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. 53-67.




Grecian inns of the fifth century before Christ — The inns of the pleasure-loving Athenians — The public houses, low dives, and public stews — Wine booths and dancing girls — The giving of names and signs to taverns the beginning of advertising — Keepers of taverns and cabarets held detestable and infamous — Drunkenness and harlotry prevail — Diogenes a frequenter.

Inasmuch as we have only found inns complete in needful details under the emperors, the question of whether the Greeks of former times actually possessed establishments where one could lodge and where his animals could be taken care of, may arise. The rapid decadence of hospitality, once it had set in, and the institution of the proxenos serve but to cloud the issue, and the unwary scholar might draw an erroneous inference from the facts. The shelters erected for pilgrims to religious festivals would also tend to bear out such an inference. There are several terms in the Greek language which denote inns, and many of these terms are classical, some few being even ante-classical, there are also numerous passages in the authors, sometimes obscure and ambiguous, but which, nevertheless, offer positive evidence that there were sumptuous establishments of the kind. A verse in the Inachus of Sophocles, cited and commented upon by Pollux, proves that as early as the fifth century before Christ, hostelries were already known in Greece. The pandokos xenostasis was an inn where guests only were lodged; but the phatne as well as the stathmos were used to denote a huge establishment where men and beasts found shelter. Athenaeus cites a passage in the Peltate of Ephippus as follows: “The place was furnished with 54 stables for beasts of burden, stalls for the horses, and dining-rooms (gleumata).”

It was in places such as these that great and powerful individuals with carriages and baggage trains, such, for example, as envoys on their way to their posts of duty in foreign states, lodged. Such diplomats found the hospitality of the miserable little inns of Boeotia or Phocis little to their tastes, and dearly bought. We know this, thanks to a beautiful passage in the orations of Aeschines, in which the Greek orator tells us that the Athenian ambassadors lodged one of their companions, whom they suspected of treason, in an inn, and among other indications of their contempt, they refused to lodge or dine in the same inn. The katagogion was a very simple and very common hostelry, as was also the katalusis. According to Pollux there were many of that sort at Athens, and also throughout the whole of Greece, as is proved by many references in the Greek writers. It was in such an establishment as this that the famous case of murder and telepathy took place at Megara, as Cicero tells us. Secaldus, and the old man of Oree, found themselves in a like situation in Argolis and it is there that they recited to one another that mutual account of their misfortunes which Plutarch has transmitted to our times. People who went to consult the oracle, the devotees of Pythia and Apollo, who departed for Delphi or Tegyre, the place where the god was born, lodged there of their own free will in the hostelries, as is easily inferred from an anecdote related by Plutarch in his treatise On the Oracles Which Are No More, and the same may be said of certain Delians who had returned to Delphi. Had they not overheard the words of a certain innkeeper, they would all have been lost and would never have been able to return to their country. “During the Peloponesian War, the Delians having been driven from their island, 55 they were advised by an oracle of Delphi to search out and possess themselves of the place where Apollo had been born, and there to make sacrifices of a certain nature: they marveled about this and demanded whether Apollo might not have been born elsewhere than amongst them, the prophetess Pythia advised them that a crow would lead them aright. The representatives of the Delians, on their return, passed by chance a village in Chaeronia, and they saw a certain hostelry there with some strangers frequented from the oracle of Tegyre to which they wished to go, and as they were taking their departure they heard the following conversation: ‘Farewell, madame Crow,’ and taking literally the response of the prophetess, they made their sacrifice at Tegyre, whereupon they were restored into favor and returned to their country.”

But what were these hostelries, these Greek pandokeia, such as were to be found in these villages, scattered along the great roads for those travelling through the country? How were they distributed, what was their extent, what were the conditions in them and what were their charges? This we do not know. The fragments in Menander tell us that wine was sold for a few obols the pint and that for the price paid daily to a pandar a whole family could live in comfort for a month. The details concerning the institution at Plataea with which Thucydides has furnished us are happy in their fullness, we are not so fortunate, however, in material of the same sort which will serve to illustrate the pandokeia, nor do the writings of antiquity help us, in this respect. They may have been simple caravanserai as Pouqueville imagines, and might be compared with the khans of modern Greece, in his estimation; those vast and miserable sheds where beasts of burden and men were herded indiscriminately into a hurly-burly, ad of which Buchon gives so 56 piteous a description. We are of the belief that a passage of Plutarch will prove that in those hostelries of Greece, even as in the khans of Modern Greece, the life of the wayfarer was identical in every respect, and, using the expression of Buchon, “everything is done in the presence and before the eyes of all.”

