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Some of the different Greek pottery  shapes used at the symposium.Illustration: Kate Cooper, 2011The wine was transported and stored in an amphora. This might be an undecorated, coarse pottery ‘transport amphora’, or a decorated fineware amphora.

Greeks always drank their wine diluted, although the proportions of wine and water varied, so at the symposium the wine from the amphora was mixed with water in a large krater. These came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but a calyx krater 46cm tall could hold about 45 litres of liquid. They were usually elaborately decorated on the outside, but they sometimes also had decoration on the inside which was related to the function of the vessel. For instance, a ship painted on the inside rim would ‘sail’ in the wine when the vessel was filled.

 

 

 

 

 

An Athenian black-figure hydria made  around 510-500 BC. Metropolitan  Museum of Art, New York, Rogers  Fund, 1906, 06.1021.77. © The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe water was stored and carried in a hydria. The scenes on many black-figure Athenian hydriai show the vessel in use. Women fill their hydriai from fountain houses and carry them away balanced on their heads. The popularity of this type of scene, which appears in the late 6th century BC, may reflect contemporary events in Athens, since Peisistratos, who was a key political figure in Athens 546-527 BC, is said to have improved the Athenian water supply.

Once diluted, the wine was shared out amongst the drinkers. Using a ladle or an oinochoe (jug) it was poured into individual drinking cups. There were many different styles of drinking cup, but the most typical was the kylix.

 

 

 

 

Scene on the interior of an Athenian  red-figure kylix painted by the Cage  Painter around 490-480 BC. Musée du Louvre, Campana Collection,  1861, Object Number G133.

The kylix, with its large shallow body on a foot, could range in size from about 20cm in diameter to huge versions with a diameter of over 50cm, and would have needed skilful handling when full of wine. Both the inside and outside of this cup were often decorated, usually with scenes that related to each other in a more or less obvious manner. Sometimes the decoration was directly connected with the way the cup functioned. For instance, huge eyes or other facial features on the outside of the cup would ‘play’ with the drinker and his companions, as the drinker was turned into a grotesque pot each time he raised the cup to drink. The interior scene, which would be covered with wine at first and only gradually revealed as the cup was drained, was often also designed to surprise the drinker. One common decoration, the head of a monstrous gorgon (the gorgoneion), was particularly effective since it was gradually revealed as the cup was drained, slowly replacing the reflection of the drinker’s own face which was visible in the surface of the wine when the cup was full.

 

 

A drinking cup ‘in use’. An Athenian black-figured kylix made around 550-500 BC (GR.13.1937) © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Further reading

F. Lissarrague, The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet: Images of Wine and Ritual (Princeton, 1990) translation by A. Szegedy-Maszak of the French Un flot d'images: une esthétique du banquet grec (Paris, 1987).