Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry

  Collins, Derek. 2004. Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry. Hellenic Studies Series 7. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

7. The Skolion Game

This kind of discrepancy between earlier and later usage led to a great deal of reductive etymologizing on the part of both ancient grammarians and modern commentators to determine the original meaning of the term and the nature of the game to which it refers. Yet this emphasis seems misplaced somewhat, especially in view of the fact that many sources from Aristophanes to Athenaeus cohere in several fundamental respects and suggest a thread of continuity to some of the types of poetic gaming that we find. Therefore what I shall try to do in what follows is not to replicate the comprehensive discussion of Reitzenstein, but rather to outline some fundamental features of the game, including what appear to be variations on it, which involve the clever linkage of verses or segments of verse by participants at symposia. At bottom, as we shall see, the game is again fundamentally one of “capping” verses. In this, however, the term skolion can at times be misleading, because we have representations of games that are structurally parallel yet not formally referred to as skolia. Before examining those, it will be useful to review some of the more important ancient testimonia for the term, though not so much with an eye toward Quellenforschung. Rather, I aim to demonstrate that certain features of the skolion game and its congeners strikingly resemble aspects of how rhapsodes performed, which would seem to contradict, at least on some level, the otherwise consistent self-distancing of symposiasts from rhapsodes.

Some coherence may nevertheless be derived from the lexicographical and literary testimony. As is generally agreed, Dicaearchus’ description of skolion and the associated customs of the game taken from his work On Musical Contests, remains the most important lexicographical testimony that we have. Two in particular stand out: 1) Suda s.v. Σκολιόν (= scholia Plato, Gorgias ad 451e = fr. 88 Wehrli):

ἡ παροίνιος ᾠδή, ὡς μὲν Δικαίαρχος ἐν τῷ περὶ μουσικῶν ἀγώνων, ὅτι τρία γένη ἦν ᾠδῶν, τὸ μὲν ὑπὸ πάντων ᾀδόμενον, <τὸ δὲ> καθ᾽ ἕνα ἑξῆς, τὸ δὲ ὑπὸ τῶν συνετωτάτων ὡς ἔτυχε τῇ τάξει, ὃ δὴ καλεῖσθαι <διὰ τὴν τάξιν> σκολιόν.

τὸ δὲ suppl. Wehrli διὰ τὴν τάξιν om. Σ

Skolion: the drinking song, as Dicaearchus says in his On Musical Contests, because there were three types of songs: one was sung by all, another by each person one after the other, a third by the most educated since the order was random. It is called skolion (because of the order).

The second description is 2) Schol. Aristophanes, Clouds 1364 (= fr. 89 Wehrli):

Δικαίαρχος ἐν τῷ περὶ μουσικῶν <ἀγώνων>· ἐπεὶ δὲ κοινόν τι πάθος φαίνεται συνακολουθεῖν τοῖς διερχομένοις εἴτε μετὰ μέλους εἴτε ἄνευ μέλους, ἔχοντάς τι ἐν τῇ χειρὶ ποιεῖσθαι τὴν ἀφήγησιν. οἵ τε γὰρ ἄδοντες ἐν τοῖς συμποσίοις ἐκ παλαιᾶς τινος παραδόσεως κλῶνα δάφνης ἢ μυρρίνης λαβόντες ᾄδουσιν.

ἀγώνων suppl. Dindorf ἐπεί codd.: ἔτι Wehrli post Hermann

Dicaearchus in his book On Musical (Contests): since a common experience appears to accompany those reciting either with songs or without songs: the ones who have something in their hand make the narration. For those who sing at symposia by an old tradition sing holding a sprig of laurel or myrtle.

