Symposium scene Nicias Painter MAN

(συμπόσιον). A Greek term for a drinking-party. The symposium must be distinguished from the deipnon (δεῖπνον); for though drinking almost always followed a dinner-party yet the former was regarded as entirely distinct from the latter, was regulated by different customs, and frequently received the addition of many guests who were not present at the dinner. For the Greeks did not usually drink at their dinner, and it was not till the conclusion of the meal that wine was introduced. Symposia were very frequent at Athens. Their enjoyment was heightened by agreeable conversation, by the introduction of music and dancing, and by games and amusements of various kinds; sometimes, too, philosophical subjects were discussed at them. The Symposia of Plato and Xenophon give us a lively idea of such entertainments at Athens. The name itself shows that the enjoyment of drinking was the main object of the symposia: wine from the juice of the grape (οἶνος ἀμπέλινος) was the only drink partaken of by the Greeks, with the exception of water. The wine was almost invariably mixed with water, and to drink it unmixed (ἄκρατον) was considered a characteristic of barbarians. The mixture was made in a large vessel called the crater (q. v.), from which it was conveyed into the drinking-cups. The guests at a symposium reclined on couches, and were crowned with garlands of flowers. A master of the revels (ἄρχων τῆς πόσεως, συμποσίαρχος, or βασιλεύς) was usually chosen to conduct the symposium, whose commands the whole company had to obey, and who regulated the whole order of the entertainment and proposed the amusements. The same practice prevailed among the Romans, and their symposiarch was called magister, or rex convivii, or arbiter bibendi. The choice was generally determined by the throwing of astragali or tali. (See Talus.) The proportion in which the wine and water were mixed was fixed by him, and also how much each of the company was to drink, for it was not usually left to the option of each person present to drink as much or as little as he pleased. The cups were always carried around from right to left (ἐπὶ δεξιά), and the same order was observed in the conversation and in everything that took place in the entertainment. The company frequently drank to the health of one another (προπίνειν, propinare), and each did it especially to the one to whom he handed the same cup. Respecting the games and amusements by which the symposia were enlivened, it is unnecessary to say much here, as most of them are described in separate articles in this work. Enigmas or riddles (αἰνίγματα or γρῖφοι) were among the most usual and favourite modes of diversion. Each of the company proposed one in turn to his right-hand neighbour; if he solved it, he was rewarded with a crown, a garland, a cake, or something of a similar kind, and sometimes with a kiss; if he failed, he had to drink a cup of unmixed wine, or of wine mixed with salt water, at one draught. The cottabos was also another favourite game at symposia, and was played at in various ways. (See Cottabus.) Representations of symposia are very common on ancient vases. Two guests usually reclined on each couch (κλίνη), as is explained under Cena; Triclinium; but sometimes there were five persons on one couch. A drinking-party among the Romans was sometimes called convivium, but the word comissatio (cognate with κωμάζω) more nearly corresponds to the Greek symposium. The Romans, however, usually drank during their dinner (cena), which they frequently prolonged during many hours, in the later times of the Republic and under the Empire. Their customs connected with drinking differed little from those of the Greeks, and have been incidentally noticed above.

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