From The Inns of Greece & Rome, and a history of Hospitality from the Dawn of Time to the Middle Ages, by W. C. Firebaugh, with an Introduction by Wallace Rice and Illustrations by Norman Lindsay, Chicago: Pascal Covici; 1928; pp. 185-204.
THE INNS OF GREECE AND ROME185
The literati — Philostratus’s beautiful tribute to a cabaret girl — Nero as a cabaret singer — Catullus flays the lewd taverns — Juvenal’s description of the lupanars — Patricians liberal patrons, many being tavern owners — Trimalchio speculates in wine — Plutarch tells of the baseness of inns.
The literati and declaimers of the times, the rhetoricians and out at elbow philosophers and intellectuals, made the taverns and thermopolia their headquarters: here they gathered to gossip and discuss affairs of everyday life, and they were probably no vainer or more verbose than the expatriated sophists who came from Greece in the times of the Scipios under the pretext of refining the local customs and social usages, and giving a rhetorical and artificial polish to the rude vigor of the old Latin tongue. In reality, however, they set a fine example of tavern swilling and wenching, and the term pergraecari (to drink like a Greek) was coined to describe their cultivated avidity in this exercise.
Plautus, who was contemporary with them, has drawn a picture which enables us to see them as they were, enveloped from head to heel in their cloaks, which were equipped with cowls to cover the head. They stagger under the weight of the books they are carrying, on their way to the tavern, there to drink themselves into a state of philosophical abstraction which will make them for hours immune to all the crudities with which they are surrounded. Let one of them catch the scent of wine and he becomes prudent, simulating the countenance of a drunken man under a thoughtful mien of philosophy. Under the emperors they are still the same, displaying the same old vices and masquerading under the same 186 philosophy. One of them, however, has avowed his intimacy and has immortalized the object of his adoration: I speak of Philostratus, a Greek sophist of the deepest dye, yet who did yeoman service in refining the crudities of a language already effeminate, a language degenerating under the subtleties of a philosophy of decadence. His example was one that others could follow: he frequented taverns as he chose. If he permitted sentiments so exquisite to flow from his pen it must have been because he was more moved by love and artistic appreciation than by drunkenness. A girl of the cabarets has attracted his glance; probably to order something to drink: he sees her eyes, and, like Catullus translating Sappho,
A-down my limbs flows subtle flame
My ears are ringing with her spell
My eyes see naught but night!
Yes, the glance of an eye weaned him away from the fetishes of a lifetime; he ceased scoffing at chastity, and wrote three little letters, one might almost be tempted to call them madrigals, that contain the finest essence of worshipful appreciation. These resulted from the spell which the tavern Hebe threw over him and were born of the inspiration with which she fired his soul. They are sincere, they voice a refined passion, they have survived the ages, and they are of the very stuff of the gallantry not only of Greek antiquity, but of the gallantry of all time.
Charmingly simple, they must have been addressed to a character no less lovely.
TO A CABARET GIRL
“Everything about you delights me; to me your robe of linen is the peplum of Isis; your tavern the temple of 187 Aphrodite, your chalices so round and shining the eyes of Hera. Your wine has the bouquet of ambrosia itself, and the three fingers you extend to take up the cup are like the triple rose entwined in the sacred chaplet.
“I tremble lest the cup shall fall, but no, it is as firm in your hand as a sun dial on its base, and reminds me of a flower pushing out and growing from between your fingers.
“If you would touch the cup lightly with your lips and warm the wine with your breath it would be sweeter than nectar. It would run through every vein and every nerve would tingle. It would be more than wine . . . it would be a draught of kisses.
“Your cups are of glass. In your hands they become silver and gold and your touch communicates to them I know not what of softness and gleaming charm. Yet it is a transparence dull and without reflection, like that of a sleeping lake. Ah, how it differs from the radiance of your eyes sparkling with the joyous spirit of your countenance. What sweetness they convey to me, with what a thirst for kisses they inflame my senses!
“The cup is fragile and easily broken, place it upon the table; with such eyes as yours, I have no other need.
“Your glances alone intoxicate me even as do those of the adorable child, the cupbearer to the gods, under whose soft glances Zeus brings on his drunkenness.
“Yea, serve me no more with that flavorless nectar, water alone shall suffice; bring but the cup to your lips, implant thereon your kisses, and when I would drink present it to me. Where is the man who could demand wine, the gift of Dionysus, when Aphrodite offers him her ambrosia?