The diversity of etymological explanations reflected in the passages above has caused some observers to suggest that Dicaearchus might already have been uncertain as to the original meaning of the term. [9] However, it is my impression that he could have derived the substance of his definitions from a few sources only, such as Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon. [10] After dinner and the libation, the initial choral song, the paean, is attested in Plato’s Symposium (ᾄσαντας τὸν θεόν, 176a), and explicitly so in Xenophon’s Symposium (2.1, verb παιανίζω). [11] Unlike the remaining two definitions of skolion, this is the only one that is not expressly designated as such. But it is not hard to see how parallels could be drawn: before Aristophanes’ representation of the skolion game at an imaginary symposium in the Wasps 1222–49 (discussed below), which gives us Dicaearchus’ second definition of skolion as a song sung by each in succession, the initial libation (σπένδω) is mentioned, which would correlate with the paean to follow. Several passages in Aristophanes illustrate Dicaearchus’ third definition in passage 1), especially Clouds 1354–58, where the ability to play the lyre and sing lyric (viz. Simonides) is denigrated as old-fashioned. Then at Clouds 1364–65, where taking a sprig of myrtle instead of the lyre and reciting from Aeschylus is presented as an easier alternative, we can find one of several sources for Dicaearchus’ second explanation in passage 2) above. [12] If this line of reasoning is correct, etymological studies of skolion that begin with Dicaearchus and then cite examples from Aristophanes may in fact be circular. However that may be, Dicaearchus’ definitions, helpful though they are, do not account for the historical narrowing of the term skolion between Pindar and Aristophanes. [13] This narrowing may be due as much to experience at playing the game as to a streamlining of folk etymologies. Equally significant, they do not (as we must) account for poetry games that share parallels with the game of skolion, now narrowly defined, even when the term itself is not used to describe them.

Two details of Dicaearchus’ definitions merit special attention because they resemble rhapsodic performance as it will be described in Part III. The first concerns the holding of a sprig of laurel or myrtle by a symposiast whose turn it is to perform. A common explanation for this practice both by ancients and moderns is that the sprig substituted for the lyre because the ability to sing and play the lyre was a skill in decline by the late fifth century. [14] This association seems reasonable enough, but Alexandrian critics already suggested another parallel: the scholia to Aristophanes, Clouds 1364 compare the myrtle branch held by symposiasts to the staff of laurel held by rhapsodes as they performed Homer (μυρρίνης γὰρ κλάδον κατέχοντες ᾖδον τὰ ᾽Αἰσχύλου, ὥσπερ τὰ Ὁμήρου μετὰ δάφνης “For they sang the works of Aeschylus holding a branch of myrtle, just as [they sang] the works of Homer with laurel”). [15] We shall see shortly how the custom of rhapsodes holding a ῥάβδος ‘staff’ served as one basis for the folk etymology of ῥαψῳδός as ‘he who holds the staff’ (scholia to Nemean 2.1c 29–30 Drachmann). The significance of holding a staff or a sprig of myrtle or laurel as an indication that it is a given singer’s turn to perform has deep roots in archaic Greek history: it may well derive from the ritualized tradition represented in epic of the staff as a symbol of authority to produce poetry (Hesiod) or to speak in the assembly (Homer). But exploration of this tradition reaches beyond the scope of the present inquiry. Instead, it is the overt equation of holding branches or staffs while performing that draws our attention, because it suggests that at least in the minds of Alexandrian critics rhapsodic and sympotic performances shared similarities.

More penetrating in respect of similarity is the turn-taking aspect of sympotic performance as Dicaearchus and later observers understood it. In passage 1) above (fr. 88 Wehrli) this refers to Dicaearchus’ second definition of skolion, in which the song is performed “by each person in succession” (καθ᾽ ἕνα ἑξῆς). This unmistakably recalls the sequencing of rhapsodic performance, which was also said to happen “in succession” (note ἐφεξῆς at [Plato], Hipparchus 228b–c). After one guest finished singing, he would hand the sprig to another guest (reclining sometimes to his right, sometimes elsewhere) who would have to continue the song. But because the receiving guest was sometimes unexpectedly chosen, one ancient etymological tradition interpreted the skolion itself to be difficult, reflecting a play on the idea of skolion from σκολιός ‘crooked’ and from δύ-σκολος ‘difficult’:

