The word ‘Symposium’ comes from the infinitive ‘Sympinein’ which means ‘to drink together’ (‘syn’ which means ‘together’, ‘pinein>pino’ which means to ‘drink’). As it is revealed by the etymology, the Symposiums were gatherings taking place after meals, where the guests could drink wine for pleasure and start a conversation, accompanied by music, the most times played by a flutist. Socratic dialogues, Plato’s Symposium -which focuses on the nature of love, Xenophon’s Symposium, and other Greek poems are typical examples of literary works that describe what a Symposium was.
In ancient Greece, a symposium could be attended by 14 to 30 wealthy men from the aristocracy, called ‘Symposiasts’. They used to gather together, have dinner, drink wine and talk about topics they were interested in. The host of the Symposium invited friends or admirable men he came across in the streets or Agora of Athens. Each guest might even bring one of his own friends along, the ‘akletos’, who was more than welcome, too. However, all Athenians who participated in a Symposium should follow certain rules and rituals. The etiquette required that before attending the banquet, men should bath and groom and give attention to their looks.
Temple of Hephaestus - credits: borisb/depositphotos
As soon as a guest arrived at the host’s house, he was welcomed by a slave who guided him to the ‘andron’ -the men’s room. There he helped him wash his hands, take off his sandals, and offer him a couch to lie down. Once the guest was settled in, he could take a few moments to observe the ceiling, the walls painted with colored murals, the mosaics and the decorations in the room, before the dinner, ‘deipnon’, would be served. In other words, it was included in the general concept of organizing a Symposium that it was a chance for the host to show his aesthetics and his taste in decoration.