The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet: Images of Wine and Ritual (Princeton Legacy Library)
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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.
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point, says Cato, the grape is percoctus, "quite cooked."12 The liquor it yields, if drunk neat, is a drug that can madden or kill,13 a true pharmakon in the double meaning of the Greek term: both poison and medicine. The medicinal use of wine is widely attested.14 The pure essence is called akratos, unmixed. This linguistic fact is very significant because it illuminates the es sential quality of wine that makes it fit to drink: mixture. Pure wine—for us the only drinkable kind—is defined in
one type that does not exist: the "ordinary" white male. It is as if the anthropology of such molded vases was meant to define the opposite of the Greek drinker and to hold up to him all the things that he was not. As was noted above, the experience of wine is also the experience of the Other; this set of vases seems to conform to such an outlook, and it sums up the view 22 H. Hoffmann, Attic Red-figured Rhyta (Mayence, 1962). Red-figure kantharos; Naples, H 2948; Beazley, ARV 1547/4. 24
admire the wall hang ings. 15 The decoration in the hall where the drinkers are seated at tracts their attention. The symposion itself is part of the spectacle; by the end of the fifth century, it is deliberately construed as such, including performances by professional mimes, actors, and dancers. Thus in the symposion described by Xenophon, a Syracusan takes it on himself to entertain the guests by hiring a dancing girl who vaults across a circle of swords, and a pair of dancers who mime the
witnessing a triumphant epiphany of Dionysus. Some details of technique reinforce this impression: the painting is not confined, as it would usually be, to a tondo; rather, all the avail able space is occupied by the god. The surface of the sea is not marked, and the dolphins go as high as the branches of the vine; the 35 Homeric Hymn to Dionysus, 1.34-42, 52—53. CHAPTER 6 circular space of the cup is, in a way, limitless. Finally, the glaze on this vase is not black but a kind of coral-red
they are purely decorative and are used to fill empty space in the picture or to substitute for meaningful writing. In cer tain instances, the meaning of the inscription resides in its graphic, not linguistic, aspect.13 In a painting of a seated man playing a lyre, the inscription does not even reach the level of onomatopoea—he is singing, with his mouth open, and in front of him is a trail of unintelligible signs, partially formed letters, or mere dots and dashes (fig. 98).14 The inscription is