“Wine and Truth Go Hand in Hand”: The Ancient Greek Symposium with Professor Kathleen Lynch

Program Description

(For those who want to bypass necessary housekeeping & introductory remarks, the presentation begins at approximately 9:00.)

The Greeks developed a very elaborate system, called the symposium, of preparing and serving wine, enjoyed by small groups of men. This system required specialized pottery shapes, and these shapes frequently bear representations of the symposium or other cultural imagery.  As the drinkers were warmed by the wine, they formed bonds that carried over into their daily lives, including creating political allies. This talk by Professor Kathleen Lynch explored the social role of the symposium in Archaic and Classical Athens (600–400 BCE), with its emphasis on shared drinking, rather than shared feasting, as is paramount in nearly all other cultures. But just because food wan’t the main focus of the symposium, little snacks to help delay the intoxicating effects of the wine might be offered. You can explore some of the possible options, reconstructed from ancient literature, in our recipe collection. The flatbread, which might have functioned as a plate/carrier for foods, is particularly noteworthy, as Professor Lynch emphasized that, prior to the early fifth century, plates are missing from the archeological record in Greece.

Unlike food, music and singing were key components of entertainment during the symposium: as a lead-in to the Zoom meeting, we listened to an excerpt from the  musicological interpretations of the Seikilos Epitaph, a stella the bears poetry plus harmonic notations that give us a strong sense of the melody. You can listen to the haunting strains of the 12-string lyre, courtesy of the Free Music Archive, interpreted and performed by Lina Palera.

Dr. Kathleen Lynch is a classical archaeologist who teaches at the University of Cincinnati and who has worked on sites in Italy, Greece, Albania, and Turkey. In particular, she is a ceramic specialist interested in Athenian figured wares from archaeological contexts. Her first book, The Symposium in Context: Pottery from a Late Archaic House near the Athenian Agora, won the 2013 AIA Wiseman Award for best book in archaeology. She received her PhD from the University of Virginia and writes and lectures extensively on ancient tablewares and their cultural meanings.