᾽Αρχαῖον ἔθος ἑστιωμένους ᾄδειν ἀκολούθως τῷ πρώτῳ, εἰ παύσαιτο τῆς ᾠδῆς, τὰ ἑξῆς, καὶ γὰρ ὁ ἐξ ἀρχῆς δάφνην ἢ μυρρίνην κατέχων ᾖδε Σιμωνίδου ἢ Στησιχόρου μέλη ἄχρις οὖ ἤθελε, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ᾦ ἐβούλετο ἐδίδου, οὐχ ὡς ἡ τάξις ἀπῄτει. καὶ ἔλεγεν ὁ δεξάμενος παρὰ τοῦ πρώτου τὰ ἐξῆς, κἀκεῖνος ἐπεδίδου πάλιν ᾦ ἐβούλετο. διὰ τὸ πάντας οὖν ἀπροσδοκήτως ᾄδειν καὶ λέγειν τὰ μέλη, σκολιὰ εἴρηται, διὰ τὴν δυσκολίαν.

It is an old custom for men feasting to sing, in accordance with the previous man if he ceases from his song, what follows. And indeed the one who held the laurel or myrtle at the start sang songs from Simonides or Stesichorus as far as he wanted, and after this he gave it to whomever he wished, not because the order required it. Also the one who received it from the first man recited what follows, and that man passed it on to whomever he wished. Since everyone sings and recites the songs unexpectedly, they are called ‘crooked’ (σκολιά), on account of the difficulty (δυσκολία).

Scholia Aristophanes, Wasps ad 1222

In addition to the parallels mentioned earlier, I would also draw attention to the freedom of choice a symposiast enjoyed to begin and end his song wherever he liked. It is on this basis, in addition to the symposiast’s freedom to choose his successor, that this scholiast at least construes a notion of difficulty implied in the term skolion. However, the etymological validity of this claim is less important than the clear parallel to the rhapsodic rules for performance at the Panathenaia, where as we shall observe one rhapsode continues the narrative from wherever a previous rhapsode leaves off. One explanation for the parallels between rhapsodic and sympotic performance is that the Alexandrian scholiasts themselves saw parallels and so interpreted them as such. This is certainly the case, but I believe the connections are intrinsic to the gaming traditions themselves, as they emerge not from the scholiasts so much as from the texts we have been examining. Sequencing between poetic performers who must adapt or improvise their response to what precedes is a pervasive technique of Greek poetic performance, beginning at least with the sixth-century versions of capping contests between sages like Calchas and Mopsus, [16] though they are more likely even earlier. Differing degrees of memorization, improvisation, dictional and metrical responsion, and so forth are required for given games, to be sure. But the directly confrontational character of Greek poetic competition, where response on demand is required, in turn to generate another response, often while threading a theme in an ever more elaborate manner, is one of its most common features.

The paradox of these parallels between rhapsodic and sympotic performance is that, as mentioned at the beginning of this Part, symposiasts often interpreted their own performances specifically in opposition to those of rhapsodes. We will see in a moment that symposiasts criticized rhapsodes for their populist appeal and the presumed political power that they wielded over the public. But such critiques must not have extended entirely to the level of form, by which I mean especially the features of sequenced responsion and improvisation in live performance. These features of poetic technique were more organic and older than their inherited forms in the seventh and sixth centuries, which in turn prefigured those, like stichomythia and its comic byforms, of the fifth and fourth. It is worth stressing that sequenced response and improvisation were reified in such a wide variety of poetic performance contexts throughout archaic and classical Greece that we might go so far as to say, not to put too fine a point on it, that they were a socially embedded or “natural” form of contest, thereby making them perhaps immune to direct critique.

