Last month, the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, unveiled a cache of antiquities seized from a Roman property developer. The objects, which include two Hellenic vases as well as a bull’s and a horse’s head, both in terracotta, are worth €900,000, the Carabinieri’s cultural protection squad says. The collector from whom they were seized now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicola Candido told The Art Newspaper in an email. But when The Art Newspaper sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity.

Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. One specialist who asked not to be named said: 

"I cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity."

Another described the bull and horse heads as "crude copies," while a third said that "both the vases are suspect, as well as the larger terracottas, but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best." The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred.

"The bull and horse heads do look dubious. The value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine."

The suggested price is "vastly over-exaggerated," another expert agreed. In the case of the vase on the far right, "The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought." But he noted: "This could be resolved with a thermoluminescence test, which I would hope the Carabinieri would do before prosecuting the owner of the collection."

John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said:

"The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?'

In response to our questions, Candido said the Carabinieri had consulted art history experts with Italy’s Ministry of Culture, and that scientific analysis of the works is taking place. The €900,000 valuation is based on prices for similar antiquities which have been sold, he said.
A brush fire in central Greece has helped authorities discover a hoard of illegally excavated antiquities. The Greek culture ministry said Friday that firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze found about 200 artifacts, some as much as 2,800 years old, in plastic bags hidden under bushes.

The discovery was made Thursday in the countryside between the villages of Livanates and Megaplatanos, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Athens. A ministry statement said most of the pottery and metal objects were unharmed by the fire, while some bore traces of smoke.

Authorities are trying to establish who excavated and hid the artefacts, some of which had been cleaned and undergone basic repairs on the spot. Under Greek law, all ancient artefacts found in the country are state property.

For images of the finds, go here.
For the second PAT ritual of the month, Elaion would like to present to you the rituals for the Skiraphoria. The Skira(phoria) was celebrated mainly by women, perhaps to contrast the Greater Dionysia celebrated mostly by men, but we have created a separate ritual for men which excludes portions of the festival but does allow them to participate. Will you join us on June 26th at 10 AM EDT?

The Skira, or Skiraphoria was celebrated over a three day period and we have few details about it. What we do know is that the Skira is most likely a fertility festival, mostly of the earth so that a good harvest was ensured for the following year, which started a little more than half a month later. Demeter was certainly honored during the festival, as well as her daughter Kore, as the Goddess of spring growth. Yet, many other deities are tied to the harvest and the success of the nation in some way, especially in Athens from where most of the surviving material originated. There, Athena Skiras and Poseidon Pater also had a role to play.

What we know of the rites is that a gathering left Athens on the day of the Skira, and another delegation left Eleusis. At Skiron, a precinct on the road to Eleusis, stood a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Skiras, Poseidon Pater, Demeter and Kore. Here, the two delegations met, and the priests and priestesses of all Theoi involved interacted in some way; Plutarch mentions that one of the three 'sacred plowings' of the Athenians took place at this time. It is, perhaps, possible that at this time, the priestesses of Athena and the priests Poseidon made amends with the priestesses of Demeter and Kore--there was bad blood between them for, as Apollodorus reminds us:

"Athena, therefore, called the city Athens after herself, and Poseidon in hot anger flooded the Thriasian plain and laid Attica under the sea." [3.14.1]

The Thriasian plain is where Eleusis is located, and it would have been entirely flooded during this episode. Perhaps the Athenian deities ritually made amends for this during the Skira? Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, during the reign of Erechtheus in Athens, war broke out against the Eleusinians, who were assisted by Eumolpus, whose mother was Khione, daughter of Boreas, and whose father was said to be Poseidon Himself. Eumolpus attacked Ahens because, as he put it, that land belonged to his father. Could the rituals of the Skira be penance for this war as well, where Poseidon (and Athena) 'rode out' to meet Demeter and Kore in the middle for a rite that would settle their grievances?

The details of the procession to the Skiron and the subsequent ritual are largely lost to us. Although debated by certain scholars, it seems that those in the procession--or perhaps only the priests and priestesses--carried umbrella-type canopies over their heads which were of a bright white color. It is possible that this was only one large canopy per group, and it was held over the heads of the priests and priestesses by others in the procession. The canopy was or were called 'skiron' as well. Of the sanctuary itself, we know very little besides its location and deities. It is, however, said to have been the place where the first sowing took place, tying the Skira rituals back in with the purpose of fertility.

