), a drinking-party.
or the πότος,
must be distinguished from the
: 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 wreaths of flowers and
wine were introduced, as is explained under CENA
[Vol. I. p. 394 b
]. Thus we read in the Symposium of Plato (p. 176 A) that
after the dinner had been finished, the libations made, and the paean
sung, they turned to drinking (τρέπεσθαι πρὸς
The enjoyment of Symposia 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. For
palm-wine and beer [CEREVISIA
], though known to many of the Greeks from intercourse
with foreign nations, were never introduced among them; and the
extraordinary cheapness of wine at Athens [VINUM
] enabled persons even in moderate
circumstances to give drinking-parties to their friends. Even in the
most ancient times the enjoyment of wine was considered one of the
greatest sources of pleasure, and hence Musaeus and his son supposed
that the just passed their time in Hades in a state of perpetual
intoxication, as a reward of their virtue (ἡγησάμενοι κάλλιστον ἀρετῆς μισθὸν μέθην
ii. p. 363 D). It would
appear from the Symposium of Plato, that even the Athenians frequently
concluded their drinking-parties in rather a riotous manner, and it was
to guard against this that such parties were forbidden at Sparta and in
Crete. (Plat. Min.
p. 320 A; cf. Aristoph. Wasps 1253
, and the
speeches of Dem. in Conon.
) It is curious that a
distinction is preserved in the words μεθμστικός,
applied to men, and μέθυσος
to women, a usage which, as Mr. Rutherford
remarks (New Phrynichus,
p. 240), probably originated
from an ethical cause: in the man it was more habitual, in the woman
The wine was almost invariably mixed with water, and to drink it unmixed
) was considered a
characteristic of barbarians (Plat. Leg.
i. p. 637 E).
Zaleucus is said to have enacted a law among the Locrians, by which any
one who was ill and drank of unmixed wine without the command of his
physician, was to be put to death (Aelian, Ael.
); and the Greeks in general considered unmixed wine
as exceedingly prejudicial to physical and mental health (Athen. 2.38
). The Spartans attributed the
insanity of Cleomenes to his indulging in this practice, which he learnt
from the Scythians (Hdt. 6.84
). So universal
was it not to drink wine unless mixed with water, that the word οἶνος
is always applied to such a mixture;
and whenever wine is spoken of in connexion with drinking, we are always
to understand wine mixed with water, unless the word ἄκρατος
is expressly added (τὸ κρᾶμα, καίτοι ὕδατος μετέχον πλείονος,
Plut. Conjug. Praec.
The proportion in which the wine and water were mixed, naturally differed
on different occasions. To make a mixture of even half wine and half
water (ἴσον ἴσῳ
) was considered
injurious. (Athen. l.c.
), and generally there
was a much greater quantity of water than of wine. It appears from
3.9), Athenaeus (x. p. 426), and
Eustathius (ad Od.
9.209, p. 1624), that the most common
proportions of water to wine were 3 : 1, or 2 : 1, or 3 : 2. Hesiod
596) recommends the first of these, but it was
generally regarded as weak (ὑδαρής>
) and fit βατράχοις
e), and 3 : 2 was the usual proportion for not
The wine was mixed either with warm or cold water: the former, which
corresponded to the Calida
of the Romans [CALIDA
], was by far the less common. On the
contrary, it was endeavoured to obtain the water as cool as possible,
and for this purpose both snow and ice were frequently employed. [PSYCTER
] Honey was sometimes
put in the wine (Athen. 1.32
and also spices (Id. p. 31 e): in the latter case it received the name
and is frequently mentioned
by the writers of the New Comedy (Pollux, 6.18). Other ingredients were
also occasionally added (Athen. 2.66
31; Aelian, Ael. VH
The mixture was made in a large vessel called the κρατήρ
], from which it was conveyed into the drinking-cups by
means of οἰνοχόαι
]. The cups usually employed were the
κύλιξ, φιάλη, καρχήσιον,
of which an account is
given in separate articles. The ῥυτόν,
or drinking horn, was also very commonly used [RHYTON
]. We find several craters on vases
representing drinking scenes. (See, for example, Mus.
vol. v. t. 51.)
