A Calyx-Krater by the Varrese Painter and a Glimpse of Alexis’ Agonis or Hippiskos


The fragments of Alexis’ comedy Agonis or Hippiskos suggest a scenario based on a love intrigue: a young man is in love with a hetaira but is impeded by a foreigner; he therefore puts to practice a cunning scheme, which involves duping the obstructing character with a false display of wealth. The hippiskos, a kind of garment, probably functioned as a recogni­tion token. The use of an item of clothing as a means of anagnorisis — instead of more standard objects, such as necklaces and jewels — was Alexis’ delibe­rate innovation, intended to breathe new life into the trite topos of reco­gnition by tokens. Alexis drew attention to his innovation by naming his comedy after a garment, a virtually unique phenomenon in the Greek comic canon. A key scene of Agonis or Hippiskos may be illustrated on a calyx-krater of the Varrese Painter (Naples, 118333, ca. 340 b . c . ), in which the main love triangle of Alexis’ scenario is shown on stage. No other South Italian vase showcases a piece of clothing offered in this way, and the uniqueness of the image matches the singularity of Alexis’ unconventional title. The elderly man’s figure in the vase-painting suggests that the foreigner of Alexis’ play was not a miles gloriosus but was either a pimp or a senex amator. The Agonis or Hippiskos must have been produced in Magna Graecia soon after its original performance in Athens in the 340s. The vase-painting provides an interesting testimonium for the evolution of comic costume and footwear in the later phases of Middle Comedy. In combination with the textual fragments, it indicates Alexis’ skill in the representation of dramatic characters.