top of page

Vanity and The Vine

by Markella Patitsas

Kylix (Drinking cup) with Woman, Bather, Satyr, and Maenad, c. 400 BCE. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The kylix is a drinking cup specially designed for use in ancient Greek symposia, or drinking parties. The sensual design of the cup, with its gentle curves and painted representation of a voluptuous woman, evokes the erotic atmosphere that surrounded symposia. Flute-girls, prostitutes, drinking games, and lovers’ play all contributed to the symposium being known as a setting for revelry and amorous spectacles. In Plato’s Symposium, however, the attendees turned towards a philosophical discussion of nature of love, or eros, and each of the seven speakers, offer their own perspectives on the subject. The discussion culminates in Socrates’ speech on the “ladder of love”- a metaphorical ladder by which one translates their physical attraction to beauty into a divine yearning for beauty, and communion with the form of love itself. The speech makes it clear that beauty and love are inseparable, and are in fact, mutually dependent. This idea has etymological origins and words such as “to kalos” (“the good” or “the beautiful”) capture the close relationship between love and beauty. Since the Greeks believed outer beauty reflected one’s inner qualities, they put great care into their appearances. The depiction of a woman and her mirror on this kylix reveals that a tradition of vanity was embedded in Greek drinking rites.


bottom of page