A ROMAN PALE PURPLE GLASS AJAX AMPHORISKOS
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A ROMAN PALE PURPLE GLASS AJAX AMPHORISKOS

CIRCA 1ST CENTURY A.D.

Details
A ROMAN PALE PURPLE GLASS AJAX AMPHORISKOS
CIRCA 1ST CENTURY A.D.
Mould-blown, the oval body decorated with two scenes from the mythological cycle of Ajax, one scene showing the hero aboard a ship, holding a shield and sword, his name in Greek beside him (AIAC), the inscription vertical and retrograde, the ship with a high prow, single mast with rigging descending to the hull, and oars at rest, a helmsman at the stern, fish in the sea below; the other scene showing the hero seated on a rock beneath an olive tree, a wineskin or satchel suspended from the branches, the figure nude but for a chlamys, stabbing or withdrawing a weapon from an animal which stands before him, the vessel with a flat base and short cylindrical neck and everted rim, remains of the applied opaque white handle
3 3/8 in. (8.5 cm.) high
Provenance
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 8 December 1995, lot 189.
Exhibited
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Made by Ennion: Ancient Glass Treasures from the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection, May-December 2011.
Special notice

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Francesca Hickin
Francesca Hickin

Lot Essay

PUBLISHED:
Y. Israeli, Made by Ennion: Ancient Glass Treasures from the Shlomo Moussaieff Collection, exhibition cat. (Israel Museum), Jerusalem, 2011, pp. 80-1.

Ajax, son of Telemon and king of Salamis, was renowned for his heroic bravery and courage, and commanded a fleet of ships on the side of the Greeks at Troy. After the death of Achilles, Ajax entered into a contest with Odysseus for Achilles's armour, which he ultimately lost. This perceived slight to his honour drove the hero to madness, and, after committing an outrageous slaughter of the Achaeans' captured livestock, he committed suicide, rather than live with the dishonour he had brought upon himself. He was a quintessential tragic Homeric hero.

The present lot is one of an exceedingly rare type, of which only seven other examples are known; five of these are opaque white, with the remainder being purple. For a full list of known examples, see Whitehouse, 2001, p. 49. The other two purple amphoriskoi are at the Museo Vetrario di Murano, Venice (IGVE 403) and the Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Bodrum (Ozet, 1993, p. 142-5).

Previously interpreted as showing scenes from the cycle of Jason and the Argonauts, the unmistakable inscription of AIAC confirms that the scenes on these amphoriskoi relate to the myth of Ajax. Whitehouse suggests that the first scene shows Ajax at the point of disembarkment, with the second showing him killing one of the Achaeans' animals in his fit of madness - the tree conveys how the massacre of the sheep and cattle took place in the open, before Ajax returned to the Greek camp (op. cit., p. 51). Thus the great tragedy of Ajax is relayed within the diminutive scenes on this small flask: he arrived at Troy a giant, second only to Achilles in his valour, yet fell prey to pride and madness, and was driven to ignoble suicide.

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