MEN BEHAVING BADLY: CONDUCT AND IDENTITY AT GREEK SYMPOSIA

W. J. Henderson

Abstract


Introduction
From later prose writings on the ancient Greek symposion (for example, Plato's
Symposion, Xenophon's Symposion and Athenaeus' Deipnosophistai) one gains the
general impression that the symposion was a gathering of aristocrats with similar
interests, who, induced by moderate consumption of wine, indulged in intellectual
discussions and pursuits and exercised their reputed sophrosyne.1 This is, however, a
literary construct, an ideal, which is undercut by the evidence of the poetry sung and
pottery used at these functions. Both the sympotic poetry and the painted pottery offer
evidence from inside the symposion of less than ideal behaviour. The mere fact that
the vase-painters or their aristocratic clients felt it necessary to warn symposiasts
against over-indulgence (cf. for example, the "message" of the Brygos-calyx),z
suggests that the behaviour after (or even at) symposia was perhaps not always as
moderate as one might at first be led to believe. The evidence is particularly damning
in the case of komasts after the symposion (cf. Lissarrague 1990:96, fig. 77).
Likewise, the poets' appeals for calm and self-control, promotion of the moderate
consumption of wine, and warnings against its dangers presuppose situations where in
fact these elements were absent.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/44-0-170

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