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Title: Deipnosophistae  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Euphraeus, Battle of Hyrba, Athenaeus, Tracta (dough), Stratonicus of Athens
Collection: 2Nd-Century Books, Ancient Greek Cuisine, Ancient Greek Works, Greek Literature (Post-Classical)
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Frontispiece to the 1657 edition of the Deipnosophists, edited by Isaac Casaubon, in Greek and Latin

The Deipnosophistae is the Latin title of an early 3rd-century AD Greek work (Ancient Greek: Δειπνοσοφισταί, Deipnosophistaí, lit. "The Dinner Sophists/Philosophers/Experts") by the Greco-Egyptian author Athenaeus of Naucratis. It is a long work of literary, historical, and antiquarian references set in Rome at a series of banquets held by the protagonist Publius Livius Larensis[1] for an assembly of grammarians, lexicographers, jurists, musicians, and hangers-on. It is sometimes called the oldest surviving cookbook.[2]


  • Name 1
  • Contents 2
    • Food and cookery 2.1
    • Homosexuality 2.2
  • Survival and reception 3
  • References 4
  • Bibliography 5
  • External links 6


The Greek title Deipnosophistaí (Δειπνοσοφισταί) derives from the combination of deipno- (δειπνο-, "dinner") and sophistḗs (σοφιστής, "expert, one knowledgable in the arts of ~"). It and its English derivative deipnosophists[3] thus describe people who are skilled at dining, particularly the refined conversation expected to accompany Greek symposia. However, the term is shaded by the harsh treatment accorded to professional teachers in Plato's Socratic dialogues, which made the English term sophist into a pejorative.

In English, Athenaeus's work usually known by its Latin form Deipnosophistae but is also variously translated as The Deipnosophists,[4] Sophists at Dinner,[2] The Learnèd Banqueters,[5] The Banquet of the Learnèd,[4] Philosophers at Dinner, or The Gastronomers.


The Deipnosophistae professes to be an account given by the author to his friend Timocrates of a series of banquets (apparently three) held at the house of Larensius, a scholar and wealthy patron of the arts. It is thus a dialogue within a dialogue, after the manner of Plato,[6] although each conversation is so long that, realistically, it would occupy several days. Among the numerous guests,[7] Masurius, Zoilus, Democritus, Galen, Ulpian and Plutarch are named, but most are probably to be taken as fictitious personages,[8] and the majority take little or no part in the conversation. If Ulpian is identical with the famous jurist, the Deipnosophistae must have been written after his death in 223; but the jurist was murdered by the Praetorian Guard, whereas Ulpian in Athenaeus dies a natural death. Prosopographical investigation, however, has shown the possibility of identifying several guests with real persons from other sources;[9] the Ulpian in the dialog has also been linked to the renowned jurist's father.[10]

The work is invaluable for providing fictionalized information about the Hellenistic literary world of the leisured class during the Roman Empire. To the majority of modern readers, even more useful is the wealth of information provided in the Deipnosophistae about earlier Greek literature.[11] In the course of discussing classic authors, the participants make quotations, long and short, from the works of about 700 earlier Greek authors and 2,500 separate writings, many of them otherwise unrecorded. Food and wine, luxury, music, sexual mores, literary gossip and philology are among the major topics of discussion, and the stories behind many artworks such as the Venus Kallipygos are also transmitted in its pages.

Food and cookery

The Deipnosophistae is an important source of recipes in classical Greek. It quotes the original text of one recipe from the lost cookbook by Mithaecus, the oldest in Greek and the oldest recipe by a named author in any language. Other authors quoted for their recipes include Glaucus of Locri, Dionysius, Epaenetus, Hegesippus of Tarentum, Erasistratus, Diocles of Carystus, Timachidas of Rhodes, Philistion of Locri, Euthydemus of Athens, Chrysippus of Tyana, Paxamus and Harpocration of Mende.


In addition to its main focuses, the text offers an unusually clear portrait of homosexuality in late Hellenism. Books XII-XIII holds a wealth of information for studies of homosexuality in Roman Greece. It is subject to a big discussion that includes Alcibiades, Charmides, Autolycus, Pausanias and Sophocles. Furthermore, numerous books and now lost plays on the subject are mentioned, including the dramatists Diphilus, Cratinus, Aeschylus, and Sophocles and the philosopher Heraclides of Pontus.

Survival and reception

The Deipnosophistae was originally in fifteen books.[12] The work survives in one manuscript from which the whole of books 1 and 2, and some other pages too, disappeared long ago. An Epitome or abridgment (to about 60%) was made in medieval times, and survives complete: from this it is possible to read the missing sections, though in a disjointed form.

