Every single artefact in the Vassil Bojkov Collection has a story to tell and one such quite intriguing piece is a silver rhyton with goat protome and a scene showing the death of Orpheus. The piece dates back to 420-410 B.C. usually, rhytons had a very specific purpose in the elite lifestyle. They were used for wine drinking from the front opening of a rhyton over a phiale (a shallow wide bowl) during a feast. Rhynos were also present in rites of purification, affiliation, and initiation. This particular piece, though, isn’t impressive for its final and excellent work only, but for its symbolic representations and sacral meanings deeply rooted in it.
So let’s look deeper and what the rhyton from the collection shares with us as the goat protome isn’t accidental. There is a story about Dionysos’ childhood that is linked to his father Zeus. In an attempt to hide him from his jealous and angry wife Hera, Zeus changes Dionysos into a baby goat and gives him to Hermes. He, then, takes Dionysos to the nymphs of Asian Nysa, whom Zeus places among the stars and names “the Hyades” later on. To some extent, this story signified the ritual importance of the goat when it came to the worship of Dionysos.
But this is not all that the silver rhyton impresses historians and culture-lovers with. In the upper field of the drinking vessel, a scene unfolds around the death of Orpheus. He is surrounded by several Bacchants who want to kill him. Konon, an ancient Greek writer who lived during the 1st century BC – 1st century AD, tells us the story about Thracian women killing the poet and musician.
Orpheus, son of Oeagros and Kalliope, one of the Muses, ruled over the Macedonians and the Odrysian land, but was also a musician and sung, while beautifully playing on a lyre. On certain days a number of armed Thracians and Macedonians used to come to Leibethra where they gathered in a big and well-constructed building for mysteries. Women, of course, weren’t allowed to the same rites. So, one day they gathered in front of the building, and took men’s weapons, waiting for Orpheus to go out. They murdered the first men they met, then tore Orpheus limb by limb, and threw his parts into the sea. According to the ancient Greek writer, when Orpheus’ head was found, , it was still lively, singing, and no damages of death were seen.
Even though rhyta made of clay or horns were among the most popular types of vessels in ancient Thrace, the silver rhyton, in question, in the shape of goat’s protome represents one of the most unusual objects that is part of the collection of Vassil Bojkov. The stylishly curving horn is lavishly decorated. Tiny details adorn the vessel from top to bottom. Rich in mythological representation and stories, the rhyton contributes to and expands our knowledge about the ancient Thracian culture and arts. It is definitely extraordinary and it’s no surprise that it was a top artefact exhibited at one of the latest cultural events in Sofia, Bulgaria – the exhibition “The Golden Fleece. The Quest of the Argonauts.”