Listen to Dr. Peter Bing, Associate Professor of Classics at Emory University, describe the ancient Greek symposium from the Museum's audio guide to the permanent collection (produced by AntennaAudio): Quicktime, Real Player, or Windows Media.
On the exterior and interior of this kylix (drinking cup), young men reclining on cushions participate in a lively symposion, or after-dinner drinking party. In ancient Greece, the symposion was an important social occasion where the participants would not only drink, but also talk, play musical instruments, sing, play games, and perform religious rituals. Here the painter has shown some of the activities associated with the symposion. Several of the figures are playing kottabos, a popular game of skill in which a player, holding up a cup, flings a few drops of wine toward a target. One young man holds out a libation bowl (phiale); it was customary at a symposion to dedicate the wine to the gods by pouring out libations in their honor. Above the heads of the men, as if hanging on the wall, the artist has depicted objects associated with the syposion, including drinking cups, baskets, and walking sticks which suggest the participants' prominent social stauts. Three types of musical instruments are shown: the lyre, the barbitos (both stringed instruments), and the aulos (an oboe-like wind instrument), here represented in a leopardskin case. On the interior of the cup, a small three-legged table stands near the figures, with extra wreaths draped over it and a pair of boots beneath. A frieze around the exterior of the cup, below the main scenes, depicts a row of symposion vessels, including pitchers and different types of drinking cups (skyphoi and kantharoi). Nonsense inscriptions are found on both the exterior and interior; these may have served a purely decorative purpose, or else they may indicate that the painter was illiterate.
The painter of the Paris Gigantomachy, who belonged to the workshop of the Brygos Painter, specialized in painting cups. Many of his surviving vases show symposion scenes, while others feature athletes or mythological images. All of these subjects were considered appropriated for vases to be used at symposia. The Carlos Museum's kylix is one of the finest and best-preserved examples of this painter's work.