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Sixth Century Athenian Symposium

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My experience at a Sixth Century Athenian Symposium

Growing up as the son of a well-known politician certainly has its perks and through time I have come to know that. My mother cared for me throughout my early childhood.1 She would always tell me stories of how she almost did not make it after giving birth to me and was relieved to find out I was a boy; for if I was born a girl my father would have certainly sent me away to either die or brought up in the life of servitude.2 Being apart of a family considered agathoi, when I was seven I went to school to learn the alphabet and memorize poetry.3 A few years later, my friends and I were invited to attend a symposim at the house of one of my father’s associate. Aware of the customs and traditions, my friends and I accepted. We had only heard about what goes on at symposium from older teenagers and among them their experiences varied, as well as their impressions. Needless to say, my friends and I were feeling a mixture of curiosity and fear. Prior to the evening’s festivities, my father had told me about the symposium and the importance of taking part in one within our culture. He had told me that it was an important event in a young man’s life where he learns from what is being discussing by the elder men as well as establishing important contacts that my help as I grew into an adult.4 The symposium was scheduled to begin after sunset.5 All the men, along with my friends and a few other boys my age, assembled in the house’s andron. This particular room in the house was specifically for symposiums. There were couches on every wall except the wall with the entrance.6 Before the symposium could begin, the men had to establish who the toastmaster was by rolling dice.7 The toastmaster had the power to institute and impose the rules of the party. This fortunate man had the responsibility to decide the ratio of water to wine, as well as how many cups each patron of the party would drink in order for all the men to be equally inebriated. My role, as the young male at the party was simple. My friends and I had the task of reciting poetry that we learned at school and served wine to our elders. We also had the opportunity to listen to the older men discuss many topics of society, especially politics.8 There were other forms of entertainment at the symposium. Musicians attended to accompany men when they recited lyrical poetry. Hetairas were also present to satisfy the older men, sexually. When these naked women were not having sexual relations with the men, they were dancing and playing musical instruments.9 My friends and I were also obliged to please the men if they wished us to do so. Initially, I was uncomfortable with doing so; however, I remembered what my father had told me before the symposium began. Among other things, the symposium was an initiation for young boys. Before the men would take a sip from their kylix.10 they would pour some wine on the ground. This was called a libation, and it was a sign of respect for the dead as well as certain deities.11 By the end of the night, one of the men was highly intoxicated and could not hold his wine. All the other men were disappointed in him. My friends and I did not understand why. Later, my father had explained that drinking more than one can handle is looked down upon. He told me that as an agathoi, if you did not hold your liquor you are seen as a kakoi.12 The kakoi have little in regards to manners and one would never want to convey himself as a kakoi. The toastmaster had no choice but to kick the overly drunk man out of the symposium in order to keep the festivities in high spirit. I had learned a lot attending the symposium, in terms of what I can look forward to when I am older as well as what is expected of me within Athenian society. Meeting the agathoi men of our people is important to me because I want to become a responsible and imperative person and in order to do so I need to know the right people, the agathoi men. Also, I value my culture’s traditions and find it essential to take part in them in order to maintain and preserve these rituals for the generations to come.
Endnotes

1. Ian Morris and Barry B. Powell, The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society. Second Edition. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010), 38. 2. Morris and Powell, 38. 3. Morris and Powell, 38. 4. Morris and Powell, 39. 5. Morris and Powell, 36. 6. Morris and Powell, 159. 7. Morris and Powell, 159. 8. Morris and Powell, 161. 9. Morris and Powell, 159. 10. Morris and Powell, 159. 11. Morris and Powell, 159. 12. Morris and Powell, 161.
Preliminary List of Sources

Morris, Ian., and Barry B. Powell. The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society. Second Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010.…...

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