The guests at a Symposium reclined on couches and were crowned with
garlands of flowers, as is explained under CENA
A master of the revels (ἄρχων τῆς πόσεως, συμποσίαρχος
) was usually chosen to
conduct the Symposium (παιδαγωγεῖν
i. p. 641 A), whose
commands the whole company had to obey, and who regulated the whole
order of the entertainment, proposed the amusements, &c. The
choice was generally determined by the throwing of astragali or tali;
but we find in Plato (Symp.
p. 213 E) Alcibiades
constituting himself Symposiarch (in Plaut. Stich.
15, he is called strategus
). The proportion
in which [p. 2.741]
the wine and water were mixed was
fixed by him, and also how much each of the company was to drink, and
also the size of the drinking vessel. Upon those who disregarded his
authority he imposed penalties, often absurd acts of buffoonery to make
the victim ridiculous (Lucian, Saturn.
sometimes he ordained similar absurdities on the company generally, or
special members of it with a specified penalty in default of performance
1.4, 3). To such cases the “leges
insanae” (Hor. Sat. ii.
refer, and it is not surprising that Plato, in the passage cited from
desires νήφοντά τε καὶ
as Symposiarch. The servants (οὶνοχόοι
and οἰνηροὶ θεράποντες
), usually young slaves, who had to
mix the wine and present it to the company, were also under his orders;
but if there was no Symposiarch, the company called for the wine just as
they pleased. The dexterity of a well-trained cup-bearer in presenting
held ἐπὶ τῶν δακτύλων ἀκρῶν,
is noticed by Poll. 6.95;
cf. τοῖς τρισὶ δακτύλοις,
Xen. Cyrop. 1.3
. This method of holding the φιάλη ὀμφαλωτὸς
is explained on p. 350
and is shown in the following
woodcut, bat it applies only to the φιάλη.
Other cups, such as the κύλιξ,
were often similarly filled at the crater and handed
round, as may be seen in vase-paintings (Panofka, 34.2 = Guhl and Koner,
fig. 201): but the more usual practice was that the guest held the cylix
and the slave filled it with a small wine-jug (οἰνοχόη
) which he had dipped in the crater and carried
round the table (Od. 9.10
; Athen. 10.420
; Xen. Symp. 2.2. 7
Before the drinking commenced, it was agreed upon in what way they should
drink (Plat. Symp.
p. 176, A, B), for it was not usually
left to the option of each of the company to drink as much or as little
as he pleased, but he was compelled to take whatever the Symposiarch
might order. At Athens they usually began drinking out of small cups
e), but, as the
entertainment went on, larger ones were introduced (D. L. 1.104
). In the Symposium of Plato (pp.
213, 214) Alcibiades and Socrates each empty an immense cup, containing
eight cotylae, or nearly four English pints; and frequently such cups
were emptied at one draught (ἀπνευστὶ
or ἀμυστὶ πίνειν, ἀμυστίζειν,
8; Suidas, s. v. Ἀμυστί
The cups were always carried round from left to right (ἐπὶ δεξιά
), which Latin writers express by
“a summo” (Plaut. Pers.
5.4, 1), and the same order was
observed in the conversation and in everything that took place in the
entertainment (ἐπὶ δεξιὰ διαπίνειν,
iv. p. 420 E; ἐπὶ
δεξιὰ λόγον εἰπεῖν,
p. 214 B; Athen.
e). The company frequently drank to the health of
one another (προπίνειν φιλοτησίας,
d), and each did it especially to the one to whom
he handed the same cup. (Compare Cic.
, 96, “Graeci in conviviis
solent nominare, cui poculum tradituri sunt.” ) Great men on
great occasions often made the cup a present to the guest who so
received it (Pind. O. 7.5
; Athen. xiii.
pp. 575, 576), whence the word προπίνω
acquired a new meaning.
