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Sympotic-ware: Ceramic Pots or Silver Vases

Vickers and Boardman Corrected and Reconciled
by William A. Percy III


It's difficult to imagine that Vickers has babbled on for three decades about the colors of ceramics imitating metals. True, at one time briefly, in early Egypt, gold was worth less than silver. The Myceneans had some gold cups. The Rapsodes of the Dark and Early archaic age could cover their imaginary tables as easily with golden as with silver vases, but surely he doesn't believe that the early Black figure ceramic cups (late 7th century and early 6th century B.C.) were modeled on gold ones (which he thinks is red) with silver inlay (which he thinks is black). In fact, because most of the early ones were Corinthian, a lighter color clay than the Athenian red, would have had to imitate electrum (a natural amalgamum of gold and silver commonly used at the time). Likewise, the earliest red figure could hardly have imitated metal, though silver (black according to Vickers) pots by 550 were much less unlikely to have existed than gold (red) ones! Copper, bronze, and brass, being cheaper, were far more likely but the color purple (which he mistook for copper) was, in fact, very rare and white (modeled on ivory) absurd! Maybe some from after 470, as we have seen, clay pots imitated silver vases in shape and probably decoration, but that was red (gold) on black (silver) if there was any truth at all to color imitations at all.

On the other hand, Boardman has equally exaggerated, claiming that the painters of the ceramic cups (or as he dubs them, vases), were equal to Michelangelo and other geniuses who painted during the Italian Rennaissance, though no ancient writer that has survived ever mentioned a single one of them. He exaggerated the cost of such vases to contemporaries and otherwise raved about their excellence. True, they were made for upper class Greeks before they were replaced by silver in 470. But they were never really great works of art, or very costly to contemporaries, the riches of whom, except for tryants, were too poor to afford silver sympoticware before 470. After 470, the Athenian elite set the tones for other elites by converting to silver sympoticware.

In chapter 10 "Archaic Greece," of the CEHGRW, 2007, Rita Oswald dismisses the quarrel between Vickers and Boardman about the price of Greek ceramics with "fine pottery is unlikely to have formed of itself a complete cargo of any vessel, even those will admit who have championed a high value for it" (p. 285). The export a silver sympoticware after 470 could bring in much more money and, though occupying even less space than pottery, could and I think did seriously affect the balance of trade and payments -- to the great advantage of Athens. Unlike painted pots, silver vases mattered enormously for the total value of exports, but not as much as the export of drachmas.

Table of Contents

Definitions 3

Acknowledgements 6

Overview of the history of the collection and discussion of Greek Vases 7

Gracios Skyphos or Kiddie Porn?: The Warren Cup's Failure to Represent the Lost Body of Classical Greek Silver Pornographic Sympotic Ware 14

The Petulant Squabbles of Oxford Dons Reconciled 16

The problem of Silver in Antiquity 20

Ancient Elites & Their Precious Metal Dinnerware 22

Greek Silver & Gold 26

The Greek Tyrants 30

From Miltiades to Alcibiades 33

Boardman vs. Vickers 41

Periodic Destructions of Silver Sympoticware 55

Hellenistic and Roman Sympotic Ware 57

The Warren Cup in the Light of the Above: Not at all typical of Classical sympoticware 58

Conclusion 67

Appendix A: A Footnote from W. A. Percy’s Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece (1996), pages 208-209 69

