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LETTER XIX.

Agrigentum, June 13th.

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THE interruption in my last, was a deputation from the bishop, to invite us to a great dinner to-morrow at the port ; so that we shall know whether this place still deserves the character of luxury, it always held among

the cients : we have great reason to think, from the politeness and attention we have met with, that it has never lost its ancient hospitality, for which it was likewise so much celebrated.

Plato, when he visited Sicily, was so much struck with the luxury of Agrigentum, both in their houses and their tables, that a saying of his is still recorded, that they built as if they were never to die, and eat as if they had not an hour to live. It is preserved by Ælian, and is just now before me.

He tells a story by way of illustration, which shows a much greater conformity of manners, than one could have expected, betwixt the young nobility among the ancients, and our own at this day.

He says, that after a great feast, where there was a number of young people of the first fashion, they got all so much intoxicated, that from their reeling and tumbling upon one ano. ther, they imagined they were at sea in a storm, and began to think themselves in the most imminent danger : at last they agreed, that the only way to save their lives was to lighten the ship, and with one accord began to throw the rich furniture out of the windows, to the great edification of the mob below ; and did not stop till they had entirely cleared the house of it, which, from this exploit, was ever after denominated the triremes, or the ship. He says it was one of the principal palaces of the city, and retained this name for ever after. In Dublin, I have been told, there are more than one triremes ; and that this frolic, which they call throwing the house out of the window, is by no means uncommon.

At the same time that Agrigentum is abused by the ancient authors for its drunkenness, it is as much celebrated for its hospitality; and I believe, it will be found, that this virtue, and this vice, have ever had a sort of sneaking kindness for each other, and have generally gone hand in hand, both in ancient and in modern times. The Swiss, the Scots, and the Irish, who are at present the most drunken people in Europe, are likewise, in all probability, the most hospitable; whereas in the very sober countries, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, hospitality is a vir. tue very little known, or indeed any other virtue except sobriety ; which has been produced, probably a good deal from the tyranny of their government, and their dread of the inquisition; for where every person is in fear, lest his real sentiments should appear, it would be very dangerous to unlock his heart; but in countries where there are neither civil nor ecclesiastical tyrants to lay an embargo on our thoughts, people are under no apprehension lest they should be known.

However, these are not the only reasons. The moral virtues and vices may sometimes depend on natural causes. The

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elevated situation of this city, where the air is exceedingly thin and cold, has perhaps been one reason why its inhabitants are fonder of wine than their neighbours in the valleys.

The same may be said of the three nations I have mentioned; the greatest part of their countries lying amongst hills and mountains, where the climate renders strong liquors more

necessáry ; or, at least, less pernicious, than in low places. It is not surprising, that this practice, probably begun amongst the mountains, where the air is so keen, has by degrees crept down into the valleys, and has at last become almost epidemical in those countries.

Fazzello, after railing at Agrigentum for its drunkenness, adds, that there was no town in the island so celebrated for its hospitality. He . says that many

of the nobles had servants placed at the gates of the city, to invite all strangers to their houses. It is in reference to this probably, that Empedocles says, that even the gates of the city proclaimed a welcome to every stranger. From our experience we are well entitled to say, that the people of Agrigentum still retain this antiquated virtue, so little known in polite countries. To-morrow we shall have a better opportunity of judging whether it is still accompanied by its sister vice.

The accounts that the old authors give of the magnificence of Agrigentum are amazing ; though indeed there are none of them that proclaim in stronger terms than the monuments that still remain.-Diodorus says, the great vessels for holding water were commonly of silver, and the litters and carriages for the

most part were of ivory richly adorned. He mentions a pond made at an immense expense, full of fish and of water fowl, that in his time was the great resort of the inhabitants on their festivals; but he says, that even then (in the age of Augustus) it was going to ruin, requiring too great an expense to keep it up. There is not now the smallest vestige of it: but there is still to be seen a curious spring of water that throws up a kind of oil on its surface, which is made use of by the poor people, in many diseases. This is supposed to mark out the place of the celebrated pond; which is recorded by Pliny and Solinus to have abounded with this oil.

Diodorus, speaking of the riches of Agrigentum, mentions one of its citizens returning victorious from the Olympic games, and entering his city attended by three hundred chariots, each drawn by four white horses richly caparisoned ; and gives many other instances of their vast profusion and luxury,

Those horses, according to that author, were esteemed all over Greece for their beauty and swiftness ; and their race is celebrated by many of the ancient writers. “ Arduus inde Agragas ostentat maxima longe Mænia,magnanimum quondam generator equorum,"

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