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Theognis at Dinner: Metasympotics through Time

Sara De Martin

King's College London

The focuses of this paper are Athenaeus’ appropriations of metasympotic lines known as by the Greek archaic poet Theognis, and the functionality of such reuses for the construction of Athenaeus’ own sympotic conversation. The Theognidea are renowned as an anthology of elegiac metasympotic poetry: composed to be performed at symposia, they mention or deal with the symposion or its activities, like much other Greek archaic poetry (see Hobden 2013: 25-65). In the last decades, they have been recognised and studied as the most generous ancient source of information on archaic sympotic singing dynamics (mainly thanks to the then ground-breaking studies of Massimo Vetta on sympotic repartees, from the 1980s on). Yet, interestingly, most Classical and post-Classical sources do not appear to share our ‘sympotic notion’ of the Theognidea: with just one exception (Pherecr. fr. 162 K.-A., where the sympotic hexameters Thgn. 467+469 are quoted), all Classical and Hellenistic sources quote lines of Theognis dealing with ethics, not broaching sympotic themes. Most of Theognis’ lines quoted by Imperial authors are not metasympotic either: they are highly gnomic couplets with ethical relevance. In this horizon, Athenaeus stands out for being the first Imperial author interested in Theognis’ sympotica. Out of six Theognidean quotations in the Deipnosophistae, three are quotations of symposion-themed lines (Thgn. 500 at Ath. 2.37e, Thgn. 993-996 and 997-1002 at Ath. 7.310ab, Thgn. 477-486 in Ath. 10.428c).

The archaic notion of the symposion as ‘elite practice’ underlies the representation of the banquet in the Theognidea and is implied in Theognis’ advice concerning sympotic attitudes. In this presentation, I will show how Athenaeus’ metasympotic reuses of Theognis’ lines are forgetful of such archaic notion while being functional to his own representation of the symposion as an occasion of learned display and luxurious indulgence. To this purpose, where relevant, I will make comparisons with other reuses of archaic metasympotic poetry in Athenaeus.

My overall aim is to show how the gnomic Theognis, ‘teacher of wisdom’ for the other Classical and post-Classical authors, becomes a lover of hedypatheia for Athenaeus (Ath. 7.310a), who takes up Theognis’ ever-applicable metasympotic lines to add to his own sympotic conversation. In other words, I will show how the inherent gnomicity of Theognis’ metasympotic lines (see Wecowski 2014: 56) allows, through their actual or fictional reperformance, to recreate the chronotope of the symposium –regardless of the ideological underpinnings (or of the lack thereof) of each specific literary instantiation of the chronotope itself.

Session/Panel Title

Literary Banquets of the Imperial Era

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