Plutarch's Table Talk:  Paradigms for the Symposium

Patricia FitzGibbon

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how Plutarch's Table Talk could function as a guide for giving a proper symposium by providing a series of properly constructed conversations taking place at properly arranged symposia.  I will argue that these conversations are paradigmatic in nature because they are representations of how an appropriate symposium functions.  The work was written at the request of Sosius Senecio so that Plutarch could join the ranks of other famous philosophers who had deemed it worthy to record conversations held at a drinking party (612e).  But this work bears little resemblance to either Plato or to Xenophon' s Symposia (the only two extant of the list given by Plutarch) because Table Talk contains numerous conversations from various symposia which discuss a great number of different issues.  A close examination of these symposia reveal that Plutarch's concern is not simply the topic of each conversation but rather how it is discussed, making the method of conversation the focus of this work. 

Whether he is recording actual conversations or concocting them, in assembling a multitude of symposia in a series of volumes, Plutarch has constructed an anthology to which anyone might refer in order to learn not only the technical aspects of a symposium, but also how sympotic conversations ought to be carried on.  Within the conversations which make up Table Talk, Plutarch incorporates distinctions in behavior to communicate how to handle certain situations.  He himself, along with his family and friends, execute this behavior which he has outlined as appropriate during the various symposia he records.  These details, which can only be conveyed through the presentation of a symposium in action, help provide not merely a "how-to-book" but a series of paradigms of successful symposia.

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