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Jacksonville AP.66.28

Attic Black-Figure Eye Cup Collection of the Cummer Gallery of Art, Jacksonville (AP.66.28) Group of Courting Cups [Shapiro] Ca. 520-500 B.C. Height: 10 cm. Diameter: 21.25 cm. Side A: Man courting a boy. Side B: Youth riding a hippalektryon.

Scenes of homosexual courting between men and boys first appear on Attic black-figure vases soon before the middle of the sixth century. In the third and especially the last quarter of the century this becomes one of the often repeated genre scenes in vase-painting. After 500 the scene's popularity falls off sharply, and after about 475 it disappears entirely. Well over 100 representations are known in all.

Sir John Beazley distinguished three stages in the courtship, and all painted scenes illustrate one of the three: an initial encounter (type alpha); the giving of gifts by the older man to the youth (type beta); and the consummation, in which the pair are intertwined (type gamma; cf. Mississippi 1977.3.72). Type alpha is depicted most often, and the Jacksonville vase is a typical example.

On side A, the older lover (erastes) stands at the left and reaches out both hands to his beloved (eromenos). With his left hand he chucks the boy's chin, as if to distract him while the lowered right hand moves in on its target. The boy reaches out with his left, perhaps a gesture of diffidence. Both are entirely nude, as is the rule in black-figure; in red-figure versions one or both will often be at least partly draped. The boy's hair is long and flows freely in the back, while the man's is bound by a fillet. The wooer's knees are usually bent to compensate for his greater stature.

On side B, a youth rides a hippalektryon, a mythical creature, half horse and half cock. It is one of many hybrids - fantastic beasts composed of elements of two or more animals or, like the centaur and the siren, part animal, part human - who populate Archaic Greek vase-painting and sculpture. Most hybrids seem to have come into Greece from the East, but there is no prototype of the hippalektryon in Egyptian or Near Eastern Art. Nevertheless it appears regularly on Attic vases (and only Attic) from the second quarter of the sixth century down to the end of the century or a little later. The rider is usually, as here, an unarmed youth. The hippalektryon has no mythology and is in fact scarcely mentioned by Greek writers: once in a lost play of Aeschylus, as a device painted on a ship, and once by Aristophanes, who implies that by his time (late fifth century) the average Athenian had never heard of it. But the vase-painters are consistent in portraying it with the hind legs of a cock and the forelegs of a horse, though attached to a cock's breast.

This cup may be assigned to a group of nearly thirty vases assembled by Beazley in Paralipomena as the Group of Courting Cups. They are eye cups (see Shapiro 1981a, no. 13) of Type A (a shallow bowl, plain lip, short, splaying foot with a moulding separating it from the bowl). The whites of the eyes are filled in with white paint, unlike those of earlier eye cups, which are mostly left in outline. All but a few of the Courting Cups have a man and boy on one side, and many repeat the motif on both sides. One has a youth on a hippalektryon on both sides (Para., 83,22). The choice of the courtship to decorate drinking cups that would be used at all-male symposia is not surprising; the monotonous repetition of the same formula and the hasty draughtsmanship show that the motif is nearing the end of its artistic life.


Bibliography

Unpublished. On courtship scenes: J. D. Beazley, Some Attic Vases in the Cyprus Museum (London 1948) 6-31; Shapiro 1981b, 133-43. On the hippalektryon: D. von Bothmer, in Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 11 (1953) 132-36. Group of Courting Cups: Para., 82-83.

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