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Children in the Hellenistic World: Statues and Representation

Children in the Hellenistic World: Statues and Representation

By Olympia Bobou (Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology). Pp. xxvi + 184, figs. 56, b&w pls. 137. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2015. $160. ISBN 978-0-19-968305-5 (cloth).

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This important book, a new addition to the literature on children’s studies in the classical world (see also this reviewer’s recent review article “Greek Children: Three New Iconographic Studies,” AJA 118 [2014] 677–81), fills an important gap, for in the past scholars have focused more on archaic and classical depictions of children than on Hellenistic ones. In form, the book is a hybrid that combines a catalogue raisonné of Hellenistic statues of children and an analysis of these in respect to where they were found (sanctuaries, houses, and graves), with an overview of Hellenistic depictions of children in other media (terracottas, votive reliefs, and funerary reliefs).

Let’s start with the catalogue, which is placed near the end of the book. The author claims it is “based on the statues that have been fully published, and for which it was possible to obtain images” (125), so one wonders then why there is no image for a number of the entries (e.g., nos. 38–41, 135). More importantly, the postage-stamp size of most of the illustrations is unfortunate because sometimes it is not possible to see the details given in the description. Compounding this defect is the poor quality of some of the images (e.g., nos. 72, 86, 87, 95, 112, 127, 133). Even worse, some of the catalogue descriptions are not properly edited; in addition to very poor wording in many places, there are apparent mistakes. Two examples: the description for number 36 says, “The face is oval-shaped,” but the statue has no head visible in the illustration; and the description for number 37 describes the naked boy as “standing on the ground,” when in fact he sits on the ground. And only one view of each statue is given, although several are needed.

The first chapter of the book (“Introduction”) starts off on rocky ground stating that realistic depictions of children start in the late fourth century B.C.E. when, in fact, they start a century earlier, but it moves to safer ground by noting the explosion of images of children made in the Hellenistic period in a variety of media. The author makes a number of important observations, including that the sanctuaries in which the statues were found are often those of healing or protective deities. Of particular significance is the author’s excellent analysis of previous scholarship and the various approaches taken to the study of children. This should be mandatory reading for all. Nevertheless, there are some surprising bibliographic omissions: Not cited are The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World (J. Evans Grubbs and T. Parkin, eds. [Oxford 2013]) and the numerous chapters within, including the one on “Children in Archaic and Classical Greek Art: A Survey”; my article “Child Heroes in Greek Art” in Heroes: Mortals and Myths in Ancient Greece (S. Albersmeier, ed. [Baltimore 2009] 66–87); and my article “Children in Athenian Funerary Art During the Peloponnesian War,” in Art in Athens During the Peloponnesian War (O. Palagia, ed. [Cambridge 2009] 207–35).

Chapter 2 examines the literary sources and funerary inscriptions about children with an eye particularly toward understanding the beliefs and practices associated with them. Some of the subjects discussed include the terms connected with family and children, the periods of childhood, children in philosophical thought, their education, legal documents associated with them, and finally children in material culture.

The next chapter turns to analyzing the iconography of the statues, concentrating on age and gender. They are divided into four age groups: (1) infants, (2) two to five years old, (3) between five and eight years old, and (4) between nine and 12. A review of the representations of children from the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods shows that often the statues of children are smaller than those of adults, the proportions of their bodies differ, their limited motor skills sometimes can be detected, and their activities can differ from those of adults. In some cases, slave or servant children are reduced in size to indicate their servile status. Female children are always clothed in a manner emphasizing practicality and domesticity, while boy statues are most often naked and emphasize toys and play.

Chapters 4 and 5 deal with statues of children from Hellenistic sanctuaries and those from houses and tombs, respectively. First come those found in sanctuaries connected with childbirth, namely those of Artemis, Eileithyia, and Aphrodite, followed by healing deities, particularly Asklepios, Amphiaraos, and then other less obvious gods, such as Apollo, Zeus, Demeter, Kore, Poseidon, and Amphitrite. Of note are the varied roles the statues take in the sanctuaries, including as thank offerings and petitions for a god’s protection. Very few statues are found in houses and on tombs. Most of the former are from Delos, and their function is uncertain, while those from tombs commemorate dead children or portray slaves who attended children.

The next two chapters deal with depictions of children in two types of media: terracottas and reliefs, respectively. There are numerous types of the former, and they are often found in sanctuaries and graves; few come from houses. Among the many interesting observations made is the correlation between the age that is depicted by the terracottas and the age of the deceased in the graves in which they are found. As for reliefs, the children on both votive and funerary reliefs are considered. Most popular on the former are children taking part as family members in a procession to a deity; the children on funerary reliefs, meanwhile, are mainly of the same types as statuary in the round.

The last chapter (“Conclusions”) gathers many of the astute observations made in the preceding chapters and notes in addition how the number of statues of boys exceeds those of girls, suggesting that boys were more valued than girls, although the importance of girls rose with their increasing age. These statues also underline the growing importance of the family at this time.

Thus, the author is to be congratulated for this excellent book, despite its relatively poor quality of production.

John H. Oakley
Department of Classical Studies
The College of William and Mary in Virginia

Book Review of Children in the Hellenistic World: Statues and Representation, by Olympia Bobou

Reviewed by John H. Oakley

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 4 (October 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1204.Oakley

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