The various meanings of skolion can be divided into three categories, which I reconstruct in part based on the work of Massimo Vetta. [17] Significantly, they do not all depend directly upon etymology because the later tradition (after Dicaearchus) also draws upon performance examples to illustrate the term:

Unlike Vetta I would put improvised skolia into a fourth category, which has the disadvantage of being ephemeral and of not being easily associated with a known poet or text. Nevertheless it is clear enough that poetic responses were invented extemporaneously either from scratch or by adaptation from known material. This ability is related to the tradition that masters such as Simonides could improvise (ἀποσχεδιάζω) extended epigrams at symposia. [
26] And so I would add:

I will return to numbers 2) and 4) in a moment. For now, it is important to stress that these four categories do not exhaust the types of poetry sung or recited at symposia, especially as the institution progressed through the imperial period. In Aristophanes, for example, we also read that a symposiast could be called upon to recite something from the works of Aeschylus (Clouds 1365 with scholia ad loc.), or a speech from Euripides (Clouds 1371 with scholia ad loc.). Excerpts from comic poets (both lyric and speaking parts) were also commonly recited at symposia. [29] But the interest in culling material from both genres for party games waned over time. By the era of Plutarch, excerpts from tragedy were thought inappropriate to a symposium because of their stilted elocution and sorrowful events. [30] It was also no longer acceptable to recite from the works of Aristophanes and the other Old Comic poets (e.g. Eupolis, Cratinus, Plato) on account of their unevenness of mood, the seriousness and ‘frankness’ (παρρησία) of their parabases, the generally obscene content, and the obscurity of their allusions. New Comedy, and especially Menander, apparently took their place because of its easier diction, its more pleasant blend of seriousness and humor and, perhaps most misleadingly, its predominantly heterosexual themes and chastening representations of prostitutes. [31] Plutarch’s characterization ought to be taken with caution, however. [32] Reitzenstein, for instance, accepts Plutarch’s points at face value and encourages us to believe that songs performed at symposia had become more edifying in Plutarch’s day. [33] But the narrative context of the remarks as well as texts from the same period cast them in serious doubt. In Plutarch’s dialogue these points are made by Diogenianus, yet he is immediately criticized by the sophist, who then just happens to find it deliciously convenient to quote Aristophanes at him. Philip, another symposiast, next comments that Menander is a favorite of Diogenianus and in any case nothing else much interests him. [34] Thus Diogenianus might think Menander a more wholesome repertoire for the symposium but his fellow symposiasts clearly do not agree with him.

A more serious indictment of Reitzenstein’s views comes from a passage in Lucian’s On Salaried Posts. The passage illustrates the plight of an educated Greek attached to a wealthy Roman household who is incapable of rivaling the favor shown to others at dinner parties. Not only is his portion of food sparing and his wine cheap, he needs constantly to deceive others into believing that he is a respected rather than a token guest:

ἀνιᾷ δή σε πολλὰ καὶ ἀθρόα καὶ σχεδὸν τὰ πάντα, καὶ μάλιστα ὅταν σε παρευδοκιμῇ κίναιδός τις ἢ ὀρχηστοδιδάσκαλος ἢ ἰωνικὰ συνείρων ᾽Αλεξανδρεωτικὸς ἀνθρωπίσκος. τοῖς μὲν γὰρ τὰ ἐρωτικὰ ταῦτα διακονουμένοις καὶ γραμματίδια ὑπὸ κόλπου διακομίζουσιν πόθεν σύ γ᾽ ἰσότιμος; κατακείμενος τοιγαροῦν ἐν μυχῷ τοῦ συμποσίου καὶ ὑπ᾽ αἰδοῦς καταδεδυκὼς στένεις ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς καὶ σεαυτὸν οἰκτείρεις καὶ αἰτιᾷ τὴν τύχην οὐδὲέ ὀλίγα σοι τῶν χαρίτων ἐπιψεκάσασαν. ἡδέως δ᾽ ἄν μοι δοκεῖς καὶ ποιητὴς γενέσθαι τῶν ἑρωτικῶν ᾀσμάτων ἢ κἂν ἄλλου ποιήσαντος δύνασθαι ᾄδειν ἀξίως.

