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Poet as Orpheus with Two Sirens
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Unknown
Greek, Taras, South Italy, about 350 - 300 B.C.
Terracotta and pigment

76.AD.11

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A seated man is flanked by sirens, creatures part bird and part woman, in this nearly life-size terracotta group. In Greek mythology, the singing of the sirens lured sailors to their deaths; thus the creatures have general funerary connotations. The seated man is also a singer, as shown by his open mouth and his now-missing lyre, which he once cradled in his left arm. His precise identity, however, is uncertain. He might be Orpheus, who was famous for his singing and who traveled to the land of the dead and was able to return. But in art of this period, Orpheus is usually shown wearing a specific Eastern costume not seen here. Therefore, this man may just be an ordinary mortal, perhaps the deceased, in the guise of a poet or singer.

Originally brightly painted, this large-scale terracotta sculpture is characteristic of the Greek colonies in South Italy. With its funerary imagery, the group may have decorated a tomb. Although terracotta sculpture is also found in mainland Greece, artists in the Greek colonies in South Italy used this medium with greater frequency and on a larger scale because there were few sources of good stone suitable for sculpting.