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Thorsten Opper

[Gr.: ‘drinking together’]

Highly ritualized drinking party that developed in Archaic and Classical Greece. Initially restricted to aristocratic circles, participants were exclusively male; women, if they attended at all, attended in subordinate roles as servants, dancers, musicians, prostitutes or more refined courtesans (Gr. hetairai). A symposion took place in specially constructed room, the andron (men's room), fitted to accommodate a series of klinai (dining couches) along the walls and usually recognizable in the archaeological footprint of a house through its off-centre doorway. Food was a secondary element; it was offered first and served on small, low tables standing in front of the couches. After the meal and a sacrifice, the drinking began. Revellers elected one of their number as symposiarch, or master of proceedings, whose task it was to decide the pace of drinking and ratio of wine to water to be imbibed (Greeks always diluted their wine; drinking it undiluted was considered barbaric); he would also determine a topic for conversation. Symposia could range from highly philosophical discourse (as immortalized in Plato's famous dialogue, ...