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Lecture 5: Drink in Greek culture: an overview


Xenophon, Conversations with Socrates 3.13,3, 2.1,30, Symposium

Alexander's Royal Diaries ap. Aelian VH 3.23: `They say on the fifth day of the month Dius [October/November] he was drinking at Eumaeus' house, then on the sixth he slept it off, and for as much of that day as he was conscious (ez sen) he rose from his bed and did business with the generals concerning the following day's journey, saying it would start early. On the seventh he feasted with Perdiccas and drank again and on the eighth slept. On the fifteenth day of the same month he was at it again, drinking and on the following day he did the usual things that follow drinking [i.e. he slept?] He dined at Bagoas' on the twenty-fourth and two days later was still sleeping --Accordingly one of two conclusions must be true, either Alexander damaged himself through drinking so many days in a month, or those who wrote this are lying. For you can have an idea of what happened the rest of the time from these extracts, since they say the same things.'

Theopompus Philippica book 8: `The fact that they had been practising democracy for what was by now a long time together with the fact that their city was situated at a trading post, not to mention the fact that the entire populace spent their time around the agora and the harbour, meant that the people of Byzantium lacked self-discipline and were accustomed to get together in bars for a drink. And the people of Chalcedon, before they came to share with the Byzantines in their government all used to pursue a better way of life. But when they had tasted Byzantine democracy they fell to decadence and from having been the most self-controlled and moderate in their daily life, they became drink-lovers and squanderers.'

Secondary material

*Davidson, J. Courtesans and Fishcakes (London 1997) c.2

François Lissarrague, The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet (Princeton, 1990)

*Murray, O. Sympotica (Oxford 1990)


How does wine-drinking in Greece differ from our own experience? What do Greek vases tell us about the Greek culture of drinking? Why did the Greeks mix wine with water? In what ways was the consumption of food differentiated from the consumption of wine?