The Rise of the Greek Aristocratic Banquet

The Rise of the Greek Aristocratic Banquet

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 0199684014

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In The Rise of the Greek Aristocratic Banquet, Wecowski offers a comprehensive account of the origins of the symposion and its close relationship with the rise of the Greek city-state, or polis. Broadly defined as a culture-oriented aristocratic banquet, the symposion--which literally means "drinking together"--was a nocturnal wine party held by Greek aristocrats from Homer to Alexander the Great. Its distinctive feature was the crucial importance of diverse cultural competitions, including improvising convivial poetry, among the guests. Cultural skills and abilities were a prerequisite in order for one to be included in elite drinking circles, and, as such, the symposion served as a forum for the natural selection of Greek aristocracy.

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peculiar openness of the Greek aristocratic banquet. In this perspective, the category of ‘transgressive commensality’ may still be attractive. First of all, admission to the ‘we’ group was conditional and could have been temporary. Instead of maintaining the façade of group solidarity, we find such categories of feasters as the ‘shadows’ (skiai) and the ‘uninvited ones’ (aklētoi), which help integrate former outsiders and exclude the déclassé insiders relatively smoothly. It is crucial that this

potentially gives rise to new ones. In the briefest terms possible, I would call the symposion a ‘transgressive feast’ because of its inner dynamics and its fleeting hierarchies, which consciously ignore the external rankings of the community. Nevertheless, there are fundamental differences. First, Grignon’s theory underlines the transgressions between separate social groups or circles, whereas the symposion solely confronts individuals. Secondly, the result of the sympotic transgression was not

us . . . ’. This is much the same idea as that of Plato’s ‘synousia of logoi’, where speeches could even pretend to replace wine (177 d) during a philosophical symposion. Still in Book VII of Plutarch’s Table Talk (711 e), one of the diners says: ‘Therefore, as you see, I pass to our dear friend Diogenianus, along with this cup, the duty of “sluicing the bitter brine from our ears with fresh springs of speech”’.21 18 See above all Vetta (1983c); MacDowell (1971) ad loc.; and recently Collins

characteristics of the symposion, we should conclude that in sixth (or late seventh) century Sparta, the symposion was put to a very perverse use—much like the ritual reversal of the symposion in the Athenian festival of the Anthesteria. In other words, I think that the recently popular notion of the syssitia, according to which it is a continuation of the tradition 124 A growing number of scholars seem to have come nowadays to a similar conclusion. See e.g. Nafissi (1991) and Fisher (1989) 36–38,

other media besides Levantine metal bowls. The most famous artefact is the relief of Ashurbanipal from the palace at Nineveh, which shows the king feasting on a richly decorated couch in the company of the queen, who is seated on an ornate throne (see Figure 3.2). The ruler’s gaze falls on a severed head, suspended nearby, belonging to an Elamite king defeated around the mid seventh century bc.50 To this testimony, 45 Matthäus (1999/2000) 48. However, it is noteworthy that Dentzer (1982) 72

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