The Ancient Greek parties that descended into ‘anarchy and over-drinking’

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The Greeks are attributed with a whole host of cutting-edged inventions and credited with pushing Western thought forward with philosophy.

Under their watch, medicines and scientific practise were forged and crafted in ways that are still seen today, evidence found by archaeologists all the time of an advanced civilisation. 

The city-state was born, and so was thrust into the world a political model known as democracy. 

As such, the Greeks are lauded for their forward-thinking and impressively progressive society and way of life.

But there are darker, more debauched things that the Greeks introduced to the world, including, historian Charles Freeman told, the sex party.

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A crude and taboo topic, everyone has heard of the sex party, or an orgia, as it was known in Ancient Greece.

Long have the era’s elites been rumoured to have engaged in acts of sexual deviance with their peers at parties that could sometimes last for days.

“They were called symposia or symposiums,” said Mr Freeman, author of The Children of Athena: Greek Intellectuals in the Age of Rome. “I suppose they were like dinner parties that descended into anarchy.

“A typical symposia would have courtesans come in, and at the end of the evening, obviously you could have sex with a courtesan who would often play the flute and show off qualities other than that which was sexual.”

Often, Mr Freeman said, the courtesans were highly educated and so would hold conversations and politics and philosophy before things took an altogether different turn.

“The dining clubs, for example, ended in chaos, anarchy, sex and over-drinking — rather like the Bullingdon Club,” he said.

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The symposiums, which like the Bullingdon Club were all-male, were ordinarily called to celebrate some sort of event, something like a marriage banquet.

There would always be a formal beginning to the symposium in which the Ancient Greeks reclined on couches and drank pure wine or wine mixed with water served by slaves. 

Mr Freeman quotes a play from 375 BC in which a person explains the various degrees of indulging in wine at such an event: “I prepare only three phases of wine. One for health, the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep.

“After the third, wise men go home. The fourth round belongs to bad belabour, the fifth is for shouting. The sixth is for ruin and insults, the seventh is for fights, the eighth is for breaking the furniture, the ninth is for depression, the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.”

The wine cups that diners drank from at the symposiums were often covered in sexually explicit scenes — though it isn’t totally clear whether they represented the real thing or served simply as a warning of what excessive drinking can do.

It was the norm in Ancient Greece for a man to find both sexes attractive, in what today might be described as bisexual — though the private lives of men living in classical Athens reveal that it was understood quite differently from what it means today.

Relationships between men of the same age were not at all common, but those between an adolescent boy and an older man were prevalent.

Men also used female prostitutes regularly, and Athens was filled with brothels, streetwalkers, and so-called female courtesan entertainers as Mr Freeman described.

It was uncommon for a man to marry before the age of 30, and apart from their wedding night, it was the norm for couples to sleep apart.

In ancient Athens, girls normally married at 16 to a man twice her age, more often than not a close friend, associate, or even a brother or a cousin of her father’s.

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