“Your eyes are more transparent than the crystal of your cups, and they mirror your soul. The color of your cheeks is more brilliant than that of the wine itself. 188 The whiteness of your linen robe is reflected in your face, and your lips are tinted with the blood of roses. Your eyes, humid and lovely, are like those of the statues adorning our fountains; they weep with the joy of living. Yea, you are one of the nymphs.
“And they whom you cause to halt in their course, who remain when their intention was to pass by without, yea, you know how to invite them without speaking a single word.
“As for myself, what a thirst I had the first time I saw you. The cup remained immovable in my hand in spite of my unwillingness. I could not bring it to my lips. I drink to your eyes.”
Any and all of these little pastels might have been odes of Anacreon to the nymphs of the vintages, and they have immortalized a hostess whose exquisite simplicity and loveliness could only detract from itself by adornment. With such a subject poetic enthusiasm and lyric rhapsody cannot be out of place, whether it be a tavern girl or a geisha, and, as we have remarked, many of the classical poets and many that have come after them gained their finest inspiration from the girls of the cabaret. The Syrian ambibia has danced for us, we have been enthralled by the rustic flute that enchants the echoes of garden and tavern, and, if we search diligently enough, perhaps we shall find the material with which to complete our picture of the olden time, the lyric and poetic side of the tavern life of Rome. It is not our intention to introduce our readers to any ordinary songbird such as is to be met with in our own cafés chantants; nor shall we inflict the falsetto screechings of a cabaret lizard upon the unwilling ears of our patrons and torture their patience with doubtful and obscene double entendres. For lack of a performer more illustrious, we shall introduce Nero himself; Nero, whose 189 joy and pride lay in singing in the taverns, garbed as an entertainer, and who decreed a fête day whenever he thus distributed his largesse. Philostratus has related a very curious fact. He is speaking of the exile of Demetrius, a cynic philosopher contemporary with himself, but less addicted to questionable places and more restrained and austere in his manner of speaking and writing.
“One day Demetrius was ranting in the gymnasium, the object of his scorn was the institution of the baths. He characterized them as places which catered to extravagance and which served all the effeminates who went there for the purpose of polluting their bodies under the pretext of washing them. It so happened that on that very day Nero was singing in a cabaret next to the gymnasium, and had surpassed himself. He was clad like any innkeeper, in a pair of drawers and the rest of his body was naked. Tigellinus, the praetorian prefect, informed him as to what Demetrius had said and construed the words as a satire directed against Nero’s conduct in the cabaret. Nero was furious and deported Demetrius, ‘as though,’ says Philostratus, ‘the baths might have tumbled down before the breath caused by his words.” This anecdote is curious not only because of what it teaches us of Nero, but also because it bears out what we have said of the understanding which existed between the baths, gymnasia and the taverns. According to Isadore of Seville (Origines, Lib. XIV, Chap. 2), the taverns adjoining the baths went under the name popinae, but Lefebre (Agnostiques, Lib. III, Chap. 28), remarks that the cabarets operating with the gymnasia at Rome were called ebeterion.
We should not be astonished at the praise lavished by Philostratus upon the cabaret girl: the Roman innkeepers were not blind to beauty, nor were they oblivious to the 190 effect of exquisite loveliness upon trade. Twenty centuries later we shall see Madame Bourette, the Muse of Lemonade Sellers, enthroned in her café in the rue Bourbon-Villeneuve: the goddess who reigns in the café du Bosquet does so by virtue of her beauty and charm; and many another Hebe shall officiate in establishments where sherbet is sold, or chocolate, where the prices are high but the buying public is more than anxious to bask in the light of the beauty’s smiles; to court her favors, and press a fortunate moment for all it is worth. In them is the origin of the charming cashier system.
They knew well that a pretty face, animated with the joy of living, is a finer appeal to good-will than the most subtle and piquant sign; a glance of the eye was more potent than all the haranguing of an obsequious and fawning predaciousness at the threshold of the tavern, as for instance we find in Juvenal:
“And when it pleases Lateranus to go back to the all night tavern, some Syro-Phoenician runs forth to meet him — some denizen of the Idumaean Gate perpetually drenched with perfumes — and salutes him as lord and prince with all the airs of a host; and with him comes the venal Cyane with her robe tucked up, carrying a flagon of wine.” (Sat. VIII, 158 et seq.)
