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Recreating the ancient Greek drinking game Kottabos

Years before beer pong was invented, the ancient Greeks played kottabos to pass the time at symposia (drinking parties) where privileged men reclined on cushion couches and played the game that is found illustrated on ancient artworks. Women of fine society didn’t attend symposia but hetaires (courtesans) played the sloppy game where winners received all sorts of prizes, such as sweets and even sexual favours.

Recreating the ancient Greek drinking game Kottabos
Banqueter playing the kottabos game; kalos inscription in the name of Leagros. 
Side A of the neck of an Attic red-figure neck-amphora, ca. 510 BC. From Vulci 
[Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/WikiCommons]
Assistant Art History Professor Heather Sharpe of West Chester University in Pennsylvania tried to recreate the game with her students. It wasn’t as easy as it appears “because we do have these illustrations of it, but they only show one part of the game – where individuals are about to flick some dregs at a target.”

The students used a 3D-printed drinking cup, some diluted grape juice and willing students who soon got the hang of the game and the findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America this month.

There are two ways of playing, according to texts and art works. The goal is to knock down a disc carefully balanced a tall metal stand in the middle of the room. In another version the goal was to sink small dishes floating in a larger bowl of water. Players hit their target with the leftover wine-dregs at the bottom of their kylix (a two-handled ancient cup with shallow but wide body).

The tondo, circular curve inside the cup, revealed lewd pictures that were slowly revealed as the  wine disappeared. One kylix shows a man wiping his bottom, another shows a man penetrating a woman.

To achieve the best results in kottabos participants had to toss the wine-dregs overhand at their target as though they were pitching a baseball or throwing a frisbee. Ancient Greek players would utter the name of the object of their affection before flinging the wine.

Luckily slaves were around to clean up the mess left behind as the game was likely to leave everyone splattered with wine and puddles all over the floor.

Source: Protothema [January 15, 2015]

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