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Francois Lissarague - Women_Boxes_containers

Francois Lissarague - Women_Boxes_containers

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07/09/2014

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WOMEN,
'SOME
SIGNS
f)
.'+ 1 -
,'i() \
.
,
BOXES, CONTAINERS:AND METAPHORS
" T h e
box of Pandora is proverbial, and that is all the moreremarkable as she never had a box at all:' It is with thesewords that Jane Harrison began her article on Pandora.'In this way she reminds us of the fact that at no time in ancient tra-dition is Pandora opening a box, but that the evils of all men werekept shut up in a jar, a
pithos,
buried in the ground. We will notexpand on her interpretation of the celebration of the Pithoigia, theopening of the jars on the third day of the Anthesteria, which sheconnected with the tale of Pandora's opening the jar from whichfrom all evils escaped. The box of Pandora, as shown by Dora andErwin Panofsky, is a modern invention going back to Erasmuswhere, for the first time, the idea of Pandora opening not a
pithos
but a
 pyxis,
a box, is expressed. 'But boxes, chests, and other containers occupy a place thatseems important in a woman's world, more specifically in vase-painting, as utilitarian objects but also as sign holders of symbolicvalues. This is to be the focus of the present discussion.~~,painter?}r;.9.11e?tly?epicte,d.these objects, and their choice showsthat the objects had some relevance, not only because they are con-nected with female activities but also be~;i:ise-;;y';;';b~J1{~~~f~~~~on-nected with these acti~ities defined, i;th~~yes oi'th~ p~i~te~s 'andtheirdi~nts:the status ofwomen.h~
a
cer~ain way, many of theseobjects, as iconographi~'~l' ;ig;;~a1ro;-;,t;;1~etapflo&~rexpressi'onorv1e\v~'~bout women. Thus w~~~~
'~o;;'~ltf({yIilg
u p ~ 'p u 't f ln g
thlngs"in"orde;;us[llg perfumes and jewelry; carrying variousobjects from one place to another, or spinning wool. And to each of these activities is associated a specific type of chest, box, basket, orcontainer.To put things in their context it may be ap~ropriate to state a fewfacts. In a culture that has only limited fur~ifu~'chests play animportant role,' as do all containers of smaller sizes, such as casketsand boxes, whether of metal, wood, terracotta, or wicker.Greek vocabulary in this area is extremely rich and diversified.Chests are called
kibotos, kiboton, zygastron, soros, antipex, larnax.
Boxes,
theke, kiste, koite, pyxis, kylichnis.
Archaeologists took up thehabit of calling
pyxis
what the ancients probably called
kylichnis,
aterm connected wit~
k ; ; ~ ( a .s ,
~hich refers more appropriately to itscylindrical shape.' Wicker'baskets bear different names accordingto their function: the
liknon
is a winnowing-basket that may alsoserve as ritual basket,Othe
kanoun
is a sacrificial basket with threepoints used for carrying grains,' and the
kalathos,
with a strongflaring shape, is a wool basket.To discuss these various aspects in theiriconographical context,,several mythical tales will be brought to' bear in which chests' andboxes occupy an essential visual role: the chest in which Danae waskept locked up, the basket where Erichthonios was hidden, and theb~~'where- the necklace of Eriphyle was kept. Then we will examineth~ cOiltext of the objects themselves: women's domestic space andtheir ritual activities, specifically, the wedding.Danae, an Argive princess, was the daughter of King Akrisios,whose story is told by Apollodoros:When Akrisios inquired of the oracle how he should get malechildren, the god said that his daughter would give birth to ason who would kill him. Fearing that, Akrisios built a brazenchamber under ground
(hypo getl thalamon)
and thereguarded Danae. However, she was seduced by Zeus, as somesay,by Proetus ...but some say that Zeus had intercourse withher in the shape of astream of gold which poured through theroof into Danae'sQaJ1.When Akrisios afterward learned thatshe had got a child Perseus, he would not believe that she hadbeen seduced by Zeus, and putting his daughter with thechild in a chest, he cast it into the sea. The chest was washedashore on Seriphus and Diktys took up the boy and rearedhim.' 'As we all know, Perseus grew up and was victorious in varioustrials, especially against Medusa, the Gorgon he managed tobehead and whose head he offered to Athena after freeing Androm-eda who had been abandoned to a dragon. Back in Argos, it is byaccident that Perseus kills his grandfather with a discus, thus fulfill-ing the prophecy.In imagery, painters retained two main episodes about Danaeherself: when she received the stream of gold and when she is put inthe chest. These two episodes, both connected with t'(mns of con-finement, are only rarely associated. This is what makes the kalyxkrater attributed to the Triptolemos Painter (no. 74) even more
 
