15.4.15

Ephedrismos

Ephedrismos  (ἐφεδρισμός; ephedrismós). A game where a target (δίορος; díoros) on the ground is to be hit with a rock or a ball; the loser had to carry the winner, who covered the loser's eyes, on his back until he touched the target with his foot. Boys and girls participated in ephedrismos, which according to the evidence of monuments became popular in the 5th cent. BC and is depicted in various stages.
Two girls playing a game known as ephedrismos, late 4th–3rd century b.c.
Greek, Corinthian
This terracotta group depicts two young girls playing ephedrismos. As described by Pollux (IX, 119), the game involves throwing balls or pebbles at a stone in an attempt to overturn it. The player who fails to do so is blindfolded and must run to touch the stone while carrying the winner on her back. Here the little girl carries her companion but does not have her eyes covered. Both young girls are dressed in chitons and have red curly hair. The rider, the obvious winner, wears a stephanos, or crown; the carrier wears a thick floral wreath.


Ephedrismos groups, or piggyback girls, were frequently represented in Hellestic art, and were particularly popular as small-scale terracotta figurines. More than forty terracotta statuettes of piggyback girls have been unearthed since the 19th century. This subject matter was taken from monumental sculpture and was especially popular during the late fourth and early third centuries B.C.E. In the JHUAM figurine, the girl on top holds a round shaped discus with her left hand. Both figures are attired in a heavily pleated chiton or tunic. Their clothes, which appear to be windblown, cling to the girls’ bodies in a sensual manner. Both of the girls have vibrant red-orange hair that is styled into high-piled buns. Their delicate facial features are strikingly similar. The two girls are shown gazing at one another—a detail that adds a note of intimacy and sentimentality to this composition.
In antiquity, such figurines of piggyback girls were understood as representations of the ancient game of ephedrismos, which was specially popular among young women. The game was played by first placing a stone on the ground and then throwing a pebble or a ball at the set stone, in an attempt to knock it over. The player who was unable to overturn the stone had to carry the winner on his or her back, while the winner covered his or her eyes. This part of the game continued until the loser was able to touch the overturned stone. Although ephedrismos groups depict a scene of everyday life, they also had an additional, symbolic meaning. The winner in this game, who is carried on the loser’s back, was seen by the ancients as symbolizing Eros or Aphrodite. Therefore, the representation of a young girl playing ephedrismos could be interpreted as a sign that she was betrothed to be married. The erotic and epithalamic associations of the game of ephedrismos might explain why more women are portrayed in these groups than men.
 Manner of the Tarquinia Painter
Boys playing the Ephedrismos game. Attic red-figured lekythos, 475–450 BC. Found in Attica.

Given the great popularity of this subject in antiquity, it is not surprising that numerous copies of ephedrismos groups were also produced in the nineteenth century. Although the JHUAM figurine closely resembles genuine Hellenistic terracottas, it exhibits characteristics that point to a later production date. For instance, the amount of color, especially that used on the girls’ hair, is atypical for a genuine Hellenistic terracotta statuette. Although traces of color do survive on a number of ancient figurines, it is highly unlikely that such a vibrant tone of red would have been preserved through the centuries. 

Two women and Eros playing the ephedrismos game. Side A of a Campanian red-figure neck-amphora, ca. 330 BC

The depiction of drapery in the JHUAM statuette is also inaccurate.  The windblown motion of the girls’ garments is excessively artificial and dramatic, especially when compared to the more natural flow of fabric in Hellenistic sculpture. Moreover, the intimate, sentimental bond between the two girls in the JHUAM terracotta is more characteristic of nineteenth-century art than Greek sculpture. Lastly, the discus held by one of the girls does not fit in with ancient iconographic models for this group. After all, discs were not used to play the game of ephedrismos. In some cases, ancient figurines of ephedrismos players show them holding either a rounded stone or a ball, but never a discus.  These physical and iconographic traits indicate that the JHUAM epherdrismos group is a nineteenth-century replica of a well-known and well-documented ancient statuary type. As such, it helps us understand the reception of Classical art in nineteenth-century Europe, and in particular the taste of Victorian collectors for whom these pieces were produced. 


Greek, South Italian 323–31 B.C. ?
Ephedrismos  (ἐϕεδρισμός). - Gioco fanciullesco dell'antica Grecia.
Polluce (ix, 119) spiega in che cosa esso consistesse: "Si mette una pietra ritta ad una certa distanza e si cerca di rovesciarla prendendola di mira con palle ed altre pietre; chi non riesce porta sul suo dorso il vincitore; quest'ultimo gli copre gli occhi con le mani. Il perdente deve camminare portando il vincitore fino a quando arriva, alla cieca, alla pietra che è chiamata pietra limite (δίορος)". Una tecnica di gioco pressoché analoga è descritta da Polluce (ix, 122) anche per il gioco ἐν κοτύλῃ, avvertendo che esso ha i nomi di ἱππάς e di κύβησις. Esichio poi ci precisa che l'ἐϕεδρισηός in Attica era chiamato ἐν κούλῃ.
  Girls playing the ephedrismos game. Greek terracotta figurine from Taranto, 3rd century BC.

Su un'oinochòe del museo di Berlino è rappresentata la seconda parte del gioco, quella che potremmo definire "della penitenza". Il ragazzo che ha fallito il colpo porta sulle spalle il vincitore che si appoggia con le ginocchia piegate al palmo delle mani del compagno coprendogli gli occhi; questi, con passo esitante, si dirige verso un sasso, il δίορος presso il quale è seduto un altro ragazzo.
Forse non hanno nulla a che fare con l'e. altre rappresentazioni, in cui una figura giovanile e femminile, regge sulle spalle un'altra, come si può vedere in pitture vascolari, in terrecotte, nel gruppo del Museo dei Conservatori o in quello dell'agorà di Atene. Si può pensare per essi ad altri giochi fanciulleschi.


Bibl.: Dict. Ant., II, i, p. 636 s.; Jüthner, in Pauly-Wissowa, V, 2, 1905, c. 2747; H. Thompson, in Hesperia, XVIII, 1949, p. 241; M. Bieber, in Studies Presented to D. Robinson, I, S. Louis 1951, p. 556 s.; G. Van Hoorn, Choes and Anthesteria, Leida 1951, p. 104, n. 315.
Higgins, R. Tanagra and Figurines. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986
Moore, Mary B. “The Hegesiboulos Cup.” Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 43 (2008).
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jastrow
http://www.metmuseum.org
Enciclopedia dell' Arte Antica
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sailko
Jeammet, Violaine. Tanagras: Figurines for Life and Eternity. Valencia: Fundacion Bancaja, 2010 
http://www.mfa.org
Edward Perry Warren (according to his records: From Naples); purchased by MFA from Edward Perry Warren, March 24, 1903
http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu

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