by Emily Shih
The kylix cup with athletes from 430 BCE (Figure 1) and the rummer cup from 1710 (Figure 2) are two distinct drinking vessels that provide intriguing insights into the feasting and drinking cultures of their respective times. Despite being separated by over two millennia, they share common themes in their historical significance and the role they played in communal gatherings.
The rummer cup represents a period in which feasting and social drinking were highly ritualized and marked by elegance. This ornate vessel, often adorned with intricate engravings and decorative elements such as grapes, was a symbol of affluence and sophistication. This particular rummer cup is made of silver with gilt coated on the inside. Its design catered to the pleasure of sipping fine spirits, enhancing the feasting experience. These cups were typically used in taverns and affluent households, where individuals gathered for conviviality and camaraderie, enjoying various alcoholic beverages.
In contrast, the kylix cup with athletes from 430 BCE embodies an earlier period, ancient Greece, where feasting and athletic competitions were integral to social and cultural life. The kylix's shallow bowl and two horizontal handles made it ideal for sipping wine during a symposia where men reclined, drank, and engaged in discussions and entertainment. The cup's exterior featured scenes of athletes engaged in various sports, reflecting the Greek emphasis on physical prowess and the celebration of the human body.
The kylix cup is wider and shallower than the rummer cup and would have required the server’s focus and muscular strength to lift the cup, further emphasizing the Greeks’ appreciation for human athleticism and agility. Wine could have easily been spilled from the kylix and the Greeks may not have minded due to the setting’s more informal nature. On the other hand, the rummer cup’s narrower and deeper divot represents the European’s appreciation for cleanliness and may have appreciated a more robust cup to prevent any spillage over guests’ expensive clothes. Both cups tell a story of who the guests at the feasts may have been; the kylix cup served affluent close-knit friends while the rummer cup served to impress sophisticated nobles.
From a feasting perspective, both cups served as vessels for the consumption of alcoholic beverages, albeit in vastly different cultural contexts. The rummer cup evokes a sense of refinement and status, enhancing the experience of feasting in the 18th-century European upper class. In contrast, the Kylix Cup from ancient Greece emphasized the physical and intellectual aspects of feasting, with athleticism and philosophical discourse being central components of symposia.
Just like modern-day cups and silverware, the rummer cup from 1710 and the kylix cup from 430 BCE represent the evolving nature of communal gatherings and the diverse ways in which different societies celebrated their cultures through food and drink. Their ornate patterns contribute to each feasts’ purpose—whether it is to celebrate, socialize, display status symbols, or to simply be a vessel for beverages, both cups allow for a deeper appreciation of humanity’s tapestry of cultures and the ways in which people have used them to enhance the experience of community and bonding.