The Skira was celebrated over a three day period, but when this procession took place is unclear. To bring fertility, the women abstained from intercourse on these days, and to this end they ate garlic to keep the men away. We also know that during the Skira, offerings were thrown into the sacred caves of Demeter located in a cliff at Eleusis: cakes shaped like snakes and phalluses, and very real piglets. These became the Thesmoi--'things laid down'--that were removed in the Thesmophoria. The piglets were fertility symbols but also related to the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades, because it is said that when Hades opened a chasm to swallow up Persephone--the caves of Demeter--a swineherd called Eubouleus was grazing his pigs and they were swallowed up in the chasm as well.

For the men, there was a race in which they carried vine-branches from the sanctuary of Dionysos to the temple of Athena Skiras. The winner was given the Fivefold Cup, or 'pentaploa', containing wine, honey, cheese, some corn and olive oil. Only the winner was allowed to pour libations to Athena from the cup, and ask Her to bless these fruits of the season.

For these rites, we will honor Demeter, Kore, Athena, and Poseidon. The female version of the rite which includes Demeter and Kore as well as the Thesmoi, and that of the men has sacrifices to Poseidon, Athena, and Demeter. We also encourage the men to perform some sort of athletic feat afterwards to honour Athena.

The PAT ritual will take place on the 26th of June, at the usual 10 am EDT. The rituals can be found here for the women, and here for the men. We look forward to your participation and if you would like to discuss the rite or festival with others, feel free to join us on Facebook on the event page. We hope you will join us!
A short warning today, from Bacchylides's, Processionals

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”
[fr. 11-12]
Among the J. Paul Getty Museum’s most treasured items is a bronze Hellenic statue of a young man, his weight shifted onto his right leg, his head crowned with an olive wreath—the prize bestowed on victorious athletes in ancient Greece. The aptly named “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was discovered in the Adriatic Sea by Italian fishermen in 1964, and purchased by the Getty in 1977. But this month, as Naomi Rea reports for Artnet News, an Italian magistrate ruled that the museum must return the precious relic to Italy.

The magistrate, Giacomo Gasparini, rejected Getty’s appeal against an order of confiscation that was issued by an Italian court in 2010 and upheld by another Italian court in 2012. Ron Hartwig, a spokesperson for the J. Paul Getty Trust, said in a statement that the organization “disappointed in the ruling, but we will continue to defend our legal right to the statue.”

“Statue of a Victorious Youth” dates to sometime between 300 and 100 BC. According to Sopan Deb of the New York Times, the work is believed to have been inspired by, or even created by Lysippus, the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great. Very few life-size Hellenic bronzes survive today, and so the statue “provides much information on the technology of ancient bronze casting,” the Getty Museum explains on its website. Experts think that the Romans, who collected many Hellenic works of art, tried to take the bronze across the Adriatic, but the ship carrying the statue sank.

Centuries after the bronze plunged to the bottom of the Adriatic, the fishermen who found the statue brought it to the Italian city of Fano. They did not notify customs authorities about the discovery, according to Rea of Artnet, and sold the work to an antiquities dealer. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said, the Getty Museum Board of Trustees bought the bronze in the United Kingdom for $3.95 million. (The Los Angeles Times editorial board supports the Getty keeping the statue.) Today, the bronze is housed in the Getty Villa, a campus of the Getty Museum devoted to ancient Hellenic and Roman art.

In 1989, the Italian government asked the Getty to return “Statue of a Victorious Youth,” and the fight over the bronze has been ongoing ever since. A 1939 Italian law stipulates that Italy can lay claim to any antiquity discovered on its territory, but the Getty has argued that the law does not apply in this case because the statue was discovered in international waters.

“Moreover, the statue is not part of Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage,” Hartwig, the spokesman for the Getty Trust, said in his statement. “Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.”

The Getty has, in the past, repatriated artifacts that were acquired under suspect circumstances. In 2007, the Getty Trust agreed to return more than 40 items to Greece and Italy after questions arose about their provenance, including a statue said to be of the goddess Aphrodite that the museum had purchased for a then-record $18 million. But museum officials maintain that “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was acquired legally, after “extensive review of applicable laws, previous investigations of dealers and a statement by the senior Italian official in charge of export licenses for cultural property who said Italy had no claim on the statue,” according to the L.A. Times’ editorial board.

