About this artwork
The Greek Symposium
The modern symposium is an academic gathering where people discuss a topic of common interest, debunking old theories and putting forth new hypotheses. Afterward the participants might continue the conversation, discussing their impressions in greater detail or simply socializing over a drink. The men of ancient Athens did the same, regularly coming together in a private home to exchange ideas. The vases displayed in this case were used to prepare, serve, and consume wine at such gatherings. As the evening progressed, participants engaged in other pleasures, including games, performances, and sex.
It was considered uncivilized for a Greek to consume undiluted wine, so water was fetched from a public fountain house in a jar like this example. The horizontal handles were used to carry the vase, which was quite heavy when full, and the vertical handle at the back was used to pour the water.
The neck of this storage jar is decorated on either side with the frontal face, or mask, of a bearded satyr, framed by black vines and wreathed in ivy tendrils. The mask may have served a protective function or been inspired by masks used in dramatic performances. It may also have simply provided amusement to the ancient viewer. Sometimes the body of this type of vessel featured frontal faces of satyrs and Dionysos staring boldly outward. Such vessels were regularly used at symposia and may have contained undiluted wine. This example’s lid is now missing.
- Ancient Greek
- Amphora (Storage Jar)
- 530 BC–520 BC
- Terra-cotta, black-figure technique on white-ground
- H. 39.4 cm (15 1/8 in.); diam. 27.7 cm (10 7/8 in.)
- Costa A. Pandaleon Endowment