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effeminate dances were condemned as indecent in men of wisdom and character. This amusement was not with, held from God's ancient people; but it was confined chiefly to the female sex, who seem, in every instance mentioned in Scripture, to have enjoyed it by themselves. The men and women of Israel never mingled in the dance, so far as the writer can perceive from the sacred history, except on one occasion, when they worshipped the golden calf. Nor is the view now given contradicted by our Lord's allusion, in the parable of the prodigal son; for he only mentions music and dancing, without saying a word about the mode; we have therefore a right to conclude, that he referred to the established custom of his people.t
But the highest pleasure which the ancients experienced at their feasts, arose from agreeable conversation. In the opinion of the ancient Greeks, says Athenæus," it was more requisite and becoming to gratify the company by agreeable conversation, than with variety of dishes." And in the heroical ages, as Plutarch observes, it was usual to consult about affairs of the greatest importance at public feasts; hence Nestor persuades Agamemnon to invite the Grecian commanders to an entertainment, in order to deliberate concerning the management of the war." The Spartan youth frequented the public tables, as the schools of temperance and prudence, where they heard discourses of public affairs, and conversed with the most liberal and best accomplished masters. The same custom obtained in several other cities of Greece, in Persia, and other oriental states. This partly accounts for the discourses which our - Lord delivered, and the interesting conversations he main* Luke xv, 25. u Il, lib. ix, 1, 70,
▾ Potter's Grecian Antiq, vol. ii, p. 406.
tained, at public entertainments. It is not to be supposed, that the Son of God and the Redeemer of men, would suffer any favourable opportunity of doing good to escape, without improving it to the very best advantage; but when he graciously drew the attention of his company to matters of the deepest interest, he availed himself of a custom familiar to every part of the east.
It was also customary to unbend their mind by turns, and divert them from serious affairs, by discourses on ludicrous subjects; but no pastime was more common, than that of proposing and answering difficult questions. The person who solved the question was honoured with a re ward; he who failed in the attempt suffered a certain punishment; both the rewards and penalties were va ried, according to the disposition of the company. That the custom of proposing riddles was very ancient, and de rived from the eastern nations, appears from the story of Samson, in the book of Judges, who proposed one to the Philistines at his nuptial feast. Nor were these questions confined to entertainments, but in the primitive times, were proposed on other occasions, by those who desired to make proof of another's wisdom and learning. Agree ably to this custom, the queen of Sheba came to prove Solomon with hard questions.*
When the company were ready to separate, a servant entered and sprinkled them profusely with rose water, as a valedictory mark of his master's regard. In some places, this was done at the beginning of the entertainment, and was considered as a cordial welcome. Mr. Bruce informs us, that when he rose to take his leave of an eastern family, he "was presently wet to the skin, by deluges of ▾ Potter's Gr. Antiq. vol. ü, p. 408. * 1 Kings x, 1.
orange-flower water."y "The first time," says Niebuhr,
we were received with all the eastern ceremonies, (it was at Rosetta, at a Greek merchant's house) there was one of our company who was excessively surprised, when a domestic placed himself before him, and threw water over him, as well on his face, as over his clothes." It appears from the testimony of both these authors, that this is the customary mode of shewing respect and kindness to a guest in the east." The prophet Isaiah seems to refer to this custom, in a passage where he describes the cha racter and functions of the Messiah: "So shall he sprinkle many nations, the kings shall shut their mouths at him."a As the Father's chosen servant, he shall appear in the fulness of time, to display his infinite love, and impart the blessings of salvation, through his own blood, to the children of men. He shall welcome them to the feast of the gospel, by the effusion of his holy Spirit; and when they bid adieu to the courts of God's house on earth, he will see them again, and refresh their departing souls with "showers of blessing." The kings and princes of the earth, shall fall down in silent wonder and astonishment before him, and all nations shall serve him.
The entertainer occasionally dismissed his guests with costly presents. Lysimachus of Babylon, having entertained Hemerus the tyrant of the Babylonians and Selucians, with three hundred other guests, gave every man a silver cup, of four pounds weight. When Alexander made his marriage feast at Susa in Persia, he paid the
Travels, vol. iii, p. 14.
* The Hindoos observe the same custom, according to Mr. Forbes. Orient. Mem. vol. ii, p. 12; and vol. iii, p. 176, 181.
Isa. lii, 13.
"See Taylor's Calmet, vol. iii. IM
debts of all his soldiers out of his own exchequer, and presented every one of his guests, who were not fewer than nine thousand, with golden cups. The master of the house among the Romans, used also to give the guests certain presents at their departure, or to send them after they were gone, to their respective habitations. It is probable that this custom, like many others which prevailed in Greece and Rome, was derived from the nations of Asia; for the sacred writers allude repeatedly to a simi lar custom, which closed the religious festivals or public entertainments among the chosen people of God. When David brought up the ark from the house of Obededom, into the place which he had prepared for it, he offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before the Lord. And as soon as the solemnity was finished," he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a flaggon of wine."e
Their ardent hospitality did not permit them to forget their relations and acquaintances that happened to be detained from their public banquets, by personal or domestic afflictions, or any other cause. To such persons it was the custom to send a part of what remained from the feast. Nehemiah alludes to this kind and generous usage, in his charge to the people: "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." Another instance of this cus tom occurs in the book of Esther: "Therefore the Jews made the fourteenth day of the month Adar, a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending Potter's Grecian Antiq. vol. ii, p. 410.
d Adam's Rom. Antiq. p. 446.
* 2 Sam. vi, 19.
portions one to another." The command of Nehemiah to send portions to those for whom nothing was prepared, has been generally understood to mean the poor; but as it was not a private feast, but a national festival, in which the poor and the rich were equally concerned, it cannot, with propriety, be restricted to the former, but ought to be understood of all such as were unavoidably absent, and particularly of those that were in a state of mourning. In the last instance, their sending portions one to another, is expressly distinguished from gifts to the poor, in a following verse, and, therefore, cannot have the same mean→ ing. An oriental prince sometimes honours a friend or a favourite servant, who cannot conveniently attend at his table, by sending a mess to his own home. When the grand emir found that it incommoded D'Arvieux to eat with him, he politely desired him to take his own time for eating, and sent him what he liked from his kitchen at the time he chose. And thus, when David, the king of Israel, pretended, for secret reasons too well known to himself, that it would be inconvenient for Urijah to continue at the royal palace, he dismissed him to his own house: "and there followed him," says the historian, "a mess of meat from the king.”
The women are not permitted to associate with the other sex at an eastern banquet; but they are allowed to entertain one another in their own apartments. When Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, treated all the people of his capital with a splendid feast, Vashti, the queen, we are informed," made a banquet for the women in the royal house, which belonged to king Ahasuerus." This,
Esth. ix, 19.