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Athenian Political Art from the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BCE: Images of Political Personifications 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 20 of 26

· Peitho (Persuasion) ·


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Hesiod (Hes. WD).
Hesiod (Hes. Th.).
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Discussion: Peitho is principally the personification of erotic Persuasion, but also came to represent rhetorical Persuasion, and she is implicated as a civic divinity in both of these aspects. Unlike most personifications, she appeared as a goddess (she is first mentioned by Hesiod: Hes. WD 73 and Hes. Th. 349) before the noun peitho ( πειθώ) was used in Greek literature. Peitho’s name was never joined as an epithet to that of Aphrodite, but she was rather an attendant to Aphrodite, in cult and in art. Pausanias reports that after the synoikismos (political unification) of Athens Theseus set up a cult of Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite of all the People) and Peitho on the South slope of the Akropolis at Athens. An alternative explanation for the origin of this cult is equally political: that the demos traditionally assembled by this sanctuary. There is little physical evidence for such an early date for the cult: Erika Simon has suggested that it existed by the end of the sixth century (when Cleisthenes’ tribal organizations recalled Theseus synoikismos), on the grounds that Aphrodite Pandemos and Peitho may have appeared as Janus-headed goddesses on Athenian coins (Simon 1970, 12-13, pl. 2.4). Peitho was most popular in the art of Athens at the end of the fifth century, by which time she had acquired a political meaning and was shown in connection with other personifications in the circle of Aphrodite.

Read about the evidence
Aeschylus (Aesch. Supp.).
Pindar (Pind. fr. 122).
Plutarch (Plut. Mor.).

Peitho is Aphrodite’s daughter according to several ancient sources (Aesch. Supp. 1039; Pind. fr. 122.2-5), which in part explains her worship with Aphrodite, and her involvement in Aphrodite’s sphere of influence—sex, marriage, and childbirth. Her importance as a matrimonial divinity, the force that persuades lovers to marry, is later noted by Plutarch, who lists her as one of five divinities invoked by new couples, along with Zeus Teleios, Hera Teleia, Aphrodite, and Artemis (Plut. Mor. 264b), and one of the divinities invoked by fiancées, along with Aphrodite, Hermes, the Charites and the Muses (Plut. Mor. 138c-d). In the latter reference, Plutarch connected the erotic aspect of Peitho with her rhetorical and political powers, explaining that the Greeks set up statues of Peitho and the Graces near Aphrodite “…so that married people should succeed in attaining their mutual desires by persuasion and not fighting or quarreling.” As Alexander Mourelatos has suggested, the conception of peitho as an agreeable compulsion that was associated with erotic inducement probably underscored the development of rhetorical peitho (in The Route of Parmenides [New Haven 1970] 139). Peitho’s erotic and rhetorical powers are not mutually exclusive. Peitho’s appearances solely with matrimonial divinities are excluded from this discussion, as those images are not revealing with regard to Peitho’s political aspect.

Read about the evidence
Aeschylus (Aesch. Eum.).
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Peitho, πειθώ, is a multifaceted word which derives from the verb πείθειν, to persuade, and is etymologically related to the Latin fido, to trust, have faith ; persuasion and faith are thus modes of the same concept to the Greeks. With this in mind it is possible to understand Peitho as she was regarded by the ancient Greeks: a civic as well as personal virtue, the consensual force that joins people together in civilized society, through trust and faith in each other, as well as the persuasiveness, inducement, and obedience of individuals. In AeschylusEumenides (produced in 458), Athena lauds the worship of Peitho, on behalf of the city of Athens, in her successful attempt to persuade the chorus to accept the jury’s decision regarding Orestes (Aesch. Eum. 885-91).

Read about the evidence
Isocrates (Isoc. 15).
Euripides (Eur. Antigone).
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The popularity of Peitho’s cult in Athens by the fourth century is attested by Isocrates, who condemns the worship of Peitho as a sign of the negative influence of the sophists (Isoc. 15.249). Despite Isocrates’ complaint, Peitho is neither personified nor divinized in extant sophistic fragments. Although Peitho was often personified by Attic tragedians, a fragment of EuripidesAntigone provides a strong indication that Peitho was not regarded as a divinity by all of the Athenians at the end of the fifth century (Eur. Antigone fr. 170 N2).

Rhetorical Peitho is implicated in personal, erotic matters, as well as civic concerns. Gorgias mentions peitho (not personified) as an evil force in his late fifth century Encomium of Helen, although he suggests that the logoi (arguments) induced Helen to follow her destiny (DK, 82 B 11.14).

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Peitho is present in many visual representations of the Helen myth throughout the late Archaic and Classical periods. On the Heimarmene Painter’s name vase [3], Helen is shown dressed as a bride, in the lap of Aphrodite, while Peitho holds a small box (wedding presents?), perhaps as an inducement. In earlier representations Peitho also attends Helen. The erotic role of Peitho is emphasized in most Attic representations, including mythological scenes that concern courtship and marriage. She attends the union of Ariadne and Dionysos on a cup in Würzburg, attributed to the Kodros Painter [2]; the wedding of Harmonia on the Eretria Painter’s epinetron [4]; and the marriage of Thetis and Peleus, on an aryballos once in Cambridge [11]. Peitho flees from the “scene of the crime,” the rape of the Leukippidae, on the Hamilton hydria, in London [6]. The implication here may have been that she was guilty of convincing Leukippos’ daughters to elope with the Dioskouroi (the women certainly appear to be happy with the results!). Peitho’s dramatic escape also implies that she did not condone this union in accordance with Athenian standards; the scene thus serves as a counterexample of the ideal marriage.