Many and numberless things, almost everything, annoys you, especially whenever some catamite or dancing-teacher or wretched Alexandrian stringing ionics together outshines you. How could you, at any rate, rival in honor those who service these erotic desires and carry around notes in their clothing? So, reclining in a corner of the dining room hiding for shame, you groan, in all likelihood, and pity yourself and blame fortune for not sprinkling even a few graces on you. You would be glad, in my view, to be a composer of erotic songs or, even if someone else had composed them, to be able to sing them properly.

Lucian, On Salaried Posts 27

In the Egypt of Athenaeus, [40] not more than two generations later than Lucian, we learn that the price paid for dinner parties on the household and its staff could also be high:

οἱ δὲ νῦν συνάγοντες ἐπὶ τὰ δεῖπνα καὶ μάλιστα οἱ ἀπὸ τῆς καλῆς ᾽Αλεξανδρειάς βοῶσι, κεκράγασι, βλασφημοῦσι τὸν οἰνοχόον, τὸν διάκονον, τὸν μάγειρον· κλαίουσι δ᾽ οἱ παῖδες τυπτόμενοι κονδύλοις ἄλλος ἄλλοθεν. καὶ οὐχ οἶον οἱ κεκλημένοι μετὰ πάσης ἀηδίας δειπνοῦσιν, ἀλλὰ κἂν τύχῃ θυσία τις οὖσα, παρακαλυψάμενος ὁ θεὸς οἰχήσεται καταλιπῶν οὐ μόνον τὸν οἶκον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν πόλιν ἅπασαν. γελοῖον γάρ ἐστιν αὐτὸν <τὸν> εὐφημίαν κηρύξαντα καταρᾶσθαι τῇ γυναικὶ καὶ τοῖς τέκνοις.

Those who now gather for dinner parties and especially those from fair Alexandria shout, scream, verbally abuse the wine-pourer, the waiter, the cook; the servants cry from being hit with knuckles this way and that—not to mention the invited guests who dine with total displeasure, and if there happens to be a sacrifice, the god will cover his face and depart, leaving not only the house but the entire city. It is ridiculous that the same man who announces the holy silence curses his wife and children.

Athenaeus 420e–f Kaibel

Thus it seems almost certain that in raucous and physically abusive, not to mention sexually provocative, atmospheres of this kind, guests would hardly be in a position to take edifying discourse seriously. [
41] I am not claiming that we take any of these descriptions as valid for all dinner parties in this period. There is no need to universalize; rather, I am suggesting that Plutarch, like his predecessors, idealizes sympotic discourse—even if it is true that Old Comedy becomes less fashionable in favor of Middle or New—in the mold of a literary tradition that for all intents and purposes begins with Plato.

Thus two men who are adept at playing the skolion game will, once girded by drink, become too absorbed by one another and too caught up in besting and deriding one another that they will lose self-control, which is captured by the metaphor of flame. The metaphor of men flaming up as an appropriate response to mockery can already be found in Aristophanes. [45] Although these men are specialists, we may compare this passage with Plutarch’s comments elsewhere (through another fictional guest, Sossius Senecio) on ordinary symposiasts and the effects of drinking, which in general leads to talk and “the laying bare of much that is otherwise hidden” (τὸ ἀπογυμνοῦσθαι πολλὰ τῶν ἄλλως λανθανόντων, 645b). [46] Some men, we are told, find wine useful for the purpose of emboldening the best and most educated part of the soul, on behalf of φιλολογία, here ‘love of reasoning’. Significantly, such men are: οἱ δὲ μηδὲν ἀλλήλους βασανίζειν δεόμενοι μηδὲ καταφωρᾶν “those who do not need to cross-examine one another or detect one another’s deception (645c).” Both the verbs βασανίζειν and καταφωρᾶν used here imply that at least some of the guests at symposia were continually engaged in concealing themselves and their motives as much as they were determined to uncover those of others. [47] This is not the most desirable position for educated men to be in according to Sossius, who would rather that men compete out of φιλολογία, but the reality appears to be otherwise and men’s aims more practical than philosophical. With these points in mind, it is time now to turn to a specific example of how such a mutual self-examination between symposiasts might have happened.


