The Sybarite broke into a loud laugh at his own joke; but the Spartan turned away from this conversation, drew Phryxus into a corner, and quite abandoning his usually quiet and deliberate manner, asked eagerly whether he had at last brought him the long wished for answer from the Oracle. The serious features of the Delphian relaxed, and thrusting his hand into the folds of his chiton,—[An undergarment resembling a shirt.]—he drew out a little roll of parchment-like sheepskin, on which a few lines were written.
The hands of the brave, strong Spartan trembled as he seized the roll, and his fixed gaze on its characters was as if it would pierce the skin on which they were inscribed.
Then, recollecting himself, he shook his head sadly and said: “We Spartans have to learn other arts than reading and writing; if thou canst, read the what Pythia says.”
The Delphian glanced over the writing and replied: “Rejoice! Loxias (Apollo) promises thee a happy return home; hearken to the prediction of the priestess.”
“If once the warrior
hosts from the snow-topped mountains descending
Come to the fields of the stream watering richly the plain,
Then shall the lingering boat to the beckoning meadows convey thee
Which to the wandering foot peace and a home will afford.
When those warriors come, from the snow-topped mountains descending,
Then will the powerful Five grant thee what long they refused.”
To these words the Spartan listened with intense eagerness; he had them read over to him twice, then repeated them from memory, thanked Phryxus, and placed the roll within the folds of his garment.
The Delphian then took part in the general conversation, but Aristomachus repeated the words of the Oracle unceasingly to himself in a low voice, endeavoring to impress them on his memory, and to interpret their obscure import.
The doors of the supper-room now flew open. Two lovely, fair-haired boys, holding myrtle-wreaths, stood on each side of the entrance, and in the middle of the room was a large, low, brilliantly polished table, surrounded by inviting purple cushions.
[It was most probably usual for each guest to have his own little table; but we read even in Homer of large tables on which the meals were served up. In the time of Homer people sat at table, but the recumbent position became universal in later times.]
Rich nosegays adorned this table, and on it were placed large joints of roast meat, glasses and dishes of various shapes filled with dates, figs, pomegranates, melons and grapes, little silver beehives containing honey, and plates of embossed copper, on which lay delicate cheese from the island of Trinakria. In the midst was a silver table-ornament, something similar to an altar, from which arose fragrant clouds of incense.