Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

In his already classic sociological study of the Hooray Henry in last week's Spectator, Professor Oborne did not have space to explore in full the ancient precedents for this style of behaviour. Herewith, then, a humble footnote to his marr-sterful overview, together with a forward-looking proposal.

The Professor was right to mention the importance of the drunken riot, komos. This took place in the context of a symposion, symposium or drink-in, in which vast quantities of wine (up to about 18 per cent alcohol content) diluted with water, were hoovered up. The comic poet Euboulos describes the stages through which the occasion went. After the first three mixing-bowls, when the wise man was recommended to leave, `the fourth leads to violence, the fifth to uproar, the sixth to riots (komos), the seventh to black eyes, the eighth to summonses, the ninth to vomiting and the tenth to madness and throwing things about.'

All very St Edmunds, Oxford. But that is the point. The symposium was a private occasion, on which aristocrats linked by status, age, wealth and common interests drank, talked, plotted, recited poetry and shagged the night away within their own four walls. But it regularly reached its climax in the komos, when the plastered young komasts spilled out on to the streets in a display of exhibitionist public behaviour designed to show how unconventional they were, demonstrate their power and lawlessness and generally thumb the nose at ordinary citizens. …

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