Terracotta oinochoe: chous (jug)

Period: Classical

Date: ca. 430–420 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 9 5/16 in. (23.6 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1937

Accession Number: 37.11.19


The relationship between the man and woman portrayed on this jug is ambiguous, but the time of day is not–the small oil lamp held by the woman provides a clear reference to nighttime. It has been suggested that the man is a drunken husband returning home to his wife after a long night of merriment, or that he is an intoxicated man visiting a brothel after an evening of heavy drinking. That he bangs on the door with his staff suggests the latter, as does the gesture of the woman (probably a servant), which implies a sense of apprehension at the thought of opening the door to this potentially boorish customer.
The specific temporal context provided by the oil lamp explains the man's coarse behavior. It is thought that he has just concluded an evening of ritual drinking that is part of the Anthesterion, the three-day festival in honor of Dionysos celebrated in early spring. The drinking of the new vintage (to which the scene on this jug may relate) was the primary activity of the Choes, the name of the second day of the Anthesterion, as well as the shape of this wine jug. These jugs were used as vessels with which the new wine was taken from giant pithoi (storage casks) and then poured into drinking cups. The shape of this vessel, the depiction of an inebriated reveler, as well as the indication of nighttime provided by the oil lamp all allude to the festival of the Choes. Moreover, the lamp in the context of a brothel is perfectly logical since we know from a passage in Athenaios' Sophists at Dinner (13.569C) that such businesses were open day and night.