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Work Black figure lekythos

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Lécythe à figures noires

© 2003 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Alexandra Kardianou-Michel

This black figure lekythos dating from the 5th century BC is decorated with the figures of two men leading horses. Its distinctive feature is that it bears an advertising slogan in the form of an inscription that runs around the top of the belly and between the horses: "Buy me, you'll be getting a bargain."

Inscriptions

The first Greek alphabet was derived from the Phoenician alphabet, and was adopted for mainly commercial reasons. The earliest Greek inscriptions using a developed alphabet date from the 10th century BC and come from Phoenician territory (present-day Lebanon) where excavations have been carried out at Greek settlements such as Al Mina (at the mouth of the river Orontes in Syria).

By the 5th century BC in Athens, reading and writing had become part of the democratic political system. In one of the tragedies of Euripides, Theseus claims that written laws are the safeguard of democracy, while tyrants keep the laws to themselves. Athens and the Attic region have the largest inventory of inscriptions.

The Greeks, like the Phoenicians, originally wrote from right to left. Many inscriptions on vases run in both directions—a writing style called boustrophedon, as it is resembled the way oxen (bous) turn (strefo) when plowing a field. However, many official Athenian inscriptions on stone were written in the stoichedon style (aligned in columns).

Talking vases

Official texts, votive inscriptions and epitaphs were engraved on steles, or engraved or painted on clay or bronze statuettes, pieces of fabric, and weapons. A large number of clay vases feature dedications, drinking formulae, and signatures. Although many of these were engraved ("graffiti"), or painted ("dipinti") after the object had been manufactured, certain inscriptions were painted at the time of manufacture. The latter include the signatures of potters (Exekias m’epoiesen, "Exekias made me") and painters (Sophilos m’egrafsen, "Sophilos painted me"), the proper names of the characters represented, acclamations (Leagros kalos, "Leagros is handsome"), and drinking formulae (haire kai piei eu, "rejoice and drink well"). One of the earliest inscriptions can be seen on an oinochoe dated to around 740 BC, found at the Dipylon cemetery in Athens: "whoever of the dancers now dances most lightly will win the prize."

The vase as an advertising medium

These inscriptions, still to be found centuries later, were texts of a private nature—the writers used the vase to communicate, appropriate the object, or boast of their art. This was the case with a krater in the Louvre bearing the word êdupotos ("sweet to drink"), and with a red-figure amphora (now in Munich) by the vase-painter Euthymides, who taunted his friend and rival Euphronios with the following inscription: os oudepote Euphronios ("Euphronios never did anything like this"). However, to our knowledge, the inscription that runs between the painted figures on this lekythos (F 358) is the only one of its kind: onisthe me kai enepolesei kalos ("Buy me, you'll be getting a bargain") could be considered the first known advertising slogan! The vase resembles many others, being a simple lekythos with an unremarkable decoration, but the painter decided to use his marketing skills to make it stand out from the rest. He gave it added value with this text which underlines its value for money while praising the potter's skill—and cleverly vaunting the merits of their combined effort!

Technical description

  • Lécythe à figures noires

    Vers 500 avant J.-C.

    Athènes

  • H. : 28 cm. ; D. : 13,60 cm.

  • Collection Campana, 1861 , 1861

    Acclamation publicitaire : "Achète-moi et tu feras une bonne affaire"

    F 358

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Galerie Campana - thematic room
    Room 39
    Passage 1

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Additional information about the work

Greek inscription (exclamation): Onisthe me kai enepolesei kalos