.

5. For an English translation of four important collections of rhetorical exercises, see Kennedy 2003. The most comprehensive overview of Roman education is, of course, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria. The practice of systematization can also be noticed in the use of reader’s digests on papyri; see Van Rossum-Steenbeek 1997.

6. Cf. the eloquent conclusion to the extensive article on the subject in Jacob 2000.110: “It should be stressed that Athenaeus is also a major actor and witness of the cultural practices and erudite techniques of the Second Sophistic, between scholarship and entertainment, between orality and writing, between the papyrus book-rolls and the library of the mind.”

7. Cf. Jacob 2000.86–87: “The Deipnosophistae is a perfect case-study of devices which provide their readers with a digest of a wide range of literary and scholarly data, that could then be used and circulated for its own sake.”

8. A powerful image with which he presents this socialization in early childhood psychology is that of the “Mirror Stage” (Lacan 2006.93–100).

9. A very illuminative and rich essay in this respect is “The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis” (Lacan 2006.237–322).

10. Lacan 2006.821: “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire.”

11. Barthes 1973.25: “Text de plaisir: celui qui contente, emplit, donne de l’euphorie; celui qui vient de la culture, ne rompt pas avec elle, est lié à une pratique confortable de la lecture. Texte de jouissance: celui qui met en état de perte, celui qui déconforte (peut-être jusqu’à un certain ennui), fait vaciller les assises historiques, culturelles, psychologiques, du lecteur, la consistance de ses goûts, de ses valeurs et de ses souvenirs, met en crise son rapport au langage” (emphasis in original).

12. The notion of the object petit a as that which cannot be reduced to the Symbolic order but functions as something extra that stretches into the Real is defined most clearly, in my opinion, in Lacan’s Seminar XI (1964), and especially in the concluding lecture 20 (“En toi plus de toi”). For its anti-narcissistic tendencies, see in this essay p. 243: “Reportezvous, comme au terme le plus caractéristique à saisir la fonction propre the l’objet a, au regard. Cet a se présente justement, dans le champ du mirage de la fonction narcissique du désir, comme l’objet inavalable, si l’on peut dire, qui reste en travers de la gorge du signifiant. C’est en ce point de manque que le sujet a à se reconnaître.”

13. In Xen. Smp. 1.11, it is even recorded that the food was enjoyed in silence. There appears to have been some respect for the food and for the conversation in that they are kept separated from one other.

14. Other negative examples are discussed in König 2012.229–89.

15. The main argument of Romeri 2002 is that Athenaeus blends the discourse of the philosophical symposium with a “comical” attention to food. While this may hold true on the level of generic conventions, my phenomenological interpretation emphasizes the predominance of discourse over food.

16. The text used stems from the recent edition in the Loeb Classical Library series by S. Douglas Olsen (2006). The translation is my own, sometimes based on Olsen’s. It should be remarked that this passage is from an epitomized form of Athenaeus’s work, of which the full version is lost. Athenaeus’s original text must have been much richer and more elaborate, but the analytic content of the discussion must have been the same.

17. Parasang: a unit of distance; astandai: messengers; angaroi: ambassadors; schoinos: a unit of length.

18. Wilkins 2008.147 convincingly argues that the rejection of Archestratus, the author of a culinary travel guide, is motivated by the latter’s uncontrolled impetuses when it comes to his stomach. Archestratus thus forms a negative example of sophisticated food writing, while the sophists believe that their learned conversation is the proper discourse about food.

19. In her discussion of this passage, Romeri 2000.262 also notes that the connection between food and erudition is inextricable in Athenaeus’s work and concludes that the true pleasure of this elite group lies in the union of the sensory and the intellectual. It is my argument that the prevailing focus on the latter partly deprives the sophists of the enjoyment of the former.

20. Obviously a festival where food and drink were central, but we know nothing about it except for what Athenaeus tells us in this passage.

21. Cf. Derber 1979.6: “Extremely individualistic societies are vulnerable to a disintegration of social life in which needs and desires for egoistic gratification overwhelm the social order. In America, the individualistic psychology underlying conversational narcissism is one of broad self-absorption, bred by cultural and economic individualism and the emergence of the ‘self’ cut adrift from any enduring community.”

22. Cf. Hansen 2000.228: “Allerdings handelt es sich um wenig vorbildhafte Personen, die auch wenig vorbildhaft miteinander umgehen, ja häufig genug ihre persönlichen Konflikte auf dem Gebiet der Gelehrsamkeit austragen.”

23. Cf. Ath. 9.158d ff. Eventually, the host Larensius silences Cynulcus by demonstrating the incorrectness of his claim concerning the word konchos.

24. If König 2012.114 is right concerning some alleged humor at the beginning of Book 11, this observation also pertains to the jouissance of drinking. As Davidson 2000.299–303 highlights, Athenaeus’s work contains some reflections on the problematic relationship between pleasure and education/discourse, with the tantalizing conclusion that discourse and eating are more than once each other’s opposites in this text. This might provoke some humorous effects, as Davidson argues, but I am not even sure whether an educated imperial audience would allow themselves a frivolous longing for food while reading a detached discourse about it. In any case, Athenaeus’s narrative composition and content seem to offer little ground for sensory appetites.