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An andron is a feature specific to a Greek house, and it existed largely for the purpose of entertaining guests. This room was the only room in a Greek house reserved exclusively for the men of the household. It was found in the homes of the middle and upper classes, and thus was a mark of privilege. So was its main event, the symposium. The andron was not a place for women, or at least not respectable women, so when the house was large enough to allow it, this room was placed as far from the women’s quarters as possible. The appearance of the interior made it clear it was intended as public space, for entertaining visitors from outside of the household. The luxury and extravagance of its decor generally distinguished the room from the rest of the house. The furnishings in the andron were usually the finest in the home. In fact, a majority of the most prized domestic objects recovered from antiquity were created for use within the andron.

The floor of the room was often covered with an elaborate central mosaic. Walls and ceilings were also usually painted with decorative frescoes. The most important pieces of furniture in the room were the kline, or couches, on which the host and his guests reclined. Couches were arranged around the walls of the room to create a “sympotic space.” Kline were finely made, usually decorated with inlay and covered with ornate cushions of high quality fabrics. Similar luxury treatment was devoted to small side tables placed around the room.

The symposium was a drinking party that followed the evening meal. It was hosted by a Greek man for the entertainment of his male friends. The host and his guests would recline, two to a couch, and enjoy a meal brought to them on small tables. At the end of the meal, the tables were removed and the symposium properly began. The drink at the symposium was wine, always mixed with water. Ancient Greeks believed that drinking unmixed wine was barbaric and cautioned that making such practice a habit would lead to madness and bodily collapse. This warning, however, was not to meant to prevent excessive drunkeness. Kraters that held the wine could be very large, and the comic writer Eubulus lets us know, through the words of Dionysus, that they were often filled and emptied many times in the course of an evening.

“Three bowls only do I mix for the temperate—one to health, the second to love and pleasure, and the third to sleep. The fourth bowl belongs not to us but to hubris, the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes, the eighth to the policeman and the ninth to vomiting. The tenth belongs to madness and throwing of furniture.”

In this passage, Dionysus himself is acting as the symposiarch. This was a position often determined at the start of the symposium by throwing dice. The man who had the title determined the strength of the night’s mixture of wine and water. He also chose what size and sort of vessel the men would use for drinking their wine.

Ritual activities of the evening included the men adorning themselves with wreaths and sweet smelling ointments. Libations, accompanied by the singing of a hymn, were then offered to the gods. During the first three bowls of wine, philosophical discourse, along with riddles, reciting poetry, and carrying on clever dialogue, took place with the music of a lyre in the background. Despite the fact that the symposium did not remain a refined affair, there were rules of behavior that were enforced in the early hours of the evening. Private dialogue between a few people was considered inappropriate and against the unity emphasized in the symposium. All comments were to be made to the whole group. Balance in the conversation was always stressed. and it should be neither too serious nor too frivolous. Likewise, each man had the responsibility of making sure he did not say too much or too little.

As the men continued to drink, these restrictions relaxed. Though dialogue continued, some men broke from the central group and played games. Though dice and a game very similar to checkers were both common, another, rather unique game involving the wine was also very popular. Kottabus, as it was called, was set up by balancing tall candelabra on top of brass saucers. Players would then stand a good distance from the candelabrum with a cup of wine. The object of the game was to toss a bit of wine just so to hit the brass saucer in a spot that would cause it to make a loud ring and topple over.

As the night wore on, singing also became a part of the event. Guests would sing or recite traditional drinking songs called skolia. The following is an example of one of these short poetic compositions:

“Drink with me, sport with me, love with me, wear wreaths with me, rage with me when I am raging, be sober when I am sober.”

Slave girls and prostitutes were eventually admitted. At first, their responsibility was merely to dance and play music. As the men became more and more drunk however, women were obligated to publicly indulge them in whatever sexual favors they demanded, producing a kind of orgiastic atmosphere. Some vase paintings depict prostitutes performing oral sex on one man while being penetrated by another, all in plain view of others engaged in sexual acts as well. Though it is likely that most sex between members of the symposium was compliant, there is evidence that violence was used to coerce prostitutes and slaves into acts when it was not. Some kylixes, which were a kind of drinking cup used at the symposium, depict women objecting to acts that men forced them to perform. Scenes on such vases indicate that men forced these women into submission by beating them with sandals or sticks.

Violence during the late hours of a symposium was not necessarily unique to the guests’ treatment of slaves and prostitutes. Parties would some- times get so out of hand as to lead to the destruction of property, both public and private, as well as to personal injury. It was not unusual for a large group of drunken men to saunter through the streets moving from one symposium to the next and in their travels make victims of the people they met. Of course, all symposia did not proceed or end in this way. Also, the government did not simply ignore the behavior of the revelers when it got out of hand. Though violence toward prostitutes and slaves went unpunished, violence in the streets was perceived by the state as a threat to the city and punished.

Plato stated in reference to the symposium :“When the company are real gentlemen and men of education, you will see no flute girls nor dancing girls nor harp girls; they will have no nonsense nor games, but will be content with one another’s conversation.” Perhaps this was the ideal for the symposium. It is very likely this definition of the event gives us our use of the word today. Yet a significant number of vase paintings depicting the event show us that the ideal may have been more the exception than the rule.

Jennifer Dwyer

Items Exhibited:

Red-figured kylix attributed to Epiktetos: Hoplites/Erotic Scenes/Satyr and Maenad
Greek, Attic, ca. 500 B.C.
The Art Museum, Princeton University. Bequest of Junius S. Morgan, Class of 1888.

Red-figured kylix attributed to the Koropi Painter: Nike and Ephebes/Ephebes
Greek, Attic, ca. 450 B.C.
The Art Museum, Princeton University. Bequest of Junius S. Morgan, Class of 1888.

Roman, Antioch, 1st – 3rd centuries A.D.
The Art Museum, Princeton University.
Gift of the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch to Princeton University.

Roman, late 1st – 2nd centuries A.D.
The Art Museum, Princeton University.
Bequest of Professor Albert Mathias Friend, Jr., Class of 1915.

Oil lamp with erotic scene
Roman, 1st half of the first century A.D.
The Art Museum, Princeton University.
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Geber, in memory of Dr. Antal and Klarissza Geber.

Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Curule chair
Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Pair of cymbals
Loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Italian, late 4th c. B.C.
Collection of The Newark Museum, Purchase 1980, Wallace Scudder Bequest Fund

Pompeii, 1870
Collection of The Newark Museum, Purchase 1928 The Newark Museum

Pompeii, Italy, 20th century
Collection of The Newark Museum, Purchase 1928 The Newark Museum