Height: 34 cm
Rim: 38 cm
Foot: 17.5 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza in 2013
This is a bell krater belonging to type 2. The shape becomes notably diffuse beginning in the middle of the fifth century BC. It finally almost entirely replaces vases of type 1. This vessel features a swollen rounded rim, an outwardly-flexed lip, and upwardly-bent rod-shaped handles attached to the body. The foot is disc-shaped and its curved walls are decorated by unglazed bands at the baseline and apex. The secondary decoration is composed of a continuous band of little olive branches beneath the lip, framed by two continuous unglazed strips. A continuous meander spaced by decorated squares frames the figurative scene on the bottom. The interior of the two handles are unglazed.
A female figure wearing an Ionic chiton moves from the left toward the right. Her hair is gathered in a very elaborate hairstyle (perhaps she wears a sakkos?). She wears a necklace rendered with dots of white slip. Two bracelets of twisted rod, again rendered with white over-painting, coil around her wrists. The woman holds a tympanum (a tambourine-like drum) decorated with a floral motif bounded by a border of dots. A nude male moves from the left toward the right and looks back over his shoulder. He holds a torch in his left hand and a branch of fennel (ferula) in his right. The artist positions the branch above the man’s back in order to emphasize the swing of his arms as he walks. There are a number of species of fennel, an herb native to the Mediterranean. Many were used for medicinal purposes in antiquity. In Greek mythology, the ferula plant plays a considerable role: Prometheus, in fact, transported the fire that he gave to mankind in a dried fennel stem. The fennel is common in the Dionysian realm, where it appears as an attribute similar to the thyrsus, or staff. Whereas thyrsoi typically are topped by pinecones, ferula staffs can be distinguished by the flowering branches that emerge from their tops. The man has draped a cloak behind his back and over his forearms, leaving the rest of his body nude. His head is encircled by a floral crown, rendered with white over-painting. The figures take part in a komos, a Dionysian procession. This was the “human” version of the thiasos, the procession of satyrs and maenads that followed Dionysus, the god of wine. During the komos the beating of percussion instruments, together with the consumption of wine, rendered the atmosphere frenetic and excited. During the course of these dances, the women became entheos, literally “full of the god”, the condition of one who was invaded by a divine furor (from which derives our word “enthusiasm”. This condition was not disapproved of, since it symbolized the temporary rupture of orderly civilized life, which was appreciated all the more, once it was reestablished.
Two cloaked male figures face each other in mirrored poses. Both of them hold a knobby staff in their right hands. A rectangular stele placed on a base stands at the center of the scene. This feature appears in various representations, where it is used as support for drinking vessels, as an altar, or as a support for tripods. Here, its function is difficult to interpret. The decorations found on side A and side B differ sharply: the festive and clamorous procession that we observe on side A, characterized by its numerous references to the Dionysian world (tympanum, maenads, ferula, references to the world of Eros, etc.) contrasts with the static poses and composure of the two cloaked men and the stele found on side B. This contrast may serve to emphasize the point that the komos should be circumscribed in a specific and limited moment and balanced against the normality of the controlled and sober life of the everyday. Based on formal and iconographic criteria, the object can be dated to the period between 400 and 325 BC.
Tiziano Cinti – Mauro Lo Castro