The Kabeirion of Thebes...>>

Cabeiric cups

Material: Clay
Provenance: Sanctuary of Kabeiros and Pais, close to Thebes
Date: End of 5th-beginning of 4th century BC
Inv. no. - Exhibition Room: no. 8 (inv. no. 10466), 15 (inv. no. 10426)-Room 56, Case 142

Cups of a distinctive shape, with characteristic ring handles (skyphoi), were made almost exclusively to cater for the needs of the Kabeirion. This was a sanctuary near Thebes, dedicated to the god Kabeiros and his son, Pais. For religious reasons, these vases had black-figure decoration and most of the subjects they depicted were humorous parodies of mythological subjects or rituals.

Mystery rites took place in the sanctuary in order to ensure the fertility of humans, flocks and the earth and to protect youths during the transitional stages of their life. Ritual banqueting obviously played an important role in the Kabeiric cult, since Kabeiros displays the characteristics of the god Dionysos. A Dionysiac atmosphere thus pervades the pottery from the Kabeirion. Branches with ivy leaves or vines with bunches of grapes either supplement the scenes on the vases or form the only decoration.

On one side of one of the largest cups from the sanctuary, measuring 30-32 cm in height after restoration, a banquet scene is depicted. The reverse side of the vase depicts a procession of initiates advancing towards Kabeiros, who reclines on a couch. A bovine, obviously intended for sacrifice, stands in front of him. The painting is thought to be the work of an unknown artisan, named in modern times for convenience the "Kabeiros Painter".

The scene displayed on two sherds that join from another skyphos is allegorical, since the allusions to art of the weaver, which the inscriptions next to the figures make clear, link it to the Orphic Mysteries. Krateia (= 'strength') embraces Mitos ('warp thread', here symbolizing semen). Next to these figures is depicted the fruit of their union, Pratolaos ('the first man', 'the first people'). This myth of the birth of mankind is acted out before the eyes of the reclining god Kabeiros and his son and wine-pourer, Pais. The figure of Satyra is depicted on a small sherd from the same cup. This painting is also the work of the Kabeiros Painter

Βibliography: P. Wolters and G. Bruns, Das Kabirenheiligtum bei Theben 1 (Βerlin 1940) 95-128. Ch. Avronidaki, Ο Ζωγράφος του Άργου. Συμβολή στην έρευνα της βοιωτικής ερυθρόμορφης κεραμικής στο β΄μισό του 5ου αιώνα π.Χ.(Publication no. 97 of the series by Archaeological Receipts Fund Αthens 2007) 98-103.