National Geographic : 1944 Mar
Socrates Enjoys a Banquet EXCEPT in the intimacy of the family circle, it was in variably the custom for men to be the only guests at a banquet. Any women present were either professional entertainers, or members of the special class of the hetairai. Many of the latter were highly educated and cultivated women who were employed as companions of an evening. No respectable Athenian woman ever went out at night, nor did she even venture forth by day unless properly accompa nied, and usually veiled. When guests had assembled, they removed their footwear and were presented with basins and towels, while a boy poured water over their hands. Then they reclined, usually in pairs, on couches in front of which were tables arranged around the room on three sides of a square. The center of the room was left open for the servants and for what ever entertainment the host might provide. The variety of Epicurean delicacies of later times was virtually unknown at Athens in the fifth century. The meals were generally plain and wholesome. The first course consisted of meats, including game; fish; bread; and some green vegetables, among them the onion and garlic that are still favorites in the Mediterranean. For dessert there were cheeses and all kinds of fruits and cakes. After the meal the tables were cleared, and the sym posium, or drinking part of the evening, began. Wreaths of flowers were given the guests, and dainties were set about on the tables, on which also were placed drinking cups. It was not usual to drink unmixed wine, and large craters, or mixing bowls, were furnished. Three libations were offered atthe beginning ofthe sym posium: to the Olympiandeities, tothe Heroes, and toZeus Soter. A symposiarch was chosen by lot todetermine what proportion of water to wine should bedrunk. If the company was inclined toserious discourse, asin Plato's symposium, the flute girl might bedismissed. Some times not only a flute girl, but other entertainers, such as jugglers, dancers, or acrobats, might bebrought in. Socrates, who is shownnear the center ofthe picture, was most certainly present at many symposia besides the two known to us from Platoand Xenophon. There isno evi dence that he drank anyless than the rest ofthe company. The records, however, seem toshow that hewas able to imbibe freely without being inany way affected. In an account of a symposium, Xenophon mentions that the dancing girl, after swords had been fixed inacircle with the points upward,immediately leaped headforemost into it through the midstofthe points, and then out again with marvelous agility.Asimilar feat shown on avase painting has been reproduced here. Socrates is quoted as saying: "IfIam not mistaken, no body will deny but courage may belearned, and that there are masters for this virtue inparticular; since agirl, you see, has the courage to throw herself through the midst of naked swords, which none of usdare venture upon." The long evening ended with adelightful pantomime representing the story ofBacchus and Ariadne. The com pany then departed for their homes, but Socrates and some others, we are told, wentwalking inthe early morning.