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Classics in discussion

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Drinking Parties in Ancient Greece

08:17, Thu 26 Aug 2010

James Davidson and David Fearn discuss ancient Greek bards and their booze.

The study of classics is the study of the consumption of alcohol. Archaic and classical Greek culture was steeped in spirit: the ancient elite recited lyrical poetry during drinking parties; large cohorts of Greek citizens celebrated the god of wine by performing tragedies and comedies at annual festivals; the common crowd enjoyed the pleasures of the pub, at least in democratic cities; and the pots produced in their hundreds of thousands with their beautiful paintings illustrate that the Greeks took drinking very seriously indeed.

And lest we forget: philosophy also drew on drink. Socrates famously could outdrink them all. Plato celebrated love and lust in his work The Drinking Party, better known as the Symposium. He demonstrates that our desire for beautiful objects and people can lead us to the idea of the pure good. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

But how did the Greeks organise their drinking parties? Why did wine play such a central role in classical Greek culture? And is it really true that most of Greek art and literature is intimately connected with alcoholic orgies?

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