Date: ca. 530 B.C.
Culture: Greek, Attic
Dimensions: total H. 166 11/16 in. (423.4cm)
Classification: Stone Sculpture
Credit Line: Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1911; Rogers Fund, 1921; and Anonymous Gift, 1951
Accession Number: 11.185a–c, f, g
This grave monument, made in three parts joined together with molten lead, is the most complete example of its type to have survived from the Archaic period. A guardian sphinx, carved in the round, is the crowning element. The head is turned sharply to the left and the forelegs are straight while the hind legs assume a crouching position. The shaft proper is executed in relief and shows a youth accompanied by a little girl. The plinth in which the shaft is set has a metrical inscription on it informing us that the memorial was erected by a father and a mother to their dead son. The youth is shown as an athlete, with an aryballos (oil flask) suspended from his wrist. (His right forearm has been restored in plaster from the original fragment in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.) Athletics were an important part of every boy's education, and oil was used as a cleanser after exercise. He holds a pomegranateâ€”a fruit associated with both fecundity and death in Greek myths—perhaps indicating that he had reached puberty before his death. The little girl, presumably a younger sister, holds a flower in her left hand. (Her head, shoulder, and left hand have been restored in plaster from the original fragments, now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin.) Traces of paint, especially noticeable on the crowning element, the background of the shaft, and the hair of the youth, indicate that the grave monument, like other Greek sculpture, was originally decorated with paint in order to render a more vivid, lifelike impression.
This exceptionally lavish monument, which stands over thirteen feet high, must have been erected by a member of the aristocracy, as such elaborate commissions were restricted to wealthy and noble families who were landowners in the Attic countryside. Some scholars have restored the name of the youth in the inscription as Megakles, a name associated with the powerful clan of the Alkmeonidai, who opposed the tyrant Peisistratos during most of the second half of the sixth century B.C. The tombs of aristocratic families were sometimes desecrated and destroyed as a result of that conflict, and this stele may well have been among them.