Terracotta lekythos (oil flask)

Attributed to the Tithonos Painter

Period: Classical

Date: ca. 480–470 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 13 3/8 in. (34 cm); width 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm); diameter of foot 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)
diameter of mouth 3 1/16 in. (7.8 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1925

Accession Number: 25.78.2


This red-figure lekythos (oil flask) depicts the Greek god Hermes–messenger to Zeus and protector of travelers. From the end of the sixth century B.C. onward, lekythoi served as funerary vases for storing oil or pouring libations to the dead. On the surface of this vessel, the figure of Hermes is characteristically dressed in traveling clothes with a chlamys (short cloak), a petasos (broad-brimmed hat), winged sandals, and a kerykeion (herald's staff) that terminates in a caduceus (two entwined snakes). Greek heralds in antiquity carried a similar staff as they traveled from city to city.
Hermes was honored as the protector of travelers, communities and houses, entrances and exits, as well as flocks. He was also believed to clear the roads of stones, and in memory of this deed, herms (square pillars with carved heads and male genitals) were often dedicated along roads and boundaries, at gates, and where pathways crossed. Such representations were occasionally placed over graves, perhaps as a way of committing the deceased to the care of the god.