And then again we may take the case of Aulus Binnius, the jolly tavern-keeper, of whom Cicero speaks so slightingly in what is probably the finest defense for the wild oats sown by the exuberance of youth:
“And it is also reported to us that you suborn an entertainer of many guests, a certain Aulus Binnius, an innkeeper on the Via Latina, to say that violence was offered to him in his own tavern.” (Pro Cluentio, ch. 59.)
The women of the common people well knew what success would wait upon their charms if they became 191 cabaret girls: therefore, when they abandoned their status of virtuous mediocrity where virtue was too often its own reward, it was with full knowledge of what to expect and a willingness to pay the price necessary; to marry a tavern-keeper was the goal they set themselves to reach. They generally consulted some oracle or other as to what the matrimonial future had in store for them:
“The woman who displays a long gold chain on her bare neck inquired before the pillars and the clusters of dolphins whether she will throw over the tavern-keeper and marry the rag man.” (Juvenal VI, 589 et seq.)
Custom and good-will flowed into taverns such as these where pretty young women were in attendance; but their morality was n inverse ratio to their business and the very nature of the calling augured complaisance. See what havoc two beautiful eyes can make! How powerfully they attract custom! When the mistress whom Catullus loved so deeply ran away from her house to the tavern near the temple of Castor and Pollux, see how the patronage increased: two hundred customers at the very least, but such customers! All more or less hardened. And see how well the tavern deserved to be flayed by the indignant poet in the injurious epithet with which he salutes it: Salax taverna — lewd tavern:
“Lewd tavern, the ninth sign-post from the pileated brother’s temple, and you, its frequenters, do you think that you alone have the attributes of manhood? That you alone are licensed to kiss the girls all and sundry and hold all other men at naught, you rank he-goats? Is it because you sit there night and day, a hundred boobies or two, that you think I will not venture to tackle the whole two hundred of you at once? Aye, but you may think it, and I will write inscriptions all over the front of your tavern. For my girl who has fled from my bosom, my girl, whom I love as woman was never loved 192 before, for whom I have waged great wars, has sat herself down there; and now you all make love to her; pleasant, comfortable fellows, and — what is really too bad — all of you pitiful knaves, gallants of the by-streets, and you, Egnatius, above all, one of the long-haired race from the rabbit warrens of Celtiberia, you whose merit consists in a bushy beard, and teeth bleached white.”
Catullus complains bitterly of the injury done him, but he makes no allowance for the fact that he had taken her from a similar place when he came to an understanding with her. That was the usual custom, and all the women who have been loved and immortalized in the couplets of the Latin poets probably came from places such as the one spoken of above. They were daughters of lupanar or tavern. In writing of the Syrian hostess Virgil did not stoop, he merely followed the example set by Catullus and Lucilius before him. Horace flirted with the mendax puella (lying jade) in the smoky house at Trivicium, and the calling she exercised made not the slightest difference to him. Propertius had an inveterate passion for intrigues such as these, and whenever his trifling with Thais or Phyllis threw Cynthia into transports of jealous rage her fury spent itself on his devoted head: she would rush with dishevelled hair into the rustic arbor in which Propertius had abandoned himself to drunkenness under the charm of their dances and the blandishment of their caresses. Where, then, could they find sanctuary, except in the tavern that knew them first? And Cynthia, or, if we are to believe Apuleius, Hostia, was always too faithless herself to have been permitted to exercise the rights conferred by honest jealousy. Whither then could she betake herself when pride demanded that she abandon her lover? To an inn on the Appian Way, the retreat of others no less disorderly, where she was free without reproach to enjoy the embraces 193 and lavish favors of some new admirer, or some libertine who had introduced her into his silken litter.