Black and white pen and ink drawing by Norman Lindsay, of three men, in togas, walking down a dark cobble-stoned street towards a bright tavern.


But in Athens these conditions were entirely different. Putting aside the fact that from their very character, pleasure-loving, witty, sprightly, and volatile, they would naturally form a larger number and a greater variety of social relations, they also possessed a civic life infinitely more cosmopolitan and sparkling. They harbored a constant influx of strangers from the ends of the earth, traders, merchants, brokers, all in search of business and profit; travellers and art lovers, seeking to learn and to enjoy, sages come to pay respect to the shrine of philosophy and literature. It was only natural that with them the need for hotels and inns soon brought them into being. In the life at Athens such institutions are often mentioned, and the difference between conditions at Athens and Sparta is very neatly and caustically summed up in a witticism delivered by the philosopher Diogenes, which Aristotle has preserved for us. This cynic once said: “The public houses are the Phyditerien (a bagnio where flute girls entertained and ministered to the desires in any way requested [see Aristophanes for extended note]) of the Athenians.” If from this witticism one were to argue a greater frequenting of the public houses this must be understood only of the lower and lowest dregs of society, and therein lies the basic difference between the public house of the ancient Greco-Roman civilization and our own. There were exceptions, however. When the Athenian ambassadors were sent to negotiate with Philip of Macedon, they lodge everywhere in inns. Dionysus (Aristoph. Ranae, 114), makes inquiry 57 as to the quality of the inns on the road to Hell, and what shall we say of those special provisions made by the public to provide shelter for wayfarers coming to Athens and Corinth to participate in the great religious festivals and games? In Athens, however, the better classes of the people had nobler and finer occasions for social entertainment, though this was often very costly at Corinth. Horace has remarked that not every man could afford to pleasure there, and we have no less an authority than Demosthenes to bear him out. The public houses had little influence on the greater number of the upper classes of society though these same upper classes were unanimous in holding publicans and all their ways in contempt not only because of the natural contempt of the aristocrat for the underling, but also because these rogues and scoundrels, fracturing by their very calling one of those beautiful and sacred tenets of a semi-primitive culture which carried out the rites of hospitality even to remote generations and nourished the guest-friend even in the face of war, could only be such and shelter the stranger within their gates for gain. Then, too, the adulteration of wine and devious methods in merchandising were only too well known in classical times. According to Petronius, Socrates used to boast that he never had looked into a tavern, but it is more probable that what he meant to say was that he never looked around in one. But the almost universal disrepute in which the aubergists were held may be inferred from a multitude of passages in classical literature. Among the most striking is that passage in the Characters of Theophrastus in which he describes an individual so lost to shame and so lacking in intelligence that he would even be capable of conducting a public house. Isaac Casaubon, in commenting upon the passage of Theophrastus cited above, hints at the facility with which publican lent their services in 58 the matter of pimping; and decries that zeal in the public service which would procure service for the paying guest who wants what he wants when he wants it. In fact, the austere post-renaissance scholar goes so far as to sum up the attributes of hosts who did better than serve their patrons with a savory dish or a rare vintage, calling them pimps and their establishments public stews. The moralizing Socrates says somewhere that not even a slave with a shred of respectability would risk eating in a public house. This seems somewhat exaggerated, however, for from various passages in Aristophanes one learns that the more common class of citizens and their wives as well did not hesitate to enjoy themselves in such houses. But that persons of position and dignity, on the contrary, did not visit such places and that they were partly constrained by law from visiting them can be inferred from Hyperides as cited by Athenaeus, who states that if a member of the Areopagitus had ever entered a public house, even on a single occasion, his colleagues would no longer have tolerated him as a member of that assembly. As to the establishments themselves, the Greek language defines them and places them in different classes. First then we shall mention the wine booths. Here wine was sold only on the street. Then there were ale or beer houses or taprooms, at least the lexicographer Suidas expressly differentiates the mere wine seller from the publican. Such were the places where Demos amused himself with flutists and lyrists and dancing girls who were agreeable in other ways. Whether all these wine shops also sheltered strangers, or whether the rights and limitations of these houses were so exactly defined and established and regulated by the authorities is not known. This definite division does not seem to have taken place. There is still another class of public houses mentioned which seems to have provided 59 especially for the shelter of strangers. These were known by a characteristic name, pandokian, All Receiving, open to all. Booths also, it seems, were sometimes connected with these inns. Some establishments doubtless stood somewhat higher in the scale than those mentioned, for even if a large part or even if the greater part of strangers stopping in Athens found shelter with hospitable friends, there must have been a considerable number who had no such connections and were therefore compelled by necessity to avail themselves of a public house. However, it is not at all to be expected that with the carelessness and indifference which even yet prevails in the Levant and Orient and even in the Latin countries, the comfort of travelers was looked after to the same degree as in our inns and hotels of today, especially in those of the larger cities. That the Greeks, like ourselves, had painted signs on such establishments may be ascertained from a passage in Aristotle. Nevertheless, the fact that in Aristophanes and other writers no further trace of the use of such signs is to be met appears to weigh against the universality of the custom, and as this usage would have furnished many an opportunity for sarcastic comment, its absence is indicative of the fact that the custom was not widespread. That the omission is accidental is too much to suppose. The custom of giving names and signs to inns and the like is perhaps the very beginning of advertising as we understand it today. For instance, we have the familiar sign of the two triangles laid one over the other, and also the bush set up in front, both of which go back to Graeco-Roman times, as will be shown. The Greek innkeepers had a special patron saint just as our publicans have theirs, in Pandolphus and Julianus. They placed themselves under the patronage of Mercury, who, by the way, was also the very prince of purloiners, of whom Horace wrote:


