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THREE VASES IN THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM, ILLUSTRATING WOMEN'S LIFE IN ATHENS
THE daily life of Athenian women during the years that intervened between the rule of Pisistratus and the end of the Peloponnesian war is rendered familiar by countless representations on Attic vases. That it was not so monotonous as might be inferred from Xenophon's Oeconomicus is attested by the diverse activities illustrated by the Greek potter. H. B. Walters, in his History of Ancient Pottery, II, pp. 172 ff., enumerates no less than thirty women's occupations depicted in vase-paintings. Household, toilet, and bridal scenes are in the majority, but women are also seen indulging in games and music, and, in a few instances, taking part in religious ceremonies. To Walters' list of games two may be added. The game of kottabos was played by women as well as by men, as is shown by scenes on vases in the British and Berlin Museums.1 The finger game "alla morra" was also one of their pastimes, and is illustrated on a hydria in the Berlin Museum.2
In our attempt to reconstruct the life of the past, each new representation of a scene from that life is important either in verifying our present knowledge or in supplementing it by fresh facts. For this reason I take the opportunity of discussing three unpublished vases dealing with the life of the Athenian woman, all of which are now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. On one is depicted a household scene, conversing and working wool, a favorite subject with Greek vase-painters, but one that never grows monotonous, the scenes being always variously composed and illustrative of different 1 Catalogue of Greek and Etruscan Vases in the British Museum, III, E 813; Vasensammlung im Antiquarium, 2416.
2 Vasensammlung im Antiquarium, 2177.
American Journal of Archaeology, Second Series. Journal of the
aspects of the same occupation. On another are represented two women spinning tops.
On the third is a scene which will, no doubt, be variously explained. The interpretation I shall suggest connects it with an important religious festival, and, if correct, would be of peculiar interest, since we are much in want of direct illustrations of the manifold literary evidence for the active part which women took in religious celebrations.
PYXIS. 06.1117 (Figs. 1, 2, and 3). Height without lid 34 in. (8.2 cm.); with lid to the top of the button 4 in. (12.1 cm.). Greatest diameter 38 in. (9.2 cm.). On the lid, a pattern of enclosed palmettes. The design forms a frieze around the The execution is of extreme delicacy and grace, and belongs to the period of about 460-440 B.C. Beneath the design is a band of tonguepattern. Except for a few small chips which were broken from the base and replaced the vase is intact and in an admirable state of preservation.
FIGURE 1.- Prxis.
The locality of the scene is indicated as the interior of a house by a fluted Ionic column on a plinth. To the right of this a woman, clothed in a short-sleeved chiton and mantle, and wearing a fillet in her
hair, is conversing with another woman, who is clothed in a long-sleeved chiton, mantle, and sakkos, and is seated in a chair with a kalathos beside her. The first woman holds a long fillet in her extended hands, as if offering it to the other, who holds up a flower in her right hand. The two women are evidently exchanging pres
FIGURE 3.-SCENE ON PYXIS.
ents; the one nearest the column we
may suppose to have just entered the apartment (note that she does not wear the sakkos as do the other women in the scene), and to be bringing her friend a small present, while the hostess is offering a flower in return, as a mark of welcome. The woman on the right, who is hurrying away from this group, also holds a flower in her right hand, while her left is raised as if in surprise. She is probably hastening to the other women to tell them of the arrival of their friend or to leave the two by themselves. With her back to this group a woman in a long-sleeved chiton, mantle, and sakkos is seated in a chair, holding in both hands a string of beads of the shape that often occurs on Greek vases. In front of her stands a woman, similarly clothed, engaged in spinning. In the accustomed way she holds up in her left hand the distaff (akáтn) with a hank of wool wound around it, to twist from it the thread between the thumb and first finger of her right hand. She is represented at the moment when she has drawn out a sufficient length of yarn, and is twisting it still more completely by twirling the spindle (aтрактоs), which she is holding over a kalathos filled with unworked wool. It is interesting to notice how clearly the several parts of the spindle are indicated. Above is the slit or catch (äykiσтрov) with the thread securely fixed in it; then
comes the stick or spindle proper, and into the lower extremity of this is inserted a whorl (opóvduλos), of which so many specimens have survived from antiquity.1
The scene is completed by the figure of another woman, clothed in a long-sleeved chiton and a sakkos, and seated in a chair. Her occupation is not so obvious as that of her companions. Her right leg is raised and supported upon a high foot-rest; she bends slightly forward and her expression indicates that she is devoting her entire attention to her task. This seems to be the winding of the wool into a skein. The lump of spun wool is on the ground; by passing the thread alternately between the second and third fingers, first of her right hand and then of her left, she is undoing the bobbin (vov) she had formed on the spindle, and winding the thread into a skein. Her dress is tucked up above her knee, leaving bare the lower part of her leg, over which she is drawing the thread to prevent it from snarling. Just such another representation does not, to my knowledge, occur on Greek vases or elsewhere. The several processes of actual spinning are common enough; but the treatment of the wool, when once it is spun, is not often shown, though we know that it was eventually wound into a ball (raλÚTη, KλwoτŃρ), and balls of wool occur not infrequently in interior scenes.
LECYTHUS, G.R. 538, with bulbous body (Fig. 4). Height 67 in. (17.3 cm.). Greatest diameter 4 in. (10.2 cm.). Between the neck and shoulder a strip of tongue-pattern; below the design egg-pattern. No white or purple is used in the design, which is of the period about 450-430 B.C. The vase is in a good state of preservation, except the glaze, which is much injured and has in places almost entirely disappeared.
Two women, each clothed in a long chiton of soft material and a himation of heavier texture, are engaged in spinning tops. The stick of the whip held by the woman on the left is clearly indicated; the lash (or lashes?) have disappeared. The stick of the other woman is mostly hidden by her body;
1 Cf. Schliemann, Troja, p. 293. For the operation of spinning in antiquity cf. Yates in Smith's Dict. Ant. s.v. "fusus"; Blümner, Techn. u. Term. der Gewerbe und Künste bei den Griechen und Römern, I, p. 107, and H. Lafaye in Daremberg and Saglio, Dict. Ant. s.v. "fusus." For representations of the subject see the list of references mentioned by Hartwig in his Meisterschalen, p. 340, note 1, and Walters, History of Ancient Pottery, II, p. 173, note 5.
part of it is still visible near the curve of her shoulder, and it clearly extended a little farther, as is shown by some indistinct traces; the lashes attached to it have wholly disappeared, the surface being much injured just at this point. The woman on the left wears a sakkos.
Though the drawing of these figures is somewhat hasty and not carried out with the minute care which characterizes many vases of this period, it is very spirited. The intensity and physical exertion which both women bring to bear on their occupation are admirably expressed. Each woman places her left foot forward, letting her weight rest firmly on it, while the right foot is drawn back, ready at any time to change position, according to the movements of the top; with one hand each gathers up her himation, to keep its voluminous folds from getting in the way; in the other each holds the whip, dealing vigorous blows at the tops which are spinning between them. The lively effect of the scene is further increased by the concentrated look with which each woman watches her own top.
Representations of this game are comparatively rare. In addition to the vase just described, I know of but three other instances in which the scene occurs. In one of these it is again a woman who is so occupied. This is the cylix in the van Branteghem Collection (Fröhner, Catalogue, No. 167, pl. 42) signed by Hegesiboulos. Here the woman is similarly clothed in chiton, himation, and sakkos, and holds a whip with two lashes. The design, which is painted in diluted glaze on a white ground, is lifelike, but there is none of the dash and