In the wake of the most recent ruling, the Getty says that it plans to file an appeal with the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest judicial authority.
Just because scholars have analyzed ancient Greek pottery for centuries doesn’t mean they’ve uncovered all their secrets. A researcher announced Thursday the discovery of hidden messages in some artifacts that casts new light on the creative process behind some of the most important art in history.

Maurizio Sannibale, director of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum,
part of the Vatican Museums. Photo: Vatican Museums

Mario Iozzo, the director of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, revealed details of a study that has led him to re-examine hundreds of items. He spoke to an audience of scholars Thursday at a specially arranged lecture in the Vatican Museums.

The path to Thursday’s announcement began almost two years ago as Dr. Iozzo was inspecting a kylix, an ancient Greek cup with handles for drinking wine. It is part of the collection of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in the Vatican. Painted in a style known as Red-figure and dating from around 470 B.C., the main design on the cup is of Oedipus listening to the riddle of the Sphinx of Thebes. On the underside of the kylix is another mythological scene depicting satyrs. The curator of the museum, Maurizio Sannibale, recalls:

“It was an afternoon in the fall of 2016. At a certain point, a beam of sunlight came through the window and fell directly on the kylix. In that special light, you could see that something was there.”

The two men were studying the underside of the cup. They could just make out an inscription beneath the paint. The words had to have been inscribed in the clay while it was still moist, and then covered with the black paint that is used in the creation of Red-figure ceramics for the background.

There had been hints before of the existence of hidden writing on classical Greek vases, urns and cups. In 2012, a scholarly paper was published revealing that a verse of poetry had been found beneath the painted surface of another example of the ancient potters’ art. But the paper was more focused on the attribution of the verse than its purpose.

Twenty years earlier, a Canadian scholar, J. Robert Guy, had made out a single word carved into the surface of the kylix in the Vatican, which is why Dr. Iozzo took such a close interest in it. That’s also why he and Dr. Sannibale became excited when they saw in that autumnal light not just one word, but many.

With the help of advanced photographic equipment at the Vatican Museum, Dr. Iozzo established that the inscription on the Oedipus kylix was a message to the painter, telling him what to represent and, to some extent, how. The writing isn’t in the same hand, or even the same dialect, as that used by the painter, so he concluded that it could only have come from the potter. Dr. Iozzo has since examined several hundred pieces of Red-figure ceramic and found similar inscriptions on seven.

“What we now realize is that the potter had considerable influence over the choice of subject matter.”

The messages follow a convention: They start near the mouth of the figure in question, like cartoon bubbles, and extend in the direction to which the figure is turning in the finished painting, suggesting the potters often decided in detail the arrangement of the scene to be depicted and the position of the characters in it.

Why their messages were cut into the surface of only some items isn’t known. Dr. Iozzo’s theory is that they were reserved for the most valuable, luxury products. He believes his findings, to be published next month in the American Journal of Archaeology, could open up new areas of study.

“What we need to do now is to take the ancient Greek ceramics in all the museums of the world and see what is underneath the paint.”

For Dr. Sannibale, it has another significance. He notes that much of the high culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans survived. Many of their plays, for example, have come down to us. Yet archaeologists and other specialists are still piecing together the mundane details of everyday life in classical Greece and Italy.

“What this does is to open a gash through which we can peer into a workshop producing ceramics two and half thousand years ago and see how it operated. For me, that is more fascinating than the discovery of a [new text by] Cicero. ”
On the day of the Hene kai Nea (or sometimes, like this month, the day after), I post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog and in projects and organizations related to it. I will also announce Elaion's coming PAT rituals.

PAT rituals for Skiraphorion:
  • Skiraphorion 3 - June 17Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Athena Polias, Aglaurus, Zeus Polieus, Poseidon & possibly Pandrosos at Erkhia
  • Skiraphorion 12 - June 26Skirophoria - festival in honor of Athena, Poseidon, Apollon & Demeter; the Tritopatores were worshipped at Marathon on the eve of this festival
  • Skiraphorion 14 - June 28- Dipolieia/Bouphonia - festival in honor of Zeus Poleius
  • Skiraphorion 29n - June 12n - Sacrifice to Zeus the Savior and Athene the Savior

Anything else?
Are you looking for an online shop to buy incenses and other Hellenistic basics from? Try The Hellenic Handmaid on Etsy.

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