The Politics of the Sumposion

Hobden, Fiona (2009). The Politics of the Sumposion. In: Graziosi, Barbara; Vasunia, Phiroze and Boys-Stones, George eds. The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 271–280.



Among other institutions important for displaying and shaping social identity, one thinks particularly of the formalized drinking-party, the sumposion, structured as a microcosm of polis life. This article notes that the symposium provides a safe context for what might otherwise be potentially subversive reflection on the city itself, but also, and at the same time, for the individual's reflection on himself as a member of the city. As it happens, the institution also illustrates in microcosm the way in which the historical polis perpetuates itself as an idea, or ideal of hellenicity: for it is quickly elevated from historical contingency to an enduring literary genre, still alive and well in the period of Roman occupation through writers such as Plutarch and Athenaeus.

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