The Symposion in Ancient Greek Society and Thought

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The participants, or "symposiasts", would recline on pillowed couches arrayed against the three walls of the room away from the door. Due to space limitations, the couches would number between seven and nine, limiting the total number of participants to somewhere between fourteen and twenty seven [2] Oswyn Murray gives a figure of between seven and fifteen couches and reckons fourteen to thirty participants a "standard size for a drinking group".

Food and wine were served. Entertainment was provided, and depending on the occasion could include games, songs, flute-girls or boys, slaves performing various acts, and hired entertainment. Symposia often were held for specific occasions.

The most famous symposium of all, described in Plato's dialogue of that name and rather differently in Xenophon's was hosted by the poet Agathon on the occasion of his first victory at the theater contest of the BC Dionysia. According to Plato's account, the celebration was upstaged by the unexpected entrance of the toast of the town, the young Alcibiades , dropping in drunken and nearly naked, having just left another symposium.

The men at the symposium would discuss a multitude of topics—often philosophical, such as love and the differences between genders. A symposium would be overseen by a "symposiarch" who would decide how strong the wine for the evening would be, depending on whether serious discussions or sensual indulgence were in the offing. The Greeks and Romans customarily served their wine mixed with water, as the drinking of pure wine was considered a habit of uncivilized peoples. However, there were major differences between the Roman and Greek symposia.

A Roman symposium convivium served wine before, with and after food, and women were allowed to join. In a Greek symposium, wine was only drunk after dinner, and women were not allowed to attend. Determined by the Master of Ceremonies , the wine was diluted to a specific strength and was then mixed. Slave boys would manage the krater , and transfer the wine into pitchers. They then attended to each man in the symposium with the pitchers and filled their cups with wine. In a fragment from his c. For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health which they drink first , the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep.


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After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more — it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.

In keeping with the Greek virtue of moderation, the symposiarch should have prevented festivities from getting out of hand, but Greek literature and art often indicate that the third-krater limit was not observed.


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Symposiums are often featured on Attic pottery and Richard Neer has argued that the chief function of Attic pottery was for use in the symposium. Pottery used at symposiums often featured painted scenes of the god Dionysus, satyrs, and other mythical scenes related to drinking and celebration. Poetry and music were central to the pleasures of the symposium. Although free women of status did not attend symposia, high-class female prostitutes hetairai and entertainers were hired to perform, consort, and converse with the guests.

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Among the instruments, women might play was the aulos , a Greek woodwind instrument sometimes compared to an oboe. When string instruments were played, the barbiton was the traditional instrument. The guests also participated actively in competitive entertainments. A game sometimes played at symposia was kottabos , in which players swirled the dregs of their wine in a kylix , a platter-like stemmed drinking vessel, and flung them at a target.

Another feature of the symposia were skolia , drinking songs of a patriotic or bawdy nature, performed competitively with one symposiast reciting the first part of a song and another expected to improvise the end of it.

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Symposiasts might also compete in rhetorical contests, for which reason the word "symposium" has come to refer in English to any event where multiple speeches are made. Etruscan art shows scenes of banqueting that recall aspects of the Greek symposia; however, one major difference is that women of status participated more fully in this as in other realms of Etruscan society. Women were allowed to drink wine and recline with men at feasts.

Some Etruscan women were even considered "expert drinkers". Etruscan paintings show men and women drinking wine together and reclining on the same cushions.

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As with many other Greek customs, the aesthetic framework of the symposium was adopted by the Romans under the name of comissatio. These revels also involved the drinking of assigned quantities of wine, and the oversight of a master of the ceremonies appointed for the occasion from among the guests. Another Roman version of the symposium was the convivium. Women's role differed in Roman symposia as well. Du kanske gillar.

[Recensão a] FIONA HOBDEN, The Symposion in Ancient Greek Society and Thought

This Life Martin Hagglund Inbunden. Inbunden Engelska, Spara som favorit. Skickas inom vardagar. Laddas ned direkt. Across genres, individual Greeks constructed visions of the party and its performances that offered persuasive understandings of the event and its participants. Sympotic representations thus communicated ideas which, set within broader cultural conversations, could possess a discursive edge. Hence, at the symposion, sympotic styles and identities might be promoted, critiqued and challenged. In the public imagination, the ethics of Greeks and foreigners might be interrogated and political attitudes intimated.

Symposia might be suborned into historical narratives about struggles for power. And for philosophers, writing a Symposium was itself a rhetorical act. Investigating the symposion's discursive potential enhances understanding of how the Greeks experienced and conceptualized the symposion and demonstrates its contribution to the Greek thought world. Passar bra ihop.

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