Greek Drinking Parties

Robert Garland examines the makeup of the Greek symposium.

The most famous drinking-party in ancient Greece was held at the house of a young tragic poet called Agathon in 416 BC following the victory of his first play in the dramatic contest of that year. Because some of those present were suffering from hangovers, the company decided to drink only a modest amount of wine. In addition, they elected to dispense with the services of a hired flute-girl, preferring to provide their own entertainment instead by delivering encomia in honour of Eros, god of Love. When Socrates, the last to speak, came to the end of his speech, the party was interrupted by the arrival of a young aristocrat called Alcibiades, already the worse for drink, who tried to make everyone tipsy by forcing them to consume large quantities of wine. Eventually he was persuaded to settle down and agreed to follow the procedure laid down by the others. The party continued till dawn, with Socrates still discoursing indefatigably and completely unaffected by all the alcohol he had consumed. With the exception of the comic poet Aristophanes, with whom Socrates was conversing on the subject of poetry, the rest of his interlocutors were asleep beside him.

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