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Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists

BOOK 5, Pages 203-210

Translated by C.D.Yonge (1854). A few words and spellings have been changed.

See key to translations for an explanation of the format. The page numbers in the Greek text are shown in red. The chapter numbers in the translation are shown in green.


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[37.] G   [203] But since we have mentioned the subject of the building of ships, let us speak (for it is worth hearing of) of the ships which were built also by Ptolemaeus Philopator, which are mentioned by the same Callixeinus in the first book of his Account of Alexandria, where he speaks as follows:- "Philopator built a ship with forty ranks of rowers, being two hundred and eighty cubits long and thirty-eight cubits from one side to the other; and in height up to the gunwale it was forty-eight cubits; and from the highest part of the stern to the water-line was fifty-three cubits; and it had four rudders, each thirty cubits long; [204] and oars for the thranitae, the largest thirty-eight cubits in length, which, from having lead in their handles, and because they were very heavy in the part inside the ship, being accurately balanced, were, in spite of their bulk, very handy to use. And the ship had two heads and two sterns, and seven beaks, one of which was longer than all the rest, and the others were of smaller size; and some of them were fixed to the ears of the ship; and it had twelve undergirths to support the keel, and each was six hundred cubits in length. And it was well proportioned to a most extraordinary degree; and all the appointments of the vessel were admirable, for it had figures of animals on it not less than twelve cubits in size, both at the head and at the stern, and every part of it was inlaid and ornamented with figures in wax; and the space between the oars down to the very keel had a running pattern of ivy-leaves and thyrsi; and there was great store of every kind of equipment to supply all parts of the ship that might require any. And when it put to sea it held more than four thousand rowers, and four hundred supernumeraries; and on the deck were three thousand marines, or at least two thousand eight hundred and fifty. And besides all these there was another large body of men under the decks, and a vast quantity of provisions and supplies. And the vessel was launched originally from a sort of framework, which they say was erected and made out of the wood of fifty ships of five ranks of oars; and it was launched by the multitude with great acclamations and blowing of trumpets. But after that a Phoenician devised a new method of launching it, having dug a trench under it, equal to the ship itself in length, which he dug close to the harbour. And in the trench he built props of solid stone five cubits deep, and across them he laid beams crosswise, running the whole width of the trench, at four cubits distance from one another; and then making a channel from the sea he filled all the space which he had excavated with water, out of which he easily brought the ship by the aid of whatever men happened to be at hand; then closing the entrance which had been originally made, he drained the water off again by means of engines; and when this had been done the vessel rested securely on the before-mentioned cross-beams.

[38.] G   "Philopator also built a vessel for the river which he called Thalamegus, or the Carrier of his Bed-chamber, in length half a stade, and in width at the broadest part thirty cubits; and the height together with the frame for the awning was little short of forty cubits. And its appearance was not exactly like ships of war, nor merchant vessels either, but it was something different from both, on account of the necessity imposed by the depth of the river. For below it was flat and broad; but in its main hull it was high. And the parts at the extremity, and especially at the head, extended a sufficient length, so as to exhibit a very pretty and elegant sweep. The ship also had two heads and two sterns. And it rose to a considerable height above the water, as was necessary, because the waves in the river often rise very high. And in the middle of its hull were constructed banqueting-rooms and sleeping-rooms, and everything else which may be convenient for living in. And round the ship were double corridors running about three sides, each of which was not less than five plethra in circumference. [205] And the arrangement of the lower one was like a peristyle, and that in the upper part was covered in, and surrounded with walls and windows on all sides. And when you first came into the vessel by the stern your eye was met by a colonnade, open in front, and surrounded by pillars. And opposite to it in the bow of the vessel there was a sort of propylaeum constructed, made of ivory and most expensive woods. And after you had passed through that, then you came to something like a proscenium, covered in overhead. And again in the same way in the middle of the vessel was another colonnade, open behind, and an entrance of four folding-doors led to it. And both on the right hand and on the left there were windows, admitting a pleasant breeze.

