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Medicine Box with Dionysos, Maenad, and Satyr, and Tyche on Lid

Early Byzantine
second half of 4th century - 5th century
15.2 cm x 8.9 cm (6 in. x 3 1/2 in.)

On view


Additional Images
Click an image to view a larger version
Additional Image Bottom of box
Bottom of box
Additional Image Detail, Dionysos
Detail, Dionysos
Additional Image Detail, head of Satyr
Detail, head of Satyr
Additional Image Detail, panther
Detail, panther
Additional Image Interior
Additional Image Lid: Tyche
Lid: Tyche
Additional Image Reverse of lid
Reverse of lid
Additional Image Reverse: Maenad, Dionysos, Satyr
Reverse: Maenad, Dionysos, Satyr
Additional Image Top of box
Top of box

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.

- J. Hanson

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Exhibition History
Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art, "Early Christian and Byzantine Art," Apr. 25 - June 22, 1947.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 19, 1977 - Feb. 12, 1978 .

Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, "The Craft of Ivory," Oct. 22, 1985 - Jan. 6. 1986.

Acquisition History
Attenborough Collection, London.

Wyndham Francis Cook Collection, Richmond Hill, England.

Purchased from Joseph Brummer (dealer) by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., August 15, 1947.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.