Shall we longer remain in doubt that the taverns of Rome were lupanars? Perhaps the only difference lies in the fact that they were completely open to the public gaze, they were located on the forum and in conspicuous places where all the world could see what went on and hear the brawls and uproar. The lupanars, however, were hidden away on dark and narrow alleys which Plautus calls angiporta. The taverns were entered openly without attempt at concealment, and through the front door; whereas in the case of the lupanars Prudence veiled its head and waited till night to glide into them. From this the term latebricolae (they that dwell in lurking places, or, if you prefer, friends of darkness) was derived: it was used to characterize those who frequented the lupanars. Aside from what has been said above, the two institutions were almost identical; whatever was found in one could be had in the other, good cheer and luxurious debauchery. A passage in the Poenulus of Plautus is very much to the point and furnishes a vivid scene. I refer to the entry of the slave Syncerastus into the house of his master the procurer. There is little room for error here. He always speaks of tavern and lupanar as synonyms, a propriety which would have included the guests as well. Syncerastus arrives upon the scene with his arms laden with vessels for sacrifice and orgy; all this paraphernalia he has brought to Rome and he begins by speaking of his worthy master and the establishment conducted by him:
“It’s very clear that gods and men neglect the benefit of him who has a master with a character like my master’s. There’s not another person anywhere in the whole world more perjured or more wicked than my master, nor one so filthy and so defiled. So may the gods bless 194 me, I’d rather pass my life either in the stone quarries or at the mill, with my sides hampered with heavy irons, than pass this servitude with a procurer. What a race this is! What corrupters of men they are! Ye gods, by our hopes in you, every kind and condition of men you may see there, just as though you had come to Acheron — horse and foot — a freedman, a thief, or a runaway, if you choose, one whipped, chained or condemned. He that has got the wherewithal to pay, whatever sort of person he is — all kinds are taken in; throughout all the house, in consequence, are darkened spots, hiding-places; drinking and eating are going on just as in a cook-shop, and in no less degree. There may you see epistles written in letters inscribed on pottery, sealed with pitch: the names upon them are a cubit long, such a levy of vintners we have got at our house.” (Plautus, Poenulus, Act IV, Scene ii.)
Were we to take a trip through our own cabarets we would not fail to recognize the types of Plautus, and we mention these types in order that we may fill in all the details an make a complete picture.
With this in view, let us then cite a passage from Juvenal, to give the finishing touches to the votaries and the establishments we have been describing. The passage is from Satire VIII, line 146 et seq.:
“The bloated Lateranus whirls past the bones and ashes of his ancestors in a rapid car; with his own hands this muleteer consul locks the wheel with the drag. It is by night, indeed, but the moon looks on; the stars strain their eyes to see. When his time of office is over, Lateranus will take up his whip in broad daylight; not shrinking to meet a now aged friend, he will be the first to salute him with his whip; he will unbind the trusses of hay, and deal out the fodder to his weary cattle. Meanwhile, though he slays wooly victims and tawny 195 steers after Numa’s fashion, he swears by no other deity before Jove’s high altar than the goddess of horseflesh, and the images painted on the reeking stables. And when it pleases him to go back to the all night tavern, a Syro-Phoenician runs forth to meet him — a denizen of the Idumaean Gate perpetually drenched in perfumes — and salutes him as lord and prince with all the airs of a host; and with him comes venal Cyane, her robe tucked up, carrying a flagon of wine for sale. An apologist will say to me, ‘we too did the same thing as boys.’ Perhaps: but then you ceased from your follies and let them drop. Let your evil days be short; let some of your misdoings be cut off with your first beard. Boys may be pardoned; but when Lateranus frequented those hot liquor shops with their inscribed linen awnings, he was of ripe age, fit to guard under arms the Armenian and Syrian rivers, and the Danube, and the Rhine: fit to protect the person of his emperor. Send your legate to Ostia, O Caesar, but search for him in some big cook-shop. There you will find him, lying cheek by jowl beside a cut-throat, in the company of bargees, thieves, and runaway slaves, beside hangmen and coffin makers, or of some eunuch priest lying drunk with idle timbrels. Here is Liberty Hall! One cup serves for everybody, no one has a bed to himself, nor a table apart from the rest. What would you do, friend Ponticus, if you chanced upon a slave like this? You would send him to your Lucanian or Tuscan bridewell. But you gentlemen of Trojan blood find excuse for yourselves; what would disgrace a huckster sits gracefully on a Volesus or a Brutus!”
At last the tableau is complete; not a thing has been omitted nor a type overlooked. You have beheld every variety of eating-house glutton or tavern parvenu; the tricones, and, as Seneca has called them, in speaking of their wine swilling, scordali. We have beheld the 196 priests of Cybele, fat and thick set, who fraternize with the Syrian ambunia, and the thieves who are doubtless as well received there as at the public baths, if we may place credence in what Seneca has to say: and, in addition, the pack of idle and slanderous slaves who have come here in attendance upon their masters and who occupy their leisure by getting drunk and gossiping. Who knows but they may have been sent here to get them out of the way?
“While the performance is going on,” says Plautus, in the prologue to the Poenulus, “you lacqueys make an onset on the cook-shops; now, while there’s an opportunity, now while the monogrammed tarts are smoking hot, hasten there.”
