SICILY. Naxos. Circa 461-430 BC.
Drachm (Silver, 17 mm, 4.34 g, 11 h). Bearded head of Dionysos to right, wearing wreath of ivy. Rev.
N-A-XI-ON Silenos, bearded and nude, squatting half-left, drinking from a two-handled kylix he holds in his right hand and resting his left hand on his left knee; behind, his animal tail curling out on the ground behind him. Boston MFA 305 (same dies
). Cahn, Naxos, 56 (V41/R47). De Luynes 1064 (same dies
). Jameson 676 (same dies
). SNG ANS 518-9 (same dies
). Beautifully toned and of excellent style, with a most charming reverse. Struck from a somewhat worn obverse die with the typical die break on Dionysos' cheek, otherwise,
From an British old collection, privately acquired from Leu in 1994, ex Leu 7, 9 May 1973, 71.
When Dionysos was born from Zeus' thigh after the death of his mother, Semele, he was entrusted to the care of the wild Silenos, the patron deity of wine-making. The name Silenos literally refers to the rhythmic motion of the wine-press, from the Greek 'σείω' ('to move to and fro') and 'ληνός' ('press'). While Silenos clearly imparted a love for the grape to his foster son, Diodoros (4.4.3) mentions that he also instructed him in the best customs, and continued to serve him as an advisor. As such, he is often depicted in Greek art as Dionysos' companion, as on the reverse of this wonderful drachm. It shows him in his typical disheveled, pug-nosed form, naked and just able to keep himself propped up despite his inebriation, while pensively studying his kylix, the source of his joy and troubles. Surprisingly, although Silenos is best known for his near-perpetual state of drunkenness, he also possessed deep wisdom and the gift of prophecy (Virgil, Eclog. VI, 31 ff.), confirming the age-old adage: in vino veritas!