A spool-shaped toy (yo-yo)

Material: Clay
Provenance: From a tomb at Athens.
Date: 460/450 BC, Work of Sotheby-Painter.
Dimensions: Diam. 13,6 cm.
Exhibition place: Room 55, Case 74, inv. no. 2350.

Τhis object, which resembles a spool, should have been made of wood in its functional version. It consisted of two discs joined together by a small cylindrical strut. A string is knotted around this strut and then wound around it. It is played by holding the free end of the string and pulling at it quickly, causing the spool to turn, and by raising and lowering the hand, which causes the string to rewind. The way of handling this particular toy is depicted on two drinking vessels - a cup and a jug - of the 5th century BC. These representations, as well an additional one on a white ground lekythos depicting a maiden, prove that youths of both sexes enjoyed this toy.

During the second quarter of the 5th century BC, famous ancient painters, like those of Pistoxenos and Penthesileia, decorated this kind of object with subjects from mythology or everyday life. These choices served a pedagogical goal.

The decoration of this specific object employs white ground and various colors. A quadriga is depicted on the central area of one side. The charioteer, who is not preserved, is identified either with Eos or - more probably - with Helios (the Sun), father of the Maidens of Leukippos. The rape of the Leukippidai by the Dioskouroi (Castor and Pollux) is depicted around the circular register. The old man next to a palm tree, identified with their father Leukippos, seems to be ignorant of the abduction of Phoebe by Pollux, on his left, and of Hilaeira by Castor, on his right. Castor is identified by a Greek inscription. The scene is completed by three more women moving in a hurried manner. Since the rape of Europa by Zeus disguised as a bull is represented in the tondo on the opposite side, it is assumed that the painter depicted a fictive abduction on this side too. A seated young woman is making a wreath next to some reeds. Two older women, who flank a palm tree, address her without noticing the young man behind them. The young man, who is dressed like a traveler, hurries to abduct the young woman with the help of two ready companions and a chariot.

Since this kind of object has been uncovered in tombs and the representations of the youths playing with them are placed near an altar, it is possible that they were dedicated by children, along with other toys, to nursing deities on the occasion of their coming of age, during a rite of passage, or they were offered as burial gifts to young, unmarried deceased persons.

Βibliography: Ch. Tsountas, «Σκεύος πήλινον και τεμάχια αγγείων εξ Αθηνών», Αρχαιολογική Εφημερίς, 1885, pl. 5 no. 1. C. Weiss A.Buhl, "Votivgaben aus Ton. Jojo oder Fadenspule?", Archaologischer Anzeiger, 1990, 494-505. Μ. Fitta, Spiele und Spielzeug in der Antike. Unterhaltung und Vergnugen im Altertum, Stuttgart 1998, 78-79.

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Position in the museum