Ancient mythology and the so called “Old World” have challenged the modern-day understanding of archeologists, antiques collectors, ancient culture lovers, and people in general. There are plenty of interpretations delivered through arts, science and religious notions that help the contemporary person experience the distant past of the “Old World”. And thanks to the vast number of artefacts discovered in different places, everyone can have a glimpse at how ancient civilizations developed, progressed and lived. For example, some pieces found in Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia underline the unprecedented heights in terms of pottery or craftsmanship and fashions of the material culture during certain time periods. Other items highlight the development of economic epicenters as well as the profound shifts in power that took place back then. Then, there are the antique exemplars that simply reveal the significance of mythology, ancient heroes, and gods that surrounded the everydayness of the people in the past.
One such piece that contains plenty of mythological significations is a silver kylix with Helen and Hermes. It belongs to the world-known Vassil Bojkov Collection and is reportedly found in central Thrace. For what is known, these pottery forms were extremely popular from Mycenaean times through the classical Athenian period. What is really interesting about this drinking cup, however, are the gilded figural representations on the bottom and the scene they are captured in. The naked man can be safely identified as Hermes, son of Zeus and the Pleiad Maia and the god of trade. He is also regarded as the messenger of the Olympian gods. The female figure next to him is presumably Helen.
The interpretation of this particular scene varies. For instance, there is a version of one of the myths about Helen that perfectly matches what we see on the kylix. According to it, Paris never seduced Helen and she didn’t go to Troy. Instead, the Olympians decided to send her to Egypt and it was Hermes precisely who revealed the news to her. Thus, the “arrested” expressions we see on the Vassil Bojkov Collection kylix quite easily fit this variant of the legend. Still though, others read this moment in a simpler way – Helen veiling herself upon the arrival of a beautiful naked god in front of her.
No matter what meaning is ascribed to this scene, there is something that no one can deny or miss – this feeling of motion that defines the nature of the kylix in question. The maker masterfully portrays the emotions of the two figures. There is intensity, engaged gazes, and communication between them. Above all, this can be perceived as an archeological literature that brings together iconography and stage performance.
This aforementioned feel of motion is further emphasized by the detailed work on each of the figures. The young Olympian herald looks to the right and holds his left hand extended towards Helen who is sitting on a stool. His face in profile is graceful and communicates piece. He wears himation that is attached under his neck with a visible round brooch. The creator of the kylix richly decorated the himation with punched half-circles as well. The figure of Helen also impresses with exquisite detailed work. She wears transparent chiton of a seemingly delicate fabric. Long wavy locks of hair frame her face. Her eyes are wide open and give away a sort of surprise.
Apart from the two figural representations, there are other ornamentations which also contribute to the beautiful nature of the kylix. On the interior, for example, we see an ivy wreath that serves as a frame of the scene. Traces of excessive gilding are still visible.
This silver kylix from Vassil Bojkov Collection dates back to 420 BC.