4 Life at home – The symposium


The symposium

The only time when a kyrios would invite guests to his house was when he was hosting a symposium – an elaborate dinner party. It was very important for a kyrios to carry this off well; a symposium was a good time to make political, commercial or social connections. If he gave a good impression, then he was more likely to benefit in various ways; for example, his business might benefit, or he might find a suitable marriage match for his son or daughter.

For this reason, careful preparation was required. Α kyrios would have his slaves deliver smart invitations, he would want to offer fine food and the best wine (if he could afford to do so), and he also needed to secure the services of different types of entertainers. Our sources speak of different types of entertainment; some was innocent, such as jugglers, acrobats, mimers, musicians and dancers; however, often a key constituent of a symposium was the presence of hetairai – high class prostitutes.

Οn the day itself, guests would be greeted at the door by a slave and led into the andron, from which all the women of the house were barred besides slavegirls. The guests then sat on the couches around the sides of the andron and first had dinner. It was only after dinner that the drinking of wine took place, which was done in a very formal manner. Οne member of the party was responsible for supervising the sharing out of wine, the toasts, and the frequency of the rounds. It was also at this stage that the entertainers were introduced.

The guests could sometimes choose to entertain themselves. There were welll-known drinking songs sung at these occasions, while a game called kottabos was also very popular. It involved guests flicking the remnants of drink in their cups at a target, which might be a bowl or a disc balanced on a stand. Α further form of entertainment was of a far more intellectual sort – for sometimes guests chose to spend the dinner party discussing philosophy. The most famous example of this is Plato’s account of a symposium, in which the philosopher Socrates leads a discussion with the other guests about the nature and varieties of love.

Extra Resources


The video below discusses the symposium through its representation in Greek art.

The following video looks at the Myth of the Missing Half – as told by the characters in Plato’s Symposium. It is an interesting, and very famous, example of the sort of philosophical discussions held at a symposium.


Symposium jigsaw puzzle.