"To these was joined a room of very large size, and that was adorned with pillars all round, and it was capable of containing twenty couches. And the greater pert of it was made of split cedar, and of Milesian cypress. And the doors which were round it, being twenty in number, were put together with beams of fragrant cedar, having ivory ornaments. And all the nails and fastenings which were visible were made of red brass, which had taken a polish like that of gold from the fire. And of the pillars the bodies were of cypress-wood; but the capitals were of Corinthian workmanship, adorned with ivory and gold. The whole of the capitals of the pillars were of gold; and there was a sort of girdle on them having figures of animals beautifully carved in ivory, more than a cubit high, of which the workmanship was not so conspicuous as the exquisite beauty of the materials. There was a beautiful roof to the banqueting-room, square, and made of cypress wood. And its ornaments were all carved, having a golden face. Next to this banqueting-chamber was a sleeping-chamber holding seven couches; and to that there was joined a narrow passage, which separated the woman's chamber from this one by the width of the hold. And by the passage was a banqueting-room holding nine couches very like the large one in the sumptuousness of its furniture; and a bed-chamber holding five couches. As to the rooms then on the first deck this was the general appearance presented.

[39.] G   "But when you had ascended by the stairs which were close to the before-mentioned sleeping chamber, there was another chamber capable of containing five couches, having a vaulted oblong roof. And near to it was a temple of Aphrodite, in form like a rotunda, in which was a marble statue of the goddess. And opposite to this was another banqueting-room, very sumptuous, adorned all round with columns: for the columns were all made of Indian stone. And near to this banqueting-room were more sleeping-chambers with furniture and appointments corresponding to what has been already mentioned. And as you went on towards the head of the vessel was another apartment dedicated to Dionysus, capable of holding thirteen couches, surrounded with pillars, having its cornices all gilt as far down as the epistyle which ran round the room, but the roof corresponded to the character of the god. And in it there was on the right hand a large cave constructed, the colour of which was stone, for in fact it was made of real stone and gold; and in it images were placed of all the relations of the king, made of Parian marble. And there was another banqueting-room, very pleasant, above the roof of the greatest apartment, having an arrangement like that of a tent, [206] so that some of it had no actual roof, but there were arched and vaulted beams running along the top at intervals, along which purple curtains were stretched whenever the vessel was in motion. And after this there was an open chamber occupying the same room above that was occupied by the portico before mentioned as being below. And a winding ladder joined on to it, leading to the secret walk, and a banqueting-room capable of containing nine couches, constructed and furnished in the Egyptian style. For round pillars were run up in it with alternate drums of white and black, all placed in parallel lines. And their heads were of round shape; and the whole of the figures round them were engraved like roses a little expanded. And round that part which is called the basket there were not tendrils and rough leaves as is the case in Greek pillars, but calyxes of the river-lotus, and the fruit of newly budding dates. And sometimes many other kinds of flowers were also represented. And under the roof of the capital which lies upon the drum, where it joins on to the head, there were ornaments like the flower leaves of the Egyptian bean intertwined together. This then is the way in which the Egyptians construct and ornament their pillars, and this is the way in which they variegate their walls with black and white bricks: and sometimes also they employ the stone which is called alabaster. And there were many other ornaments all over the main hull of the vessel, and over the centre, and many other chambers and divisions in every part of it.

"And the mast of this vessel was seventy cubits in height, and it had a linen sail, adorned with a purple fringe. And the whole of the wealth which had been so carefully preserved by king Philadelphus was dissipated by the last Ptolemaeus, who also excited the war against Gabinius, who was not a man, but a mere flute-player and conjuror."

