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Monday, April 13, 2015

The Ficoroni Cista

This is the most famous of well over a hundred cistae (a cista is a cylindrical box for a woman’s cosmetic articles and jewelry) found in the Columbella necropolis near Praeneste (modern Palestrina), a town located some 23 miles southeast of Rome.  It dates to c. 350-330 BC.  It bears an inscription on its handle: “'Dindia Macolnia gave me to her daughter.  Novios Plautius made me at Rome.”

The typical Praenestine cistae is made of sheet bronze, with attached solid cast feet and human figures as handles.  This one’s feet are in the form of lion’s paws set on frogs.  The mounts for the feet are engraved with groups of three figures.  The handle on the lid is a youthful Dionysus flanked by two satyrs.  The lid itself depicts a hunt in an outer ring and lions and griffins in an inner one.  On the body, in a continuous frieze featuring no less than nineteen figures, and framed below by a band of sphinxes and palmettes and above by lilies and palmettes, is depicted an episode from the story of the Argonauts: the binding of Amycus to a tree after his defeat at the hands of Polydeuces.

Amycus, king of the Bebrycians, used to force passers-by to box him—and invariably beat his opponents to death.  Then Jason showed up, looking for water from a nearby spring.  Among the Argonauts were the Dioscuri—consummate boxers—so when Amycus issued his challenge, Polydeuces took him on and defeated him.  The cista shows the aftermath: Polydeuces ties Amycus to a tree as Athena and Heracles look on.  The other Argonauts rest.  Castor, twin brother of Polydeuces, trains with a punching bag.

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