Welcome and Come In

Join us at the feast of Trimalchio. Petronius is the creator of this marvellous meal, of which I shall bring you a small sample. Read further, please, and enjoy.


"At last the third day had come with its prospect of a free meal and perhaps our last meal on this earth.


There he stood, rigged out in undershirt and sandals, nothing else, bouncing a big green ball the color of a leek. When he dropped one ball, moreover, he never bothered to stoop for it, but simply took another from a slave who stood beside him with a huge sack tossing out fresh balls to the players. This was striking enough, but the real refinement was two eunuchs standing on either side of the circle, one clutching a chamber pot of solid silver, the other ticking off the balls. He was not, however, scoring the players' points, but merely keeping count of any balls that happened to drop on the ground.

"That's him!" he whispered, "that's the fellow who's giving the meal..."

I was gaping at all this in open-mouthed wonder when I suddenly jumped with terror, stumbled, and nearly broke my leg. For there on the left as you entered, in fresco, stood a huge dog straining at his leash. In large letters under the painting was scrawled:

BEWARE OF THE DOG!


By this time Trimalchio had finished his game...
Glass jars carefully sealed and coated were now brought in. Each bore this label:

GENUINE FALERNIAN WINE

GUARANTEED ONE HUNDRED YEARS

OLD!

BOTTLED

IN THE CONSULSHIP

OF

OPTIMUS.

Trimalchio clapped his hands for attention.

"Just think, friends, wine lasts longer than us poor suffering humans. So soak it up, it's the stuff of life. I give you, gentlemen, the genuine Opimian vintage. Yesterday I served much cheaper stuff and the guests were much more important."

While we were commenting on it and savoring the luxury, a slave brought in a skeleton, cast of solid silver, and fastened in such a way that the joints could be twisted and bent in any direction. The servants threw it down on the table in front of us and pushed it into several suggestive postures.

Following the dogs came servants with a tray on which we saw a wild sow of absolutely enormous size. Perched rakishly on the sow's head was the cap of freedom which newly freed slaves wear in token of their liberty, and from her tusks hung two baskets woven from palm leaves: one was filled with dry Egyptian dates, the other held sweet Syrian dates. Clustered around her teats were little suckling pigs made of hard pastry, gifts for the guests to take home as it turned out...

He whipped out his knife and gave a savage slash at the sow's flanks. Under the blow the flesh parted, the wound burst open and dozens of thrushes came whirring out!

The slits widened out under the pressure from inside and suddenly out poured, not the pig's bowels and guts, but link upon link of tumbling sausages and blood puddings.


Trimalchio said, "I'm the only man in the world who owns genuine Corinthian bronze. Perhaps you'd like to know why I'm the only man who owns genuine Corinthian. Well, I'll tell you. It's because I have it made by a craftsman of mine called Corinthus, and what's Corinthian, I'd like to know, if not something Corinthus makes?

But silver's my real passion. I've got a hundred bowls that hold three or four gallons apiece, all of them with the story of Cassandra engraved on them: how she killed her sons, you know, and the kids are lying there dead so naturally that you'd think they were still alive."

All at once the coffered ceiling began to rumble and the whole room started to shake. I jumped up in terror, expecting that some acrobat was about to come swinging down through the roof. The other guests, equally frightened, lay there staring at the roof as though they were waiting for a herald from heaven. Suddenly the paneling slid apart and down through the fissure in the ceiling an immense circular hoop, probably knocked off some gigantic cask, began slowly to descend.

This deadly entertainment would never have ended if the servants had not brought on another course, consisting of pastry thrushes with raisin and nut stuffing, followed by quinces with thorns stuck in them to resemble sea urchins. We could have put up with these dishes, if the last and most sickening course of all had not killed our appetites completely. When it was first brought in, we took it for a fat goose surrounded by fish and little birds of all kinds. But Trimalchio declared, "My friends, everything you see on that platter has been made from one and the same substance."

I, of course, not the man to be deceived by appearances, had to turn and whisper to Agamemnon, "I'd be very surprised if everything there hadn't been made out of plain mud or clay..." I was still whispering when Trimalchio said, "As surely as I hope to get richer--but not fatter, please god--my cook baked all that junk out of roast pork. In fact, I doubt if there's a more valuable chef in the whole world. Just say the word, and he'll whip you up a fish out of sowbelly, pigeons out of bacon, doves from ham and chicken from pig's knuckles."


By this time I was beginning to see the lamps burning double and the whole room seemed to be whirling around.

Immediately an immense mastiff on a leash was led into the room and ordered by a kick from the porter to lie down beside the table. Trimalchio tossed him several chunks of white bread. "Nobody in this whole house," he declared, "loves me as much as that mutt."

That over, he turned his attention to his pet slave, that cruddy-eyed little boy with hideously stained teeth whom he called Croesus. Trimalchio kissed Croesus and told him to clamber up on his shoulders. This the boy promptly did, riding his master piggyback, beating him with the palms of his hands, and shrieking, "Horsey, horsey..."

Meanwhile Aeneas' fleet still rode the heavy swell...

We followed Giton's lead through the portico to the main entrance. There, however, we were given a deafening welcome by the chained watchdog, and his furious barking and growling so terrified Ascyltus that he tumbled backwards into the fishpond. The mere painting of that same watchdog had nearly been my ruin earlier, and the real thing frightened me so horribly that, between my fear and my drunkenness, I managed to fall into the pool myself while trying to haul Ascyltus out.

Utterly soaking and shaking all over, we asked the porter to open the gate and let us out.

"You're badly mistaken, gentlemen," he replied, "if you think you can leave by the same way you came. No guest in this house ever goes out by the same door again. There's one way in and another way out."


Can you get out??

The Minotaur has imprisioned Theseus in a diabolical maze of cells connected by tunnels. Engraved on the floor of each cell is a number (except for the cell inhabited by the Minotaur). Each number tells Theseus by how many cells he can proceed in any direction from that particular cell. He must start exploring the maze at the lowermost cell, which is marked with a 3. He can therefore travel three cells around the circle to the left or to the right. Either way, he ends up in another cell marked 3, and he can then travel to the cell at the top of the circle, which is also marked 3. If he chooses to travel to the right, he can end up in a cell marked 17 or one marked 7; the same is true if he goes to the left.

The Minotaur bellows, "If you can find the shortest path to me, I will set you free--otherwise you will die!" Theseus immediately starts his journey. What is the shortest path to the Minotaur's cell?

This puzzle by Clifford A. Pickover was originally printed in Discovermagazine. You will find the solution here.

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