Terracotta calyx-krater (mixing bowl)

Attributed to the Tarporley Painter

Period: Late Classical

Date: ca. 400–390 B.C.

Culture: Greek, South Italian, Apulian

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 12 1/16 in. (30.6 cm)
diameter 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1924

Accession Number: 24.97.104


Three comic actors are shown performing a scene from a phlyax, a farce developed in southern Italy. Since none of these phlyakes have survived, vase paintings like this one are important evidence. They bring to life the boisterous character of the farces, which were parodies of Greek tragedies. The scene on this krater depicts three actors, each wearing a mask and padded costume; above them hangs a tragic mask. The actor in the center is standing on his toes with his hands raised as if he were suspended from a post; out of his mouth come the words, "he has bound my hands above." Evidently he is being punished for a theft. The stolen goods—a dead goose and a basket—lie on a platform to the right. Also on the platform is an old man or woman, who gestures as if in remonstrance, uttering the words "I shall furnish [testimony]." To the left is the guardian of the prisoner; he holds a stick as if ready to beat the thief. The inscription that emerges from his mouth is nonsensical, either a spell responsible for the raised arms of the thief or a representation of a foreign tongue. This foreign language may characterize the speaker as a policeman, a profession often held by Thracians in Athens. In the upper left is a male youth, nude except for a mantle; he is labeled tragoidos, "tragic actor." The scene is apparently a parody of a court scene, a subject that lent itself to buffoonery. The inscriptions, written in Attic Greek, indicate that this farce originated on the Greek mainland rather than in southern Italy, where Doric Greek was predominantly spoken.