Ancient Greek and Roman Banquet

Ancient Greek and Roman Banquet

June 10, 2013
Students experience a celebration similar to those held in ancient Greece and Rome

Faculty members often seek opportunities to transform classroom learning into hands-on experiences. But what do you do when you’re teaching a course on dining and drinking in ancient Greece and Rome?

Classics professor Elizabeth Baughan decided that a banquet emulating the foods, entertainment, and traditions of the time period would give students in her Dining and Drinking in Classical Antiquity class the chance to experience upper-class life in ancient Greece and Rome.

As the semester’s culminating event, Baughan’s students gathered in the Westhampton Living Room in late April dressed in period costumes, such as togas and peplos. They prepared food from ancient recipes in the space’s kitchen before setting up the room with groups of towels and yoga mats to recline on. “Greeks and Romans, or at least the elites, would not sit up at tables. They would recline on couches,” Baughan says.

Each group received a tray of food and ate with only their right hand while reclining on their left side, a position that Baughan says aids digestion. “I thought it would be interesting for the students to see what this is like — how difficult it is to eat with one hand — and to try and understand the culture more.”

Students also participated in such rituals as a hand washing ceremony at the beginning of the event, and drinking pomegranate juice (to simulate wine) from a communal bowl. 

After a main course consisting of such foods as olives, lentils, eggs, mushrooms, and a dessert course, students from professor Julie Laskaris’ Greek Epic class presented readings from Homer’s epic poem The Illiad. Each student performed a set of lines from the poem and one student created a lyre, a stringed instrument, out of a cigar box, which he used to accompany the performers. “This is the kind of entertainment that would have gone on at these feasts, [some of which] may have been the occasion for poems like The Iliad or The Odyssey to have been written in the first place,” Baughan says. 

The event concluded with kottabos, a game in which participants fling the last sips of their wine — which had sediment, making it undesirable to drink — at a target. “It was apparently a popular game in fifth century classical Athens,” Baughan says. “You would dedicate the toss to your beloved, and if you hit the target, it meant you would have good luck in love.”

Baughan’s students enjoyed the experience of planning and participating in the banquet. “Eating while reclining was a challenge for all of us, but the food was delicious,” Abby Johnson `13 says. “I loved that most students dressed up for the occasion, and several of us wore garlands in our hair.

“We got to experience what we have read in our ancient sources and recreate what we have seen in the Greek and Roman art we’ve studied all semester long.”