Choused of his cattle, Apollo in a rage
Demanded restitution, with a frown;
Threatening thee gamin, impish and sage
Who laughed, and, his impotence to crown
Didst filch his quiver with thy guile
And he could only swear — and smile.

Such, then, was the manner in which the public houses of Athens were instituted in general, and, as will be seen from the foregoing, they were bound to differ immeasurably from ours in importance and in the esteem in which they were held. Yet the writer well remembers more than one wayside forest inn along the former boundaries of western Russia and eastern Germany and Austria which were strongly reminiscent of the standards to which the ancients took such universal exception and he is here tempted to enlarge upon the statement of Sir Samuel Dill, in his Roman Society from Nero to Aurelius: “The Roman inns, from the time of Horace to Sidonius Apollinaris were in bad standing and even dangerous.” Had Sir Samuel journeyed through the forests of eastern Russia he would have commented upon these inns and harpies at some length. The inns of Greece and Asia Minor then belonged in general to a very low place in the social order and the need they filled was limited, while our public houses, in their large number and variety, our ale and beer houses (O shades of Gambrinus and the golden age), inns, wine rooms, coffee houses, casinos, clubs and restaurants, are patronized in the evening by the greatest number of all those who have become weary during the day by application to business or even by sheer lack of all employment. The reason for this contrast is not difficult to adduce or to understand, for why should a free Athenian have wished to seek entertainment and social intercourse in such a place? Was not all like a series of gay festivities and activities 61 which stimulated his mind? There were the numerous religious fiestas, venerable and national, and, almost coaeval with his traditions, built on the very foundation of his character and its needs, beautiful in their simplicity and symbolism; and in addition there were the games, the philosophical schools, folk dances, and the ever present spectre of war among themselves which kept alive the glamour of military tradition and service.

In the theatre he saw his gods on the stage, in the majesty and grandeur of Aeschylus and Sophocles he heard their utterances, and the memory lingered until the next occasion and lingers still. The greater part of his time, however, was occupied with political duties and activities. He presided in the public assembly as a magistrate or attended as a citizen, he spoke, or listened to the speeches of others, which sometimes tended to benefit him but often injured him, and which always entertained him. He elected officers and he was elected to office, or he sat in open court as judge or as spectator. Everywhere subjects were discussed which touched his interests closely, and the debates were such that by their wit and energy of expression, their brilliant rhetoric and the exquisite artistry in the manner of their presentation, they were then supreme and have never been surpassed or even equalled to the present time. Aristophanes has flayed the designing Cleon, and he was not alone in demoralizing Demos, sycophants and subserviency often had such plausibility that they were able to overthrow honor and lead even the most scrupulous citizen into a dangerous and expensive lawsuit, but when that age came Greece was on the decline even as has always been the case with other nations. “Men,” said Aristophanes, and after him Petronius, “men are lions at home and foxes abroad.”

