In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Symposion

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Brief Surveys
  • Late Bronze/Early Iron Age and Homeric Feasting
  • Commensality and Food
  • Deipna and Foodways in Underexplored Literary Works
  • Near Eastern and Early Greek Banquets
  • Major Aspects of the History of Ancient Greek Symposia
  • Edited Collections of Studies
  • Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Studies
  • The Oxford and Paris Schools
  • Recent Approaches
  • Major Book-Length Archaeological and Iconographical Studies
  • The Diversity of Dining and Drinking in the Ancient Greek World: Archaeological Material
  • Sympotic Space
  • Komos and Images of Komasts
  • Symposia on the Ground
  • Hetairai and Paides
  • Sympotic Entertainment and Games
  • Music
  • Themes and Metaphors
  • Totenmahl Reliefs
  • Archaic Vase Painting
  • Classical Vase Painting
  • Archaic Literature
  • Fifth-Century Literature
  • Fourth-Century Literature and Philosophy
  • Hellenistic Literature
  • Later Greek Literature

Classics Greek Symposion
Dimitrios Yatromanolakis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0210


Symposion literally means “drinking together.” The symposion followed the meal proper or dinner, the deipnon. Significant sociocultural aspects of the symposion were studied by archaeologists and historians/classicists throughout the 20th century and continue to be explored in more interdisciplinary syntheses in the first decades of the 21st century. No consensus can be easily reached with regard to a definition of symposia, since recent research has branched out to incorporate diverse types of material related to both “public” and “private” banquets (“public” and “private” often being somewhat schematic, post-Enlightenment concepts, and the boundaries between “public” and “private” frequently problematic and historically shifting). The problem partly lies in the almost exclusive use or overuse in scholarship of the term symposion for private, “close-doors,” aristocratic/elite gatherings. Banquets and drinking parties were important forms of social organization in ancient Greek societies, an issue that has often been discussed in the vast number of scholarly articles and books on ancient Greek symposia that have appeared in the past three decades. This bibliographic article focuses on selected studies and does not represent a full account of all research conducted on this area in the late 19th and 20th centuries and the first decades of the 21st. Given the breadth and cross-disciplinary nature of this research area, the specialized aspects of some studies grouped and discussed in specific sections partly overlap with the subject matter of other sections.

Overviews and Brief Surveys

The following articles, written by leading experts in the field of ancient Greek history, provide overviews or sophisticated introductions to the ancient Greek symposion. Most of them are intended for a wide range of readers. Compared to other recent overviews, they provide balanced analyses or avoid partisanship. Valavanis and Kourkoumelis 1996 is an excellent archaeological introduction to central aspects of the world of the symposion (with photographs of numerous vases). Kannicht 1989 and Latacz 1990, written by classicists, focus on literature. Fisher 1988 views the symposion within the wider context of associations and clubs. Murray 1995, Kannicht 1989, and Latacz 1990 are learned overviews, which also include original observations. Kannicht 1989 examines the symposion in the context of other major aspects of performance culture. Murray 2009 is a recent introductory piece. Schmitt Pantel 2003 provides a concise introduction. Osborne 2014 is a sophisticated overview on the topic.

  • Fisher, Nicholas R. E. 1988. Greek associations, symposia, and clubs. In Civilization of the ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. Edited by Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger, 1167–1197. New York: Scribner’s.

    Overview of major aspects of ancient Greek clubs, associations, and symposia.

  • Kannicht, Richard. 1989. Thalia: Über den Zusammenhang zwischen Fest und Poesie bei den Griechen. In Das Fest. Edited by Walter Haug and Reiner Warning, 29–52. Munich: Fink.

    Perceptive, concise discussion of ancient Greek performance culture, including symposia.

  • Latacz, Joachim. 1990. Die Funktion des Symposions für die entstehende griechische Literatur. In Der Übergang von der Mündlichkeit zur Literatur bei den Griechen. Edited by Wolfgang Kullmann and Michael Reichel, 227–264. Tübingen, Germany: G. Narr.

    Analysis of important literary sources related to the world of ancient Greek symposia.

  • Murray, Oswyn. 1995. Forms of sociality. In The Greeks. Edited by Jean-Pierre Vernant, 218–253. Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press.

    Excellent survey of forms of ancient Greek sociality, including the sympotic culture.

  • Murray, Oswyn. 2009. The Culture of the symposion. In A companion to Archaic Greece. Edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub and Hans van Wees, 508–523. Chichester, UK, and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444308761

    Up-to-date overview of Murray’s and some of the most recent approaches to the topic. See also Massimo Vetta, “The Culture of the Symposium,” in Jean-Louis Flandrin and Massimo Montanari (eds.), Food: A Culinary History from Antiquity to the Present (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1999), pp. 96–105.

  • Osborne, Robin. 2014. Intoxication and sociality: The symposium in the ancient Greek world. Past and Present Suppl. 9:34–60.

    DOI: 10.1093/pastj/gtt028

    Sophisticated introductory essay on the world of ancient Greek symposia. For a similarly extensive and stimulating overview, see Andrew Ford’s The Origins of Criticism: Literary Culture and Poetic Theory in Classical Greece (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2002), pp. 25–45.

  • Schmitt Pantel, Pauline. 2003. Banquet: II. Greece. In Brill’s new Pauly. Vol. 2. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Concise introduction to the world of banquet.

  • Valavanis, Panos, and Dimitris Kourkoumelis. 1996. ΧΑΙΡΕ ΚΑΙ ΠΙΕΙ: Drinking vessels. Athens: Hatzimichalis Estate.

    Archaeological discussion of drinking vessels and their wider sympotic context.

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