The Greek symposium was a key Hellenic socio-political institution. Though the name originally referred to a drinking party (from the Greek sympotein, "to drink together"), the symposium was a forum for free men to debate, plot, boast, or simply to party with others. They were also held to celebrate the introduction of young men into aristocratic society or other special occasions, such as victories in athletic and poetic contests.
The term has since come to refer to any academic conference, or a style of university class characterized by an openly discursive format, rather than a lecture and question–answer format.
In keeping with Greek notions of self-restraint and propriety, the symposiarch would prevent matters from getting out of hand. The playwright Eubulus, in a surviving fragment of a lost play has the god of wine, Dionysos himself, describe proper and improper drinking:For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth krater is not mine any more - it belongs to bad behaviour; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.