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Sex and the Athenian citizens


Attic red-figure cup

Vlastos-Serpieris Collection, inv.  no. ΒΣ 541


Provenance: Found in Attica, in the area of Koropi.

Date: Second quarter of the 5th c. BCE.

Dimensions: Pres. H. 0.08 m., Pres. Diam. 0.19 m.

Exhibition space: Hall 61, Case 12.


On the medallion (interior) of the kylix, a couple is represented, engaged in anal intercourse (the ancient verb “pygizo”, meaning «from behind, a tergo, in latin»). On the right, a stool (diphros) is depicted, where the young man has laid his garment. The field is obliquely divided by his knotted wood staff (bacteria), one of the main iconographical attributes of the Athenian citizen. To the left, there is another garment, hanging high on the wall. Behind the young man, the half-faded letters K and A can be discerned, from the word KALOS, meaning the handsome and desirable young man.

The cup, together with the krater, was the par excellence sympotic vessel. The consumption of wine and the games of skill with cups (kotavos) accompanying it, induced euphoria in the participants. Banquets were one of the components of social and sexual life, not only in ancient Athens, but also throughout the Greek world. They were appropriate to free citizens and in addition to the common consumption of food and drink or philosophical and political discussions, they also included sexual intercourse among groups in plain view, without the participation of the spouses. The only ones who could take part in such banquets were courtesans, prostitutes of a high social and educational level. There were also brothels of course, where men could associate with prostitutes of lower ranks.

The vase painter to whom the cup is attributed, is called Akestorides Painter. He received his conventional name from Akestorides, a handsome (kalos) Athenian youth of the years shortly after the Persian Wars, whom he praised on his vases. Perhaps it is no coincidence that almost all of the forty or so vases attributed to the Akestoridis Painter are cups decorated with representations of beautiful young peoples at banquets and athletic activities.

George G. Kavvadias



Beazley Archive Pottery Database no. 209612.

Kilmer, Martin. F., Greek erotica on Attic red-figure vases, London, 1993, 259.



Ἀπόρρητα. Έγραψεν Εύϊος Ληναίου [Χαριτωνίδης Χαρίτων], Θεσσαλονίκη 1935.

Glazebrook, Allison, and Madeleine Mary Henry. Greek Prostitutes in the Ancient Mediterranean, 800 BCE-200 CE. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

Glazebrook, Allison, and Barbara Tsakirgis. Houses of Ill Repute: The Archaeology of Brothels, Houses, and Taverns in the Greek World. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

Keuls, E.C., The Reign of the Phallus. Sexual Politics in Ancient Athens. 2nd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

LSJ: Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott and Henry Stuart Jones Greek-English Lexicon.

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