PARASITE (From Gr. Trapa, beside, (Tiros food), literally " mess-mate," a term originally conveying no idea of reproach or contempt, as in later times. The early parasites may be divided into two classes, religious and civil. The former were assistants of the priests, their chief duty being to collect the corn dues which were contributed by the farmers of the temple lands or which came in from other sources (Athenaeus vi. 235; Pollux vi. 35). Considerable obscurity exists as to their other functions, but they seem to have been charged with providing food for the visitors to the temples, with the care of certain offerings, and with the arrangement of the sacrificial banquets. In Attica the parasites appear to have been confined to certain demes (Acharnae, Diomeia), and were appointed by the demes to which the temples belonged. The " civil " parasites were a class of persons who received invitations to dine in the prytaneum and subsequently in the tholos) as distinguished from those who had the right to dine there ex officio. An entirely different meaning (" sponger ") became attached to the word from the character introduced into the Middle and New Comedy, first by Alexis, and firmly established by Diphilus. The chief object of this class of parasites was a good dinner, for which they were ready to submit to almost any humiliation. Numerous examples occur in the comedies of Plautus; and Alciphron and Athenaeus (vi. 236 sqq.) give instances of the insults they had to put up with at the hands of both host and guests. Some of them played the part of professional jesters (like the later buffoons and court fools), and kept collections of witticisms ready for use at their patrons' table; others relied upon flattery, others again condescended to the most degrading devices (Plutarch, De adulatore, 23; De cducalione puerorutn, 17). The term parasite, from meaning a " hanger-on," has been transferred to any hving creature which lives on another one.
See Juvenal v. 170 with J. E. B. Mayor's note, and the exhaustive article by M. H. Meier in Ersch and Gruher's AllgemeineEncyclopddie.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)