Why Did Ancient Greeks Recline to Eat and Drink?



Surviving images in potteries, frescos, wine cups and sculptures depict ancient Greeks reclining to one side to eat, drink and chat with friends.

Reclining and dining in ancient Greece started at least as early as the 7th century B.C. and was later picked up by the Romans.

There are no known health benefits from reclining to eat and drink. The discomfort of stuffing yourself with a large meal might be eased by lying down. But only on one side.

The ability to swallow food is impaired by lying down. Also, the chance of food going down into your windpipe, and choking on food is more likely.

Acidic contents of the stomach have a greater likelihood of “refluxing” back up into your esophagus and throat and mouth if you are lying down.

Yet, ancient Greeks persisted. It must have been both comfortable and convenient, since reclining during meals spread throughout the Mediterranean and survived for over a millennium.

Scientists say that to eat lying down, while others served you, was a sign of power and luxury enjoyed by the elite.

People further down the social ladder copied the laid-back dining style if they could afford to.

Getty did an experiment recently resurrecting the ancient feasts.

Greek dining couches of the archaic and classical periods were intended for men and, rarely, their female companions.

The couches were “single beds” that could accommodate an additional person, especially during a symposion (symposium), the after-dinner male drinking party.

From seven to fifteen beds were arranged against the walls of the andron, the male dining room, each bed with its own little table and often a step stool.

Rather than actually lying down, the men reclined on their left elbows and used their right hands to eat and drink.

They propped themselves up quite high on pillows and kept their balance by bending their right knees and bracing them against the left

Women didn’t generally get invited to banquets except for rare occasions like wedding feasts and even then they had to sit upright.

It was only in ancient Rome that customs changed, allowing upper-class women to lounge alongside men.