[ back ] 1. Reitzenstein 1893:3–44. Aly’s 1927 article is much indebted to Reitzenstein.

[ back ] 2. Among them Vetta 1983:119–30, West 1974:16–18, Van der Valk 1974, Bowra 1961:373–403. More recent scholarship is cited below.

[ back ] 3. Pace Vetta 1983:120.

[ back ] 4. See LSJ s.v.

[ back ] 5. All of these explanations are carefully presented, and ultimately rejected, by Lambin 1993:32–34. His paper is a response to Teodorsson 1989, whose own conclusion (p. 132) that the term has no Greek etymology, but possibly an Aeolic one, fails to consider the strong evidence for a folk etymology (which is more important, in my view) that is reinforced by performance parallels to rhapsodes, to be explained below. Teodorsson’s conclusion prompted Lambin 1993:35–36 to argue that the Greeks borrowed the song custom of skolion and the term itself from the Lydians, a view that has been rightly rejected for lack of linguistic evidence by Liapis 1996:111n4. Whatever the origin of the term, we do not need to look beyond Greece for an explanation of the singing custom.

[ back ] 6. Convivial Questions 615b.

[ back ] 7. Recent reviews can be found in Teodorsson 1989 and Lambin 1993.

[ back ] 8. Aristoxenus and Phyllis (fr. 125 Wehrli) repeat the point about singing in succession and holding myrtle but add the otherwise unaccountable detail that skolia were sung at weddings. They add that the pathway of the song was “crooked” (σκολιά) because of the placement of the couches. Both this detail and the explanations of Dicaearchus reappear in Plutarch, Convivial Questions 615b–c. Athenaeus 694a, who depends on Artemon of Cassandreia, reiterates with negligible elaboration the explanation of Dicaearchus in 1). Proclus (no. 60 Severyns) and Etymologicum Magnum 718.35 depart from earlier accounts in claiming that skolia were especially simple (no. 58 Severyns), but because of inebriation they were sung “crookedly,” hence the name. Severyns 1938:188 calls this an “étymologie réaliste.”

[ back ] 9. See Aly 1927:561, who thinks that both Dicaearchus and Aristoxenus “im Dunkeln tappten” (“wandered in the dark”).

[ back ] 10. The view of Reitzenstein 1893:8–9, 12–13, 39, followed by Aly 1927:561, that Dicaearchus derived his definitions in passage 1) above from Didymus have been rightly refuted by Teodorsson 1989:129–30.

[ back ] 11. Cf. Aeschylus, Agamemnon 245 (τριτόσπονδον παιῶνα “paean accompanying the third libation”).

[ back ] 12. Other sources are given below.

[ back ] 13. Harvey 1955:162–63.

[ back ] 14. Aristophanes, Clouds 1354–58, Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.4, with Teodorsson 1989:127.

[ back ] 15. Presumably Fritz Wehrli had this scholion in mind (though it is not cited) when he remarks about Dicaearchus fr. 89 (commentary, p. 70): Indessen redet D[icaearchus] hier im allgemeinen von der Sitte, etwas in Händen zu halten, die sowohl für rhapsodischen wie gesungenen Vortrag galt. “However, Dicaearchus speaks here in general of the custom of holding something in the hands, which was valid for both rhapsodic and sung performance.”

[ back ] 16. Hesiod, fr. 278 MW (Melampodia), with Collins 200la:17.

[ back ] 17. Vetta 1983:119–20.

[ back ] 18. For Terpander: [Plutarch], On Music 1140f. Sappho: scholia Aristophanes, Wasps 1240; Plutarch, Convivial Questions 711d. Alcaeus: Aristophanes, Banqueters fr. 223 (= Athenaeus 694a); Aristotle, Politics 1285a37–40. Stesichorus: scholia Aristophanes, Wasps 1222. Simonides: scholia Aristophanes, Wasps 1222. Pindar: fr. 122 SM, cited above. Anacreon: Aristophanes, Banqueters fr. 223. Timocreon: scholia Aristophanes, Achamians 532. Meletus: Aristophanes, Frogs 1302. Praxilla: Athenaeus 694a; scholia Aristophanes, Wasps 1240. Pythermos: Athenaeus 625c. Hybrias: Athenaeus 695f–696a. Aristotle: Athenaeus 696b.

