Object in Focus: Reclining Figurine (C.515):

This figurine might represent a man reclining at a Greek drinking party, known as a Symposium.  These parties were common throughout the ancient Greek world, and were primarily attended by men.  Women who attended were servants and slaves, they would pour wine for the men, dance and play music. In some ancient literature they are referred to, simply, as “flute players”.

As shown by the statuette, attendees would recline on couches to gorge on wine and food, listen to music, and discuss the affairs of the day.  They also took part in lively drinking games, such as kottabos, where contestants would try to fling the dregs of wine from their drinking cup or kylix at a spot on the wall, a little like a modern darts game.

Some scholars at the University of Liverpool believe this figurine might represent the god Dionysus.  Dionysus was associated with indulgence, wine and music, hence he was closely connected with the symposium.

Most infamously, Dionysus was the protagonist in The Bacchae, a play by Euripides from the 5th Century B.C.  In the play, Dionysus is seeking revenge on his mortal family who, denying that he was the son of Zeus, had cast him out as an infant.  The play culminates with Dionysus’ aunt, Agave, tearing her son’s head off in a mad rage, she believed him to be a mountain lion.  Plays like The Bacchae were perhaps some of the topics of conversation discussed at a symposia.

Whether this figurine is a depiction of a mortal male, or of Dionysus, the association with the symposium is consistent and allows us a small insight into one of the major cultural practices of the ancient Greek world.

John Parker.

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