Athenaeus (Ancient Greek Ἀθήναιος Nαυκράτιος - Athếnaios Naukratios, Latin Athenaeus Naucratita), of Naucratis in Egypt, Greek rhetorician and grammarian, flourished about the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century A.D. The Suda only tells us that he lived in the times of Marcus (sc. Aurelius); but the contempt with which he speaks of Commodus (died 192) shows that he survived that emperor.
Athenaeus himself states that he was the author of a treatise on the thratta—a kind of fish mentioned by Archippus and other comic poets—and of a history of the Syrian kings. Both works are lost.
We still possess the Deipnosophistae, which mean "dinner-table philosophers" or perhaps "authorities on banquets", in fifteen books. The first two books, and parts of the third, eleventh and fifteenth, are only extant in epitome, but otherwise we seem to possess the work entire. It is an immense store-house of information, chiefly on matters connected with dining, but also containing remarks on music, songs, dances, games, courtesans, and luxury. Nearly 800 writers and 2500 separate works are referred to by Athenaeus; and one of his characters (not necessarily to be identified with the historical author himself) boasts of having read 800 plays of Athenian Middle Comedy alone. Were it not for Athenaeus, much valuable information about the ancient world would be missing, and many ancient Greek authors such as including Archestratus would be almost entirely unknown. Book XIII, for example, is an important source for the study of sexuality in classical and Hellenistic Greece.
The Deipnosophistae professes to be an account given by an individual named Athenaeus to his friend Timocrates of a banquet held at the house of Larentius, a wealthy book-collector and patron of the arts. It is thus a dialogue within a dialogue, after the manner of Plato, but the conversation extends to enormous length. The topics for discussion generally arise from the course of the dinner itself, but extend to literary and historical matters of every description, including abstruse points of grammar. The guests supposedly quote from memory. The actual sources of the material preserved in the Deipnosophistae remain obscure, but much of it probably comes at second-hand from from early scholars.
The twenty-nine named guests include individuals called Galen and Ulpian, but they are all probably fictitious personages, and the majority take no part in the conversation. If the character Ulpian is identical with the famous jurist, the Deipnosophistae may have been written after his death in 228; but the jurist was murdered by the Praetorian guards, whereas Ulpian in Athenaeus dies a natural death.
The complete version of the text, with the gaps noted above, is preserved in only one manuscript, conventionally referred to as A. The epitomized version of the text is preserved in two manuscripts, conventionally known as C and E. The standard edition of the text is Kaibel's Teubner. The standard numbering is drawn largely from Casaubon.
The most valuable recent publication about Athenaeus and The Deipnosophistae is Athenaeus and his world, a collection of 41 essays on various aspects of the work.