Sunday, July 09, 2006

Nestor's Cup

For many people this will conjure up the famous description of King Nestor's cup in the Iliad (11.632-637):

πὰρ δὲ δέπας περικαλλές, ὃ οἴκοθεν ἦγ᾽ ὁ γεραιός,
χρυσείοις ἥλοισι πεπαρμένον: οὔατα δ᾽ αὐτοῦ
τέσσαρ᾽ ἔσαν, δοιαὶ δὲ πελειάδες ἀμφὶς ἕκαστον
χρύσειαι νεμέθοντο, δύω δ᾽ ὑπὸ πυθμένες ἦσαν.
ἄλλος μὲν μογέων ἀποκινήσασκε τραπέζης

πλεῖον ἐόν, Νέστωρ δ᾽ ὁ γέρων ἀμογητὶ ἄειρεν.

[And beside them a beautiful cup, brought from the old man's home, studded with golden nails. There were four handles on it, and around each of them two golden doves were feeding. There were two bases under it. Another man would struggle to take it from the table when it was full, but old Nestor could lift it effortlessly.]

For Heinrich Schliemann it would bring to mind the golden cup that he unearthed at Mycenae in 1876 from Shaft Grave IV of Grave Circle A.

Others might think of the clay drinking cup found in 1954 at Pithikoussai, which dates from the 8th century, and seems to identify itself as Nestor's cup in a three line inscription that is one of our oldest examples of the Greek alphabet (written from right to left):


[I am Nestor's good-drinking cup. Whoever drinks from this cup, immediately desire for beautifully crowned Aphrodite will seize that person.]

Calvert Watkins (1976) reads ἐστί in place of εἰμί, and believes that two cups are being contrasted with each other: the legendary cup of Nestor in the first line, and this cup in the final two lines. The inscription then would read: The cup of Nestor is good to drink from; but whoever drinks from this cup, immediately desire for beautifully crowned Aphrodite will seize that person.

For me the phrase also brings to mind the green five-gallon bucket from which my cat, Nestor, preferred to drink before he went missing. Since I don't have to fill Nestor's cup with water anymore, I'll fill this up instead with musings mostly related to my explorations of ancient Greek culture, like these: It is interesting that καλλιστέφανος is used in The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, but never in Homer or Hesiod. Also, it is curious that the first word-divider in each of the last two lines (which are hexameters) marks the caesura instead, and that the other divider in the second line marks the bucolic diaeresis.


Blogger Chris Weimer said...


Too bad you have your own blog. I would have loved to have you with me on Thoughts on Antiquity. Stop by the forum more often!


5:18 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

Hi there! Interesting to stumble onto yr blog! I am facinated by ancient greek history and was googling nestor's cup when i saw this. Keep it up !


10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am researching a carved stone bird,like a pigeon or dove,similar in a way to the birds on the birdbath in Plinys doves.I would send you an image for your thoughts if you email me.Richard

10:48 AM  
Blogger το θείο τραγί said...

I've been to the musum of Pithikoussai, in 2006. Here you are

Are you greek, as I am?


6:09 AM  
Blogger Brad Watson, Miami said...

The nearest Earth-like planet to us - our next-door neighbors - is called Planet Nestor. It's thus named because humans have a nest or colony there and it's named after the Greek King Nestor from Homer's 'Illiad'.

See my tweaked NASA conference presentation from 4/21/09 at .

9:35 AM  
Blogger eugenrau said...

There is there "erroi", or not ?

4:13 PM  

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