Music and dancing were usually introduced, as already stated, at
Symposia, and we find few representations of such scenes in ancient
vases without the presence of female players on the flute and the
cithara. Plato, indeed, decidedly objects to their presence, and
maintains that it is only men incapable of amusing themselves by
rational conversation, that have recourse to such means of enjoyment
p. 347 C, D; Symp.
p. 176 E);
but this says nothing against the general practice, and Xenophon in his
Symposium represents Socrates mightily pleased with the mimetic dancing
and other feats performed on that occasion. The female dancers and the
players on the flute and the cithara were frequently introduced at the
Symposia of young men for another purpose, and were oftentimes actually
[CHETAERAE], as we see clearly represented on many ancient
vases (see for example Mus. Borbon.
vol. v. t. 51).
Respecting the different kinds of dances performed at Symposia, see SALTATIO
were indeed a more refined and
intellectual kind of music, as they were usually sung only by selected
guests who were known to be skilled in music, and often in poetical
composition. The song being started by one singer, was continued by any
other to whom he handed the lyre and myrtle bough (Aristoph. Wasps 1219
; Athen. 15.694
Müller, Lit. of Ancient Greece,
i. p. 249).
Representations of Symposia are very common on ancient vases. Two guests
usually reclined on each couch (κλίνη
as is explained in Vol. I. p. 393, and illustrated by the following cut
Symposium, from a vase-painting.
from one of Sir W. Hamilton's vases, where the couch on the
right hand contains two persons, and that on the left is represented
with only one. which does not appear to have been the usual practice.
The guests wear garlands of flowers, and the two who are reclining on
the same couch hold a φιάλη
Sometimes there are four or five persons on one couch, as in the
following woodcut, taken from Millin (Peintures de Vases
vol. ii. pl. 53). Three young and two older men
are reclining on a couch (κλίνη
their left arms resting on striped pillows (προσκεφάλαια
). Before the couch are two tables. Three of the
men are holding a calix
suspended by one of the handles to the
forefinger, the fourth holds a (φιάλη,
and the fifth a φιάλη
in one hand and a
in the other. [CALIX; PATERA; RHYTON.] In the middle Comos is
beating the tympanum.
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
) were [p. 2.742]
among the most usual
and favourite modes of diversion [AENIGMA
]. The Cottabos was also another favourite game at
Symposia, and was played at in various ways [COTTABOS
]. The other games at Symposia, which
require mention, are the ἀστραγαλισμὸς
Symposium, from a vase-painting.
under TALT and TESSERAE; the πεττεία,
of under LATRUNCULI; and the χαλκοσμός.
The latter consisted in turning
round a piece of money placed upright on its edges, and causing it
suddenly to stop while moving by placing a finger on its top (Pollux,
9.118; Eustath. ad Il.
14.291, p. 986).
Lest some of the details above given should convey the idea that a Greek
Symposium was a mere drunken revel, we must point out that, as
Blümner remarks (Leben und Sitten der Gr.
it differed in its essential nature from the drinking bout “of the
Middle Ages and up to the seventeenth century” (we might put
it later); for the main object and usual result was intellectual
conversation, as described by Plato, Xenophon, and later writers,
although it might sometimes end in excess and disorder. On the other
hand, the extreme on this side also must be avoided; we must not suppose
that the high philosophic level of Plato's Symposium was universal or
indeed anything but exceptional. Socrates was not always of the party,
and besides it must be recollected that Plato's scene is designed to
introduce philosophy, not primarily to leave an exact picture of
manners. On this point there is a chapter by Professor Mahaffy
Life in Greece
), in which he suggests a University
supper-party as the standard; and there is much truth in this, for at
the universities too we have in an intellectual centre among diverse
sets of people all degrees of social converse,--high philosophy,
literature, aestheticism, sporting topics (as various as from Olympic
games to quail-fights), and sometimes also the riotous ending. (See also
245 ff.; Mahaffy,
Social Life in Greece,
ch. xi.) [W.S
That this word (doubtless connected with κῶμος
) was the strict equivalent at Rome to the Greek
symposium (i. e. that it was a wine-party quite distinct from the
which preceded it) is clear from
several passages. In the Mostellaria
Callidamates, who has dined elsewhere, says, “me ibi male convivii
sermonisque taesum est, Nunc comissatum ibo ad Philolachem;”
and so also Demetrius in Liv 40.7. at the end of the cena,
says, “Quis comissatum ad fratrem
imus?” (cf. Id. 40.9.) The above passages relate to Greek life,
and it must be observed that this going after dinner from one house to
another for the wine-party seems to have been a Greek custom, rather
than Roman (it appears, however, in Petron. 65): but at Rome also the
distinct break between the cena and the comissatio is noticeable, so
that there, might be the one without the other, as in Suet. Dom. 21
, “convivebatur . . .
