Little Master Cup. Inside, a Siren.



Little Master Cup. Inside, a Siren.


ca. 530 BC


Greek, Attic


5 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. (14.6 x 29.8 cm)

Object Number



Tleson signed many cups as potter on which he records that he was the son of Nearchos, a painter known to us also from signed work. The artist who decorated this cup, today known as the Tleson Painter, may or may not have been the same person. Tleson's signatures provide useful documentation about the way in which the pottery industry in Athens functioned in terms of families who passed on their skill from one generation to another. The cup in this case may all be attributed to the Tleson Painter. The decoration is confined to the tondo. Cups of the same shape were, however, often also decorated outside, in one of two ways. Sometimes a single figure or group appears on the lip, whence the modern term "Lip-Cup"; elsewhere decoration is arranged in a frieze between the handles giving rise to the term "Band-Cup".

In the cup tondo the female head of the bird perched on a bough identifies her as a Siren. In the Odyssey, the two sisters dwelled on an island, where they lured passing sailors with their song, bewitching them to an early death. (Odysseus himself, curious to hear the fabled beauty of their voices, had himself lashed to the mast of his ship and his crew put wax in their ears so they would not hear his orders to approach them.) In other accounts, Sirens were said to die if mortals could resist them, to be omniscient, to have power to change the winds, and to accompany the souls of the deceased to the underworld. The sophisticated levels of imagery on this cup start perhaps with Greek ideas of wine and the sea. In Homer, for instance, the sea is "wine-dark". From this, the symposiast becomes, as it were, a sailor who can, if he drinks too much, get into rough water. As he repeatedly empties his cup, he is confronted with an image of shipwreck, in the form, furthermore, of a particularly exotic woman who would not be present at the drinking party. The cup, after use, was probably consigned to a grave, where the funerary associations of Sirens would have added another dimension.

Credit Line

Gift of Glenn Verrill in memory of Jean Verrill


From Pharaohs to Emperors: New Egyptian and Classical Antiquities at Emory, Michael C. Carlos Museum, January 14 - April 2, 2006|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, March 23, 2009 - January 2011|
Monsters, Demons & Winged Beasts: Composite Creatures in the Ancient World, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - June 19, 2011|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, June 20, 2011 - August 26, 2013|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, October 2, 2013 - Present
Peter Lacovara and Jasper Gaunt, "From Pharaohs to Emperors: Egyptian, Near Eastern & Classical Antiquities at Emory," Minerva 17 (January/February 2006): 9-16.|
MCCM Newsletter, March - May 2006.|
MCCM Newsletter, March - May 2009.|
MCCM Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2011.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2005.
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“Little Master Cup. Inside, a Siren.,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed September 18, 2020,

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