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The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet

The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet: Images of Wine and Ritual

François Lissarrague
Translated by Andrew Szegedy-Maszak
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  • Book Info
    The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet
    Book Description:

    In deepening our understanding of the symposium in ancient Greece, this book embodies the wit and play of the images it explains: those decorating Athenian drinking vessels from the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. The vases used at banquets often depict the actual drinkers who commissioned their production and convey the flowing together of wine, poetry, music, games, flirtation, and other elements that formed the complex structure of the banquet itself. A close reading of the objects handled by drinkers in the images reveals various metaphors, particularly that of wine as sea, all expressing a wide range of attitudes toward an ambiguous substance that brings cheer but may also cause harm.

    Not only does this work offer an anthropological view of ancient Greece, but it explores a precise iconographic system. In so doing it will encourage and enrich further reflection on the role of the image in a given culture.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6115-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Abbreviations Used in the Notes
    (pp. vii-2)
  2. Chapter 1 The Greek Experience of Wine
    (pp. 3-18)

    When speaking about wine, the Greeks were inexhaustible. Drinkers’ dialogues, experts’ discussions, lyric poems, and mythological tales—the literature that deals with the divine beverage is extensive.¹ Given such abundance it is difficult to account for every detail, but we can isolate certain basic concepts, within Greek culture, regarding the use, the origin, and the value of wine.

    In theBacchaeEuripides dramatizes the vast power of Dionysus. At several points the god of wine is described as the one who has given mortals the cure for their sorrows, forgetfulness (in the sleep that follows drinking) of their cares, and...

  3. Chapter 2 The Space of the Krater
    (pp. 19-46)

    The Greeks are not solitary drinkers; the consumption of wine is seen as a communal act.¹ The symposion is organized as a community, with its own rules intended to establish a setting of shared pleasure.² One goes there in order to join a group temporarily defined by its manner of drinking, of blending wine and water. To be successful, the symposion strives for a good mixture, not only of liquids but also of guests, who will harmonize with one another like the strings of an instrument. The mixture also includes balanced and varied delights: drinks, perfumes, songs, music, dancing, games,...

  4. Chapter 3 Manipulations
    (pp. 47-67)

    “We do not attend a banquet like vases to be filled, but to speak seriously and to jest, to hear and to deliver the speeches that the occasion requires of the participants, if they are to take pleasure from conversing among themselves.” The foregoing remarks are made by Thales in theBanquet of the Seven Sages.¹ The guests are not merely passive consumers; at a symposion it is not enough just to drink wine, and the vases are not simply practical objects. The mixture of water and wine is complemented by a mingling of all possible pleasures: visual, olfactory, and...

  5. Chapter 4 Drinking Games
    (pp. 68-86)

    In their imaginative relation to games, the Greeks go well beyond the efforts we have just observed. In addition to the interplay between the inscription, the vase on which it appears and its intended receiver, the interplay between molded form and painted decoration, and the surprises concealed within the interior of a vase, we find a set of games that takes place not justonthe objects butwiththem. Removing the implements associated with wine from their ordinary role, the symposion uses them for various exercises in skill and balance.

    The wineskin,askos,is made of soft leather, a...

  6. Chapter 5 Reflections
    (pp. 87-106)

    Like the vases, poems get broken and come to us only in pieces. The above fragment from Alcaeus describes the moment when the drinking begins, with the guests taking up their ornate (poikilais) goblets. It would be good if we could understand this term more fully, to know if it is referring to painted vases, like the ones we are discussing, or to metal vases with engraved or enameled decoration.² As it is, we will never know. Alcaeus was not writing for archaeologists. The Attic vases are also extolled by Pindar at the beginning of a poem dedicated to Thrasyboulos...

  7. Chapter 6 Wine and the Wine-Dark Sea
    (pp. 107-122)

    To denote the sea or describe its appearance, the Homeric poems often use the formula “the wine-dark sea,”oinops pontos.¹ This metaphor linking the two liquids was widely known to, and elaborated by, the lyric poets.² Within Greek culture there are multiple analogies drawn among wine, the sea, navigation, and the symposion. In the poem sent to Thrasyboulos of Agrigentum, Pindar describes the carefree moment in a symposion when the guests steer toward a blissful utopia:

    Then the cares that exhaust men

    flee from their hearts; then, as on an ocean

    of wealth amidst gold in abundance,

    we row together...

  8. Chapter 7 Song and Image
    (pp. 123-139)

    At the symposion, drinking and singing go hand in hand; poetry and wine are so closely linked that each can become a metaphor for the other. Pindar begins one of his odes:

    As in the splendor of a revel of men,

    we mix a second bowl of the strains of the Muses . . .

    May the third time be

    such that we make at Aigina our last libation

    to Zeus Savior, Olympian, in the honeyed singing.¹

    In another place he addresses the person who will perform his choral poem:

    You are a true messenger . . .

    sweet mixing...

  9. Epilogue. Drink to Me with Thine Eyes
    (pp. 140-144)

    In an elegy Critias gives a list of inventions that various nations have contributed to mankind: the Etruscans, gold and bronze vases; the Phoenicians, writing; and the Athenians, pottery:

    The city that raised the beautiful trophy at Marathon

    invented the potter’s wheel and the oven and the child of clay,

    most renowned pottery, useful servant of the household.¹

    Athens’ vases (keramon) are as much a part of her glory as is the victory at Marathon. This pottery, however, is not just the “useful servant of the household.” Keramos is the son of Dionysus, and the painted vases are companions to...

  10. Sources of Illustrations
    (pp. 145-148)