nec ut postea comissaretur;” and there is a passage of St.
Ambrose (de El. et Jejun.
13) which is worth quoting as a
description of manners precisely the same at a much later date,
“Cernas poculorum diversorum ordines, vasa exposita aurea et
argentea: deinde procedente potu longius contentiones et certamina
quis potu praecellat: nota gravis si quis se excuset, si quis
temperandum forte vinum putet: et haec donec ad mensas perveniatur
secundas: at ubi consummatae fuerint epulae, et putes jam esse
surgendum, tune de integro potum instaurant et cum consummarunt tune
inchoare se dicunt: tune deferuntur phialae, tune maximi crateres:
mensura proponitur, certatur sub judice; sub lege
decernitur.” Besides the regular term comissatio,
Cicero uses sometimes the word compotatio;
being a general term, for any
“convivial” meeting (Cic. de
13, 45), may signify the wine-party as well as the
dinner, unless it is contrasted with comissatio: it is used in this
sense in Cic. Tusc.
It is not certain how far comissatio
genuine Roman custom and how far borrowed from the Greeks. The passage
of Cic. de Sen.
14, 46, implies a custom of
social conversation over wine after dinner in old times, but does not,
as Marquardt rather fancifully argues, imply a magisterium
of the wine-party; for Göll is
certainly right in saying that the two sentences refer to totally
different things. There is, as will be seen, a slight indication of a
in early times, but
not a certainty. The probable account is that the Graecus
brought in the regular organisation
of the comissatio, on much the same lines as the Symposium [p. 2.743]
described above. We may therefore venture to
set down as the “Graecus mos bibendi” at Rome (1) the
wreaths and perfumes [CORONA; UNGUENTUM],
which were not as a rule worn during dinner, but marked the beginning of
or the comissatio (Plut.
3.1, 1; Athen.
d; Mart. 10.19
were Greek in origin. The gradual rise of this custom is perhaps marked
in Pliny's notice of two persons punished for wearing flowers towards
the end of the Second Punic War (H. N.
21.8). (2) The
appointment by the dice of one among the company as president, = the
Symposiarch, and called rex
; Hor. Od.
), arbiter bibendi
), and magister
(Varro ap. Non. 142, 8; cf. Hor. Sat.
2.2, 123). From this passage of Varro we
may perhaps infer, what is natural enough, that the older Romans had
some such president of the party; but the magister here also, like the
magisterium of Varro, L. L.
5.122, may possibly refer
only to a “publicum convivium,” and we shall probably be
right in regarding as mainly derived from Greece the duties of this post
described in the first part of the article--settling the proportions of
wine to water, making rules for the entertainment and enforcing
penalties (Cic. Ver. 5.11, 28
); while at those parties which had no
such ruler appointed, any guest could follow his own fancy as to
drinking much or little, being, as Horace expresses it, “solutus
legibus insanis” (Sat.
the same absence of Symposiarch is signified by the “culpa
magistra” of Sat.
2.2, 123). (3)
In particular the method of drinking healths (propinatio
), which is specially noted as Graeco more bibere
(compare Cic. Ver. 1.26, 66
, and Ps.-Ascon. ad loc.
Cic. Tusc. 1.40
96). This consisted in naming some person, and then, after touching the
wine with the lips, handing the cup to him to drain. Before the general
there was a custom, whether
widely prevalent or not, of naming some deity. We see this in Plaut.