The tavern-keeper, well posted in every detail, knew the secrets of every customer of importance who patronized him — a splendid chance for blackmail and a fruitful source of profit, favor, and immunity. Ammianus Marcellinus remarks that no matter how haughty the patrician of his times was to provincials bearing letters of introduction, no matter how studied his insolence to those from whom he had nothing to gain, whenever he met at the baths with any of the ministers of his pleasures, he would become gentle courtesy itself and his condescension was not that of noble to commoner or slave, but that of friend to friend.
“Close the doors and windows,” says Juvenal, “extinguish the lights, stop up all the cracks, dismiss all the witnesses, and though the noises of the neighborhood prevent things from being heard, before dawn, before the cock crows for the second time, the tavern-keeper will know not only everything that was said and everything that was done; and not he alone, the cook, and the staff of the establishment.”
Thanks to Plautus and Juvenal we have been able to 197 see the patrician in his relationship to the taverns and inns, we have also followed the footsteps of other less exalted disciples of the same cult, and why should we manifest astonishment, when even the emperors set them all an example? But we shall be astonished at learning that the Roman nobles, not content with merely haunting the taverns, sometimes turned taverner on their own account. The thing is so strange, and the Roman patrician was so jealous of his standing, that we would not believe it possible were it not for the testimony of such a witness as Pliny:
“In the ninth year of the reign of Tiberius, the equestrian order was brought together into a single organization. The formulae giving the right to wear the ring were drawn up, in the consulship of C. Asinius Pollio and S. Antistius Vetus, in the year of Rome 775, and, a thing very remarkable, an instance of futility caused the change.
“C. Sulpitius Galba, seeking to conciliate the good graces of the prince by decisions of a young man, had established penalties for the infractions to which tavern-keepers were liable. He complained to the senate of great opposition to his plans. ‘The proprietors of illegal establishments,’ said he, evaded these penalties, thanks to their rings.’ It was enacted that no person should wear the equestrian ring, whoever he might be unless his father and his father’s father before him had been free, and furthermore, unless he possessed 400,000 sesterces, and unless he could be admitted to sit in the first fourteen rows of the theatre, according to the provisions of the Julian Law.” (Pliny, Hist. Nat. Lib. XXXIII, ch. 8.)
Such legislation would have been futile had it not been fortified with other measures which nullified any possibility of a tavern-keeper’s being able to scale the social and economic ladder and rise to a position which 198 entitled him to rank with the patrician. While these measures dealt the whole innkeeping class a severe blow, they were by no means prostrated; and though the lowly wine seller might not aspire to the rank of a knight, the processes of economy enabled him to sate his ambitions along other lines: his vanity made him ape the fads and fashions set by the nobles, and his wealth placed the necessary means in his hands. The most outstanding instance of bigoted arrogance, yet kind hearted, withal, is the character of Trimalchio. Martial in several of his epigrams has summed this situation up and in one, especially, he has left us nothing to be desired:
“Cultured Bononia, a cobbler gave you an exhibition, and a fuller gave one to Mutina. Where, now, shall the tavern-keeper give his?” (Lib. III, 59.)
In Petronius we find Norbanus using this means to political affluence and position, and it is well known that Julius Caesar used the same device upon an unprecedented scale in preparing the minds of the people to take his yoke upon their necks.
The tavern-keepers and the callings allied to that of innkeeping were prosperous, as a rule, as they tempered their trust to the necessities of a given situation; where credit would do them good they sometimes extended it, where failure to extend credit was likely to procure mine host a sound drubbing, he was liberal, but generally speaking we believe the attitude of Cleoereta, the laena in Plautus’s] Asinaria is more in keeping with the tenets of the past:
“Daylight, water, the sun, the moon, the night, these things I purchase not with money; the rest, whatever we wish to enjoy, we purchase on Grecian trust.1
“When we ask bread of the baker, wine from the wine-shop, if they receive the money they give their wares. 199 The same principle do I go upon, my hands always have eyes in them, they believe what they see; there’s an old saying: ‘Trust is good for nought,’ you know whose it is, I say no more.” Act I, Scene iii.
