Collins, Derek. 2004. Master of the Game: Competition and Performance in Greek Poetry. Hellenic Studies Series 7. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_CollinsD.Master_of_the_Game.2004.
Part II. Sporting at Symposia: Verse and Skolia Competitions
6. Play and the Seriousness of Sympotic Poetry Games
μουσικᾶς ἐν ἀώτῳ,
οἶα παίζομεν φίλαν
ἄνδρες ἀμφὶ θαμὰ τράπεζαν
in the choicest of song,
the sort we men often play around
his dear table.
As Kathryn Morgan has shown, the contrast between the professional choral poetry to which Pindar is about to turn (highlighted by ἀλλά, line 17), and the informal symposiastic poetry in which he represents himself as participating (παίζομεν), could not be more vividly drawn.  Whether Pindar implicitly desires to set his epinician poetry and its performance in relief against the more frequent and amateurish symposiastic poetry, he nevertheless situates himself squarely within that kind of convivial gaming tradition. Pindar may be a professional poet, but successful participation in symposia requires partaking of the informal poetic games as well.
Προκλεῖ Περσείδαις τ’ ἐκ Διὸς ἀρχόμενοι
πίνωμεν, παίζωμεν· ἴτω διὰ νυκτὸς ἀοιδή,
ὀρχείσθω τις· ἑκὼν δ’ ἄρχε φιλοφροσύνης.
Making pure libation to Heracles and Alcmene,
to Procles and the descendants of Perseus, beginning from Zeus
let us drink, let us play; let the song go through the night,
let someone dance; willingly begin the gaiety.
πίνειν και παίζειν καὶ τὰ δίκαια φρονεῖν.
rejoice; grant a long life, ruler of fair deeds,
to drink, to play and to think just things.
Well-ordered and duly pious symposia therefore depend on moderate drinking, playing, and song, provided they lead to the recognition and expression of right thinking. In the tradition of Xenophanes, right thinking refers to the “reverent speeches and pure tales” (εὐφήμοις μύθοις καὶ καθαροῖσι λόγοις, fr. Β 1.14 West) of gods and heroes that men ought to recite, but unlike Xenophanes, for Ion the atmosphere need not be so solemn.
ἀρξάμενος τελέω τὸν λόγον [ε]ἰς ἀγα[θό]ν.
χρὴ δ’, ὅταν εἰς τοιοῦτο συνέλθωμεν φίλοι ἄνδρες
πρᾶγμα, γελᾶν παίζειν χρησαμένους ἀρετῆι,
ἥδεσθαί τε συνόντας, ἐς ἀλλήλους τε φ[λ]υαρεῖν
καὶ σκώπτειν τοιαῦθ’ οἶα γέλωτα φέρειν.
ἡ δὲ σπουδὴ ἑπέσθω, ἀκούωμέν [τε λ]εγόντων
ἐν μέρει· ἥδ’ ἀρετὴ συμποσίου πέλεται.
τοῦ δὲ ποταρχοῦντος πειθώμεθα· ταῦτα γάρ ἐστιν
ἔργ᾽ ἀνδρῶν ἀγαθῶν, εὐλογίαν τε φέρειν.
Welcome symposiasts, agemates; for having begun from the good
I shall end a speech for the good.
And whenever we friends come together for such an
affair, we must laugh and play virtuously,
enjoy being together, jest at one another
and mock at such things as bring laughter.
And let seriousness attend, and let us listen to those speaking
in turn: this is the virtue of the symposium.
Let us obey the symposiarch; for these are
the deeds of good men and this brings praise.
Thus symposiastic performances were both concealing and revealing at the same time. The trick was to accomplish both rather than too much of one or the other. We shall examine in a moment how a given poetry game could lead to the revelation of hidden, ill, or inappropriate intentions, thus dissolving a symposiast’s self-image. For the present, it is important to remark that the greater the intake of wine, the closer a symposiast came to παρρησία ‘free speech/outspokenness’,  itself a potentially dangerous stage to achieve because of how easily the requisite jesting and raillery could lead to insult.
ἐξ αὐτοσχεδίης πειρώμενος, ἠΰτε κοῦροι
ἡβηταὶ θαλίῃσι παραιβόλα κερτομέουσιν.
and the god [Hermes] sang beautifully
in accompaniment trying out the lyre by improvisation, just as young
men at feasts incite each other through taunts.
We shall see this passage later in connection with improvisation. For the moment I underscore the description of young men at feasts mocking at or deliberately inciting (κερτομέω) each other through extemporaneous performances. The semantics of kertomeô in archaic Greek poetry have recently been reevaluated. In the formulation of Jenny Strauss Clay, for example, she offers two definitions of its meaning: 1) to provoke or goad someone indirectly into doing something, and 2) intentionally to try to elicit a response that one expects, anticipates, or desires.  While following Clay on some but not all points, Michael Clarke offers the more general view that ‘“heart-dividing talk’ defines or labels a distinct genre of speaking among Homeric characters, centring around a browbeating and manipulative social strategy that aims to discomfit or humiliate the person addressed.”  These definitions dovetail exceedingly well with what we find in the symposium and in other gatherings of a sympotic character.
Wine and brawling at symposia had long been a theme for Old Comedy and satyr plays.  Similarly another stock theme was the jokes that could, if excessive and told at the wrong moment, get the offender thrown out of doors,  while if good and told at the right moment could exculpate him from a more serious charge.  But the point I wish to stress is that the formalized taunting through poetry that we find, as Pellizer observed earlier, stands as a test of character and image as much as of verbal skill, especially when fueled by alcoholic enthusiasms. In this there is also, I think, a peculiarly Greek understanding of character as weakly resistant even in the face of formalized, rather than directly personal, mockery. The temptation to goad was institutionalized and irresistible, and it created somewhat of a paradox if only because the eruption of interpersonal strife due to insult remained a constant threat.
It would take us beyond the reach of our immediate concerns to outline the philosophical and cultural developments that now make mockery a token of poor character and abuse an inadvertent and excusable outburst. These historical shifts remind us that the generalizing tendencies of our sources must not be allowed to overshadow the historical context that gives them significance. At the same time, while mockery and abuse are somewhat distorted in this passage, Plutarch does retain a sense of their meaning in the classical period.