O Muse, grant me the eloquence to explain what I feel, think, and decide in my journey. And grant others the ability to make sense of the rambling.

Friday, 21 September 2012

PBP: S - Symposia

Not exactly a religious thing but Ancient Greek related none the less.

The Symposion, or the Symposium, is an artistic and intellectual gathering of influential citizens, artists and philosophers  usually all male, though several exceptional female guests may be present along with the hired flute girls and serving slaves. Although the conversation at the beginning of the evening may be elevated and refined, as the guests imbibe greater quantities of wine, the event becomes ever more riotous and bawdier, and it usually ends in the most licentious behaviour.

Symposia are often held in the official dining room of temples and public buildings, but if you wanted to see the event at its most typical , you would have to attend one in the andron (men's quarters) of a private house.

The host of the symposion, the symposiarch , acts as the master of ceremonies. He decides how much water to ass to the wine, and thereby how quickly his fellow symposiasts will become drunk. He sets the tone for the proceedings, which could be intellectual and elevated, or bawdy and licentious from the start.

Symposia are given for a variety of reasons such as to celebrate a victory in an athletic or dramatic contest or to introduce a young man into high society. The guests, as a rule, are all male, but notable women such as hetaira (high class courtesans) attend the symposia and discuss matters of state and philosophy with the men. Even when women guests are not present, female company is provided by 'flute girls', who, in addition to providing the musical accompaniments to songs and poems on the aulos, are also paid prostitutes.

Once the guests have assembled, the symposiarch offers a libation to the gods, and to Dionysos, god of wine, in particular. The guests recline singly or in pairs on couches arranged around the walls of the andron; though youths do not recline, but sit.

Naked boy slaves chosen for their looks mix the wine with water in the large central krater (mixing bowl) and serve it to each guest in a large, shallow cup known as a kylix, serve food - though the fare, as ever, is not always luxurious, consisting of bread and opson (all solid food served as an accompaniment to bread), and figs and sweet cakes for dessert.

The symposiarch suggests the topic of conversation and invites contributions from the guests; or,  if he has a more diverting evening planned, he may opt for party games instead. One of the popular is kottabos, in which players swish the dregs of their kylixes at a target on a small bronze statuette. Other games include singing and drinking contests, the aim of which is to get the guests as drunk as possible.

Source - Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World. Greece in the year 415BCE.

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