Red figure egg with a scene from a play

Material: Clay
Dimensions: 5.6 cm (height) and 4.8 cm (widest dm)
Provenance: Burial gift from an Athenian tomb
Date: 420-410 BC. Painted by the 'Washing Painter'
Exhibition place: Room 42, Case 15.

The decoration on this clay egg ('oon' in ancient Greek), an object of exquisite skill and art, is set out in three zones. A four-spiked wheel surrounded by an ovolo marks the medallion set in the wide base of the egg. A female bust wearing a tunic (peplos) fastened over her shoulders with fibulae is depicted on the medallion on the top of the egg, which is also bordered by an ovolo. The hair of the young woman is tied at the back of the head by means of a band (sphendone) and is topped with a diadem. Earrings and necklace with a pendant supplement her jewelry. She looks similar to the women arrayed across the main zone.

An ovolo forms the upper and lower border of the scene set out on the central band. The scene consists of eight persons gathered into two groups facing each other. The first figure from the left is a standing woman, who wears an Ionic tunic, diadem, earrings, two bracelets and a necklace with a pendant. The woman standing next to her is dressed in a Doric tunic. To her right, a woman sits on a chest. A cloak covers the lower part of her body and she wears sandals, in contrast to the rest of women. She holds the end of a stick with her left hand, raises her right hand and displays her first three fingers. The fourth woman in the row turns her body to the right, but gazes towards the women to her left. The stance of Eros, next to her, mirrors her own. He leans on the knees of his mother Aphrodite, who is seated. The goddess holds in her left hand the other end of the stick that the seated woman on the chest is holding and stretches out her right palm towards her and her companions. Her dimensions and grandeur make her divine status clear. A young man stands behind Aphrodite. He wears only a cloak fastened above his right shoulder and carries his hat on his back. A woman standing in front of a seat forms the right end of the frieze. Both the woollen band suspended on the wall and the seats show that the scene is set in the women's apartments of a house. Thus, the egg with such a scene would be an ideal burial gift for a maiden or a newly married woman. Furthermore, the habit of offering burial gifts in the form of eggs, or imitations of eggs executed in stone or clay, is known from Greek and Etruscan cemeteries.

Although it has been suggested that the scene shows some act of divination by means of a stick, the theory that the two groups are playing a game that involves guessing out loud the total number of fingers raised by the players is more likely. This game was known to the Romans as micatio and is known in Italy today as morra. In the most popular version of the game, two or more players throw out their palm with from no to five fingers raised and call out their guess at what the sum of all fingers shown will be. The winner earns a point. Thus, the stick shown in our scene would have served as means of counting such points.

ibliography: . Metzger, Oon a figures rouges, in Collection Helene Stathatos III. Objets antiques et byzantins, Strassbourg 1963, pp. 160-179.

Position in the museum