Does it lie or does it not lie.

Athenaeus was the author of the Deipnosophists, a book in which a group of learned men are having dinner together in Rome and competing with each other in quoting from Classical Greek authors about various subjects. Usually that was the food or drink in front of them or the plates or cooking utensils. Excerpts from many authors that would otherwise be lost are preserved in this book although it does mean that the only things known about some authors are their references to fish which featured largely on their menu.

Apart From the value the book has in preserving these extracts that would otherwise be lost, I find the interplay between the characters at the dinner table entertaining. One of these was Ulpian, nicknamed Keitoukeitos which means literally “Does it lie or does it not lie?”. What he means by this is “Is this word to be found in classical literature?”. Athenaeus wrote about 200 AD at a time when certain people looked back to the classical and Hellenistic ages of Greece as a golden ages and words that were not used then should not be used. This is how Athenaeus describes him when introducing the characters at the beginning of the book.

ὧν κατέτρεχε μετὰ καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ὅσοι τι ἐφθέγγοντο Οὐλπιανὸς ὁ Τύριος, ὃς διὰ τὰς συνεχεῖς ζητήσεις, ἃς ἀνὰ πᾶσαν ὥραν ποιεῖται ἐν ταῖς ἀγυιαῖς, περιπάτοις, βιβλιοπωλείοις, βαλανείοις ἔσχεν ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου διασημότερον Κειτούκειτος. οὗτος ὁ ἀνὴρ νόμον εἶχεν ἴδιον μηδενὸς ἀποτρώγειν πρὶν εἰπεῖν ‘κεῖται ἢ οὐ κεῖται;’ οἷον εἰ κεῖται ὥρα ἐπὶ τοῦ τῆς ἡμέρας μορίου, εἰ ὁ μέθυσος ἐπὶ ἀνδρός, εἰ ἡ μήτρα κεῖται ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐδωδίμου βρώματος, εἰ σύαγρος κεῖται τὸ σύνθετον ἐπὶ τοῦ συός.

Ulpian the Tyrian used to criticise these men, as well as anyone else who said anything. Because of his constant questions which he used to make at all times of the day in the roads and walks, in the bookshops and in the baths got the name of Keitoukeitos (Does it lie or does it not lie), a name he was known by more than his own. This man had a private rule not to eat anything before asking “Does it lie or does it not lie?”. For example can the word hora (hour) lie (that is refer to) upon part of the day or if methysos (drunk) can lie upon a man or if metra (womb) can lie upon an edible food or if syagros (wild boar) can lie upon a pig.

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One Response to Does it lie or does it not lie.

  1. Pingback: Take Off That Hat! Herodotus on Skull Strength in Egypt and Persia, (Histories 3.12) | Sententiae Antiquae

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