Terracotta; H. 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1926 (26.60.94)
This small Etrusco-Corinthian alabastron, or “perfume vase,” is decorated with a large striding sphinx accompanied by smaller lions and birds, but what makes it particularly noteworthy is the inscription incised around its mouth. Read right to left in a single line of letters with no breaks between words, it says: MI LICINEŚI MULU HIRSUNAIEŚI, or “I have been given by Licinie Hirsunaie.” This type of Etruscan inscription is known as a “speaking inscription,” where the words are phrased as if the object that bears them is speaking directly to the reader. The small vase was probably a votive, a gift from Licinie Hirsunaie to a particular divinity or, perhaps, to another individual.