Bronze; H. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm)
Gift of Stark and Michael Ward, in honor of Carlos A. Picón, 2005 (2005.457)
From the third quarter of the sixth through the middle of the fifth century B.C., bronze paterae, or shallow basins, with figural handles were produced in Greece as well as in southern Italy. This handle belongs to an early type in which the youth carries a capital formed of two diverging volutes (only the lower parts are preserved), usually flanked by half-palmettes that he grasps with his hands. Typically, the youth stands on either a palmette or a ram's head, but here it is a cicada, a potent symbol in antiquity.
Along with honeybees, cicadas were the most popular insects in ancient Greece. The Muses and the god Apollo loved cicadas for their song. Because cicadas appear earthborn, spontaneously generated from the soil, they were a symbol of autochthony, and they occur on the coinage of Athens, Zankle, and other city-states. The juxtaposition of the cicada and the youth may allude to the myth of Eos, goddess of the dawn, and her Trojan lover, Tithonos, whom the god Zeus made immortal at Eos' request. Because Eos forgot to request eternal youth for Tithonos, he grew old and shriveled away until nothing was left but a wizened, chirping cicada.