Classic Court

Greek Drinking Parties (Symposia)

Greek, the Berlin Painter, Kylix (Drinking Cup) with a Symposium Scene (detail). Wheel-thrown, slip-decorated earthenware, about 500 BCE. Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Photo© Maria Daniels.

A socially acceptable way to escape from the restraints of daily life, the symposium was a vital social institution in ancient Greece. It was a banquet for men of good social standing to gather together to debate, converse, and above all, drink wine (which was considered a gift from the gods). The guests would recline on couches which were organized into a circle or square around the room, drinking together in rounds, ensuring that each guest reached inebriation simultaneously (which encouraged bonding and fraternity among the men). Although drinking was the driving point of symposia, they were also intellectual gatherings as the guests debated philosophical subjects and posed existential questions. Plutarch described them as, “a passing of time over wine, which guided by gracious behavior, ends in friendship.”