Gem Engraved with an Athlete Adjusting His Sandal
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Attributed to Epimenes
Greek, Cyclades, about 500 B.C.
5/8 x 3/8 x 5/16 in.

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A youth leans over to adjust the heel strap of his sandal, supporting himself on a staff. The precise identification of this figure is unclear: the youth may represent some mythological figure for whom sandals are meaningful, such as Theseus or Jason, or he may be a generic youth engaging in an everyday activity. The pose of this figure, standing but leaning over in some activity, was a favorite for carved gems in the late 500s B.C., yet this carver's skill in depicting a three-quarter view of the youth and in rendering the musculature in detail set this gem apart.

Scarabs were pierced and generally worn as a ring or pendant. When attached to a metal hoop and worn as a ring, the beetle side faced out and the intaglio surface rested against the finger. When serving as a seal, the ring was removed, the scarab swiveled, and the intaglio design was pressed into soft clay or wax placed on an object to identify and secure it.

Greek gem carving changed dramatically in form, materials, and technique in the-mid 500s B.C. One of these changes was the introduction of the scarab, with its back carved like a beetle and its flat surface an intaglio. The scarab form ultimately derived from Egypt, where it had been used for seals and amulets for centuries. Certain features of Greek scarabs, however, such as the form of the beetle and the hatching around the intaglio motif, show the influence of Phoenician models, which the Greeks probably saw on Cyprus.