How were symposia conducted in ancient Greece?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The symposium, or drinking party, was an important part of ancient culture and literature. Many surviving ancient works frame intellectual dialogues as conversations occuring at symposia. Among the surviving examples from classical Athens are Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, both of which describe symposia attended by Socrates, his followers, and other important Athenian intellectual figures. Later examples of ancient symposiastic literature include Petronius' Satyricon, Macrobius' Saturnalia, Plutarch's Table Talk, and Athenaeus' Deipnosophists. Symposia were regularly scheduled events at the philosophic and sophistic schools of antiquity.

The symposium participants were upper class men. The normal activities at a symposium included performances both by hired entertainers and the participants. Often a manager was hired who would supply flute girls, acrobats, and other musicians. Particopants reclined and couches and shared food and wine while watching the entertainers. They might also themselves recite poems accompanied by the lyre (upper class Athenians studied music so that they could perform works by poets like Simonides and accompany themselves on the lyre). Among the more intellectual participants, entertainers might be dismissed to facilitate intellectual conversation.