[40.] G   But concerning the ship built by Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse, which also Archimedes the geometrician superintended, I do not think it right to be silent, since a certain man named Moschion has given a description of it, which I read over with great care very lately. Moschion, then, writes as follows:-

"Diocles, a citizen of Abdera, speaks with great admiration of the engine called Helepolis, which was brought by Demetrius against the city of the Rhodians, and applied to their walls. And Timaeus extols highly the funeral pile made for Dionysius the tyrant of Sicily. And Hieronymus lavishes his admiration on the building and adorning of the carriage in which the body of Alexander was borne to the tomb. And Polycleitus speaks in high terms of the candlestick which was made for the king of Persia. But Hieron, the king of the Syracusans, who was in every respect a friend to the Romans, was very attentive to the furnishing of temples and gymnasia; and was also very earnest in ship-building, having built a great number of vessels to carry corn; the construction of one of which I will describe. For the wood, he caused such a number of trees to be cut down on Mount Aetna as would have been sufficient for sixty triremes, and when this was done he prepared nails, and planks for the sides and for the inside, and wood for every other purpose that could be required, some from Italy and some from Sicily. And for ropes he provided cordage from Spain, and hemp, and pitch from the river Rhine; and he collected great quantities of useful things from all quarters. And he collected also shipwrights and other artisans. And having appointed Archias the Corinthian the superintendent of them all, and the principal architect, [207] he bade them labour at the construction with zeal and earnestness, he himself also devoting his days to watching its progress. And in this way he finished half the ship in six months; and every part of the vessel as soon as it was finished was immediately covered over with plates of teal. And there were three hundred workmen employed in working up the timber, besides the subordinates whom they had to assist them. And it was arranged to draw this portion that was done so far down to the sea, that it might receive the last finishing strokes there. And when there was a great inquiry as to the best method of launching it into the sea, Archimedes the mechanician launched it by himself with the aid of a few persons. For having prepared a windlass [ helix ] he drew this vessel, enormous as it was, down into the sea. And Archimedes was the first person who ever invented this windlass. But after the remainder of the ship had also been completed in six months more, and it had been surrounded all round with brazen nails, the greater part of which weighed ten minae, and the rest were half as big again - (and they were driven in through holes made beforehand by gimlets, so as to hold the planks firm; and they were fastened to the wood with leaden plugs; pieces of cloth being put under, impregnated with pitch) - after, I say, Hieron had completed the external figure of the vessel, he laboured at the interior.

[41.] G   "And the vessel was constructed with twenty banks of oars, and three entrances, having the lowest entrance leading to the hold, to which the descent was by two ladders of many steps each; and the next was contrived for those who wished to go down to the eating-rooms: and the third was for the armed men. And on each side of the middle entrance were apartments for the men, each with four couches in them, thirty in number. And the supper-room for the sailors was capable of holding fifteen couches, and it had within it three chambers, each containing three couches; and the kitchen was towards the stern of the ship. And all these rooms had floors composed of mosaic work, of all kinds of stones tesselated. And on this mosaic the whole story of the Iliad was depicted in a marvellous manner. And in all the furniture and the ceilings and the doors everything was executed and finished in the same admirable manner. And along the uppermost passage was a gymnasium and walks, having their appointment in all respects corresponding to the size of the vessel. And in them were gardens of all sorts of most wonderful beauty, enriched with all sorts of plants, and shaded by roofs of lead or tiles. And besides this there were tents roofed with boughs of white ivy and of the vine, the roots of which derived their moisture from casks full of earth, and were watered in the same manner as the gardens. And the tents themselves helped to shadow the walks. And next to those things was a temple devoted to Aphrodite, containing three couches, with a floor of agate and other most beautiful stones, of every sort which the island afforded. And its walls and its roof were made of cypress-wood, and its doors of ivory and fragrant cedar. And it was furnished in the most exquisite manner with pictures and statues, and with goblets and vases of every form and shape imaginable.

