This type of box, a semicylindrical trough closed by a flat, slightly tapering, sliding lid, survives in only a handful of examples, two of them at Dumbarton Oaks. Because there are three examples with images of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing, and his daughter Hygeia, scholars believe that they carried medicines.
The imagery on the Dumbarton Oaks medicine box is idiosyncratic. The curved body of the box bears figures of Dionysos flanked by a Maenad and a Satyr. Dionysos’s ancient association with death and resurrection would explain his appearance in a medicinal context. The figure on the lid is harder to explain. The fact that she holds a cornucopia in her left hand suggests that she is a tyche (“good fortune”), a female deity linked to the prosperity of a given city. The rudder she holds in her right hand indicates that she represents a river city. The layered nature of her identity emerges from the winged Eros (Cupid)--hovering over her shoulder with a folding mirror, the attribute of Aphrodite--and the association with the Egyptian goddess Isis through her crown decorated with feathers and the horns of a cow. The confluence of the Egyptian goddess Isis with the Tyche of a river city suggests thatt the Tyche, or personification of a city, represents Alexandria. After the time of Alexander such syncretism, the amalgamation of foreign and domestic deities into hybrids, became accepted practice. Egypt, with its rich ancient pantheon, overlaid first by Greek, and then by Roman religion, was fertile soil for such creative theology.
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