), a game much in use at Athenian
symposia, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. The name and the
sport were alike, our authorities tell us, of Sicilian origin. Briefly
described, the object of the game was to throw a small quantity of wine at a
mark. Its extreme popularity is attested by the number of allusions to it in
literature, by the number of modifications it underwent, and, not least, by
the extent of the vocabulary connected with it. This should be noticed
The word κότταβος
itself is applied
) to the game, (b
) to the wine thrown, (c
) to the
sound it produced. It is further qualified by adjectives describing the
different forms of the game: κότταβος ἀγκυλητός,
κατακτός, δι᾽ ὀξυβάφων.
Derivatives of it are; κοτταβεῖον,
the vessel into which the wine was
thrown (also called λαταγεῖον, χαλκεῖον, λεκάνη,
for successful throwing, which consisted of cakes or sweetmeats ; κοτταβίζω, ἀποκοτταβίζω, κοτταβισμός, κοττάβισις,
referring to the action of the game.
The other word of main importance is λάταξ
(with its derivatives, λαταγή, λαταγεῖον,
), which signifies both the wine thrown and the sound
produced by it.
Two main forms of the game are distinguishable in the written accounts, apart
from minor variations; namely, that played with or without special
apparatus. The latter class may be shortly described first. It was the
κότταβος δι᾽ ὀξυβάφων,
nothing more than the ordinary accessories of a drinking-party were
required. In this, a κρατὴρ
filled with water, was set in the midst, and in it a number of empty saucers
floating. The object here was to sink the saucers by throwing the λάταξ
into them, and he who sank the greatest
number received the κοττάβιον
The κότταβος κατακτός,
on the other hand,
required a special apparatus, which has been often described by Greek
writers. But as all their accounts date from a period when the game had
become obsolete, we cannot place implicit confidence in them. All agree in
describing a ῥάβδος,
or bronze rod like a
candelabrum ; and, in connexion with it, a πλάστιγξ
or bronze saucer, like those belonging to a balance;
and a μάνης,
or small bronze figure (of a
slave). If, however, we go further than this, we find grave divergences.
Some represent the wine as first hitting the μάνης
and then falling into the πλάστιγξ,
while others reverse the order; and the most elaborate
account (Schol. in Lucian. Lexiph.
3) describes an
arrangement exactly resembling a pair of scales, having two πλάστιγγες,
and under each of them a μάνης
standing immersed in a bowl of water, the
object in this case being to throw the wine into the πλάστιγξ
with such force that it would descend and hit the
head of the μάνης.
This descent of the
would explain the term
Evidence, however, of a more exact and trustworthy character than the written
accounts is not wanting. Vase-paintings representing one form of the game
with the πλάστιγξ
exist in considerable
numbers; and some have been figured by Heydemann and O. Jahn (v. infra
). In these we see simply an object like a
candelabrum (the ῥάβδος
), with a small
saucer (the πλάστιγξ
) balanced on the top
of it, which the player is endeavouring to dislodge by throwing the λάταξ
into it: sometimes the saucer is being
replaced in position after a successful throw, by an attendant (generally a
woman). The safest guide, however, to the solution of the problem has been
afforded of late years by the discovery of an actual κότταβος
apparatus in an Etruscan tomb in the Frontone,
Perugia. This has been described and figured by W. Helbig (Mittheil.
des Kaiserl. Deutsch. Archäol. Inst., Römishes
Band 1, 1886, pp. 222-3 and 234-42, pl. xii.a xii.b). The whole apparatus (now in the museum
at Perugia) is of bronze. It resembles a candelabrum on a base. At a third
of its height, the stem is surrounded by a basin. In a socket at the top is
fitted a small bronze figure with one arm and leg raised. It stands on a
small base and is easily movable, so as to be replaced on occasion by a
such as the vase-paintings
show us. The stem of this instrument could, it seems, be raised or lowered
In another specimen at Perugia, lately identified by Helbig as a κότταβος,
the basin is gone: the μάνης
in this is represented as holding up a
vessel, and on his upraised arm a πλάστιγξ
might be balanced. At least one more μάνης
and several πλάστιγγες
are known to exist
in different collections. It will be seen that this form of κότταβος
has nothing equivalent to the movable
described by several writers. The
represents a slave being beaten,
or shrinking from a blow, and its attitude is alluded to in a fragment of
Eubulus ap. Athen. 15.666
Two more points remain to be noticed with regard to the game. First, the
action of throwing the wine was called ἀγκύλη
(whence the epithet ἀγκυλητός,
used by Aesch. ap. Ath. l.c.
), and the acquiring of suppleness (ὑγρότης
) in the turn of the wrist was a point of prime
importance amongst players. Secondly, as is well known, the κότταβος
was used as a method of love-augury.
The name of the beloved object was pronounced or thought of by each player
as he threw the wine, and the success or failure of the suit was augured
according as the sound of the λάταξ
was sharp and clear, or dull
and confused. Whether this originally formed part of the game seems a
Literature and ancient authorities.
xv. p. 666, &c., has a discussion on the
subject, illustrated copiously by tragic and comic fragments, which form
nearly all our contemporary
evidence. Many later
writers describe the game, but, as has been said, apparently without
personal knowledge of it. They are: (1) Jul. Pollux, Onom.
6.109; (2) Schol. in Ar. Pac.
1172; (3) Schol. in Luc.
3 (rather copious); (4, 5) Suidas and
s. v.; (6) Nonnus, Dionys.
33.74-98, describes an impossible κότταβος
played by Eros and Hymen, where a statue of Hebe is the μάνης.
--Besides the older literature (see
ii. p. 366), the best modern
discussions are to be found in (1) Philologus,
xxvi. (1867), pp. 204-240, by O. Jahn; (2) the Annali,
1868, pp. 217-31, and plates; (3) the
as referred to above.