This bit from Kathryn Topper’s Dionysos, Sympotic Ships, and Empire: Banqueting aboard the Thalamegos of Ptolemy IV:
A fragment of Kallixeinos of Rhodes’ Peri Alexandreias (FGrH 627 F 1, ap. Ath., Deipn. 5.204d-206d) provides a lengthy description of the Thalamegos, the luxurious Nile barge of Ptolemy IV Philopator. Unlike the Tessarakonteres, Philopator’s giant warship, the Thalamegos was built for pleasure cruises, a purpose reflected in its lavish interior design. Distributed over its two decks were promenades, bed chambers, and several dining rooms, including one dining room decorated in an Egyptian style and another with columns of Indian stone. Additionally, the upper deck held a shrine to Aphrodite and a large “Dionysian” room capable of holding thirteen couches and furnished with an artificial cave that housed portrait statues of the royal family.
The metaphor of the symposium as a ship or a journey at sea appears as early as the archaic period, and for several centuries it permeated every aspect of the Greek banquet, from painted pottery to poetry to mosaic floor decoration. The metaphor could function in a variety of ways, referring sometimes to the physical and aesthetic experiences of the symposiasts, and at other times to the relationship between the sympotic group and the larger community (Slater 1976, Davies 1978, Daraki 1982, Corner 2010). As Franks has recently shown, it could also cast the symposiasts as voyagers to distant lands whose journeys resembled that of Dionysos as he traveled throughout the known world triumphantly spreading his cult (Franks 2014), and it is this last use of the metaphor that is most relevant to my reading of Philopator’s Thalamegos.
Banqueting aboard a ship that allowed them to travel – albeit metaphorically – to the limits of the civilized world, guests on the Thalamegos performed their own version of Dionysos’ journeys throughout Greece and the East. In doing so, they enacted a crucial aspect of Ptolemaic ideology, which cast the kings as semidivine spreaders of civilization whose capital city – with its zoo, botanical gardens, Museion, and library – was itself a microcosm of the inhabited world (Casey 2006, Strootman 2014a, 2014b). A ship that brought the riches of the world on board while promising travel to exotic lands, the Thalamegos turned banqueters into participants in this imperial program of collection and expansion.
Reminded me of my favorite Agrigentine anecdote:
Timaeus of Tauromenium relates that there was a certain house at Akragas called the Trireme, on this account:— At a festival of Dionysos once a group of young men were drinking and became so wild when overheated by the liquor that they imagined they were sailing in a trireme, and that they were in a bad storm on the ocean. Finally they completely lost their senses, and tossed all the furniture and bedding out of the house as though upon the waters, convinced that the pilot directed them to lighten the ship because of the raging storm. Well, a great crowd gathered and began to carry off the jetsam, but even then the youngsters did not cease from their mad actions. The next day the military authorities appeared at the house and made a complaint against the young men when they were still half-seas over. To the questions of the magistrates they answered that they had been much put to it by a storm and had been compelled to throw into the sea the superfluous cargo. When the authorities expressed surprise at their insanity, one of the young men, though he appeared to be the eldest of the company, said to them: ‘Ye Tritons, I was so frightened that I threw myself into the lowest possible place in the hold and lay there.’ The magistrates, therefore, pardoned their delirium, but sentenced them never to drink too much and let them go. (Athenaios, Deipnosophistai 2.37)
Okay, second favorite.