A cup Pericles drank from has been discovered

Here's something totally amazing.  A drinking cup has been discovered that probably was used by Pericles, and there's some actual evidence to back up that remarkable claim.  The find is reported in an article from the Greek edition of the International New York Times.  (Many thanks to Irene Hahn for pointing it out to me!)

Yes, we're talking about the Pericles, the greatest statesman of the classical world, from two thousand four hundred years ago.  Here's the cup:

On the left hand side you'll see some letters inscribed.  The article states they are five names.  (I can't read them from that angle, and this is the only picture I could find.)

One of those names is Pericles.  Another is Ariphron.  Now Pericles was a relatively common name back then, but it just so happens that our Pericles had a brother named Ariphron, and Ariphron was an unusual name.  The odds are then that the cup is referring to the Pericles.

As you probably know, it was standard practice at parties in those days to pass around a cup that everyone sipped from.  (And indeed I made use of that little fact in The Ionia Sanction).   It was perfectly reasonable for the happy party goers to commemorate a lovely evening by scratching their names into the cup from which they'd all drunk.  That's what has happened here.

Another possibility is that Pericles, his brother, and three friends were hanging out at a tavern, and the tavern owner later wrote in the names of his famous guests.  I think that less likely though because if the dating on the cup is accurate, then the tavern owner would have to be psychic to know that young Pericles was destined for great things.

On the evidence as stated then, you're looking at a cup that was held and drunk from by Pericles.

Let me run through some questions that I guess people will ask...

Is it for real?  That was the first question I asked myself.  I guess it could be a fake, but if so, carbon dating will expose it pretty quickly.  Likewise, if someone took a genuine ancient cup and scratched in the names, then micro-analysis will show it up for sure.   So I'm assuming it's for real.

Could this be a coincidence?    Yes, but if so then the people who found this thing are the world's unluckiest archaeologists.  I doubt there were so many pairs of men named Pericles and Ariphron that this could be a coincidence.

Could we get Pericles's DNA from this?  No, not a hope in Hades.  The cup presumably was used lots of times after Pericles touched it; I like to think that they washed it between uses; and it's been lying in a grave for a couple of thousand years.

Is that Pericles's handwriting?  Only if he can't spell his own name.  The news report says Pericles was misspelt, and whoever made the error corrected it.  Either that, or Pericles was monumentally drunk.  By the same logic, Ariphron could probably spell his own brother's name.  The author then is one of the other three men.

Whose grave did it come from?  The report says it was a pauper's grave, so definitely not Pericles.  Since it was among grave goods, the deceased must have valued the cup highly.  It may be one of the other three guests kept the cup and later fell on hard times.  Or perhaps the cup was eventually thrown out with the trash and a poor man picked it up?


Colin Smith said...

Cool! It's possible the person to whom the cup was perhaps gifted, Drapetis took it to his grave. If he was a runaway slave (as the name implies), he may never have acquired much wealth in life. The pauper's grave could have been his, and this cup his greatest treasure.

'Tis the stuff from which novels are born! I'll be looking out for a reference to this cup in a future Nico story... ;)

Gary Corby said...

Oh, that's an excellent point, Colin. A slave named Drapetis might indeed have stolen it.

It's funny you should mention referring to the cup in a story. That was the first thing my wife said too.

cholst said...

The Pericles cup is not the only one inscribed by a famous Greek to be found. John R. Hale in "Classical Archaeology of Greece and Rome" (http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/classical-archaeology-of-ancient-greece-and-rome.html) reports that a drinking cup with Phidias's name scratched on it was found in the remains of his workshop at Olympia. Also found at Olympia was the helmet dedicated to Zeus by Miltiades after the Battle of Marathon.

Gary Corby said...

Welcome to the blog, cholst.

Yes indeed, I previously wrote about the cup of Phidias.

But I've never mentioned the helmet of Miltiades! Thanks very much for the comment. I must do that.