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The Thing

The symposiarchos is the leader of a symposium. In a traditional symposium of Ancient Greece, the symposiarchos would be elected by the guests in attendance to supervise the most important affair at hand, which was the consumption of massive amounts of alcohol.

The symposiarchos’ position gave him the right, nay, the duty to propose toasts at his whim. These toasts would continue, in rapid succession, as long as the symposiarchos damn well pleased. Because the goal of the average symposium was to get ridiculously shitfaced, this could be for quite some time. More than his toasting responsibilities, the symposiarchos had direct control over just how much everyone had to drink. After forcing the party to drink down perhaps hundreds of toasts, he could single you out for some extra heavy-duty drinking if he felt you weren’t quite fucked up enough. Theoretically, he could also force you to stop drinking, but considering what we know about Greek culture and symposiums in general, this power was likely not often utilized.

It should be noted that in perhaps the most famous symposium on record, i.e. Plato’s Symposium, we do not get to see a symposiarchos in action. This is because Socrates and his fellow guests at Agathon’s party are still hungover from the previous night’s symposium. So they decide to limit themselves to casual drinking and a discussion of Eros. Thus, there was no need for a symposiarchos.

The Game

Symposiarchos is also a drinking game. It is a very simple game to play, and shows the merits of universal direct democracy as opposed to representative democracy. All you need are alcoholic drinks and people who can communicate. Everyone involved is granted the powers of the symposiarchos and therefore must make a series of toasts to anything and everything. When a toast is made, you must take a drink. If you don’t comply, a fellow symposiarchos may demand that you drink more. Of course, being a symposiarchos yourself, you may decline to do this.

Beer (or wine, if you are feeling traditional) is the recommend beverage for symposiarchos. If possible, try to conduct your impromptu symposium around a keg for instant gratification and convenience, though proximity to a fridge full of beers serves well enough. Mixed drinks may be used, of course, but the time required to prepare them, small as it may be, can disturb the balance and flow of the game. Shots are probably out of the question unless you are Andre the Giant. Symposiarchos is good for getting drunk quickly, but it should at least last long enough to hear some interesting toasts.

There are a few common toasts that generally make it into every game of symposiarchos. They include:

However, creativity is appreciated. Try toasting to the defeat of the British at Yorktown, the concept of strange quarks, the triumphant successes or tragic failures of some fictional character, or even Yo Mama.

Symposiarchos is a lot of fun. It carries the benefits of most drinking games in that the players get wasted to a greater extent than if they were just quietly sipping their libations, without the detriment of it being contrived or complicated. The only negative aspect of symposiarchos is its long, unwieldy, and overly intellectual name. This has lead to it being known more colloquially as The Toasting Game.

The game’s nomenclature rarely comes up, however, as one of the great things about symposiarchos is the spontaneity with which it can occur. Drinking with your friends and someone makes a toast? You’ve already started. When you’re done, explain the etymology of the game you’ve just played (if you are coherent enough) to your friends. That way, drinking is not just entertainment, its edutainment

Historical info taken from the introduction to Plato’s Symposium by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff, Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis, 1989

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