Here’s something totally amazing. A drinking cup has been discovered that probably was used by Pericles, and there’s some actual evidence to back up that remarkable claim. The find is reported in an article from the Greek edition of the International New York Times.
Yes, we’re talking about the Pericles, the greatest statesman of the classical world, from two thousand four hundred years ago. Here’s the cup:
On the left hand side you’ll see some letters inscribed. One of those names is Pericles. Another is Ariphron. Now Pericles was a relatively common name back then, but it just so happens that our Pericles had a brother named Ariphron, and Ariphron was an unusual name. The odds are then that the cup is referring to the Pericles.
As you probably know, it was standard practice at parties in those days to pass around a cup that everyone sipped from. (And indeed I made use of that little fact in The Ionia Sanction). It was perfectly reasonable for the happy party goers to commemorate a lovely evening by scratching their names into the cup from which they’d all drunk. That’s what has happened here.
Another possibility is that Pericles, his brother, and three friends were hanging out at a tavern, and the tavern owner later wrote in the names of his famous guests. I think that less likely though because if the dating on the cup is accurate, then the tavern owner would have to be psychic to know that young Pericles was destined for great things.
On the evidence as stated then, you’re looking at a cup that was held and drunk from by Pericles.
Let me run through some questions that I guess people will ask …
Is it for real? That was the first question I asked myself. I guess it could be a fake, but if so, carbon dating will expose it pretty quickly. Likewise, if someone took a genuine ancient cup and scratched in the names, then micro-analysis will show it up for sure. So I’m assuming it’s for real.
Could this be a coincidence? Yes, but if so then the people who found this thing are the world’s unluckiest archaeologists. I doubt there were so many pairs of men named Pericles and Ariphron that this could be a coincidence.
Could we get Pericles’s DNA from this? No, not a hope in Hades. The cup presumably was used lots of times after Pericles touched it; I like to think that they washed it between uses; and it’s been lying in a grave for a couple of thousand years.
Is that Pericles’s handwriting? Only if he can’t spell his own name. The news report says Pericles was misspelt, and whoever made the error corrected it. Either that, or Pericles was monumentally drunk. By the same logic, Ariphron could probably spell his own brother’s name. The author then is one of the other three men.
Whose grave did it come from? The report says it was a pauper’s grave, so definitely not Pericles. Since it was among grave goods, the deceased must have valued the cup highly. It may be one of the other three guests kept the cup and later fell on hard times. Or perhaps the cup was eventually thrown out with the trash and a poor man picked it up?
* * *
—This post is part of a series written by Soho Crime author Gary Corby. Corby writes historical mysteries set in the world of classical Greece. He’s written The Pericles Commission, The Ionia Sanction, Sacred Games, and, most recently, The Marathon Conspiracy.