Diameter: 26.500 cm
Gift of Sir Henry H. Howarth
Room 69: Greek and Roman life
Black-figured 'Siana' cup, attributed to the Burgon Group
Greek, about 575-550 BC
Made in Athens, Greece; perhaps from Rhodes, Aegean Sea
On one side, men ploughing and sowing seed, and on the other, a dance before an altar
'Siana' cups are so-named because many examples of this special shape have been found at Siana in Rhodes. Both sides of this cup show activities that may be interpreted as rituals in honour of Demeter, a goddess mostly concerned with women's lives, agriculture and fertility. Demeter is the veiled figure seated at the far left-hand side of the dance scene: one hand is raised to her head in a gesture associated with mourning. In front of Demeter five women and a boy dance to an altar where a priestess stands holding a sacred winnowing fan. The dance may be designed to cheer the goddess as she mourns the loss of her daughter Persephone, abducted by Hades, god of the Underworld: such dances are known to have taken place at various Demeter festivals in and around Athens.
On the other side of the cup, the men working the land are doing the 'work of Demeter', as farmers' work was sometimes called. The first man whom the goddess had taught to plough was Bouzyges, ancestor of the Athenian family of the Bouzygai. Every year members of this family performed a sacred ploughing ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis.
The Burgon Group centres on an early Panathenaic amphora acquired in Athens in the early nineteenth century by the merchant, traveller and collector Thomas Burgon. In 1842 Burgon sold his collection to the British Museum and he himself came to work on ancient coins in the then Department of Antiquities.
E. Simon, Festivals of Attica (University of Wisconsin Press, 1983)
C. Bérard, 'Bouzyges' in Lexicon Iconographicum Mytho-1, III (Artemis Verlag Zürich und München), pp. 153-55