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CANE´PHORUS (κανηφόρος) is “a basket-bearer.” The κάνειον or κανοῦν, derived from κάννα, “a reed” (Ebeling, Horn. Lex. s. v.), was in the Homeric times a basket used for putting in bread (Il. 9.217) or other edibles (e. g. onions, Il. 11.630) for meals, or the sacred οὐλαὶ for sacrifice (Od. 3.441). We find the remains of a feast also placed therein (Od. 20.300). The epithets used are καλὸς or χάλκεος (Il. 11.630) or χρύσειος (Od. 10.355). The latter is in the fairy palace of Circe; but the Schol. on Ar. Lys. 645, says the κανηφόροι carried flat dishes all of gold (λοπάδας τινας ὁλοχρύσους). These were perhaps the κανᾶ. Some few golden utensils were used in state sacrifice: cf. the χερνίβια in Andoc. c. Alcib. § 29, though the usual κανά̀ πομπικά were no doubt χαλκᾶ (Michaelis, Parthenon, p. 259). One of silver is referred to in C. I. G. 2855, 19, and one of earthenware in Dion. H. 2.23 (Grimm). At Athens the κανού̀ν was used in religious service only. A particular part of the ceremony seems to have been called κανοῦν or κανά̀, when the basket was carried round the altar (Eur. H. F. 926), laid down (Ar. Ach. 244), and the οὐλαὶ taken therefrom. (Cf. ἐξάρχου κανᾶ, Eur. I. A. 435.) Κάναστρον signifies both a bowl (τρύβλιον) and also a dish made of cork (φελλώδης τις πινακίσκος, Poll. 10.85) or earthenware (Hom. Epig. 14.3). The Roman canistrum was used for just the same purposes as the Homeric κανοῦν, viz. for holding bread (Cic. Att. 6.1, 13; Juv. 5.74), necessaries for sacrifice (Verg. A. 8.180; Tib. 1.10, 27), remains of a feast (Hor. Sat. 2.6, 105). The epithets signify “flat:” e.g. patulis (Ov. Met. 8.675), lata (Id. Fast. 2.650).

They were, then, flat baskets used, among other purposes, for carrying the requisites for religious ceremonies. At the Panathenaea they were carried by grown--up maidens of high birth, who were genuine native Athenians (Harpocr. s. v.) The annexed cut represents the two canephori approaching a candelabrum. Each of them elevates one arm to support the basket,

Canephori. (British Museum.)

while she slightly raises her tunic with the other. The sister of Harmodius was not allowed to carry the basket in a procession, as she was a Gephyrean (Thuc. 6.56, compared with Hdt. 5.57, 61). They were accompanied by the daughters of metics, carrying umbrellas and seats (Schol. Ar. Av. 1508, 1549; Aelian, Ael. VH 6.1). Dressed in splendid and costly raiment and arrayed with golden ornaments (Ar. Lys. 1188 sqq.; Boeckh, Pol. Ec. 1.571, 2.142), maintaining too a stately and dignified attitude, one hand holding the basket supported on the head, the other slightly raising the dress, they naturally formed a fine subject for artistic treatment; and so we have notice of special statues of κανηφόροι by Polycletus in bronze (Cic. Ver. 4.5) and Scopas in marble (Plin. Nat. 36.25). It is possible, as Saglio remarks (Dict. 1.877), that the κανηφόροι suggested the idea of the Caryatides of the Erechtheum, the basket being altered into the capital, a view taken also by Guhl and Koner (p. 191); but this opinion is combated by Dr. Julius (in Baumeister's Denkmäler, &c., s. v. Erechtheion), on the ground that the Caryatides support, not a basket but a Doric capital; and fig. 1202 in Saglio's Dict. affords strong reason why we are not to regard all Caryatides as having been suggested by the κανηφόροι.

Though mostly spoken of with reference to the Panathenaea, yet, as was natural, we find them in processions to other divinities, both at Athens (Harpocr. s. v.) and elsewhere: e. g. Zeus in Boeotia (Plut. 2.771), Dionysus at Athens (Ar. Ach. 237 sqq.) and in India (Plut. 2.1164), Artemis (Theocr. 2.66), Hera (Hor. Sat. 1.3, 11), Isis at Delos (C. I. G. 2298). This inscription, as well as 3602, 3603, shows that at times public recognition was taken of κανηφόροι who fulfilled their duty in worthy fashion (καλῶς καὶ ἀξίως).


hide References (14 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (14):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 6.1
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.57
    • Herodotus, Histories, 5.61
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.630
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.355
    • Homer, Odyssey, 20.300
    • Homer, Odyssey, 3.441
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.56
    • Homer, Iliad, 9.217
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.4.9
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 8.675
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.180
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.25
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 6.1
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