1, 35, and connected with it is probably
the “da Lunae propere novae” of Hor. Od. 3.19
, if we reject the very ingenious,
but, as it seems to us, too fanciful interpretation which Mr. Verrall
(Studies in Horace
) has given to that passage. In
imperial times there was the formal toast to the emperor (Ov. Fast. 2.637
); and then the propinatio of different persons
according to the fancy of individual guests.
There are, however, some intricate questions connected with the Roman
health-drinking which need discussion, especially as regards the number
of cyathi. There is, of course, no doubt that the rex
proportions of wine and water just as in the Greek symposium; but it is
probably an error to understand the passages, which mention such and
such a number of cyathi, as referring to this proportion: it is, we have
little doubt, more correct to explain them as specifying the amount of
the mixture, whatever its strength, which each cup was to receive. If
the drinking was to be hard, large cups were called for (Cic. Ver. 1.26, 66
; Hor. Sat.
2.8, 35; Plaut.
2.3, 81), so that whatever number was imposed
might be received by each guest in his cup and drained either at one
draught (like the Greek ἀμυστὶς
not, according to the injunctions of the “leges insanae”
(cf. Plin. Nat. 14.145
we find the specified numbers ranging from one cyathus (Mart. 1.106
) upwards; and when a man drinks a
“septunx” (Mart. 3.82
“septeni cyathi” (Plaut. Pers.
it means that he had seven cyathi, i. e. a little over half a pint,
poured into his cup at once: if he drinks a “bes,” it means
that he has 8 cyathi in his cup, and so forth. Marquardt has declared
for this view, and Göll inclines to it: it appears to us that
it should be adopted for the following reasons:--1. The other theory
would involve a perpetual change of the mixture in the crater for each
that was proposed. 2. In this case the
proportions of wine and water would be regulated by the proposer of the
toast, instead of, as is commonly believed, by the rex.
3. It involves us in difficulties of numbers: is it
conceivable that when Martial speaks of drinking “one
cyathus” he means a mixture of which 11/12 was water? (and if he
does, what is the use of adding “diluti” ?) and again in
11 of Ausonius, which well
illustrates a vexed passage of Horace:
Ter bibe, vel totiens ternos; sic mystica lex est,
Vel tria potanti, vel ter tria multiplicanti Imparibus novies
ternos contexere cubum,
the suggestion of 27 cyathi as a possibility excludes the idea
of fractional numbers where the unit=12 cyathi. No doubt it is seldom
that the number does exceed 12, but, as 12 cyathi = about 1 pint, it is
natural that the amount allowed to each cup was generally much less: the
poet in Hor. Od. 3.19
prefers 9 (rather
under a pint) for each draught, the moderate man only 3. In Ovid, Ov. Fast. 3.532
, this is expressed by
“ad numerum bibunt;” and the suggestion (of course a
poetical exaggeration) that in drinking ages
of the guests they might arrive at Nestor's (i. e. 90
cyathi) strengthens the argument drawn above from Ausonius.
Similarly, in the fanciful adaptation of the number of cyathi to the name
mentioned in each toast, as many cyathi are ordered as there are letters
in the name (see Mart. 1.71
, where Gaius gives 5 cyathi, Julius 6,
and Proculus a bes
=7 cyathi); or the different
names of the same man taken singly or combined, in the nominative or the
vocative, might allow great variety, “Det numerum cyathis
Instantis litera Rufi,” &c. (Mart. 8.51
[For the vessels used, and the means of cooling or warming, see CALDA, COLUS, CRATER, PSYCTER.] The amusements
at these parties are mentioned under CENA
in Vol. I. p. 397 b:
the Romans, as a less witty and refined people than the Greeks, depended
more on such amusements and less on conversation, is certainly the case;
but it is a matter of degree: the only essential difference lay in the
fact that at Rome wives and children might possibly be present at these
entertainments, which were often unedifying orgies (cf. Cic. Ver. 1.26, 66
; Plut. Quaest. Conv.
7.8, 4; Sen.
95; Juv. 6.425
further on this subject Marquardt, Privatleben,