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Relief depicting a youth between Demeter and Kore

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Demeter, detail of left hand

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Relief depicting a youth between Demeter and Kore from front left

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Kore, detail of lower body

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Kore, detail of head and shoulders

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Kore, detail of right shoulder and torch

Collection: Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Title: The Great Eleusinian Relief
Context: From Eleusis
Findspot: Found at Eleusis, reused as a threshold in a Byzantine church, near the church of St. Zacharias (1859)
Summary: A youth between Demeter and Kore
Object Function: Votive?
Material: Marble
Sculpture Type: Stele, relief-decorated
Category: Original/copies
Style: High Classical
Technique: Low relief
Original or Copy: Original
Date: ca. 440 BC - ca. 430 BC
Dimensions: H. 2.18 m; W. 1.52 m; Th. 0.215 m; D. (relief) 0.03 m
Scale: Slightly over life-size
Region: Attica
Period: High Classical

Subject Description:

Demeter, standing profile to the right, wearing a peplos and sandals, shoulder-length curly hair, holding a scepter (with a floral finial) vertically in her upraised left hand, holds her right hand in front of her body, in open position, and tilts her head slightly down; a boy, perhaps Ploutos, standing profile to the left, with his weight on his left leg, and his right leg relaxed, wearing a himation draped over his right shoulder and held in lowered left, hand, and sandals, raises his right hand, with his thumb (broken off) pointing to Demeter; Kore, standing profile to the left, with her weight on her right leg, and her left leg relaxed, wearing a medium-sleeved chiton, a himation draped around her lower body, and over her left shoulder, sandals, a taenia around which her hair is rolled, and metal earrings (now missing), cradles a long torch in the crook of her left arm, raises her right hand above the head of the boy, probably to crown him, and tilts her head down.

The boy on this relief has been variously interpreted as Triptolemos, Eubouleus, Iakchos, Nisos, a child initiate from the hearth (Ridgway and Welcker), an ordinary initiate, a nobleman, a victor in the Eleusinian games, and Ploutos. The latter identification has been made most recently by Clinton, following Ludwig Stephani. Clinton bases his identification on the following points: (1) the boy, although shorter than the two goddesses, is shown on the same scale, and therefore shares the same status as a "deity" (39); (2) sandals would be inappropriate for an initiate (Schwarz 193); (3) at this time a standing, nude, Triptolemos, without his chariot, is unattested. Another strong argument against the identification of the boy as Triptolemos, is that no traces of bronze attachments are visible for the attachment of grain stalks (Métzger 114), although there are traces of bronze attachment elsewhere on the relief (e.g., the hole for the wreath at front of forehead of the boy, which Kore is putting on his head). Clinton reasserts (55) that the boy is firmly grasping a grain bundle, now lost, that may have been glued on to the marble. According to his argument that this figure is rather Ploutos, he suggests that Demeter is not giving something (grain) to the boy, but is perhaps receiving something from him, as would be appropriate with Ploutos (39-40). The Ploutos identification is a tempting alternative to Triptolemos, especially as the boy is dressed as Ploutos usually is, with drapery over his shoulder; in the absence of the primary attribute, the keras, however, it is difficult to be sure

Form & Style: Framed on the top with a moulding, mostly broken off (H. 0.08 m), and at the bottom with a plain plinth (H. 0.06 m; D. 0.04 m).

Condition: Complete

Condition Description: Restored from six fragments, joined with plaster, preserving almost all of the stele, missing some chips (filled in), especially across the body of Demeter, and on the plinth; heavily weathered surface, with yellowish-brown stains and gray adhesions; some erosion on the relief, obscuring facial features of the figures (especially the chin on Kore). Attachment holes are drilled just in front of the head of "Ploutos," with one behind; also clamp holes (for modern installation), one on the right edge, and a second one, filled in, on the left edge; back rough-picked, but covered with patches of modern plaster, and two or more (modern) bronze clamps, slightly plastered over.

Material Description: Fine-grained, white marble

Sources Used: Smith 1997, 152-53, cat. R2, pl. 16.1-2; LIMC, 7 (1994) 417 s.v. Ploutos no. 13 (K. Clinton); s.v. Demeter no. 375 (L. Beschi); Clinton 1992, 39-55, passim figs. 1-2; Travlos 1971 (rev. 1988), 145, fig. 174; Schwarz 1987, 192-96; I.K. and A.E. Raubitschek, "The Mission of Triptolemos," Hesperia Suppl. 20 (1982) 115; Ridgway 1981, 138-40; Farnell 1977, 263-64, pl. 25; Karouzou 1968, 38, pl. 20; Svoronos 1903-12, 106 ff., pls. 23-24; D. Philios, Eleusis (Athens 1896) 78-79.

Other Bibliography: Schneider 1973b, 103-24, pls. 31.36a; Metzger 1968; Harrison 1903, 652-63, fig. 159; Gardner 1896, 336; R. Kekule von Stradonitz, Die Antiken Bildwerke im Theseion zu Athen (Leipzig 1869); F. Lenormant, "Les marbres d'Eleusis," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 1860 (April 15), 65-84; P. Pervanoglu, in H. Brunn, "Scavi e Viaggi. a. Antichità d'Atene," BdI 1859, 200-201; CRPétersb 1859, 104-106, esp. 105 n.