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Crater

p367 Article by Benjamin Jowett, M.A., Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford
on pp367‑368 of

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

CRATER (κρατήρ: Ionic, κρητήρ: Lat. crater or cratera; from κεράννυμι, I mix), a vessel in which the wine, according to the custom of the ancients, who very seldom drank it pure, was mixed with water, and from which the cups were filled. In the Homeric age the mixture was always made in the dining-room by heralds or young men (κοῦροι: see Il. III p269, Od. VII.182, XXI.271). The use of the vessel is sufficiently clear from the expressions so frequent in the poems of Homer: κρητῆρα κεράσασθαι, i.e. οἶνον καὶ ὕδωρ ἐν κρητῆρι μίσγειν: πίνειν κρητῆρα (to empty the crater); κρητῆρα στήσασθαι (cratera statuere, to place the filled crater near the table); κρητῆρας ἐπιστέφεσθαι ποτοῖο (to fill the craters to the brim, see Buttmann, Lexil. I.15). The crater in the Homeric age was generally of silver (Od. IX.203, X.356), sometimes with a gold edge (Od. IV.616), and sometimes all gold or gilt (Il. XXIII.219). It stood upon a tripod, and its ordinary p368place in the μέγαρον was in the most honourable part of the room, at the farthest end from the entrance, and near the seat of the most distinguished among the guests (Od. XXI.145, XXII.333, compared with 341). The size of the crater seems to have varied according to the number of guests; for where their number is increased, a larger crater is asked for (Il. IX.202). It would seem, at least at a later period (for in the Homeric poems we find no traces of the custom), that three craters were filled at every feast after the tables were removed. They must, of course, have varied in size according to the number of guests. According to Suidas (s.v. Κρατήρ) the first was dedicated to Hermes, the second to Charisius, and the third to Zeus Soter; but others called them by different names; thus the first, or, according to others, the last, was also designated the κρατῆρ ἀγαθοῦ δαίμονος, the crater of the good genius (Suidas s.v. Ἀγαθοῦ Δαίμονος: compare Athen. XV p692, &c.; Aristoph. Vesp. 507 Pax, 300), κρατὴρ ὑγιείας and μετανιπτρίς or ματάνιπτρον, because it was the crater from which the cups were filled after the washing of the hands (Athen. XV p629F &c.).

Craters were among the first things on the embellishment of which the ancient artists exercised their skill. Homer (Il. XXIII.741, &c.) mentions, among the prizes proposed by Achilles, a beautifully wrought silver crater, the work of the ingenious Sidonians, which, by the elegance of its workmanship, excelled all others on the whole earth. In the reign of Croesus, king of Lycia, the Lacedaemonians sent to that king a brazen crater, the border of which was all over ornamented with figures (ζώδια), and which was of such an enormous size that it contained 300 amphorae (Herod. I.70). Croesus himself dedicated to the Delphic god two huge craters, which the Delphians believed to be the work of Theodorus of Samos, and Herodotus (I.51) was induced by the beauty of their workmanship to think the same. It was about Ol. 35, that the Samians dedicated six talents (the tenth of the profits made by Colaeus on his voyage to Tartessus) to Hera, in the shape of an immense brazen crater, the border of which was adorned with projecting heads of griffins. This crater, which Herodotus (IV.152) calls Argive (from which we must infer that the Argive artists were celebrated for their craters), was supported by three colossal brazen statues, seven cubits long, with their knees closed together.

The number of craters dedicated in temples seems everywhere to have been very great. Livius Andronicus, in his Equus Trojanus, represented Agamemnon returning from Troy with no less than 3000 craters (Cic. ad Fam. VII.1), and Cicero (in Verr. IV.58) says that Verres carried away from Syracuse the most beautiful brazen craters, which most probably belonged to the various temples of that city. But craters were not only dedicated to the gods as anathemata, but were used on various solemn occasions in their service. Thus we read in Theocritus (V.53, compare Virgil, Eclog. V.67):— "I shall offer to the Muses a crater full of fresh milk and sweet olive-oil." In sacrifices the libation was always taken from a crater (Demosth. De Fals. Legat. p431, c. Lept. p505, c. Mid. p531, c. Macart. p1072; compare Bekk. Anecdot. p274.4), and sailors before they set out on their journey used to take the libation with cups from a crater, and pour it into the sea (Thucyd. VI.32; Diodor. XVII.104;º Arrian, Anab. VI.3; Virg. Aen. V.765). The name crater was also sometimes used as synonymous with σιτλίον, situla, a pail in which water was fetched (Naev. apud Non. XV.36; Hesych. s.v. Κρατῆρες).

The Romans used their crater or cratera for the same purposes for which it was used in Greece; but the most elegant specimens were, like most other works of art, made by Greeks (Virg. Aen. I.727, III.525; Ovid, Fast. V.522; Hor. Carm. III.18.7).


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