[42.] G   "And next to that was a drawing-room capable of containing five couches, with its walls and doors made of boxwood, having a book-case in it, and along the roof a clock, imitated from the sun-dial at Achradina. And there was also a bath-room, capable of containing three couches, having three brazen vessels for holding hot water, and a bath containing five measures of water, beautifully variegated with Tauromenian marble. And many rooms were also prepared for the marines, and for those who looked to the pumps. And besides all this there were ten stalls for horses on each side of the walls; and by them the fodder for the horses was kept, and the arms and furniture of the horsemen and of the boys. [208] There was also a cistern near the head of the ship, carefully shut, and containing two thousand measures of water, made of beams closely compacted with pitch and canvass. And next to the cistern there was a large water-tight well for fish, made so with beams of wood and lead. And it was kept full of sea-water, and great numbers of fish were kept in it. And on each side of the walls them were also projecting beams, placed at well-proportioned intervals; and to these were attached stores of wood, and ovens, and baking places, and mills, and many other useful offices. And all round the outside of the ship ran colossi [ atlases ] six cubits high, which supported the weight which was placed above them, and the triglyph, all being placed at convenient distances from one another. And the whole ship was adorned with suitable pictures.

[43.] G   "And in the vessel wore eight towers of a size proportioned to the burden of the ship, two at the stern, and as many at the head, and the rest in the middle of the ship. And to each of these were fastened two large beams, or yards, from which port-holes were fixed, through which stones were let down upon any enemy who might come against the ship. And on each of the towers stood four young men fully armed, and two archers. And the whole of the interior of the towers was full of stones and missiles. And a wall, having buttresses and decks, ran all through the ship, supported on trestles; and on these decks was placed a catapult, which hurled a stone weighing three talents, and an arrow twelve cubits long. And this engine was devised and made by Archimedes; and it could throw every arrow a stade. And besides all this, there were mats composed of stout ropes suspended by brazen chains; and as there were three masts, from each of them were suspended two large yards bearing stones, from which hooks and leaden weights were let down upon any enemy which might attack the vessel. And there was also a palisade all round the ship, made of iron, as a defence against those who might attempt to board it; and iron ravens, as they were called, all round the ship, which, being shot forth by engines, seized on the vessels of the enemy, and brought them round so as to expose them to blows. And on each of the sides of the ship stood sixty young men clad in complete armour; and an equal number stood on the masts, and on the yards which carried the stones; and they were also on the masts, up at the mast-head, which was made of brass. On the first there were three men, and on the second two, and on the third one. And they had stones brought up to them in wicker baskets by means of pulleys, and arrows were supplied to them by boys, within the defended parts of the mast-heads. And the vessels had four wooden anchors and eight iron ones. And of the masts, the second and third were easily found; but the first was procured with difficulty among the mountains of the Bruttii, and was discovered by a swineherd. And Phileas, an engineer of Tauromenium, brought it down to the seaside. And the hold, although of a most enormous depth, was pumped out by one man, by means of the screw, an engine which was the contrivance of Archimedes. And the name of the ship was 'The Syracusan;' but when Hieron sent it to sea, he altered its name and called it 'The Alexandrian.'

"And it had some small launches attached to it, the first of which was one of the light galleys called cercurus, able to hold a weight of three thousand talents; and it was wholly moved by oars. And after that came many galleys and skiffs of about fifteen hundred talents burthen. And the crew also was proportionately numerous; for besides the men who have been already mentioned, there were six hundred more, whose post was at the head of the ship, always watching for the orders of the captain. [209] And there was a tribunal instituted to judge of all offences which might be committed on board the ship, consisting of the captain and the pilot, and the officer of the watch; and they decided in every case according to the laws of the Syracusans.

