Drink like a Greek: wine cups

Ancient wine was quite unlike the modern stuff.  To start with, they added spices, such as fenugreek, which these days you're more likely to find in a curry. They also added seawater, for a very good reason. In a world without sulphur, salt makes the next best preservative.

Wine was always drunk with water mixed in.  No exceptions, not ever.  To drink wine neat was the mark of the worst sort of dissolute barbarian.  The usual ratio was three water to one wine.  Since water filtration plants hadn't been invented yet, the practice might have begun so the alcohol could kill any bugs in the water.  The water and wine was mixed together in a large jar called a krater, and then served out into cups.

Wine at a party was served in a very wide, very flat cup called a kylix.  Here's one at the Metropolitan in New York:


Yes, the decoration on the outside is a naked woman drinking from a kylix.  Some of the decorations on these things would be rated XXX.  Speaking of which, here's a decoration on the inside of a cup.  This is what you'd see after you've drunk the wine:


The lady is playing a drinking game called kottabos.  That's why she's holding her cup in that funny way.  Here are the rules for kottabos:
  1. Drink your wine to the dregs.
  2. Hold cup as per lady in picture.
  3. Throw the dregs at the nearest wall.

Winners are judged for the most interesting patterns on the host's walls, or possibly the furniture or the fellow guests if someone's a bad shot.  

The other, more unusual cup for alcohol, is something much more associated with Vikings, but in fact comes from Persia.  The Greeks called it a rhyton, which is also the English word.  It's a cup in the shape of a horn:


These things were always made in the shape of an animal or some similar subject.  These are at the Getty Villa in L.A., as is this lion:



In The Ionia Sanction at one point I have Nico at a Persian party where he's given a rhyton to drink from in the shape of a boar.


6 comments:

Sarah W said...

Drunken Rorschach tests . . . now there's a party game for philosophers!

Rhytons seem to be a more practical decorative cup that the greek ones -- these seem tostand up by themselves?

Gary Corby said...

I think most rhytons have legs. On the other hand, when full of wine, they'd be somewhat top-heavy.

Lexi said...

So, all these naked women sitting around drinking - would they be hetairae?

Amalia T. said...

When I was researching Bronze Age drinking vessels, I found golden cups that looked rather a lot like today's mugs which I wasn't expecting at all. I wonder why they didn't catch on later?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Lexi!

Yes, they're hetairae: high class call girls. We can read off the latest trends in ultra-fashionable classical hair-dos from these party cups, but other fashion advice is somewhat lacking.

Gary Corby said...

I don't know Amalia, except that these people weren't idiots...the designs they used must have been practical for the purpose. It might be something as simple as cup handles breaking off too easily, given the technology?