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Goddess or Nymph clad in peplos, immortal and never-aging /ἀθάνατος και ἀγήραος (Hesiod, Theogony 1.305).


Goddess or Nymph clad in peplos,

 immortal and never-aging /θάνατος και γήραος (Hesiod, Theogony 1.305).


Terracotta figurine of a female figure.

National Archaeological Museum

Collection of Vases,  inv. no. 3959.

Provenance: From Chalcis in Euboea.

Dimensions: Height: 0.383 m., maximum width (from the shoulders to the box): 0.12 m.

Date: Late 5th to 4th century B.C.

Display location: Exhibition of Terracotta Figurines, Room 58, Case 9

Terracotta figurine of a female figure standing on a high base. She wears a peplos girdled below the breast and possibly also a chiton beneath the peplos.[1] A himation covers part of her head and back. She wears a polos and a wreath, probably of myrtle, on top of her elaborately dressed hair with its rows of spiral locks.[2] Her shoes have high soles. She holds an open box with her left hand. A band hanging from the box is held by her right hand.[3] The figurine was found in Chalcis in Euboea, probably in a tomb. It is either a Boeotian import or a figurine produced in Euboea, based on Boeotian prototypes.[4]

The female figure of the figurine NAM 3959 is represented wearing some of the most typical ancient garments: a peplos, a chiton and a himation. The term ancient peplos is used to describe a rectangular piece of cloth that was wrapped around the body and formed an overfold (apoptygma) on the chest or also the belly. This garment could be girdled below the chest, at the waist or worn without girdle. Women clad in peplos are mentioned in the Homeric poems and other ancient sources.[5] The peplos, a garment similar in shape with the chiton, remained in use throughout ancient times, often thanks to its emphasized value as a hieratical, festive or valuable female dress.

The chiton, a garment of eastern origin, worn by men and women, considered to have been introduced to Greece around the end of the 7th century B.C., became a popular type of dress, as testified by the ancient sources (Iliad, 13.685. Herodotus 5.87-88) and iconographic examples.[6] The chiton was often made of linen (Thucydides 1.6) or wool. It was made from a rectangular piece of cloth, which was held on the shoulders with the help of buttons or pins. The most elaborate chitons and peploi echoed the social status of their wearer.

The himation, made of wool or other fabric, was worn as an overcoat or shawl (perivlema or epivlema). Women usually wore the himation above the chiton, draped over the backside of the head and covering the shoulders and back or also as a veil that covered the face for protection against the indiscreet glances of a stranger in a public place …>>, while for men in public view the himation often represented their one and only garment (see: Plato, Republic  1.327 b).

Bands of fabric were used as garment girdles, as headbands, such as worn by game victors. Bands were also used for the decoration of tombs. The bands held in the hands of terracotta figurines of the type presented here have been connected in theory with the mythic kestos (a belt or a breast-band) worn by Aphrodite.[7]The shoes, head covers and diadems, as well as the jewellery items shown to adorn terracotta female figurines of the type presented here are known as accessories both of goddesses and mortal women, often worn in connection to some religious or festive occasion.

The terracotta figurine NAM 3959 presents a young female figure revealing her face with her himation open in the front (apokalypsis).[8] She wears rich garments and her hair is elaborately coiffed. The figurine probably accompanied a dead young man or woman in the tomb, a person that met a premature death.[9] This type of peplos female figurines that hold necklaces, cists, flowers or other objects in their hands, when found in tombs, are considered to represent goddesses, Nymphs and priestesses, that accompany and take care of the dead in Hades, or also heroized mortal figures.[10] They constitute a symbolic statement of the ancient Greek beliefs regarding female beauty, its revelation and progress towards maturity through marriage.

In ancient Greek art the female beauty is often connected to a scenic or gestural revelation and emergence. A beautiful goddess or woman can be seen as emerging from her garments or a feature of nature. Myths regarding the revelation, emergence and mature completion of a being served as a base for symbolisms in ancient Greek religion, literature and thought, as well as a source of inspiration for related iconographic subjects.


[1] The type of a female figure dressed in peplos, chiton and himation is also known in sculpture. An instance of this form of garment combination is offered by the marble female statue NAM Γ 709.

[2] The term polos is often used in art historical studies in order to describe a cylindrical diadem worn on the head by a deity or a mythical creature.

[3] White slip is preserved on the surface of the figurine, yellow color on the chiton and the box, light blue on the band and the polos, pink on the face, reddish brown on the hair. Two bands of red color decorate the base.

[4] Apart from Chalcis, similar terracotta figurines have been found in Thebes, Tanagra and Haliartos in Boeotia, in Locris and other areas. They are dated from the late 5th to the late 4th century B.C. See for instance, the terracotta figurines NAM Α/Ειδ 5808 and 4501, from Tanagra in Boeotia.

[5] Peplos clad women: Iliad, 6.442 (: Τρῶας καὶ Τρῳάδας ἑλκεσιπέπλους/the Trojans and the Trojans’ wives with trailing robes). Iliad, 5.424 (: Ἀχαιϊάδων ἐϋπέπλων/one of the fair-robed women of Achaea), Odyssey, 6.49 (: Ναυσικάαν ἐύπεπλον/Nausicaa of the beautiful robes). Eos, the personification of dawn, as well as the monstrous Graia Enyo, are described as clad in crocus-dyed peploi (Iliad, 8.1 and 19.1, Hesiod, Theogony, 273), a mention which serves as an indication of the ancient practice of garment dying with yellow color through the use of the plant crocus (crocus sativus). The Nereid Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles, is described as having beautiful hair and wearing a long peplos (Iliad 18.407: καλλιπλόκαμος/fair-tressed. Iliad, 18.385: τανύπεπλος/long-robed).

[6] The Ionians, one of the Greek tribes, are described in epic poetry as wearers of long chitons (Iliad 13.685: Ἰάονες ἑλκεχίτωνες, the Ionians, of trailing tunics, cf.: Thucydides 3.104).

[7] Iliad, 14.214 (: καὶ ἀπὸ στήθεσφιν ἐλύσατο κεστὸν ἱμάντα/and loosed from her bosom the broidered zone).

[8] The lifting of the veil and the subsequent revelation of the female face constitutes a nuptial motif, known as anakalypsis or anakalypteria. This motif is considered to symbolize the blooming or maturity of a goddess or a mortal woman, as an essential condition for marital life and child bearing. There is for instance a scene of a bride about to reveal her face by lifting her elaborate long himation-veil on the Attic red-figure loutrophoros NAM 16279 of the years 425-420 B.C., from Athens. In this scene the marital couple is depicted, with the groom holding the wrist of the bride. The nypheutra, as well as women with gifts and probably the mother in law holding torches are seen to follow the couple.

[9] An aoros dead is a person dying before his or her time according to the ancient Greek literature.

[10] In ancient Greek literature and art, goddesses, such as Aphrodite, and Nymphs, such as the ones personifying woods, plants and water, symbolize the idea of eternal youth and beauty (Νύμφη, ἀθάνατος και ἀγήραος/a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days.: Hesiod, Theogony, 1.305).


Dr. Maria Chidiroglou



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Translation of texts:

Homer, The Iliad with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, Ph.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1924.

Homer, The Odyssey with an English Translation by A.T. Murray, PH.D. in two volumes. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1919.

Hesiod, The Homeric Hymns and Homerica with an English Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Theogony. Cambridge, MA., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1914.

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