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Greek Symposium, fresco from 475 BC. Chr.

The ancient Greek expression symposium ( Greek συμπόσιον sympósĭon ; late Latin symposium ) stands for “drinking together in company”.

The term symposium ( Pl. Symposia ) for scientific conferences later developed from the meaning for social gatherings .


At such ancient societies, the guests gathered around the house altar after dinner . Now the symposium was introduced with cultic acts of purity such as washing hands and sprinkling with fragrant essences. Then they wreathed themselves and the wine vessels with ivy , myrtle , flowers , also white and red wool bands were used. In this way it was shown that they belonged to the circle of Dionysus servants .

The first sip of wine from a round cup was taken in honor of the good spirit, the daimon . As a sign of closeness to God, the gods were given wine, which was thrown out of the cup. An old cult song dedicated to Apollo was sung with the accompaniment of a flute .

Afterwards, songs intended for the symposium , the so-called scolia , were sung. While Xenophon's banquet also reports on artistic performances, they seem to have devoted themselves mainly to intellectual entertainment: they improvised speeches on a certain topic - as with Plato  -, solved puzzles that were given to each other, or decided on the popular game, to find appropriate comparisons.

Often one of those present was chosen to be the symposiarch for the evening . He laid down the details of the drinking and the subjects, thus ensuring proper order. Of an honorable man was expected that he was not his over drinking virtue would forget and then also would find unaccompanied home.

Inside image of a red-figure drinking bowl

The only written prescriptions for symposia celebrations are from Plato in his nomoi . A poem of the same name by Xenophanes von Kolophon attests to the celebration of the symposium as early as the sixth century BC. Chr. Symposia in the form described here were held until the end of antiquity. The vase paintings can be viewed as further sources , and there are also depictions that suggest erotic and sexual acts.

In the Christian tradition, the symposium is also understood as a eucharistic communion at the Lord's Supper ; The model for this is the miracle of feeding described in the Gospel of Mark ( Mk 6,39-44  EU ) .

The meaning of the term symposium or symposium used today only partially corresponds to the original meaning.

The area of ​​application of the expression has become diverse, so there are also thematic concepts of "gathering" in cultural and economic areas. The word business symposium has evolved from this.

See also


  • Plato : Complete Works . Vol. IV. Hamburg 1994.
  • Xenophon : The banquet . Ditzingen 1986.


  • Hans Kleinstück: Greco-Roman poetry . Lengerich (Westf.) O. J.
  • James N. Davidson : Courtesans and Seafood . Berlin 1999. Special: p. 65 ff. (Good overall presentation with further literature)
  • Alfred Schäfer : entertainment at the Greek symposium. Performances, games and competitions from Homeric to late classical times . von Zabern, Mainz 1997. ISBN 3-8053-2336-0 .
  • Elke Stein-Hölkeskamp : The Roman banquet. A cultural story . C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich 2005.

Web links

Commons : Symposium scenes  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Symposion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. In the second part of the symposium festival, the Komos, you can see flute players who are already half undressed and have entered into affectionate relationships with the men, there are turbulent scenes of several undressed men and women in playful chases in which the men are clearly erotically aroused ; there are community scenes in which the persecution has come to an end because the individual couples are connected to one another in an act of love. Reading excerpt from Wolfgang Schuller: The world of the hetaera: famous women between legend and reality . Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 2008, ISBN 978-3-608-96001-3