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Wining and Dining: Parallels in the Depiction of Food in Greek Symposia and Etruscan Banquets during the Archaic and Early Classical Periods

Christopher R Ell (Brown University)

During the Archaic and Classical periods, Greek and Etruscan elites practiced similar traditions of conviviality: they reclined, wore garlands, and drank wine while enjoying music and being tended by servants. Rich bodies of scholarship have analyzed these traditions, discussing their chronological development, social functions, and culturally-distinctive aspects (e.g. Cristofani 1987, 1991; Torelli 1989; Murray, ed. 1990b, 2018; Small 1994a, 1994b; Rathje 1995, 2013; Zaccaria Ruggiu 2003; Cerchiai and d’Agostino 2004; Catoni 2010; Lynch 2011; Topper 2012; Hobden 2013; Wecowski 2014; Corner 2015; Mitterlechner 2016; Colvicchi 2017; Kistler 2017). The presence of food during elite drinking sessions has been a canonical point of comparison between Greek and Etruscan conviviality: whereas food is generally believed to have held a minimal role in the Greek symposion (with most eating occurring during the preceding deipnon—e.g. Murray 1990a: 6-7, Dalby 1996: 16-20, Wecowski 2014: 100-102, Corner 2015: 234; contra Wilkins 2001: 207 n. 13, Wilkins and Hill 2006: 77-78 arguing that this separation is overly rigid), the Etruscan banquet is characterized by its joint consumption of food and wine (e.g. Small 1994a, 1994b; Nijboer 2013: 107-108; Rathje 1995, 2013). Focusing on the iconographic evidence from the 6th century and from the first half of the 5th century BCE, I argue to the contrary that food played a similar role in Greek and Etruscan conviviality during the Archaic and early Classical periods. The sympotic imagery of Greek ceramics often includes depictions of food—sometimes represented as strips of meat hanging from tables, sometimes as indistinct objects on plates, and sometimes in the hands of banqueters (Schmitt-Pantel 1990: 19). Additionally, Xenophanes fr. B1 West provides a literary link between food and wine in sympotic settings (Steiner 2016: 170). Though wine is more prominent than food in the iconographic and literary record of Archaic symposia, it is clear that symposia are sometimes represented as featuring food and that some of that food is substantial. The contemporary iconography of Etruscan banquets—including terracotta reliefs from domestic contexts, funerary reliefs, and tomb paintings—is similar in its depiction of food, portraying gatherings that sometimes feature only wine and sometimes feature both wine and food (ovoid objects likely representing eggs—see Pieraccini 2014—that are either held by banqueters or placed on tables). In comparison with 4th century iconography such as the paintings from the Golini I tomb at Orvieto, the Tomb of the Shields at Tarquinia, and the Tomb of the Triclinium at Caere—which feature tables laden with a variety of carefully-illustrated food items—the food in the Archaic and early Classical Etruscan iconography has a muted prominence and bears a stronger resemblance to the contemporary iconography from Greece. I therefore argue that, during the Archaic and early Classical periods, food played a similar role in the Greek and Etruscan iconography of elite wine parties. Food was neither banished from the Greek symposion nor ubiquitous in the Etruscan banquet; the conventional wisdom that it differentiated Greek and Etruscan conviviality is untenable during the Archaic and early Classical periods.

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Archaic Art and Poetry

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