Height: 12.7 cm
Diameter: 31.75 cm
Room 69: Greek and Roman life
Red-figured kylix (drinking cup) showing a Greek drinking party
Greek, about 485-480 BC
Made in Athens, Greece; found at Vulci, (Lazio, Italy)
This kylix, or drinking cup, shows an all-male party known as a symposion, which is Greek for “drinking together”. It is signed by Douris as painter and was found in a tomb in Italy in a region that was then inhabited by the Etruscans.
At such parties, Greek men used to lie on couches to eat. When the eating was finished, they would drink wine from painted pottery cups like this one. Professional musicians and dancers might be hired for the evening to entertain the men.
The outside of the cup shows six men lying on couches as young boys refill their cups from jugs. The couches would have been arranged around all four walls of a right-angled room, and the artist has cleverly tried to show this by painting two of the couches end on.
Although the cup has two handles, most of the men shown on it hold their cups by the bottom of the foot. The handles were not therefore just for holding the cup. They had two other purposes. One was so that the cups could be hung on the wall. The other purpose was for playing a game called kottabos. This involved holding the cup by one handle and swirling it around in order to throw the last drops of wine at a target.
An Athenian symposion was just for men and would take place in a special room of the house set aside for the purpose. Wives or daughters would not be present. Women were not normally meant to go out or drink wine, although there were women-only parties held during special religious festivals.