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p237 Canephoros

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p237 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: A woodcut of two young women, wearing ankle-length loose pants over which a knee-length skirt and a blouse, and balncing a low flat tray or basket on their heads, assisting themselves with one hand; with their other hand they grasp a fold of their skirt, pulling it slightly back. They are ancient Greek canephoroi, further described and commented in the text of this webpage.]
CANE′PHOROS (κανηφόρος). When a sacrifice was to be offered, the round cake (τροχία φθοΐς, πόπανον, ὀλή, mola salsa), the chaplet of flowers, the knife used to slay the victim, and sometimes the frankincense, were deposited in a flat circular basket (κάνεον, canistrum), and this was frequently carried by a virgin on her head to the altar. The practice was observed more especially at Athens. When a private man sacrificed, either his daughter, or some unmarried female of his family, officiated as his canephoros (Aristoph. Acharn. 241‑252); but in the Panathenaea, the Dionysia, and other public festivals, two virgins of the first Athenian families were appointed for the purpose. Their function is described by Ovid (Met. II.713‑715).

That the office was accounted highly honourable appears from the fact, that the resentment of Harmodius, which instigated him to kill Hipparchus, arose from the insult offered by the latter in forbidding the sister of Harmodius to walk as canephoros in the Panathenaic procession (Thucyd. VI.56; Aelian, V. H. XI.8). An antefixa in the British Museum (see woodcut) represents the two canephoroe approaching a candelabrum. Each of them elevates one arm to support the basket, while she slightly raises her tunic with the other. This attitude was much admired by ancient artists. Pliny (HN XXXVI.4 s. 7) mentions a marble canephoros by Scopas, and Cicero (Verr. IV.3) describes a pair in bronze, which were the exquisite work of Polycleitus. [Caryatis]


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Page updated: 14 Jun 09