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A symposiarch (in Greek συμποσίαρχος, from συμπόσιον 'drinking binge' and ἄρχω 'command, lead, begin') is the leader of a symposium , an event in ancient Greece that was characterized by abundant consumption of inspiring drinks ( wine ) with precisely regulated processes. There were many reasons for symposia: births, marriages, funerals as well as homecoming or farewell to a high person or a family member on a longer trip - or simply to bring the dignitaries of the place together. Philosophical questions were often discussed during a symposium : What is the meaning of life? What is truth, right? Is there unconditional loyalty? Can you trust the gods? Can women be equal and do you have to get drunk as a result? ( "Symposium" )

Greek symposium on a red-figure vase painting approx. 500 BC

The symposiarch was responsible for observing the precisely prescribed ritual. It all came down to the precision of the almost sacred plot. Plutarch describes the symposia as a pastime while enjoying wine that is characterized by cultivated behavior and ends in friendship .

The names of the guests to be invited (sympotes, Greek συμπότης, from σύν 'together, together' and πίνω 'drink') were written by the symposiar along with the date and time on wax tablets and handed over to a slave - party loader - who received the invitations personally from House to house. The usual time to meet was the ninth hour . Nine was also the ideal number of participants, including the host. The nine was considered the number of perfection, as it contains three times the number three, which in many cultures is regarded as "divine". Only the male attendees were counted. Women were not allowed to participate, except for the courtesans ( gr. Ἑταῖραι hetairai , companions'). These society ladies played aulos and kithara , danced and sang.

The growing importance of symposia in the 4th century BC BC also required an increase in the formal framework. They met to drink and relax in a separate study, the Andron , in which separate drinking vessels were also kept. People drank lying down, which is why one speaks of feasts. The symposiarch had to ensure appropriate handling within this room. According to Plutarch, the ideal symposiarch was never drunk, but never averse to drink; a quintessence of conviviality (see convivium ). He was warm and friendly to everyone and never offensive, but by virtue of his office he had the authority to warn anyone who broke the rules. This could be increased up to the compulsory adoption, z. B. when two of the guests stubbornly talked in private, which was frowned upon.

Tasks of the symposiary

Ancient Greek wine mixing vessel "Krater"

At the beginning of the symposium, his task was to determine the ratio of the wine / water mixture, because the Greeks did not drink undiluted wine. This act of inauguration influenced the tenor of the following evening. The gods of Olympus , the heroes and Zeus the Savior were given a libation from each crater (mixing vessel) by the symposiarch and fixed hymns , mostly Dionysus , were sung (see also The Honorable Mainz Wine Guild of 1443 ).

Another task was to determine how many cups the symposiums were allowed to take but also allowed to take. Unregulated drinking contradicted the usual rites of a symposium, everyone should be about the same level of intoxication. However, this did not always succeed due to the different constitution of the symposia. Whatever was said under the influence of alcohol could not be held up to the guest in a sober state, which is what the sentence I hate drinkers with a good memory ... implies. It was downright the duty of the symposiarch to promote ' free speech' and ' spontaneous action ' without injuring third parties. The loosened tongue of the reveler was an early form of what is now called modern German brainstorming , and many a philosopher simply continued the thoughts of a symposium. Last but not least, the symposiarch arranged the entertainment and ensured that everyone was equally involved in games and competitions.


The ritual drinking utensils consisted of drinking vessels Kylix , the mixing vessel Krater and the cooler Psykter . The vessel from which the wine (oinos) was taken was the oinochoe , its counterpart for water the hydria .

The size of the drinking vessels could vary. Plato reports in the symposium (pages 213/214) of Alcibiades and Socrates , each of whom drank an immense cup that held eight co-tylae , which corresponds to about two liters. Occasionally such cups were emptied in one go. The cups were always passed clockwise. This direction was also followed during the conversation and the games, which the symposiarch had to monitor.

Some sources report that the symposiarch was determined through a selection process. This was done by throwing the dice, with Tyche, the goddess of luck , having a hand in the game. Others report that symposiacs were religious officials, especially those of the Bel sanctuary in Palmyra, or held senatorial offices.