ATHENAEUS, of Naucratis in Egypt, Greek rhetorician and grammarian, flourished about the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Suidas only tells us that he lived "in the times of Marcus"; but the contempt with which he speaks of Commodus (died 192) shows that he survived that emperor. Athenaeus himself states that he was the author of a treatise on the thratta - a kind of fish mentioned by Archippus and other comic poets - and of a history of the Syrian kings, both of which works are lost. We still possess the Deipnosophistae, which may mean dinner-table philosophers or authorities on banquets, in fifteen books. The first two books, and parts of the third, eleventh and fifteenth, are only extant in epitome, but otherwise we seem to possess the work entire. It is an immense storehouse of miscellaneous information, chiefly on matters connected with the table, but also containing remarks on music, songs, dances, games, courtesans. It is full of quotations from writers whose works have not come down to us; nearly 800 writers and 2500 separate writings are referred to by Athenaeus; and he boasts of having read 800 plays of the Middle Comedy alone. The plan of the Deipnosophistae is exceedingly cumbrous, and is badly carried out. It professes to be an account given by the author to his friend Timocrates of a banquet held at the house of Laurentius (or Larentius), a scholar and wealthy patron of art. It is thus a dialogue within a dialogue, after the manner of Plato, but a conversation of sufficient length to occupy several days (though represented as taking place in one) could not be conveyed in a style similar to the short conversations of Socrates. Among the twenty-nine guests are Galen and Ulpian, but they are all probably fictitious personages, and the majority take no part in the conversation. If Ulpian is identical with the famous jurist, the Deipnosophistae must have been written after his death (228); but the jurist was murdered by the praetorian guards, whereas Ulpian in Athenaeus dies a natural death. The conversation ranges from the dishes before the guests to literary matters of every description, including points of grammar and criticism; and they are expected to bring with them extracts from the poets, which are read aloud and discussed at table. The whole is but a clumsy apparatus for displaying the varied and extensive reading of the author. As a work of art it can take but a low rank, but as a repertory of fragments and morsels of information it is invaluable.
Editio princeps, Aldine, 1524; Casaubon, 1597-1600; Schweighäuser, 1801-1807; Dindorf, 1827; Meineke, 1859-1867; Kaibel, 1887-1890; English translation by Yonge in Bohn's Classical Library.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)