remarkable. On one side Danae is seated on a high bed, her feetresting on a stool. She is raising her head toward the stream of goldfalling in her direction and at the same time she is untying theheadband holding her hair. The massive bed with its mattress is nota mere dining couch; the objects in the field, mirror and sakkos,show that we are inside a woman's room, the
tha/amos,
the bridalchamber. No specific architecture is depicted here, but this indoorspace corresponds to that described by Apollodoros:
hypo ten gentha/amon,
an underground chamber. In Sophokles'
Antigone,
at themoment when, on the order of Kreon, Antigone is to be immuredalive, the chorus recalls the misfortune of those who met the samefate, specifically, Danae, cloistered in her chamber-grave,
en tum-
berb tha/amoi.
This underground, enclosed space marks theabsolute reclusion in which Danae is held captive, and whose barri-ers were lowered by Zeus in a stream of gold.After this first confinement, comes a second when the child isdiscovered. The obverse of the same krater shows, in the center, thechest in which Danae, carrying Perseus on her arm, is alreadyinstalled. Akrisios, arm outstretched, scepter at the shoulder, seemsto bid farewell, while a carpenter, with a bow-drill, is boring a holeinto the thickness of the chest so as to secure its fastening. He is notbuilding the chest, but actually getting ready to shut it definitivelyby means of dowels. In the oldest depictions of this episode, thecarpenter is always present, finishing the job: On a stamnos attrib-uted to the Deepdene Painter (no. 76), the carpenter appears on thereverse of the vase, holding a mallet in one hand and standing nextto a maid. The maid can be identified by an inscription asDamolyte; she is standing next to a seated woman, probably thequeen Eurydike,and is holding a wicker box of a type seen in wed-ding scenes (cf. no. 55). Ihi.§.§s:~.mst9~hQlY,a pla.Y.9fa§simiJa.Jionon the painter's part between the e)(pulsi()n of Danae fr()m .herra1'fier~'house and th~ we~di~g c~r~I~~?!iY.Thi;~-;;al~gyis ';~p~;t~d,in a different form, on a hydria attributed to the Danae Painter (no.77): Danae, ip the chest,is yeiledand wea~s a ~.iademin the fashionOfYOll~ib;ide~. Th'i;' det~i]';;~~~'~~ 'a~~id~;t~Y'~h~;~e';'it'~~~~a~sagain on a fragmentary krater attributed to the Phiale Painter (no.78). Painters, thus, first emphasized the closure of the chest, similarto a coffin,'o then Danae's diadem, giving the scene sometimesfunerary, sometimes nuptial connotations.Some of the depictions of the legend of Erichthonios also playon the idea of confinement, although in a different way. As weknow, Erichthonios was born from the Earth impregnated by thedesire of Hephaistos for Athena. Here again, Apollodoros recounts:Some say that this Erichthonios ...was a son of Hephaestusand Athena, as follows: Athena came to Hephaestus, desirousof fashioning arms. But he, being forsaken by Aphrodite, fellin love with Athena and began to pursue her; but she fled.When he got near her with much ado (for he was lame), heattempted to embrace; but she, being a chaste virgin, wouldnot submit to him, and he dropped his seed on the leg of thegoddess. In disgust she wiped off the seed with wool andthrew it on the ground; and as she fled and the seed fell on theground, Erichthonios was produced. Him Athena brought upunknown
(krypha)
to the others gods, wishing to make himimmortal; and having put him in a chest
(eis kisten),
she com-mitted it to Pandrosos, daughter of Kekrops, forbidding herto open the chest. But the sisters opened it out of curiosity andbeheld a serpent coiled about the baby; and, as some wouldsay,they were destroyed by the serpent, but according to oth-ers they were driven mad by reason of the anger of Athena andthrew themselves down from the Acropolis."The birth ofErichthoni()s, when the child is entrusted by Gaia,the Ea~th:t~Ath~~~, i~'s~bject of an iconography with a clear civica!1c.i.ide()lo~icalsig!1ifica~se.But painters were also interested in themoment when the ban is broken by the daughters of Kekrops. On alekythos in Basel (no. 66) it is first the anger of Athena that isemphasized. The armed goddess is running toward a frightenedKekropid, while a snake emerges from the overturned basket. Thepelike in London, attributed to the Erichthonios Painter (no. 69),presents a rather more peaceful picture. On the reverse of the vase,two daughters of Kekrops are moving away, while the obverse
 
