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CO´TTABOS

CO´TTABOS (κότταβος, Ion. κόσσαβος), 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 first.

The word κότταβος itself is applied variously (a) 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, σκάφη); κοττάβιον, the prize for successful throwing, which consisted of cakes or sweetmeats ; κοτταβίζω, ἀποκοτταβίζω, κοτταβισμός, κοττάβισις, κοτταβικός, κοττάβις, referring to the action of the game.

The other word of main importance is λάταξ (with its derivatives, λαταγή, λαταγεῖον, λαταγεῖν), 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, for which nothing more than the ordinary accessories of a drinking-party were required. In this, a κρατὴρ or mixing-bowl, 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 (v. supra).

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 πλάστιγξ would explain the term κατακτός. [p. 1.559]

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 Abth. 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 πλάστιγξ, such as the vase-paintings show us. The stem of this instrument could, it seems, be raised or lowered at will.

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 ζυγὸς described by several writers. The μάνης 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 (v. Helbig, l.c.).

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 upon the πλάστιγξ was sharp and clear, or dull and confused. Whether this originally formed part of the game seems a doubtful point.

Literature and ancient authorities.--Athenaeus, Deipnos. 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. Lexiph. 3 (rather copious); (4, 5) Suidas and Etym. Magn. 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.

Modern authorities.--Besides the older literature (see Becker-Göll, Charikles, 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 Mittheilungen, as referred to above.

[M.R.J]

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