Only the results of all this were tragic, however; in 62 the daily and ordinary activity of these institutions there unfolded itself on the other hand, a certain strength of mind and activity of thought, a stimulating of the faculties and an energy of action compared with which our public life forms a contrast almost as marked as the difference between life and death. We must be cautious in condemning lest we condemn ourselves and our own institutions.

One should do whatever will benefit his health, sing, declaim, or if he so desires, walk up and down in the great room of a hostelry, whether strangers be present or no, “it makes no difference whether one is a passenger aboard ship or whether he is lodged in an inn with many others, if the attendants are inclined to laugh and make sport it makes no difference, it is not less dishonest to eat than it is to take one’s exercise.” From this passage it would appear that no separate room was allotted to each individual traveler, and the pandokeion was a common refectory and dormitory. Would it then follow that the same disorder of men and beasts would have been found there as in a modern Greek khan? We do not think otherwise.

We base our belief on the passage of Ephippus cited by Athenaeus, and upon another not less curious found in Pollux. In his precious chapter upon the settings of a play and the decorations of Greek theatres, he informs us that ordinarily they opened through the proscenium, three doors; that in the middle might open upon a palace, a cavern or grotto, or the house of a nobleman, but that the second, on the left, invariably opened upon an inn, whilst the one on the right led to a temple in ruins or remained vacant. In tragedies, on the contrary, the inn or “door of strangers,” according to his diction, was on the right, and one discovered a prison on the left. These details, while of interest, go far to prove that inn 63 life was well known and was a familiar part of daily living in ancient Greece, otherwise they would never have had a part in the drama of the times, and have been always introduced in the scenic scheme of the theatre; but let us give the passage in the words of Pollux: “In the comedies, an awning was stretched over a carpet, it was always stretched near a tavern doubtless so that those passing might cool themselves in the hot hours of the day, and nearby one saw the stables for the beasts of burden, and the great gates which the Greeks called klisiades, and they passed through these to enter their carriages.” Here, then, we see one of those edifices of the Greeks, great halls for the guests, near by stables for the horses and sumpter mules, and great doors for the carriages. But at that point our information comes to an abrupt end.

As to the masters of these establishments, we cannot think ourselves better informed, in fact, our information is, if anything, even more scanty and sketchy. We only know that, as in the case of the keeper of a tavern or cabaret, the calling of him who conducted a pandokeion was held detestable and infamous. Pollux has transmitted to our admiring curiosity the entire index expurgatorious of infamous callings and damaged goods and we have good reason to suppose that the legislator was very wisely occupied with such subjects in placing the ban of a public scarcely less moral, all those who lodged for the night, all the tavern-keepers in the villages and towns, or along the great routes of Hellas.

Their women were for the most part strumpets from the lowest stratum. In absolute proof of this we need only cite a very curious passage from the Theodosian code, as later on we shall, that such women were absolved from the penalties carried by he law against adultery, so true was it thought that their hideous calling was but 64 one facet of the profession still older; a few phrases from Theophrastus’s chapter on Slander shall suffice for the present. He tells us that the daughters of Thrace, so numerous at Athens, many being of the nobility of their own country, but for the most part slaves, sellers of ribbons, tavern girls, all combining the calling of sweet predaciousness with their other métier; our evil speaker launches an epigram at the sons of such abandoned women, imputing the same qualities to her son — like mother like son, as it were: “His mother, I may add, is a noble damsel of Thrace, at least, in the language of Corinth she is called ‘my life, my soul,’ and such ladies are esteemed noble in their own country, they say. Our friend himself, as might be expected from his parentage, is a rascally scoundrel. Such women snatch the passers-by out of the very street. That house has not the best of characters. Really there is something in that proverb about the women. In short, they have a trick of gossiping with men . . . and they answer the hall-door themselves.” In other words, such hostesses conducted hostelries along the great roads, but the pleasure of their guests was the most serious and profitable concern of their lives. Nor should we be astonished at this information when we remember the nature of the company thus brought together in the stalls called, by way of compliment among the Greeks, inns, and we find the high minded Plutarch greatly incensed and defending well born men from tavern friendships and familiarities. He says to them: “That they should not do as many do and imagine they have the substance of a good time when they have but the shadow, gaming with dice, playing mora, lodging with innkeepers and picking up gambling friendships with tavern-keepers in the villages to the glittering spell of games.” And a saying of Plato in his Laws wherein he sets forth his ideas upon a Utopian 65 government is as much to the point in some favored countries today as it was when he enunciated it. I refer to the passage in Lib. XI, sec. 918 of the Laws.