shows a rock on which the basket lies open. The lid is overturned., The child, protected by a snake, greets Athena who gazes upon it,motionless, holding her helmet in her hand. T~e_rol~ay~~ by tb~bas~e_~i~~o.n?~tio,n, ~i!~ ~'1e{potio~?f f:l!.1~~~.U.Ei.o.s!tr~lle_9.e.cl.inTIllsleg:nd is tw~it conce~s~e child, w-hpse existence mustrem~inunI;;o~~, but a~·ameti~e, on~e opened, the 'ba;k;treveals his_~~:oi~,£r~~~.!1ce. Painters, preoccupied b¥i~er.J:.~ualdimension of the episode, successfully brought to the
tore
the visu-al effect of the alternately dosed and opened basket."A third legend assigns the box a totally different function, onedoser to the daily uses of this type of object. It is an episode con-nected with the story of the Seven against Thebes. In a fratricidaldispute opposing Eteokles and Polynikes, all means are sanctionedto acquire victory. The intervention of Eriphyle, wife oAmphiaraos and sister of Adrastus, is necessary to allow thedeparture of the expedition Polynikes wants to lead against hisbrother to recover power in Thebes. Polynikes bribes Eriphyle byoffering her a necklace of great value. Apollodoros summarizedthe events this way:... Amphiaraos, son of Oides, being a seer and foreseeing thatall who joined in the expedition except Adrastus were des-tined to perish, shrank from it himself and discouraged therest. However, Polynikes went to Iphis, son of Alector, andbegged to know how Amphiaraos could be compelled to goto the war; for the decisions lay with her (Eriphyle); becauseonce, when a difference arose between him and Adrastus, hehad made it up with him and sworn to let Eriphyle decide anyfuture dispute he might have with Adrastus. Accordingly,when war was to be made on Thebes, and the measure wasadvocated by Adrastus and opposed by Amphiaraos, Eriphyleaccepted the necklace and persuaded him to march withAdrastus. Thus forced to go to the war, Amphiaraos laid com-mand on his sons that, when they were grown up, they shouldslay their mother and march against Thebes. 13From this story, painters sometimes depicted the moment whenPolynikes offers Eriphyle the deadly necklace. He is standing beforeher, resting on a staff, according to the scheme of conversationalscenes. In some cases he is wearing a pilos or a petasos, as ifhe werea traveler coming from afar." But th:l110st remarkabl: feat~re of thisseri~s is the very \-Vaythe necki~~~'is presented to Eriphyle: Itls
;~;tt~~
~f seducing and tempting her. Each time it is Polynikeswho holds the box from which the necklace is pulled out. Now tfiisdetail is very unusual in Attic iconography, where grooming toolsand jewelry, which are characteristic of a woman's world, are almostahvays shown in the hands of women, whether they are maids orthe household mistresses themselves. It is unusual for a man to holda casket or a mirror in this way,and the rare instances where a manis seen with a mirror are to be connected with scenes of seduction,as on a pelike from Naples" where a male figure holds a purse anda mirror before a seated woman, or on a skyphos in Oldenburg,where two young men are depicted, one, on the obverse, holding acasket, and the other, on the reverse, a mirror.
16
Painters, by invers-ing the usual scheme in handing over the box and the necklace toPolynikes, place the seduction on the man's side. But this is not hisusual role; it is the woman who mustseduce wli:hher'jewelry, noi:beseduced, and even less yield to temptation or betray her husband.On account of ,this sbift, the depiction makes clear that Polynikes'trickery uxte:Ihfri~i'hts status as heroic warrior. Visually, Eriphyle'seagerness to get hold of the necklace is emphasized by the out-stretched gesture of her hand, as on an oinochoe in the Louvre,where there is, in the center of the composition, a remarkable playof hands around the jewelry box (fig. I).17Boxes and chests are extremely common in iconography, and noteverything can be catalogued here. Variants are numerous, whetherfrom the typological or contextual standpoint, but essentially theobj:cts are tied to a woman's space and~as is shown bythe'ffireesto-ries~i~~;dy'~entioned, to the idea of confinement. It is a matter of putting away, stocking, preserving; sometimes to conceal or tohoard, in short, to exercis_~~_,~<.:'_~!r£I~::~r.~nind~.o.El'Eiy~te.sp~.ce,where women are thel11selvesdetained. Many compositions where~h~s'ts are depicted b;ing this fact to mind. On a now-lost starn nos(fig.
2),"
two women are folding a pjt;<;eofcloth; in the field and on
i '. ",'- .
f." 
a seat placed between them more fabric is shown, as well as a mir-ror. To the left, a woman is looking on; and to the right is a largech~~.J13~~ly to hold cloth. S.h£l:l,lcI",e se~,pro~~~~~llY,a"sc.e~e inalInen room,'19or, t?the contrary, a ritualsce~e connected ",ith the
J i m T o s " o r A a : ; r o ~ ? 2 0 '
Th~'
m~tter r~st~ ~~~~solved; but ifthi~ sceneand that on the reverse, which shows a young man departing whilea woman pours a libation, are to be associated, 2!}~~!1ds,th~'-<:>!1?--~,.2EE.Clsition.b.~nY~.Yn,~, wom~n's. i~t.<:ripr~11c1am.~I1'~s)(.terio.rspace. A chest of the same type occupies an essential place on a"SdJ~1r;kyphos, the iconography of which is quite revealing." On

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