[44.] G   "And they put on board the ship sixty thousand medimni of corn, and ten thousand jars of Sicilian salt-fish, and twenty thousand talents weight of wool, and of other cargo twenty thousand talents weight also. And besides all this, there were the provisions necessary for the crew. And Hieron, when he had understood that there was no harbour in Sicily large enough to admit this ship, and, moreover, that some of the harbours were dangerous for any vessel, determined to send it as a present to Alexandria to Ptolemaeus the king of Egypt. For there was a great dearth of corn in Egypt. And he did so; and the ship came to Alexandria, where it was put in port. And Hieron honoured Archimelus, also, the epigrammatic poet, who wrote an epigram on the ship, with a thousand medimni of wheat, which he also sent at his own expense to the Peiraeus; and the epigram runs thus -
  Who placed this monstrous mass upon the earth;
  What master led it with untiring cables,
  How was the deck nailed to the mighty beams,
  And with what axe did men the vessel form?
  Surely it equals Aetna in its height,
  Or any isle which rises from the sea
  Where the Aegean wave entwined foams
  Amid the Cyclades; on either side
  Its breadth is equal, and its walls alike.
  Sure 'twas the giants' work, who hoped to reach
  By such vast ladder to the heights of heaven.
  Its topmast reaches to the stars; and hides
  Its mighty bulwarks 'mid the endless clouds.
  It holds its anchors with untiring cables,
  Like those with which proud Xerxes bound the strait.
  Which between Sestus and Abydus foams.
  A deftly carved inscription on the side
  Shows what strong hand has launch'd it on the deep;
  It says that Hieron, Hierocles' son,
  The king of Sicily, pride of Dorian race,
  Sends it a wealthy messenger of gifts
  To the Aegean islands; and the god
  Who rules the sea, great Poseidon, conveys it
  Safe o'er the blue and foaming waves to Greece.

And I intentionally pass over the sacred trireme built by Antigonus, which defeated the commanders of Ptolemaeus off Leucolla, a city under the dominion of Cos; and after that, Antigonus consecrated it to Apollo; but it was not one-third, or perhaps not even one-fourth part of the size of the Syracusan or Alexandrian vessel."

[45.] G   All this, then, we have said about the catalogue of the ships, not beginning with the Boeotians, but with the shows and processions exhibited at public assemblies. And since I know that my excellent friend Ulpianus will attack us again, and ask what that thing is which Callixeinus calls ἐγγυθήκη, we tell him that there is a speech which is attributed to Lysias the orator, written about the ἐγγυθήκη, which begins with these words - "If, O judges, Lysimanes had said anything reasonable or moderate." And going on a little, he proceeds to say - "I should not have been eager to plead in an action about this chest (ἐγγυθήκη), which is not worth thirty drachmas." [210] And presently he tells us that the chest was a brazen one - "But when I wished last year to repair it, I gave it to a brazier; for it is well put together, and has the faces of Satyrs and large heads of oxen carved upon it. There is also another coffer of the same size; for the same workman made many such articles of the same size, and alike in many particulars." In these words Lysias, having said that the chest was made of brass, shows plainly enough, as Callixeinus also said, that they were things that might be used as stands for cauldrons. For so Polemon Periegetes said, in the third of those books of his which are addressed to Adaeus and Antigonus, where he explains the subject of the picture which is at Phlius, in the portico of the polemarchs, painted by Sillax the of Rhegium, who is mentioned by Epicharmus and Simonides. And his words are - "ἐγγυθήκη, and a large goblet on it." And Hegesander the Delphian, in his book entitled a Commentary on Statues and Images, says that the pedestal made by Glaucus the Chian at Delphi is like an iron ἐγγυθήκη, the gift of Alyattes. And that is mentioned by Herodotus [ 1.25 ], who calls it ὑποκρητηρίδιον (a stand for a goblet). And Hegesander uses the same expression. And we ourselves have seen that lying at Delphi, a thing really worth looking at, on account of the figures of animals which are carved upon it, and of other insects, and living things, and plants . . . . can be put upon it, and goblets, and other furniture. But the thing which is called by the Alexandrians ἀγγοθήκη is a triangular vessel, hollow in the middle, capable of receiving an earthen wine-jar inside of it. And poor men have this made of wood, but rich men have it of brass or of silver.

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