This week’s Pot of the Week is yet again not necessarily a single pot, but a collection. However, they all share one characteristic – they are all dinoi, a particular (and peculiar) shape of ancient Greek vase that was popular at symposia, or all-male drinking parties.
The dinos itself was a peculiar shape in the Greek repertoire because it consisted of two parts: a large bowl and a tall moulded foot or stand.
It was particularly designed for use at elaborate banquets and drinking parties, and like the standalone krater, it was used for mixing and serving wine. Wine would be ladled out into individual cups, like the kylix from which the central figure is drinking while reclining on a cushion (above). The use of the dinos in this capacity can be traced as early as the late 6th century.
The dinos above, on which we have the words ‘Sophilos painted me’ inscribed, is significant because it is an excellent example of black-figure, Corinthian style vase painting, and it depicts the wedding procession of Peleus and Thetis, the parents of the hero Achilles.
Evidence for the use of a stand in combination with the large bowl can be seen in the fact that the rounded bottom likely would not have been able to stand on its own. Additionally, one can see that the painter was careful to leave a portion of the bottom of the bowl undecorated, so that it would not be obscured or damaged by the stand.
Few “footed dinoi” have been identified, but it seems like this was a much later innovation.
A further connection to the use of the dinos to serving wine at Greek drinking parties can be found in the choice of decoration, particularly on the inside of the vessel, as can be seen in this black-figure dinos from the Getty.
It has been suggested that the inclusion of the ships on the interior of the rim on this dinos was done with the intention of making the ships appear to be bobbing on a “sea” of wine when the vessel was full. While we may never know if this was the painter’s attempt at a joke or if the owner had it commissioned this way, such visual humor can be found in other media throughout the Greek world.
Perhaps the most obvious place to find a similar analogy is in Homer, where he makes reference to a “wine-dark sea” on more than one occasion.
Another relationship between wine and the sea has been identified by Hallie Franks in the space of the symposium itself – the andron or formal dining room, which was often decorated with painted walls and mosaics. The focus of Franks’ research is the mosaic floors of andrones, which she argues can tell us about how Greeks interacted with one another within the space of the symposium.
The Eretria Nereid, shown without the company of her sisters or the figure of Achilles, presents a “quotation” of the full narrative, introducing to those entering Room 9 the notion of travel over the sea—a theme underlined by the border of waves surrounding her. It is also worth noting that she is also a protector of sailors.
Franks goes on to draw parallels between the experiences of seafarers and symposiasts:
Furthermore, in ancient Greek culture, sea journeys had a deep association with the symposium. Both activities, after all, depend on communal identity: like the crew of a ship, symposiasts are a company of men who are isolated within a contained space and who enter into solidarity with one another. Added to this is the popular appeal of their similar physical effects, which might include swaying, loss of balance, and nausea.
Like the physical effects experienced by seafarers and symposiasts alike, symposiasts who gathered around the dinos depicting the ships on the inside of the rim would likely be reminded of sea journeys by the “swaying” of the ships on the “sea” of wine. And if it wasn’t immediately obvious, it would certainly become more so after a few drinks.
Franks, H. 2014. “Traveling, in Theory: Movement as Metaphor in the Ancient Greek Andron,” The Art Bulletin 96:2.
Franks, H. 2018. The World Underfoot: Mosaics and Metaphor in the Greek Symposium. Oxford.