Symposia

From William A. Percy
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SYMPOSIA
 
 
 
In ancient Greece, symposia were
 
In ancient Greece, symposia were
 
convivial meetings for drinking, conversation,
 
convivial meetings for drinking, conversation,
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drinking parties that beginning ca. 600 B.C.
 
drinking parties that beginning ca. 600 B.C.
 
were held following the evening meal.
 
were held following the evening meal.
 +
 
After pouring libations to the gods,
 
After pouring libations to the gods,
 
the guests—usually ten or twelve—began
 
the guests—usually ten or twelve—began
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and recited verses, whether archaic
 
and recited verses, whether archaic
 
(the most popular being those of
 
(the most popular being those of
Theognis) or of recent composition.
+
[[Theognis]]) or of recent composition.
Athenaeus preserved a collection of scolia,
+
[[media:Athenaeus.pdf|Athenaeus]] preserved a collection of scolia,
as the drinking songs were known, from
+
as the drinking songs were known, from the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Each sang
the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Each sang
+
in turn when he was passed the myrtle branch. Having wrestled nude with his
in turn when he was passed the myrtle
+
boy in the gymnasium, a gentleman might recline with him in the evening on a couch
branch. Having wrestled nude with his
+
at a symposium sippingwine together and exchanging glances and singing love songs.
boy in the gymnasium, a gentleman might
+
Flirtation was the rule, and sometimes kisses and embraces. Going farther in
recline with him in the evening on a couch
+
public with one another was considered indecorous, although young girl and boy
at a symposium sippingwine together and
+
slaves were often pinched and pummeled, and attending musicians, often slaves
exchanging glances and singing love songs.
+
themselves, were available and often fondled and groped by intemperate guests,
Flirtation was the rule, and sometimes
+
and hetairai (female companions] often attended. But ladies, after 600 B.C., were
kisses and embraces. Going farther in
+
public with one another was considered
+
indecorous, although young girl and boy
+
slaves were often pinched and pummeled,
+
and attending musicians, often slaves
+
themselves, were available and often
+
fondled and groped by intemperate guests,
+
and hetairai (female companions] often
+
attended. But ladies, after 600 B.C., were
+
 
shut away in the gynaecea (women's quarters),
 
shut away in the gynaecea (women's quarters),
 
and children were formally excluded
 
and children were formally excluded
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males messed together. The institution
 
males messed together. The institution
 
was imported to Athens and the rest of
 
was imported to Athens and the rest of
Greece after 600 B.c., along with gymnasia,
+
Greece after 600 B.C., along with gymnasia,
 
pederasty, and the seclusion of
 
pederasty, and the seclusion of
 
women, but in Athens the eating clubs,
 
women, but in Athens the eating clubs,
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Athenaeus, who had a most artificial arrangement,
 
Athenaeus, who had a most artificial arrangement,
 
with 40 guests and a three-day
 
with 40 guests and a three-day
banquet. Vase paintings preserve a vivid
+
banquet. [[Vase]] paintings preserve a vivid
 
picture of the proceedings at such affairs.
 
picture of the proceedings at such affairs.
 
Crude Roman imitations of the Greek
 
Crude Roman imitations of the Greek
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they are no longer slaves after being delivered
 
they are no longer slaves after being delivered
 
from bondage in Egypt. Also, a ceremonial
 
from bondage in Egypt. Also, a ceremonial
part of the meal is the aphikoman,
+
part of the meal is the ''aphikoman,''
hornHellenistic Greek epicomon, the final
+
horn Hellenistic Greek epicomon, the final
 
course of the banquet.
 
course of the banquet.
  

Latest revision as of 04:56, 5 August 2006

In ancient Greece, symposia were convivial meetings for drinking, conversation, and intellectual entertainment; they were all-male, upper-class drinking parties that beginning ca. 600 B.C. were held following the evening meal.

After pouring libations to the gods, the guests—usually ten or twelve—began to drink wine diluted with various amounts of water. Often garlanded and perfumed, they reclined usually two together- often erastes (lover)and eromenos (beloved)—on couches propping themselves up on one arm while servants brought round the calyx, the common drinking cup filled with watered wine. Though some did not drink, others became riotous. Besides drinking and conversing, they told riddles and fables and sang drinking songs (often ribald and pederastic) and recited verses, whether archaic (the most popular being those of Theognis) or of recent composition. Athenaeus preserved a collection of scolia, as the drinking songs were known, from the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. Each sang in turn when he was passed the myrtle branch. Having wrestled nude with his boy in the gymnasium, a gentleman might recline with him in the evening on a couch at a symposium sippingwine together and exchanging glances and singing love songs. Flirtation was the rule, and sometimes kisses and embraces. Going farther in public with one another was considered indecorous, although young girl and boy slaves were often pinched and pummeled, and attending musicians, often slaves themselves, were available and often fondled and groped by intemperate guests, and hetairai (female companions] often attended. But ladies, after 600 B.C., were shut away in the gynaecea (women's quarters), and children were formally excluded from these parties. They were held in the men's chamber that each greater house possessed, often furnished with stone couches upon which pads and pillows were placed. One of the more popular games was kottabos (winethrowing) in which, reclining on their left elbows on the couches, the guests threw the last drops of wine from the calyx into a basin set in the middle of the room without spilling any.

In the seventh century, first at Crete, then at Sparta, lawgivers founded men's houses (andreia), where upper-class males messed together. The institution was imported to Athens and the rest of Greece after 600 B.C., along with gymnasia, pederasty, and the seclusion of women, but in Athens the eating clubs, often bound together by pederastic relationships, met only occasionally for dinner parties and symposia, many of which became very intellectual. Some ended in komoi, drinking processions revelling through the streets to serenade an eromenos outside his house. Heroes and others whom the state wished to honor, such as the descendants of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, were dined at public expense in the Prytaneum, but most upper-class men outside of Crete and Sparta, normally dined en famille. The symposia fulfilled the need of educated Greeks for relaxation and stimulation, as restaurants and night clubs did not exist. They could, however, also degenerate into drunken orgies that brought out the mutual hostility of the participants.

Plato, Xenophon, and many others set dialogues in symposia, which became a recognized literary form that allowed the author toramble over his choice of barely related themes. Prominent in this genre is the Deipnosphistae of Athenaeus, who had a most artificial arrangement, with 40 guests and a three-day banquet. Vase paintings preserve a vivid picture of the proceedings at such affairs. Crude Roman imitations of the Greek banquets were satirized, more in literary form, by Petronius in the Cena Trimalchionis, the banquet episode of the Satyricon. Christian hostility to such centers of pederasty and intellectual analysis, as well as the loss of wealth and leisure beginning with the third century, led to their decline. In the late fourth century Libanius complained that at Antioch banquets had degenerated, citing an egregious case in which a father regularly prostituted his son.

A survival of the symposium is the Jewish Passover meal, where the guests are formally required to recline in the manner of upper-class Greeks, proving that they are no longer slaves after being delivered from bondage in Egypt. Also, a ceremonial part of the meal is the aphikoman, horn Hellenistic Greek epicomon, the final course of the banquet.

English colleges created their own, more sedate versions of the symposia. The common room and dining hall arrangements with sheny, port, and other wines, where a variety of opinions are expressed, parallel those of antiquity. Tutorials, though one-on-one, traditionally end with the quaffing of a glass of sherry.

William A. Percy

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