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Mississippi 1977.3.72

Attic (?) Black-Figure Tripod Pyxis Collection of The University Museums, University of Mississippi, Phase I Cultural Center (77.3.72) Unattributed 550-540 B.C. Height: 5.5 cm. Diameter: 8.5 cm. Side A: Bride (?) and men conversing. Side B: Men and women conversing. Side C: Courtship of men and boys

The significance, if any, of the groups on sides A and B is uncertain. Only the gesture of the woman holding her veil before her face hints that she may be a bride; the painter probably intended no more than to provide an atmosphere of fashionable gaiety surrounding the principal scene on side C. This shows three stages of courtship between men and adolescent boys. Two couples are making love; in each pair the older lover (erastes) stands with his knees bent, clasping his beloved (eromenos) around the waist and resting his head on the boy's shoulder. The third couple is at an earlier stage of courtship; the man reaches toward the boy's chin with one hand and toward his genitals with the other, while the boy tries with both hands to fend him off (compare Jacksonville AP.66.28). At the far right a man approaches holding a gamecock, a standard gift from a wooer to the boy he was courting. Perhaps this one is intended for the unattached youth who seems to be dancing at the far left.

This is an early example of a theme that appeared often in vase painting between about 560 and 470 B.C. Though later painters might treat such themes with more psychological subtlety, scenes of actual lovemaking are presented seriously, never becoming much more undignified or explicit than this. Scenes of heterosexual lovemaking on the other hand, may be far more explicit, often with heavy emphasis on the grotesque and comic aspects of sex. The reason for this difference lies in Athenian social customs. Women played no part in Athenian public life. Women of good family seldom went out in public and had few opportunities to meet men socially who were not their own relatives. Marriage was a practical arrangement, undertaken to perpetuate the family and its property, and the couple might never have met before the wedding. The women who appear in scenes of drinking and lovemaking are not wives but hired entertainers and prostitutes, many of them slaves, with whom a serious love relationship would be impossible. For an Athenian man of the upper classes, the only real chance for an emotionally satisfying love affair with a social equal was with a boy or youth of his own class. In Athens and most other Greek cities such relationships were not only permitted but approved and praised as the source of one of life's greatest joys. For the boy, such a relationship was considered beneficial and educational, giving him a recognized place in the male society in which he would spend most of his adult life.


Robinson 1956, 1-25, pl. 1, 5-7. For courtship scenes in general: J. D. Beazley, "Some Attic Vases in the Cyprus Museum," Proceedings of the British Academy 33 (1947), 3-31. For the place of such relationships in Athenian society: Shapiro 1981b, 133-143.

Lucy Turnbull

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