CL 115 Greek Civilization: schedule, reading assignments and study questions :
Note: Several of these readings are drawn from Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander, which was written as an historical introduction to the Perseus project. You may wish to read other relevant sections in Martin's Overview even when not assigned (Table of Contents to Martin's Overview).
October 3A: The Symposion
The symposion (from the Greek words for "with" and "drink") was an important social institution especially for upper-class Greek males. The symposion was held in the andron (“men’s room”), a room set aside in the house for entertaining guests (drawing of typical andron, VR reconstruction of andron in the House of Many Colors in Olynthos, ground plan of House of Good Fortune in Olynthos [andron is in upper left corner], reproduction of mosaics from andron in the House of Good Fortune)
a) Read Xenophanes, poem 1 (sixth century).
b) Read chapter 2, sections 1-27 of Xenophon's Symposion (fourth century).
(Xenophon’s chapter 1 [not required reading] describes the banquet that preceded the symposion)
c) In Aristophanes’ comedy Wasps the young Philokleon has received a sophisticated education thanks to his wealthy mother. At lines 1196 ff. he tries to teach his bumpkin of a father Bdelycleon how to behave properly at a symposion.
i. Based on the readings in a), b) and c), what was a typical symposion like?
ii. In particular, what sorts of things did people typically do at a symposion? Why did they do them?
d) Look at the following images depicting scenes from symposia and from the komos ("revel") which usually followed (the scenes are not meant to be in any particular order – please be patient if it takes a moment for an image to load) [note: you will also find it useful to read the brief report on vases shapes and their uses]
image 1; image 2; image 3; image 4; image 5; image 6; image 7; image 8; image 9; image 10; image 11; image 12; image 13; image 14; image 15; image 16; image 17; image 18; image 19; image 20; image 21; image 22; image 23; image 24; image 25; image 26; image 27; image 28; image 29; image 30; image 31; image 32; image 33; image 34; image 35
i. To judge from your reading of Xenophon and from these scenes, what took place at a symposion?
ii. What would you imagine it was like to participate regularly in symposia?
iii. What ideas/attitudes/values did regular participation in symposia generate/reenforce?
iv. What was the role of women in symposia?
v. Why would the symposion be important as a social institution for upper-class Greek males?
vi. These passages by the poet Mimnermos (late seventh century BC) and Ibykos (sixth century BC), Anakreon (sixth century BC) and Hybrias (date uncertain) were probably composed for (or at least was recited at) symposia. How do they fit into your view of the experience of symposia? [note]
vii. How does the description of the aftermath of a symposion in Demosthenes 54.7-9 (from a speech delivered in a fourth-century Athenian law court) fit into your view of symposia?
viii. With one exception (a tomb entrance) all of the images linked above are on sixth- and fifth-century pottery that was intended excluslively for use at symposia, mostly in Athens. Considered as objects (i.e. apart from the images they bear), what do these pots tell us about the institution of the symposion?
e) What, if anything, does chapter 6, verses 1-7 of the Old Testament prophet Amos (eighth century) tell you about the Greek symposion?
October 3B: Women in Aristocratic Society
i. What does it tell you about the Greeks' view of women that in their mythology they conceived their principal female goddesses in this fashion?
b) Hesiod (c. 700), whose prestige was second only to Homer, tells two stories of how, after the Titan Prometheus, son of Iapetus, had stolen fire from the gods and given it to mankind, Zeus sent a countervailing plague. The shorter of these stories is in Theogony 570-610, and the other, the story of Pandora, in Works and Days 59-105.
i. What do these stories tell us about Hesiod's attitude towards women? What factors beside simple misogyny might account for this attitude?
c) At Iliad, book 6, lines 369-502 Homer describes a conversation between Hector, the great hero of the Trojans, and Andromache, his wife, before he sets out to do battle.
i. Andromache is shown here as an ideal wife (by Homer's standards). What (by Homer's standards) are the characteristics of an ideal wife?
ii. To judge from this passage, what are the respective roles of men and women in war?
iii. To judge from this passage, what are more generally the proper roles of men and women? What is the proper relation of husband and wife?
(In this fictional conversation between Sokrates and Isomakhos the latter is portrayed as a wealthy gentleman farmer, in effect an ideal aristocrat. He may be a bit pompous, but it is clear from the tenor of the Oikonomikos as a whole that Xenophon means to commend his views to the reader.)
i. How old was Isomakhos' wife when he married her? How old do you imagine Isomakhos was at the time?
ii. Judging from these excerpts, what would you think are the components of excellence (arete) for a woman like Isomakhos' wife?
iii. What factors would you imagine shaped this particular view of a woman's excellence?
iv. Compare and contrast Isomakhos' wife with Andromache? From the point of view of their role as aristocratic women, what do they have in common? What is different? How would you account for any differences?
e) Read pages 1343a-1344a from book 1 of Aristotle’s Economics.
i. How is the view of women in this reading similar to that in the previous reading (d))? How is it different? What would you infer from the similarities? What would you infer from the differences?
f) In this passage from Aiskhylos' Eumenides (640-673) Apollo argues on behalf of Orestes, who has killed his mother, against the chorus of Furies, who seek vengeance for his mother's death. What view of the biological role of woman as mother emerges from this passage?
g) On the basis of all these readings, construct a list of contrasts (places, activities, characteristics, etc.) which the Greeks associated with the notions of male and female respectively. How much of this list has to do with nomos (convention) and how much does it have to do with phusis (nature)?
Note: The linked translations of Mimnermos and Anakreon are by John R. Porter, who teaches at the University of Saskatchewan. You can find additional poems of Anakreon at this link. You may also find this link interesting and relevant.