Whirr2008-06-16
Oh, Ancient Athens...

And oh, Brad Hicks:

"Did you know that in classical Athens, there was an actual word for someone whose claim to fame was their skill at organizing parties? It generally fell to people with just the right mix of skills who also had some kind of vaguely passive income stream that freed them from desperate want. It was the male equivalent of a hetaera, a "companion" - think high-class geisha. The male equivalent was someone who made the bulk of his life, living, and actual priestly ministry out of getting people to show up at parties together, meet each other, have interesting and useful conversations, and have a good time doing it. He was expected to know people from all walks of life, and how to get along with them. He was expected to be an expert at mixing and dispensing drinks - and at judging people's capacity for them. (That was no trivial task in a society where "wine" includes flavors ranging from mint to belladonna to opium.) He shared duty with the hetaera (if one showed up) for managing the conversation and keeping things lively.

"The word is "symposiarch." "Symposion" means "drinking together," and it is the root of our word symposium. A symposiarch is someone who is superior at drinking together. It was a highly praised skill ... among the people who invented democracy, free enterprise, entrepreneurialism, and society focused on the needs of the middle class. It's also among my highest aspirations.

"(In fact, every good party had four specific sacred social roles. The host pays for it, and provides the food and the space. The symposiarch brings the booze, the drugs. The hetaera,"companion," brings the music, the entertainment if any, and yes, the girls. The basileus, or "king," is an elected position at each party, specifically intended to be the most popular person there - he has specific ceremonial duties, and gets his choice of the first conversation topic if he wants it. It's a pretty good system, if you ask me. I could go on and on about how this worked, and what's so cool about it.)"

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