A Question Just in Time for the Holidays: WHO Should Be in Charge of the Drinking?

In Plutarch’s “Table-Talk” we find three books of ten ‘conversation prompts’ followed by an imagined conversation based on them. Below is just the beginning of the discussion about what kind of a man should be named the symposiarch–a office tasked with setting the conversation, number of drinks, and strength of the wine during the symposium.

Table-Talk: Moralia 620: What kind of man should be in charge of drinking?

My brother-in-law Kratôn and my friend Theôn were at a drinking party when everyone was beginning to get tipsy but then calmed down and they began to speak about the symposiarch, because they were of the opinion that I should take up the duty and not allow an ancient custom to be abandoned by everyone. No, they thought I should renew it and reestablish the position’s authority over drinking parties and their rules. This seemed right to the other guests as well to the extent that they raised a shout and called on me to do the job.

Then I said, “Since this is agreed upon by all of you, I select myself as the symposiarch and I order the rest of you to drink as you would want to for the present, but Kratôn and Theôn—the men who introduced this idea and carried it, they must elaborate in brief outline what kind of many should be selected as symposiarch, and what goal he will make the priority of his office, and how he will apply the customs of the symposium. I entrust to them to choose their order of speaking.

They tried a little to deny what they were asked, but when everyone was insisting that they obey the leader and do what he asked. Kratôn first said that it is necessary that the chief of the guards be the most guardianly among them, as Plato says, and therefore the chief symposiast must be the most sympotic. And he explained “He is this kind of a man should he be neither easily overcome by drunkenness nor disinclined to drink, as Kuros used to say when he wrote to the Lakedaimonians that he was more kingly than his brother and could handle a lot of unmixed wine well. For a drunk is arrogant and rude but someone who doesn’t drink at all is a buzzkill and better suited to watching the children than running a drinking party.”

Image result for ancient greek symposium

 

Ποῖόν τινα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον εἶναι;

Κράτων ὁ γαμβρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ Θέων ὁ ἑταῖρος ἔν τινι πότῳ παροινίας ἀρχὴν λαβούσης εἶτα παυσαμένης λόγον ἐποιήσαντο περὶ τῆς συμποσιαρχίας, οἰόμενοί με δεῖν στεφανηφοροῦντα μὴ περιιδεῖν παλαιὸν ἔθος ἐκλειφθὲν παντάπασιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀνακαλεῖν καὶ καταστῆσαι πάλιν τῆς ἀρχῆς τὴν νενομισμένην ἐπιστασίαν περὶ τὰ συμπόσια καὶ διακόσμησιν. ἐδόκει δὲ ταῦτα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις, ὥστε θόρυβον ἐκ πάντων καὶ παράκλησιν γενέσθαι.

“Ἐπεὶ τοίνυν,” ἔφην ἐγώ, “δοκεῖ ταῦτα πᾶσιν, ἐμαυτὸν αἱροῦμαι συμποσίαρχον ὑμῶν καὶ κελεύω τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ὡς βούλονται πίνειν ἐν τῷ παρόντι, Κράτωνα δὲ καὶ Θέωνα, τοὺς εἰσηγητὰς καὶ νομοθέτας τοῦ δόγματος, ἔν τινι τύπῳ βραχέως διελθεῖν, ὁποῖον ὄντα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον αἱρεῖσθαι καὶ τί ποιούμενος τέλος ὁ αἱρεθεὶς ἄρξει καὶ πῶς χρήσεται τοῖς κατὰ τὸ συμπόσιον· διελέσθαι δὲ τὸν λόγον ἐφεξῆς αὐτοῖς ἐπιτρέπω.”. Μικρὰ μὲν οὖν ἠκκίσαντο παραιτούμενοι· κελευόντων δὲ πάντων πείθεσθαι τῷ ἄρχοντι καὶ ποιεῖν τὸ προσταττόμενον, ἔφη πρότερος ὁ Κράτων ὅτι δεῖ τὸν μὲν φυλάκων ἄρχοντα φυλακικώτατον, ὥς φησιν ὁ Πλάτων, εἶναι, τὸν δὲ συμποτῶν συμποτικώτατον. “ἔστι δὲ τοιοῦτος ἂν μήτε τῷ μεθύειν εὐάλωτος ᾖ μήτε πρὸς τὸ πίνειν ἀπρόθυμος, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ὁ Κῦρος ἔλεγεν πρὸς Λακεδαιμονίους γράφων ὅτι τά τ᾿ ἄλλα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ βασιλικώτερος εἴη καὶ φέροι καλῶς πολὺν ἄκρατον· ὅ τε γὰρ παροινῶν ὑβριστὴς καὶ ἀσχήμων, ὅ τ᾿ αὖ παντάπασι νήφων ἀηδὴς καὶ παιδαγωγεῖν μᾶλλον ἢ συμποσιαρχεῖν ἐπιτήδειος.

2 thoughts on “A Question Just in Time for the Holidays: WHO Should Be in Charge of the Drinking?

  1. Imagine if people ACTUALLY talked like this at their symposia. I don’t know if that would lead to more drinking (to get so plastered that further speech would be blissfully impossible) or none at all, because everyone would be too busy pontificating to bother actually drinking.

    An amusing thought, either way. (Or maybe I’m just too easily amused?)

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