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prevent the hurtful consequences of indulgence, caused the servants in attendance anoint their heads with precious unguents, and perfume the room by burning myrrh, frankincense, and other odours. This usage was quite common in ancient Greece, and from thence was imported into Italy, where it was prized exceedingly by the luxurious Romans; for an abundant store of the sweetest incense is among the highest wishes that Virgil can form for the lover of Pollio :
" Qui te, Pollio, amat, veniat, quo te quoque gaudet:
Mella fluant illi, ferat et rubus asper amomum.” Ecl. iii, l. 188. And its origin is indicated with sufficient clearness by Pliny," who informs us, that his countrymen used balsam from Judea at their public entertainments. Hence the act of Mary, in anointing the head of her Lord, as he sat at meat in the house of Simon, was agreeable to the established custom of the country, and she did no more on that occasion than what the rules of politeness required from his entertainer. It was at once a signal testimony of her veneration for the Saviour, and a pointed reproof to Simon for his disrespectful omission. " As Jesus sat at meat, there came a woman, having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard (or liquid nard, according to the margin) very precious, and she brake the box and poured it on his head.” The balsam was contained in a box of alabaster, whose mouth was stopped with cotton, upon which melted wax was poured so as effectually to exclude the air. When Mary approached to anoint her Lord, she brake the cement which secured the stopple, not the box itself, for this was quite unnecessary; and we know that, in the language of the east, the opening of a vessel, by breaking the cement that secured it, was called breaking the vessel.
Nat. Hist. lib. xxiii, cap. 47. w Potter's Gr. Antiq. vol. ii, p. 385.
* Mark xiv, 3.
The entertainment was conducted by a symposiarch, or governor of the feast. He was, says Plutarch, one chosen
among the guests, the most pleasant and diverting in the company, that would not get drunk, and yet would drink freely; he was to rule over the rest, to forbid any disorder, but to encourage their mirth. He observed the temper of the guests, and how the wine worked upon them; how every one could bear his wine, and to endeavour accordingly to keep them all in harmony, and in an even composure, that there might be no disquiet nor disturbance. To do this effectually, he first proclaimed liberty to every one to drink what he thought proper, and then observing who among them was most ready to be disordered, mixed more water with his wine, to keep him equally sober with the rest of the company; so that this officer took care that none should be forced to drink, and that none, though left to their own choice, should get intoxicated. Such, we have reason to believe, was the governor of the feast at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, which our Lord honoured with his presence. The term Agxitquxdovos literally signifies the governor of a place furnished with three beds; and he acted as one having authority ; for he tasted the wine before he distributed it to the company, which, it is universally admitted, was one of the duties of a symposiarch. Neither the name nor the act accords with the character and situation of a guest ; he must, therefore, have been the symposiarch, or governor
3 See Burder's Orient. Cust. vol. i, p. 282. z Potter's Gr. Antiq. vol. ii, p. 386. Adam's Rom. Autiq. p. 456.
of the feast. It is admitted he knew not the wine was gone, and that they were at a loss for more ; but this only proves that he was not so fully acquainted with the state of matters as he ought to have been, and as such persons commonly were ; and, besides, it is easy to discern a secret arrangement of divine Providence, by which the governor of the feast was, in this instance, ignorant of one thing belonging to his office, that the miracle might be attested by an unexceptionable witness, and on his authority made known to the whole company. But the existence of such an officer among the Jews, is placed beyond a doubt by a passage in the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, where his office is thus described : “ If thou be made the master of a feast, lift not thyself up, but be among them as one of the rest ; take diligent care of them, and so sit down. And when thou hast done all thine office, take thy place, that thou mayest be merry with them, and receive a crown for the well ordering of the feast.” b
On this passage, Theophylact remarks, that no one might suspect that their taste was vitiated by having drank to excess, so as not to know water from wine, our Saviour orders it to be first carried to the governor of the feast, who certainly was sober; for those who, on such occasions, are entrusted with this office, observe the strictest sobriety, that they may be able properly to regulate the whole.
The same person was called Awilgos by the Greeks, and Direbitor among the Romans, because it belonged to him to divide and distribute to every guest his portion. In primitive times, the master of the feast carved for all his
a John ii, 8, 9.
b Ecclesiast. xxxii, 1. • Burder's Orient. Customs, vol. i, p. 324.
guests; for in_Homer, when Agamemnon's ambassadors were entertained at the table of Achilles, this hero distri. buted to every one his portion :
ασας αρεα κειμεν Αχιλλευς. . Il. lib. ix, l. 217. In later times the same office was performed by some of the chief men at Sparta, as appears from the example of Lysander, who was deputed to it by Agesilaus. The custom of distributing to every man his share, is derived by some from the ages when the Greeks left off their ancient way of living upon acorns, and learned the use of corn, which being at first very scarce, gave occasion to continual quarrels. To prevent these disorders, it was agreed that a person should be named, to make a fair division of the harvest among the inhabitants. But it is more probable that the founders of the Grecian states brought the custom along with them from Asia ; for Solomon certainly alluded to it in his description of a virtuous woman :
6 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens."
Some of the eastern nations drink their wine after meat, but others before, which accounts for the difference of language among the inspired writers on this subject. The inhabitants of Syria and Canaan reserved their wine till the feast was over; which seems also to have been the cus tom in Egypt; for when Joseph entertained his brethren, he “ took and sent messes of victuals from before him ;" and after they had dined, and not till then, “ they drank and were merry with him.” Among the Romans, the wine was not set down till after the first course. Thus, when Dido gave a public entertainment to the pious
d Prov. xxxi, 15. Potter's Gr. Antiq. vol. ii, p. 387, 388.
Æneas, “as soon as the first banquet ended, and the tables were withdrawn, they place large goblets and crown the sparkling wine.”
6 Postquam prima quies epulis, mensæque remotæ
Crateras magnos statuunt et vina coronant." Æn. i, l. 723. A different custom, however, prevailed in Persia, where the time for drinking wine was at the beginning, not at the close of the entertainment. Olearius thus describes a solemn banquet at the Persian court : “ The floor of the hall was covered with a cotton cloth, which was covered with all sorts of fruits and sweatmeats in basons of gold. With them was served up excellent Shiras wine. After an hour's time the sweatmeats were removed, to make
way for the more substantial part of the entertainment, such as rice, boiled and roasted mutton, &c. After having been at table an hour and a half, warm water was brought in an ewer of gold for washing; and grace being said, they began to retire without speaking a word, according to the custom of the country.” It is probably to the same people that Chardin refers in his observations on the banquet which Esther prepared for the king and Haman: the eastern people drink and discourse before eating; and after the rest is served up, the feast is quickly over, as they eat very fast, and every one presently withdraws. It was, perhaps, for this reason the entertainment given by Esther is called, not a feast, but uniformily a banquet of wine; because wine was the first course at the table of a Persian monarch, and occupied a much larger portion of time than all the others. They sat, according to Olearius, an hour at this wine ; but only half an hour at the more substantial part of the feast.e
e Hariner's Observ vol. ii, p. 152.