There is, of course, little doubt that the unpopularity of innkeepers in Greece arose in part from the feeling against receiving pelf for hospitality, but their tendencies toward adulteration and substitution, extortion, espionage, and the like, also contributed to their ill repute.

“On this account (eagerness for gain) all the lines of life connected with the retail trade, commerce, inn-keeping, have fallen under suspicion and become utterly disreputable. For if what I trust may never be and will not be, we were to compel, if I may say a ridiculous thing, the best men everywhere to keep taverns for a time; or carry on retail trade, or do anything of that sort; or if, in consequence of some fate or necessity, the best women were compelled to follow similar callings, then we should know how agreeable and pleasant all these things are; and if all such occupations were managed on incorruptible principles, they would be honored as we honor a mother or a nurse. For the sake of trade, a man opens lodgings in a lonely place, a long way from anywhere. He receives bewildered travelers in barely tolerable quarters, or affords warmth, quiet, and rest in his close rooms to people driven in by angry storms. And then, after receiving them as friends, he does not provide them with hospitable entertainment according to that reception but holds them to ransom like captive enemies whom he has got into his clutches, on the most exorbitant, unjust, rascally terms. It is these offenses and others like them, shamefully common in all such calling, which have brought discredit upon all ministration to men’s need.”

Is it any wonder that Dionysus in the Frogs inquires what are the best inns on the road to Hell?


No, Theophrastus, you were wrong; the reckless man would not become a tavern-keeper with such profits in sight.

The impudent predaciousness and harlotry of the women of the inns and taverns were able foils for the unprincipled thievery and general rascality practised habitually by the men of the house; hungry for profits, they cared not a fig what the source might be. They had taking ways, but their charity was hypo-microscopic and could only be awakened by some wily impostor with a supposititious legacy to leave or some other motive of paramount interest; arrogant where they did not fear personal chastisement, they bore admirably the tradition of Aristophanes, that “men are lions at home and foxes abroad.”

They held the stranger in contempt who was careful of his expenditures and did not hesitate to manifest it when they dared. All these, and other characteristics are meant by the term kapelos.

Any man possessing a tavern where entertainment was to be had passes, if that were possible, for even a grater knave than the innkeeper. It was always a disgrace to frequent his establishment, and any man making such a place his headquarters would have been held to be without shame and utterly lost to all sense of honor, and would have blushed to have been seen sitting at table there. A certain Demosthenes, not the orator, as he was a drinker of water, was seen one day by Diogenes the Cynic, getting drunk in a tavern, and was greatly put out, according to Plutarch, and wished for nothing so much as to get away from the place undiscovered. “The more you pull back,” said the Cynic, “the further you get into the tavern,” meaning of course infamy. Although Diogenes spoke to that purpose, he was none the less a frequenter of such abandoned places, in true 67 cynic form. Before he took his perpetual headquarters in the patched tub in which he crouched, he had spent practically his whole life in taverns. He took his meals in them, too. Once when he was dining amongst a crowd in a tavern he saw through the open door the Demosthenes the orator passing by in the street. He called to him, and as the other heeded not the invitation, but continued his walk, and turned his head, “And why,” yelled the Cynic after him, “are you too proud to approach a place where your master does not disdain to dine and spend his time?” “It was his desire,” remarks Aelian, who has transmitted the anecdote to posterity, “to speak to people in general, and to citizens in particular, intimately, individually; such he deemed the office of the orator; and such as harangued the public for reasons of state are but the slaves of the multitude.”