Chapter 8. Forms of Collection

There are words that allow one to obtain a view from above the labyrinth, to seize one of its principles of structural coherence. For example sunagōgē, which means “collection”. It is one of those keywords that invite one to unravel Ariadne’s thread in Athenaeus’ labyrinth. Indeed, not only does the activity of collection appear, it is one of its constitutive elements.
When Athenaeus turns to Timocrates at the end of Book 2 to put an end to his catalogue of vegetables and of quotations relating to them, he uses the word sunagōgē (2.71e); likewise, at the end of Book 11 (509e), when the catalogue of wine cups has just been given. Sunagōgē also describes the assembly of scholars at the Museum of Alexandria (5.203e), as it does that of the guests at the symposium (5.192b). [1] Moreover, the neuter plural sunagōgima is sometimes used as a synonym for “banquets”, and sunagōgion for “symposium” (8.365b–c). As a quotation by Antiphanes shows, three guests are “gathered” on a triclinium (2.47f). It is, however, also texts that are “gathered”, for example playful epigrams (2.321f). Sunagōgē can be used of a lexicon, that is of a collection of words (7.329d; see also 1.5b). This passion for collections of words is also characteristic of Ulpian: he “collects thorns” (i.e. thorny questions) in everything he runs into (3.97d). Sunagōgē is used, more generally, for any erudite collection (9.390b; 13.579d–e, 609a). Books can also be collected (in which case one has a library). Larensius, with his sunagōgē of books, surpasses all his most illustrious predecessors (1.3b; see also 12.515e).
Collecting, gathering, and accumulating are essential gestures in Athenaeus’ universe. Larensius’ guests are a gathering of scholars that recalls the Museum of Alexandria. Larensius’ library, that prodigious collection of books, constitutes the horizon of the banquet. It is also the horizon of Athenaeus’ text, a text that is at the same time a compendium and a map of the library. The Deipnosophists contains collections of facts, of quotations, of texts, but also of words and of things. Athenaeus’ text is at the same time a symposium, a library, a collection of curiosities, and a lexicon.


[ back ] 1. On “assembling” a dinner party or a banquet, see also 4.143a; 5.186b, 187a, 187f, 211c 216f; 6.246c; 10.420e.