Attic red-figured kylix,
circa 450 BC
Tomb 466, Valle Trebba
Angular Painter (inv. no. 22674).
The object of the week has a known name and an even more known use. Kylix, the name and drinking its utility. Unlike the violence witnessed in the last published kylix, the iconography here is much calmer and… seductive. Five figures are lying on their klinai, a type of ancient furniture, dressed in himatia, a type of ancient clothing like a cloak, holding their drinking vessels. Even though one would assume they were drinking, while in bed, they could have been playing kottabos, a game of throwing wine at a target. If one thinks of the modern adolescent game of beer pong (throwing a ball into cups of alcoholic beverage), ancient habits do not seem this distant anymore, do they? Even though, to be fair, the ancient game was not only for entertainment, but the outcome of the shots would be translated as a positive or negative omen for the romantic life of the player. Among the dinners, three bearded young people are standing. The entire motif of drinking together was quite typical of the Greek Archaic and Classical periods and even the column crater found with our kylix bore the same depiction.
But apart from the obvious similarities, which information could be extracted? The vessels are coming from Tomb 466 of the necropolis of Valle Trebba. The kylix is attributed to the Athenian Angular Painter (so-called by scholars), dated in the middle of the 5th century. Both vessels were related to the Greek “symposium”, in which drinks were served and people used to discuss topics pumping from the stories depicted on them. Indeed, the word “symposium” derives from the Greek words “σὺν “+ “πόσις”, which means “drinking with”. This peculiar Greek custom was adopted by the Etruscans with some adjustments. In the current state of research, we do not know the word the Etruscans used to refer to it. As could be guessed, Greek symposia revolved mostly around drinking, while Etruscans both drank and ate during these gatherings. In the first case, women were excluded as opposed to the latter. In both situations, aristocratic men used the gatherings as an opportunity to show their wealth.
But how did a vessel, made by a Greek, end up in an Etruscan site? How did his art spread? Also, while painting, what did he have in mind? Was he planning to sell it to a Greek, general audience, or was he aiming specifically for Etruscan customers?
The way the Etruscans of Spina purchased goods from Athens, in some respects, does not differ much from what we are used to in today’s economy. Numerous objects, not exactly of prime necessity, become very popular, and – judging by the number of Greek vases found in the tombs of Spina, the Etruscans really loved them! – demand increases and the ceramist in his workshop in Athens starts to consider producing these objects in quantity and not on a single commission. The product travels and arrives a long way from where it was produced, to the borders of the Greek orbit in Italy, to be sold to another population, which keeps asking for more. Movement of people and goods, economic and human investment in making ships travel great distances… Sounds familiar? Compared to antiquity, it must be said that all the movement of these goods did not create the problems of environmental pollution, depletion of raw materials, and loss of biodiversity that we are now dealing with, but it is interesting to see how, on a small scale, the roots of this trend were in place earlier than we would have thought.
It is quite interesting to search for the parallels between the past and the present, isn’t it? What is even more intriguing is how a single object could give so much food for thought. Getting back to the subject painted on our dear kylix, symposia were events between our modern family and friend gatherings and festivities. Going one step further, just like in the past, modern gatherings are an occasion on which we present the best image of ourselves and our houses – sometimes even our economic and social status. On the other hand, unlike today, the wine consumed was diluted with water, to avoid incidents of extreme insobriety. In fact, drinking pure wine was considered something only a “barbarian” would do, more or less, the same reaction we would have nowadays to seeing someone put ice in a glass of wine! In the Etruscan world, wine was related to religious practices as well, such as the celebration of Gods and funerary ceremonies. If we think about it, wine still has a religious dimension since it is given meanings – although different – in modern religions. On the other hand, could the perception of wine as a symbol of wealth among the Etruscans potentially be different from the present? Nowadays, wine is usually an affordable product, thus not necessarily signify wealth. However, it is a common practice for the wealthiest to collect and/or ripe wine themselves, enhancing their status. As a result, perhaps the apparent difference is more of a similarity.
Whichever the truth is, it appears that the appreciation of wine is what has remained intact throughout the centuries. What do you think? Let us know which message you got from the exhibit!