There was great profit in selling wine: Trimalchio remarked that he had laid the foundations of his fortune by a lucky speculation in wine and foodstuffs. There was also a fine profit in selling food products to be consumed where sold: although the landlord had the right to retail all sorts of vintages, Falernian, Caecubian, Setian, his real profits were derived from the sale of inferior products, and then, as always, the public suffered as a consequence. Adulteration, artificial fortifying, synthetic ripening: all these arts were generally practised by the vintners and soon brought some of the finest wine producing provinces into a disrepute which they little merited. This was especially true with certain portions of southern France.
As far as the innkeeper went, however, the beggars of the Porta Trigemina and the Velabrum had a finer opportunity to taste the wretched Laletanian vintage and get from its cloudy harshness all the kick that could be desired. Martial, who must have known this wine well, recommends it to Sextilianus:
“Sextilianus, you yourself drink as much as five rows of benches; you could get drunk drinking as much water. Not only do you take the tokens of your neighbors, but you ask, also, the bronze coins of those farther from you. This vintage is not from Pelignian wine presses nor was the grape juice born on Tuscan hillsides; you drain dry a jar of ancient Opimian; Massic stores furnished the blackened jars. If you must have more than ten drinks, Sextilianus, go and get cloudy Laletanian from the innkeeper.” (Epigr. Lib. I, 27.)
Tavern-keepers were so accustomed to serving base 200 and inferior vintages without discussion, and without even ascertaining whether the customer had any preference in the matter of drink, that when some guest did demand better wine it was the cause of some surprise and sometimes got the would-be purchaser into difficulties. Mine host was forward to require an explanaton of such an anomaly on the part of some slave or some lowly commoner, and the rumor would soon filter out that some lord or high official was lodged there for the time being. The Roman orator Marcus Antonius, grandfather of the triumvir, would not otherwise have been dragged from his hiding-place in the proscriptions of Marius. And so it has always been: the insatiable curiosity of a tavern-keeper and the gossipings of some slaves have often been the causes which have led to discovery and murder.
Plutarch has related the episode with all his verve and realism, and the facts speak for themselves in utter condemnation of the baseness of the tavern-keepers, their addiction to delation; their malignant espionage, and their perpetual league with the slaves and desperadoes:
“Marcus Antonius the orator, though he, too, found a true friend, had ill fortune. The man was but poor and a plebeian, and as he was entertaining a man of great rank in Rome, trying to provide for him with the best he could, he sent his servant to get some wine of a neighboring vintner. The servant, carefully tasting it and bidding him draw better, the fellow asked him what was the matter, that he did not buy new and ordinary wine as he used to do, but richer and of a greater price; he, without any design, told him, as his old friend and acquaintance, that his master entertained Marcus Antonius, who was concealed with him. The villainous vintner as soon as the servant was gone, went himself to Marius, then at supper, and being brought into his presence, told him 201 he would deliver Antonius into his hands. As soon as he heard it, it is said he gave a great shout, and clapped his hands for joy, and had very nearly risen up and gone to the place himself; but being detained by his friends, he sent Annius and some soldiers with him, and commanded him to bring Antonius’s head to him with all speed. When they came to the house, Annius stayed at the door, and the soldiers went upstairs into the chamber; where seeing Antonius, they endeavoured to shuffle off the murder from one to another; for so great, it seems, were the graces and charms of his oratory, that as soon as he began to speak and beg his life, none of them durst touch or so much as look upon him; but hanging down their heads, every one fell a weeping. When their stay seemed something tedious, Annius came up himself and found Antonius discoursing, and the soldiers astonished and quite softened by it, and, calling them cowards, went himself and cut off his head.”
