Hedgehog

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Like all contemporary Corintian aryballoi, this small plastic vessel molded in the shape of a hedgehog is provided with a circular spout attached to a low, narrow neck, and with a small ribbon handel behind the support (the empty area between the handle and the spout served for the suspension string).

The animal is standing upright on its short legs, placed on a base whose profil is rectangular, though rounded in the back. The well-rounded body is furrowed with intersecting diagonal lines that represent the spines. Two large horizontal ears frame a pointed muzzle and a mane of spines caps the forhead. These two features allow us to identify in this class of aryballoi the hemiechinus auritus, a species that lived in Egypte and the eastern Mediterranean in antiquity; nowadays, it is found in a many parts of southwestern Asia, in Mongolia, and in countries of the eastern Mediterranean.

Popular in ancient art from the earliest times (in Egypte, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean world) and uninterruptedly until the first millennium BC, hedgehogs were not related to any particular deity, and even their meaning is not obvious. First (for Egyptians, in particular), they were considered stronger than death, and thus an important symbol of life and rebirth, since they lived in the inhospitable desert environment and were “reborn” each spring after hibernation. Second, their defensive abilities (they roll into balls and use their quills to protect themselves from predators), their supposed immunity to the poison of vipers, and the fact that snackes are part of their diet would have given them a positive and protective role against evil and bad luck. Images of these small rodents that lived in a neighboring environment could nevertheless simply reflect a popular theme and would not necessarily have conveyed a deeper significance than the representation of a very familiar and generally benevolent figure.

The Hellenic world was acquainted with faience as a material as early as the second millennium, but the Greeks never really adopted it. Even in the Orientalizing and Archaic period, Greek craftsmen paid little attention to this material and used it to produce only a few types of small-sized objects.

The only important exception to this rule is represented by series of small perfume vessels, such as globular aryballoi decorated with interesting diagonal incisions and a number of plastic vases in the shape of animals or mythological figures. The present piece is a perfect example of this series of vessels, which were very commercially successful, as evidenced by their wide distribution throughout the entire Archaic Greek world, from the Greek emporium Naucratis in the Egyptian Nile Delta, to Rhodes and Cyprus, to the coastal cities of Asia Minor (eastern Greece), to the Greek mainland, to the colonies on the Black Sea (panticapaeum), to the western colonies in southern Italy and Sicily, and up to the Iberian Peninsula. Most faience aryballoi and plastic vessels come from shrines or necropolises.

BIBLIORAPHY:

- Faïences. Faïances de l’antiquité. De l’Égypte à l’Iran. 5 Continents Editions. 2005.
- Gifts of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian Faience. Thames and Hudson. 1997.

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