[ back ] 19. E.g. the aeolic hendecasyllable that makes up the first two lines of the Harmodius stanza, on which see Parker 1997:250.

[ back ] 20. Vetta 1983:119, no. 2. The difficulty of distinguishing between improvised and previously composed skolia is noted by Smyth 1900:civ.

[ back ] 21. E.g. the “songs of Telamon” at Theopompus fr. 65 K-A or the “song of Admetus” at Aristophanes, Wasps 1238.

[ back ] 22. As the “song of Harmodius” at Aristophanes, Wasps 1225.

[ back ] 23. These are discussed by Reitzenstein 1893:24–32.

[ back ] 24. Dicaearchus fr. 88 (Wehrli), Athenaeus 694b, and Plutarch, Convivial Questions 615b.

[ back ] 25. Pindar, Nemean 4.13–16, Aristophanes, Clouds 1355–58. Cf. the reference to Themistocles, whose inability to play the lyre was taken to reflect his lack of education: Themistocles … cum in epulis recusaret lyram, est habitus indoctior. Ergo in Graecia musici floruerunt discebantque id omnes nec qui nesciebat, satis excultus doctrina putabatur “Themistocles, because he refused to play the lyre at banquets, was regarded as uneducated. Accordingly, in Greece musicians flourished, everyone learned it, and the one who did not know it was considered almost uneducated.” (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 1.2.4; cf. Quintilian 1.10.9, Plutarch, Themistocles 2.4 and Cimon 9.1–2.)

[ back ] 26. Simonides 25 West (= Athenaeus 125c–d). Chamaeleon (fr. 33 Wehrli=Athenaeus 656c–d) reports that when Simonides was once dining with Hieron in Syracuse and was not given a portion of the roast hare as had the other guests, he improvised (ἀποσχεδιάζω) the line: οὐδὲ γὰρ <οὐδ᾽> εὐρύς περ ἐὼν ἐξίκετο δεῦρο “though it is wide it has not reached me,” which adapts a line from the Iliad concerning the width of the wall built around the Achaean ships: οὐδὲ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ εὐρύς περ ἐὼν ἐδυνήσατο πάσας “although [the seashore] was wide, it was not able [to hold] all [the ships]” (Iliad 14.33). This Simonidean tradition in turn closely resembles what is said of the fictional “Homer” in the Certamen. While being hosted in Athens by king Medon and becoming cold, “Homer” is said to have improvised (σχεδιάζω) hexameter lines hinting at the need for warmth (Certamen 281–85).

[ back ] 27. Such as the Aeolic hendacasyllable and asclepiad, on which see Parker 1997:248–51.

[ back ] 28. I rely on Parker 1997:248–49 and West 1982 for what follows: Aristophanes, Wasps 1226–27 (phalaecian), 1232–33 (aeolic dactyls; these verses are adapted from Alcaeus fr. 141 L-P=P.Oxy. 2295; cf. scholia Aristophanes, Wasps ad 1227 and 1234), 1240–41 (hagesichorean, with cretic expansion), 1245–47 (dodrans) and 1248 (phalaecian, which, I would add, can also be analyzed as a reversed dodrans with a penthemimer).

[ back ] 29. Aristophanes, Knights 529–30 (ditties by Cratinus); speeches: Ephippos fr. 16 K-A, Theophrastus, Characters 27, for all of which see Reitzenstein 1893:34–35. Cf. also Athenaeus 426a, where he dramatizes how iambics from the middle comic poet Clearchus (fr. 1 K-A) are begun by one symposiast and then continued by another.