The English polymath Sir Thomas Browne noted in his encyclopaedia Pseudodoxia Epidemica-

Athenæus, a delectable Author, very various, and justly stiled by Casaubon, Græcorum Plinius. There is extant of his, a famous Piece, under the name of Deipnosophista, or Coena Sapientum, containing the Discourse of many learned men, at a Feast provided by Laurentius. It is a laborious Collection out of many Authors, and some whereof are mentioned no where else. It containeth strange and singular relations, not without some spice or sprinkling of all Learning. The Author was probably a better Grammarian then Philosopher, dealing but hardly with Aristotle and Plato, and betrayeth himself much in his Chapter De Curiositate Aristotelis. In brief, he is an Author of excellent use, and may with discretion be read unto great advantage: and hath therefore well deserved the Comments of Casaubon and Dalecampius.[13]

Browne's interest in Athenaeus reflects a revived interest in the Banquet of the Learned amongst scholars following the publication of the Deipnosophistae in 1612 by the Classical scholar Isaac Casaubon. Browne was also the author of a Latin essay on Athenaeus. By the nineteenth century however, the poet James Russell Lowell in 1867 characterized the Deipnosophistae and its author thus:

the somewhat greasy heap of a literary rag-and-bone-picker like Athenaeus is turned to gold by time.

Modern readers question whether the Deipnosophistae genuinely evokes a literary symposium of learned disquisitions on a range of subjects suitable for such an occasion, or whether it has a satirical edge, rehashing the cultural clichés of the urbane literati of its day.


  1. ^ See also his article at the German WorldHeritage. (German).
  2. ^ a b Ἀθήναιος [Athenaeus]. Δειπνοσοφισταί [Deipnosophistaí, Sophists at Dinner], c. 3rd century (Ancient Greek) Trans. Charles Burton Gulick as p. viii. Vol. I,, Athenaeus Harvard University Press (Cambridge), 1927. Accessed 13 Aug 2014.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed. "deipnosophist, n." Oxford University Press (Oxford), 1894.
  4. ^ a b Ἀθήναιος [Athenaeus]. Trans. C.D. Yonge as The Deipnosophists or Banquet of the Learned. Henry Bohn (London), 1854. Accessed 13 Aug 2014.
  5. ^ Ἀθήναιος [Athenaeus]. Trans. S. Douglas Olson as The Learned Banqueters. Harvard University Press (Cambridge), 2007.
  6. ^ Viz. his Symposium. The first words (1.1f-2a) mimic the beginning of Phaedo. See (e.g.) Wentzel(1896). "Athenaios (22)". Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Band II, Halbband 4. col. 2028.15ff.
  7. ^ Kaibel (1890, vol. 3) pp. 561-564 lists twenty-four by name, plus several anonymi.
  8. ^ Kaibel (1887, vol. 1) p. VI.
  9. ^ Baldwin, Barry (1977). "The Minor Characters in Athenaeus". Acta Classica 20: 37–48. 
  10. ^ Baldwin, Barry (1976). "Athenaeus and his Work". Acta Classica 19: 21–42. 
  11. ^ "…for us, one of the most important books from Antiquity". Wentzel(1896) col. 2028.34ff
  12. ^ Marginal indications in the manuscript may, but need not, reflect an earlier edition in 30 books. See Der neue Pauly Athenaios[3]. col. 198; Kaibel (1887, vol. 1) p. XXII.
  13. ^ P.E. Bk.1 chapter 8


  • Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae ed. and tr. C. B. Gulick. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1927-41. 7 vols. (Loeb Classical Library)
  • Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters ed. and tr. S. Douglas Olson. Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press, 2007-2012. 8 vols. (Loeb Classical Library)
  • Georg Kaibel, Athenaei Naucratitae Dipnosophistarum Libri XV. Leipzig: Teubner, 1887-1890, 3 vols. (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
  • Athenaei Dipnosophistarum epitome ed. S. P. Peppink. Leiden, 1937-9.
  • Athenaeus and his world: reading Greek culture in the Roman Empire ed. David Braund, John Wilkins. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000.
  • Food in antiquity ed. John Wilkins, David Harvey, Mike Dobson. Exeter: Exeter University Press, 1995.
  • Andrew Dalby, Siren feasts: a history of food and gastronomy in Greece (London: Routledge, 1996) especially pp. 168–180.
  • Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents ed. Thomas K. Hubbard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) pp. 76–82 (translation of a passage from book 13).
  • Warren Johansson, 'Athenaeus' in Encyclopedia of Homosexuality ed. Wayne R. Dynes (Garland Publishing, 1990) p. 87.
  • Peter Stoll: Dishing up Pictures from the Pantry: An Eighteenth-Century French Recipe for Illustrating Athenaeus's Deipnosophistae, Augsburg, University, 2010.

External links

  • The original Ancient Greek text
  • Parts of the English translation of C. D. Yonge (1854) in HTML-format, including line numbers
  • Translation by C. D. Yonge presented online by the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center
  • Translation up to Book 9 with links to complete Greek original, at LacusCurtius
  • various out of copyright translations of the work downloadable on
  • From a reading of Athenaeus, British Museum Sloane MS no. 1827
  • concerning homosexualityDeipnosophistsExtracts from book 13 of the
  • DeipnosophistsExtracts from book 13 of the
  • article referenced aboveEncyclopedia of Homosexualityon-line version of the
  • L'antiquité grecque et latine du moyen âge de Philippe Remacle, Philippe Renault, François-Dominique Fournier, J. P. Murcia, Thierry Vebr, Caroline Carratfull Greek text and French translation at
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