A kylix is a type of ancient Greek drinking vessel, designed to hold wine for members of a symposium, or an after-dinner drinking party. Seated on cushion-covered couches along the walls of the host’s dining room, these party-goers would recline on their left elbow while drinking with their right hand. Because of their recumbent positions, kylikes were the perfect vessel to drink from. Relatively shallow, and with a handle on either side of the cup, men, and sometimes their consorts could drink without spilling while reclining with ease.

The outside of this particular kylix is decorated with a symposium scene, depicting various red figures. Each man holds a skyphos – another type of wine-drinking vessel – while dancing with an upraised hand. The inside, or tondo, of the kylix introduces yet another scene, and would have been revealed as the attendee finished his wine. The scene depicts two youths reclining on a couch while flinging the contents of a kylix with their right hand. While this may appear like a rowdy moment brought on by an excess of wine, the two men are instead playing kottabos. A fairly challenging drinking game, kottabos was a common feature of the after-dinner festivities, and the kylix was the equipment of choice. Partiers would loop their right index finger through the handle, aim, and fling the dregs of their wine at the target, which was usually a bowl balanced on a stand or floating in water. Playing required agility and good aim, and missing could result in dosing your fellow guests with wine! Perhaps the reward of cakes or sweetmeats made the mess worthwhile.

Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern

Images: Red-figure Kylix (cup) with Symposion Scene, active ca. BC 700 – 480
Painter of the Paris Gigantomachia, ceramic, 5 1/8 x 16 1/8 in., Gift of the Norman and Amelia Davis Classical Collection, 59.30
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