Abstract: Phrasikleia and the Merenda Kouros: Beauty, Victory, Death, and Marriage in Archaic Athens


In 1972, Greek archaeologists unearthed two nearly complete Archaic statues a foot below the modern surface of an olive grove in the countryside of Attica, outside the city of Athens. They represent a young man and a young woman of the second half of the 6thcentury BCE, carved in the traditional static pose of the time. They conform to the conventions of the sculptural types known to students of ancient art as the kouros (“youth”) and the kore (“maiden”), and they had been erected as grave markers in a nearby family cemetery. But then, after standing guard over the deceased for only a short period of time, they had been deliberately removed and buried.

The statues are beautifully preserved and offer outstanding examples of the art of the period. But they also raise many questions. Who were the deceased? An associated inscription tells us that the woman was named Phrasikleia and that she died unmarried; we know nothing about the man. What, precisely, do the statues represent? Why were they chosen to mark these particular graves? What achievements or qualities of the deceased – either real or desired – do they commemorate, and what funeral practices may they document? And what threat impelled family members to bury these splendid grave monuments so soon after their erection?

This lecture addresses these questions, and explores the ways in which the statues reflect the interconnected themes of youth, beauty, athletic prowess, marriage and death in the society of 6th-century Athens.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

John Boardman, Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period, New York 1978.

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