A colleague asked me about the inscription on a Greek vase painting earlier this week. The pot in question is of a type known as a psykter – or wine cooler, designed to sit inside a larger bowl containing cold water; it was found in a tomb in Cerveteri in the nineteenth century and is now in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. The red-figure painting around the sides shows four naked hetairai drinking and playing the after-dinner game known as kottabos. According to Athenaeus, who devotes a good chunk of Book 15 of his Deipnosophists to the topic, the game involved expertly throwing the dregs of wine (λάταξ or λατάγη) from your cup at some sort of target. Our pot is signed by the painter Euphronios, active in Athens at the end of the sixth century. The charming female making the throw, named as Smikra, says (in Doric Greek, written from right to left) τὶν τάνδε λατάσσω Λεάγρε ‘I am making this throw for you, Leagros.’
There are many vase paintings depicting the kottabos, and four other Attic examples have shorter forms of the same formula, although in a different dialect, starting τοὶ τήνδε.
Why does Smikra speak Doric? The other inscriptions on this vase are all Attic (note names such as ΑΓΑΠΕ = Ἀγάπη with η not α). Kretschmer suggested that this was because the game of kottabos was invited by the Sicilians, and so the players used the Doric of Sicily, much as the sport of fencing uses French terms such as ‘Allez!’ and ‘En garde’. But then why do the other vases have τοὶ τήνδε – which isn’t even completely Attic (which would be σοὶ τήνδε)? Smikra’s Doric has a literary feel to it (dative τίν ‘to you’ is only otherwise attested in Alcman, Pindar and Doric epigrams), and indeed the dative τοί is found in Ionic poetry (I don’t buy Csapo and Miller’s theory (Hesperia 60, 1991) that this is to be read as the article τῶι). Is it possible that the painter is alluding to Doric literary traditions that might be known by the eventual buyers of the pot in Etruria? We know from archaeological finds that the Etruscans also played kottabos, and they may well, like Athenaeus’ philosophers at the dinner table, have capped each other’s poetry as they did so.
Finally, another puzzle. Greek λάταξ seems to turn up in Latin as latex, a poetic word meaning ‘water’ or ‘liquid’. A distant memory of the party games?