[ back ] 30. Plutarch, Convivial Questions 711e.

[ back ] 31. Plutarch, Convivial Questions 712b–d.

[ back ] 32. Cf. Lucian’s depiction of the grammarian Histiaeus, who improvisationally stitches (ραψῳδεῖν) a whole poem together from lines of Pindar, Hesiod, and Anacreon (Symposium 17).

[ back ] 33. Reitzenstein 1893:38, after summarizing this passage in Plutarch, writes: “das Alles zeigt, wie ernst es noch zu Plutarchs Zeit die Besseren unter den Griechen damit nahmen, dass das Lied zum Gelage παραίνεσίν τινα καὶ γνώμην χρησίμην εἰς τὸν βίον enthalten müsse.” “All that shows how seriously still in Plutarch’s day the better among the Greeks took it that banquet song ought to contain some advice and useful thought for life.”

[ back ] 34. Convivial Questions 712d.

[ back ] 35. Athenaeus 620e–621a, with West 1982:144–45. Sotades scandalized Ptolemy II Philadelphus by publishing a verse that mocked his marriage to his sister, Arsinoe. For this he was enclosed in a lead jar and sunk into the sea (see Athenaeus 621a–b). Cf. the ugly man who recites scurrilous verses (ἀνάπαιστα) in a voice that mocks Egyptian at Lucian, Symposium 18.

[ back ] 36. Athenaeus 620e–f. On the κίναιδος, translated as ‘catamite’ above but which generally refers to a sexual insatiate, see Davidson 1997:173–82.

[ back ] 37. Aristophanes, Wasps 1345–46 (on the flute-girl Dardanis), Athenaeus 577f. At times sexual favors were not bestowed without great wit: when king Demetrius Poliorcetes (336–283 BCE) desired to have anal sex with the prostitute Mania, she is said to have asked him for a favor in return. When he granted it, she quoted Sophocles (Electra 2): ᾽Αγαμέμνονος παῖ, νῦν ἐκεῖν᾽ ἔξεστί σοι “Son of Agamemnon, that thing you desire is now possible” (Athenaeus 579a). Interestingly, a different sexual use of this same line can be found in Plutarch, Convivial Questions 737b. These examples and others are discussed by Pellizer 1990:181–82. Fehr 1990 is also helpful.

[ back ] 38. Solon 25 West, Theognis 1317–18, 1345–50, 1357–60 (which outline the difficulties for παιδοφίλαι), Athenaeus 592f, 696b.

[ back ] 39. Xenophon, Symposium 7.2–4, Athenaeus 607c–d, etc.

[ back ] 40. Although Athenaeus composed his Deipnosophistae while in Rome, his keen interest in the social customs and manners in Alexandria and his hometown of Naucratis is well brought out by Thompson 2000:79, 81.

[ back ] 41. This situation is expressly mocked in Lucian’s Symposium.

[ back ] 42. So West 1974:17.

[ back ] 43. Add. Xylander.

[ back ] 44. A similar phrase is used by Aristophanes specifically to connote verbal abuse between Strepsiades and Pheidippides at Clouds 1375: ἔπὸς πρὸς ἔπος ἠρειδόμεσθα “We hurled word against word.”

[ back ] 45. Clouds 991–92: κἀπιστήσει … κἂν σκώπτῃ τίς σε φλέγεσθαι “and you shall learn … if anyone mocks you, to flame up.”

[ back ] 46. Cf. Plato, Laws 652a.

[ back ] 47. The sinister language in Plutarch is marked, but the idea of men testing one another through sympotic discourse (in this case, philosophical discussion and dialectic) finds expression in a different form in early Plato. At Protagoras 348a, Socrates notes that the ideal for symposia involves πεῖραν ἀλλήλων λαμβάνοντες “men making trial of one another. For Plato, however, this was to be done explicitly without poetic exposition (as Protagoras himself does at 339a–347a with Simonides) and without flute-girls (347c), who were needed by the uneducated because they could not engage in proper philosophical discussion.