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A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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How to Play an Ancient Greek Drinking Game

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Kottabos-Greek-Drinking-GameNEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA—Heather Sharpe of West Chester University of Pennsylvania took a replica 3-D-printed kylix, some diluted grape juice, and some students to try to play kottabos, an ancient Greek drinking game. She described her experience at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. Ancient texts and images from works of art describe two variations of the game. In the first, the male drinkers attempted to toss their wine and knock down a disc balanced on a tall metal stand in the middle of the room from their couches. In the second variation, the players had to toss their wine dregs into small dishes floating in a larger bowl of water to get them to sink. The modern players soon realized that flinging the juice overhand, as if they were pitching a baseball, was more successful than attempting to throw the wine with a flick of the wrist, Frisbee style. The resulting mess was surprising, too. “By the end of our experiment we had diluted grape juice all over the floor. In a typical symposium setting, in an andron, you would have had couches arranged on almost all four sides of the room, and if you missed the target, you were likely to splatter your fellow symposiast across the way. You’d imagine that, by the end of the symposium, you’d be drenched in wine, and your fellow symposiasts would be drenched in wine, too,” Sharpe told Live Science. She commented that playing the game while drinking actual wine would be required to “get the full experiment.” To read about another experiment in recreating ancient Greek culture, see "Classists Reconstruct the Sound of Greek Music."

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