Athenian family life illustrated on pots and stelai

These pictures, taken by me in the Ceramicus Museum and elsewhere, are transferred from the old blog.

African head
This pot raises questions about the racial mix of the Athenian population. See the book Black Athene.

Boat lamp
This is in the Keiramikos Museum. It looks as if it could have nine wicks.
I am reminded of the verse:
My candle burns at both its ends;
It will not last the night;
But o my foes and o my friends,
It gives a lovely light.

potty chair
Displayed in the Agora Museum, this piece of pottery was identified as a child’s high chair and potty in one.

The archaeologist took a photo of his baby daughter in the high chair. The picture proved a source of great embarrassment to the girl as she grew up

dog on couchOnly a rich family could afford to commission a sculpture like this, but it does show how a pet might be treated.

grave marker
Stelai or grave-markers at one period in the 5th century showed reliefs of the deceased and his or her family.

Later, a law was passed to limit what could be on a stele.

These family scenes are sometimes excellently carved, and give an intimate and moving glimpse, however idealised, of family relationships.

grave marker
This is the stele part of which is shown in another picture.

grave marker
This scene repays long and close study. It is clearly the father who is mourning his son, not the son his father.
Where is the mother? How did the young man die? In peace sons bury their fathers; in war father bury their sons.

grave marker
Put this beside the other father and son stele, and interrogate them. Why the differences? Why the similarities?
How much is personal, and how much is mere convention?

Glass phials
I don’t know the estimated date of these. They could come from the Roman period, or could be much earlier. Glass-making is a very ancient art.

This oil-jar could not stand upright. It must have been carried hanging from someone’s belt.
Aristophanes in Frogs has Aeschylus interrupt Euripides again and again with ‘lecuthon apolesen’, ‘lost his oil-pot’.
This was not just a bit of crude literary criticism. Lecuthos was slang for penis.
The joke was stopped by Dionysus at the point where Aeschylus was going to say that Zeus ‘lecuthon apolesen’.
There are limits, even in 5th century comedy.

jug in shape of head
Our surviving statues are paintless and idealised. Ordinary vase paintings do not show very much detail.
This Athenian ‘toby jog’ seems to me to be the most vivid representation of an ordinary Athenian man’s face that we have.
There are those wonderful mummy paintings from Egypt, of course (one or two feature on the top of the ARLT home page), but from Athens, this ….

doll's couch
Original Athenian furniture has perished. We rely on vase paintings and models like this for our knowledge of it.

plain lamp
This lamp is fairly plain. The black round the wick-hole shows that it has been used.

African head
Again, the questions of racial mix arise. How many African traders and sailors were seen at the port of Piraeus?

Peplos kore
I include the Peplos Kore as my favourite Athenian woman! But she also illustrates one hair-style, which must have been in vogue before the second Persian invasion, because this statue was buried to save it from the Persians.

An item from a woman’s ‘dressing table’ or Athenian equivalent, showing the mistress seated on an elegant chair, attended by a winged boy (Eros?).
There’s a wool basket behind her, to show her respectability, and a bird to show … what?
Storage in the Athenian house was often by hanging things on the wall.
Who bought this? What was the message of the picture? Was this really a respectable woman?

Girl with jewel box and doll
Girl with jewel box and doll. I guess this is the grave marker of a young girl depicted with things that were dear to her.

Collection of black pots
A handsome collection of pots, with not a picture painted on any of them.

Clay model
A crudely made pottery figure showing a woman riding sideways on a mule or donkey, as far as I can make out.

grave marker
Why is the dead woman shown with, apparently, two servants, rather than with her grieving family?
How far can we reconstruct the dresses of these three women from the sculpture?

grave marker
A close-knit family
This time everyone is looking at the man on the right, so I guess he is the dead one.
He has eyes only for the seated woman – mother? wife?
If the seated woman is his wife, who is the woman standing in the background?
The smaller figure behind the chair is probably a servant.

grave marker
This grave-stele is touching in more than one sense. It touches our emotions, but it is also about the physical touch that the bereaved have lost.
Who is the one who has died, here? I think it must be the woman, because the third figure is looking at here, not at her husband.

grave marker
Has the mother died in childbirth, leaving a baby?

grave marker
Is it the tomb of a woman, showing her two treasures, her husband and her mirror?

grave marker
In life, athletics were his delight, so in death he is given a symbol of his times at the palaestra, a strigil.

Female head jug
A female head to go with the three men illustrated in this album.

One Response

  1. […] can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]

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