Cup of Nestor

The term Cup of Nestor or Nestor's Cup can refer to:

  1. A golden mixing cup, described in Homer's Iliad, belonging to Nestor, the king of Pylos.
  2. A golden goblet, found at Mycenae, which the excavator, Heinrich Schliemann, identified as the cup of Nestor described in the Iliad.
  3. A clay drinking vessel of the 8th century BC found at Pithekoussai, Ischia (Italy), which bears a famous inscription calling itself Nestor's cup.

The Cup of Nestor in the Iliad

The Iliad of Homer[1] describes a magnificent golden cup (depas) that belongs to Nestor, the king of Pylos:

Beside these she set a cup,
a magnificent work Nestor had brought from home,
studded with gold. There were four handles on it,
around each one a pair of golden doves was feeding.
Below were two supports. When that cup was full,
another man could hardly lift it from the table,
but, old as he was, Nestor picked it up with ease.

(translation by Ian Johnston)[2]

The "Cup of Nestor" from Mycenae

In 1876, Heinrich Schliemann excavated Grave Circle A at Mycenae, and in several shaft graves he found rich deposits of grave goods, including many golden objects. Shaft Grave IV yielded the richest finds, and among these Schliemann found a golden vessel which he identified as the "Cup of Nestor" as described in the Iliad. Schliemann believed that the shaft graves dated to the time of the Trojan War, and identified Shaft Grave V as the tomb of Agamemnon. However, Schliemann's identification of the shaft graves with Homeric heroes was not accepted by many archaeologists in his own day. The shaft graves are conventionally dated to ca. 1600-1500 BC, some three centuries before the date of the Trojan War (if the war is to be considered as a historical event). Thus the "Cup of Nestor" from Mycenae would have been buried hundreds of years before Nestor supposedly made use of it at Troy.

The cup found at Mycenae differs from Homer's description in several respects, apart from being much smaller. The cup from Mycenae has two handles, whereas Homer's cup has four. Homer's cup has two doves per handle, but the cup found in the shaft grave has a single bird for each handle, and instead of the doves found on the Homeric cup, the birds on the Mycenae cup are falcons.[3]

This cup is now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece.

The "Cup of Nestor" from Pithekoussai

The so-called Cup of Nestor from Pithekoussai is a clay drinking cup (kotyle) that was found by Giorgio Buchner in 1954 at excavations in a grave in the ancient Greek site of Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia in Italy. Pithekoussai was one of the earliest Greek colonies in the West. The cup is dated to the Geometric Period (c.750-700 BC) and is believed to have been originally manufactured in Rhodes. It is now kept in the Villa Arbusto museum in the village of Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia, Italy.

The cup bears a three-line inscription that was scratched on its side at a later time, and it was later used as a burial gift for a young boy. The inscription is now famous as being one of the oldest known examples of writing in the Greek alphabet, side by side with the so-called Dipylon inscription from Athens. Both inscriptions are dated to c.740-720 BC and have been linked to early writing in the island of Euboea.

The text of the inscription

The inscription is fragmented, as some shards of the cup are lost. It is written in the early Euboean form of the Western Greek alphabet, written from right to left in three separate lines. The text runs:


This is usually transcribed (in later classical orthography, with the missing parts in brackets) as:

Νέστορος [εἰμὶ] εὔποτ[ον] ποτήριο[ν]·
ὃς δ’ ἂν τοῦδε π[ίησι] ποτηρί[ου] αὐτίκα κῆνον
ἵμερ[ος αἱρ]ήσει καλλιστ[εφάν]ου Ἀφροδίτης.
Nestor’s cup I am, good to drink from.
Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.

The second and third lines form a hexameter verse each, although the scansion of the second line is slightly irregular. Modern scholars agree that the text is meant as a humorous contrast between the richness of the legendary Cup of Nestor and the simplicity of the clay drinking cup. There are several interpretations, some of which make use of textual emendations, to explain the humorous effect of the perceived incoherence between the first line and the others. One emendation is that the beginning should read: "Νέστορος μὲν ..." ('Nestor's cup may be good, but...'),[4] or "Νέστορος ἔρροι ..." ('Nestor's cup, begone!').[5] A third hypothesis is that the text was the result of a "drinking-party game":[6] One player wrote the first line, then a second player was challenged to complement the poem with a second line, and so on. This is reinforced by the phrasing of the last verse, which says, albeit very elegantly, that the drinker will become sexually aroused.

The inscription has often been seen as a reference to the Iliad. Barry B. Powell calls it "Europe’s first literary allusion." Other scholars, however, deny that the inscription refers to the Iliad, arguing that descriptions of Nestor's Cup existed in mythology and oral tradition independent of the Homeric poems.

See also


Faraone, C. (1996). 'Taking the "Nestor's Cup Inscription" seriously: erotic magic and conditional curses in the earliest inscribed hexameters,' Classical Antiquity 15: 77-112.

Meiggs, R. & Lewis, D. (1988). A Selection of Greek Historical Inscriptions to the end of the Fifth Century BC. Oxford.

Osborne, R. (1996). Greece in the Making 1200-479 BC. London.

Osborne, R. (2004). Greek History. London.

External links

  • Epigraphy database Transcription
  • Description and image of the cup
  • Transcription and image of the writing
  • Pithecusae Archeological Museum set in Villa Arbusto, Lacco Ameno, Ischia
  • Richard Miles. Retrieved 20 Nov 201.

Template:National Archaeological Museum of Athens

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