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Spicing Wine at the Symposion: Fact or Fiction? Some Critical Thoughts on Material Aspects of Commensality in the Early Iron Age and Archaic Mediterranean World

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 September 2021

Alexandra Villing*
Affiliation:
The British Museum*

Abstract

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Interpretations of metal graters and pottery tripod bowls as Leitfossils of a trans-Mediterranean ‘orientalizing’ culture of spiced-wine consumption have of late become a staple of scholarship on sympotic banqueting, shaping our perception of ancient wine-drinking and its role in cross-cultural interaction in the first half of the first millennium BC. Yet a closer look at the evidence for spiced wine and the use of graters casts serious doubt on assumptions of a widespread practice of adding ‘spices’ to wine during the Greek symposion and of the use of graters or tripod grinding bowls for such a purpose in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. A more plausible scenario, it is argued, arises from the well-attested association of graters with cheese and other primarily culinary commodities. It sees the grater’s prime function and symbolic significance shift from a use in Early Iron Age ‘Homeric’ hospitality to becoming a tool in the increasingly complex cuisines associated with the Archaic and Classical banquet – an indicator of evolving Mediterranean commensality with no less of an international horizon, but a commensality that involved interaction and shared consumption beyond the narrowly sympotic.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

Footnotes

*

avilling@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk. I am grateful to Susanne Ebbinghaus, Alan Johnston, Corinna Riva, Judith Swaddling and two anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments and suggestions in the preparation of this article, and to Douglais Cairns, Lin Foxhall and Gina Coulthard, for their help during the editorial process. Part of the research was completed during a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship in 2008 (RF/6/RFG/2008/0510) and a Visiting Fellowship at the British School at Athens in 2016.

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