Attic (?) Black-Figure Tripod Pyxis
Collection of The University Museums,
University of Mississippi, Phase I Cultural Center (77.3.72)
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
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,
. For courtship scenes in general: J. D. Beazley, "Some Attic Vases in the Cyprus Museum,"
Proceedings of the British Academy 33
. For the place of such relationships in Athenian
society: Shapiro 1981b,