Appendix B: Interpreting the Iconography of the Warren Cup. 72

Ancient Authors Cited 74

Secondary Sources Cited 76


It would seem prudent to define some of the words appearing in this paper. By pornographic, I mean the explicit depiction of sexual activity, or fore-play clearly leading to sexual activity, such as genital-touching, but not such activity as gift-giving, which is only connected to sexuality by the viewer's knowledge of cultural codes. By erotic, we mean something that tends to turn the viewer on, a notion which is highly subjective. In either case, these expressions can refer to hetero or homo orientations. By kiddie porn, I connect the aesthetic, historical and by obscenity I mean scholarly discourse on ancient erotica with the new, particularly American perspective on child sexuality, adolescent andchild pornography, and pedophilia, as it has been developed in various phases through the recent decades by feminists, “child advocates,” and those gay males Warren Johansson mocked as “Lesbyterians,” a portmanteau combining the idea of political capitulation to the Lesbian agenda with the frigidity of God's “Frozen Chosen,” the Presbyterians.
In summary: there was panic over “Satanic Ritual Abuse” in day-care centers in the 1980’s, a certain “Pedophile Chic” to clothing ads in the 1990’s, the scandal over predatory pedophile priests in the early 2000’s, and most recently, the debate over Gay Marriage, in which pedophilia played a negative role on both sides. The advocates of adult-adult homosexuality have struggled to disassociate themselves from pederasty, promiscuity, prostitution, and most of all pedophilia, denouncing everything except long-term, faithful, one-on-one, relationships, in order to imitate married straights. Uptight conservative Christians, on the other hand, have have tried to define homosexual marriage as a way for gay activists to open the door to social acceptance of pedophilia.
It is unfortunate that the same word, pedophilia, must serve to signify both sexual interest in pre-pubescent children, which is considered strongly inappropriate in most English-speaking cultures today, and the culturally-charged interest in post-pubescent teenagers, both male and female, that was a marked characteristic of classical culture. Strato's poem may define the age range of “pedophilia” for purposes of this paper (ages 1-11, infants and children):
I delight in the prime of a twelve-year-old,

But thirteen is more desirable than this.

He who masters twice seven has a sweeter flower of Love;

The one beginning thrice five is more delightful still.

The sixteenth is the year of the gods; the seventeenth

Is not for me to seek, but for Zeus.

But if one has desire for those yet older, no longer does he play,

But he now seeks the one “answering him back.”
(Hubbard, Source-book, 2003, 299. Translation by Hubbard.)
Like so many of the pre-470 BCE painted pots, the Warren Cup (1st C. CE) is clearly obscene pornographic, homosexual, and pederastic, and thus kiddie porn, by today's definition. Where Plato's Phaedros, for example, utilizes many strategies to obscure the question of whether the erastes and the eromenos are to be imagined as having sex together, only after a long and proper courtship, if at all, the Warren Cup squarely and undeniably puts the the viewer face-to-face with two scenes of men having anal sex with youths, one at the beginning and one at the end of adolescence. The world’s authority on this subject is not merely the Supreme Court of the United States and those of other countries as well as the United Nations Agencies, but Professor Harris Mirkin, who published "The Pattern of Sexual Politics: Feminism, Homosexuality and Pedophilia,“ Journal of Homosexuality Vol. XXXVII, 2 (1999) 1-24. Thereupon, the Missouri state legislature, in dudgeon, docked $100,000 from the appropriations, to the University of Missouri, Kansas City, where he taught, approximately the amount of his annual salary. Despite pressure, the University had bravely refused to fire him, and instead promoted him to the chair of the Political Science Department. Undeterred, Mirkin went on to publish a second article in the same journal. “The Social, Political, and Legal Construction of the Concept of Child Pornography,” LVI,2 (2009) 233-267, arguing that the Warren Cup and all similar works from Ancient Egypt to the present, on condition that they have redeeming artistic, cultural, intellectual and social value, should be admired, rather than censored, removed from display, and/or destroyed. I of course, concur, although it has been explained to me by experts that kiddie porn, in many jurisdictions, is no longer categorized as free speech, but as a toxic, addictive, destructive material that must, like cocaine, be criminalized.
With the possible exception of Caravaggio's painting Omnia Vincit Amor, (Figure A) which might fetch an even higher price today, being priceless, the Warren Cup (for which the British Museum paid £1.8 million) is the highest-priced piece of child pornography on display in any musuem today; but the most numerous historical artifacts depicting inter-generational sex – and in the aggregate, the most costly – are the Greek ceramic cups dating before 470, displayed in museums across the world.

Figure A

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