The strangest thing about this murder is that the facts as elegantly related by Plutarch are in exact agreement with Voltaire’s relation of the death of Coligny in the massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s eve. Stranger still, the manner in which the hiding place of Antonius was discovered was identical with that of General Pichegru’s betrayal — always in the place of a tavern-keeper who may or may not be involved in the plot. As the story of Pichegru’s betrayal is an excellent commentary upon that of Antonius we shall introduce it here, with apologies to Merimée. The speaker is Madame Leblanc, the principal actress in the affair and one of the staff of the theatre Clara Gazul:
“Ah, Elisa,” says the spy, speaking to her daughter, “in affairs such as these nothing can be neglected. It was by means of a roasted chicken that I was enabled to discover the hiding-place of General Pichegru; and 202 without boasting, the affair did me great honor, to say nothing of the profit it provided. Here is how it all came about. Your father was alive then, Captain Leblanc. He had returned from the army; he had wealth. We had a good time of it and lived brilliantly. One day I went to my caterer and demanded a roasted fowl of him. ‘My God, madame,’ he replied, ‘I am greatly distressed, I have just sold my last one.’ As for myself, I knew the entire quarter and I wished to know to whom he had sold it. ‘Who got it,’ I demanded of him. ‘Such and such an one,’ he replied, ‘he treats himself very well, too, and every day for the past three days he has had a fowl of me for his dinner.’ Note well that it had been just three days since we had lost all trace of General Pichegru. I turned the matter over and over in my head, and I said to myself, ‘The devil, neighbor, you have got an appetite, you are famishing.’ Finally, I came back the next day and purchased some partridges which were not yet cooked done, remarking at the same time that I would send my scullion for them when they were ready. Then my man of the great appetite entered and bought a roasted turkey, and a fine turkey it was, too, take my word for it. ‘Ah,’ said I to him, ‘what a thing, you surely have a great appetite, enough for two persons for a week.’ He winked his eye at me and replied, ‘Yes, I have appetite enough for two.’ A Frenchman must always make the best of an opportunity for an epigram. I watched him with both eyes; he turned away, mounted his horse, and set off. He did not mislead me to his advantage, I knew that he knew General Pichegru. My man is apprehended, and he surrenders up my general with right good will as an honest recompense, and I for my part, six thousand francs’ worth of gratification.”
Proof positive that even a conspirator should have due regard to the finer points of diet and that one should 203 by all means avoid transgressing the proprieties whatever they may be locally. Eating roast fowl or drinking rare wines in neighborhoods in which such luxuries are not common articles of table or cellar is the very height of stupidity.
As for the taverns and inns of classical Rome, we have long held the opinion that the institutions which resembled them most strikingly, were the cabarets of papal Rome, and we have the evidence of William Savage in our favor.
“The disposition of these cabarets,” says he, “is uniform, they are long chambers with a vaulted ceiling, a sort of shed and kitchen combined.
“Long tables are found here, and the benches, mere trestles, evilly constructed and crude in the extreme, have little but strength to recommend them. The master of the place is seated upon a kind of chair or on a platform, the serving boys are in the most complete negligée, the walls are coarsely painted, some bearing inscriptions such as the following:
“ ‘QVANDO QVESTO GALLO CANTARA, ALLORA, CREDENZA SI FARA.’
“ ‘When that cock shall crow then credit will be given.’
Above the inscription is a rude likeness of the gallus gallinaceus or dunghill cock, and the emblem is surely the very pink of propriety; a pithy commentary upon the honesty of the host and the trade which he has gained.”
That little platform on which the host is seated is but a repetition of the older one on which the bar-maid took her ease and the trestles or benches were also copied from originals more ancient, as a well known scene from Pompeii proves. Martial speaks of a bench ridden tavern (sellariolae popinae), and the miserable mural decoration might well have inspired Phaedrus to excel 204 himself, as we have said above. Catullus has spoken of writing with burnt stick upon the walls of an infamous tavern, and Juvenal speaks of the awnings of linen inscribed inscripta lintea. When Savage speaks of the negligée of the serving boys he means to indicate a picture such as Nero must have made when harping in a pair of drawers. The resemblance between the two institutions so widely separated in point of time is strikingly close in every detail.
A little further on, Savage speaks of the signs of the merchants and says: “Brandy and wines sell themselves without any sign,” and this was generally the case in the ancient world as well. Publilius Syrus, the mime, has preserved in his Sententiae one ancient proverb which does justice both to the situation and to human nature:
“Vino vendibili suspensa hedera non opus est” (a wine good enough to be sold needs no garland of ivy to garnish it), which is the same as the ancient French, bon vin point d’enseign and the biblical, a good wine needs no bush. In connection with the term hedera (ivy) it should be remarked that a tendril of ivy was an attribute of Dionysus, even as the bush became traditional with our own cabarets and taverns. Many a vintner dispensed with such a sign because of the truth of the proverb, deeming a sign almost a confession of selling inferior vintages. The ivy, however, sacred to the god, was often used either as it was brought in or else in the form of a painting over the door. Sometimes we find bas-reliefs in which the ivy is the motif. A vintner’s establishment was found at Pompeii: it had a very poorly executed sign on which were depicted two men, probably slaves of the establishment, clad in drawers, carrying an oblong amphora which hangs by a thong from the middle of a long pinga pole the ends of which are supported upon the shoulders of the two slaves.
1 Cash in hand.