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symposium literature


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Three overlapping types may be distinguished: 1. Poetry produced for the symposium: this includes most or all Archaic solo lyric poetry and at least some choral lyric, and much of elegiac and iambic poetry. There is a strong tendency in this poetry to relate content to context of performance; there is also a strong element of the normative: many elegiac and other poems offer rules for the conduct of symposia. Certain themes and forms like the epigram and the scolion (see previous entry) are characteristic. From the real context of the symposium a literary context developed: much Hellenistic and Roman poetry purports to be composed for the symposium, e.g. the lyric poetry of Horace.2. Plato established the prose genre of the Symposium, an imagined dialogue of set speeches or discussions usually on themes appropriate to the occasion. Plato wrote on ideal love; Xenophon's Symposium is more realistic and less serious; Aristotle wrote on drunkenness, Epicurus on the physical effects of wine and sex. Maecenas wrote a literary Symposium which contained a discussion of wine and in which Virgil and Horace appeared. The Symposia of Menippus and Lucian parodied the serious philosophic symposium. Banquets and symposia are a common setting in Roman satire.3. Antiquarian works. These literary or learned discussions were probably originally modelled on the reality of Ptolemaic court symposia. They could serve to display collections of philosophical wisdom (Plutarch's Symposium of the Seven Wise Men) or literary questions, or to structure information appropriate to the form, as in Plutarch's Sympotic Questions. The most systematic example is Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae (‘Doctors at Dinner’), an encyclopaedia of information on all aspects of the symposium, in which the topics are arranged for ease of reference as a discussion which takes place in the course of a meal and subsequent symposium. Macrobius' Saturnalia purports to follow Plato, but uses the similar device of a succession of feast days to organize information centred on Virgil.

1. Poetry produced for the symposium: this includes most or all Archaic solo lyric poetry and at least some choral lyric, and much of elegiac and iambic poetry. There is a strong tendency in this poetry to relate content to context of performance; there is also a strong element of the normative: many elegiac and other poems offer rules for the conduct of symposia. Certain themes and forms like the epigram and the scolion (see previous entry) are characteristic. From the real context of the symposium a literary context developed: much Hellenistic and Roman poetry purports to be composed for the symposium, e.g. the lyric poetry of Horace.

2. Plato established the prose genre of the Symposium, an imagined dialogue of set speeches or discussions usually on themes appropriate to the occasion. Plato wrote on ideal love; Xenophon's Symposium is more realistic and less serious; Aristotle wrote on drunkenness, Epicurus on the physical effects of wine and sex. Maecenas wrote a literary Symposium which contained a discussion of wine and in which Virgil and Horace appeared. The Symposia of Menippus and Lucian parodied the serious philosophic symposium. Banquets and symposia are a common setting in Roman satire.

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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