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New York.

Even in non-mythological scenes, Peitho was probably meant to be an erotic personification, for she is shown in her generic role, attending Aphrodite and/or brides on vases from the end of the fifth century and the fourth century. Alan Shapiro has proposed that Peitho is the unlabelled attendant on contemporary vases illustrating bridal scenes (Shapiro 1993, 195). In labelled representations, Peitho prepares a kanoun (sacrificial basket) on a squat lekythos in London [8]; arranges fronds on a squat lekythos in New York [13]; and holds a footed chest and a sash toward Aphrodite, on a pyxis in New York [9]. Her civic importance is implicit in her appearance with other personifications of civic virtues in late fifth century vase painting, particularly those in the circle of the Meidias Painter: she appears with Eudaimonia (Happiness) on [8-9], Eukleia on [9], [10], [15] and perhaps also on [3] and [5], Eunomia on [8], [9], and Themis on [3].

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Kansas City.
New York.

Peitho appears twice on late fifth century Attic vases dating to 420-410, in the context of childrearing: on the white-ground squat lekythos in Kansas City [5], which has been interpreted, on the basis of a misread label, as a representation of the childhood of the Attic hero Kephalos (I. Jucker, “Kephalos im Göttergarten,” Zur griechischen Kunst. Festschrift H. Bloesch. AntK-Beih. 9 [1973] 63); and with Aphrodite and the Muses, in the presence of the baby Eumolpos, another Attic hero, on a pelike in New York [7].

Scholars have interpreted Peitho as a democratic prerogative, as she is rooted in the origins of Athenian democracy through her cult association with Aphrodite Pandemos. But her role as the symbol of the political behavior that enabled the Athenian democracy (persuading the demos of one’s own view), is not explicit in any extant visual representations of the goddess. Athenian politicians, whether democrats or oligarchs, effected their will through peitho, so that it seems unnecessary to ally her to a particular political party. Peitho could fit into any political system, and was revered for the various applications, in private and public life, of the virtues that she represented—persuasion, persuasiveness, inducement, faith, trust, and even obedience. Her persistent appearance in the circle of Aphrodite, with other personifications of civic virtues, simply reinforces her cult association with Aphrodite Pandemos, and her importance to the whole city.

Examples (all examples are certain unless otherwise noted):

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  1. Boston 13.186: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, at the abduction of Helen, on a skyphos by Makron, ca. 490-480, with a representation of Peitho.
  2. Würzburg L 491: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΘΩΝ, leaning on the shoulder of Pothos (Longing), on a cup attributed to the Kodros Painter.
  3. Berlin 30036: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕ[Ι]Θ[Ω], holding a box, on the name vase (a pointed amphoriskos) of the Heimarmene Painter, ca. 430-420, with representations of Nemesis, Heimarmene, Tyche or Eukleia, and perhaps Themis (shown above).
  4. Athens, NM 1629: a standing female figure, labelled [Π]ΕΙΘΩ, holding a mirror for Harmonia, before Harmonia’s wedding, on the name vase (an epinetron) of the Eretria Painter, ca. 430-420.
  5. Kansas City 31.80: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, on a white-ground squat lekythos attributed to the Eretria Painter, ca. 420-410, with representations of Eunomia, Paidia (Play), and perhaps Eukleia.
  6. London E 224: a female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, fleeing from the rape of the Leukippidai, on the name vase (hydria) of the Meidias Painter, ca. 420-410, with a representation of Hygieia (Health).
  7. New York 37.11.23: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΟΘΩ, with the Muses and baby Eumolpos, on a pelike attributed to the Meidias Painter, ca. 420-410, with a representation of Harmonia.
  8. London E 697: a standing woman, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, holding a basket, on a squat lekythos, in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with representations of Eudaimonia (Prosperity, Happiness), Eunomia and Paidia (Play).
  9. New York 09.221.40: a standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, holding a basket, on a pyxis, in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with representations of Eudaimonia (Happiness/Prosperity), Eukleia, Eunomia, Hygieia (Health), and Paidia (Play).
  10. A standing female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, on a kalpis hydria, once in the Hope Collection, ca. 425-400, with representations of Eukleia and perhaps Eunomia.
  11. A female figure, labelled ΠΕΙΘΩ, on an aryballos once in a private collection in Cambridge, ca. 400-390.
  12. St. Petersburg, St. 1793: a female figure, perhaps Peitho, leaning on the shoulder of Aphrodite, on a Kerch pelike attributed to the Eleusinian Painter, ca. 340-330.
  13. [Possible example] New York 11.213.2: a female figure, probably Peitho, with a basket, on a squat lekythos, in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with a representation of Pompe (Procession).
  14. [Possible example] Louvre MNB 1320: a standing female figure, perhaps Peitho, on an acorn lekythos in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with possible representations of Harmonia, Hygieia (Health), and Tyche.
  15. [Possible example] A seated female figure, perhaps Eunomia or Peitho, on a squat lekythos (tallboy), formerly in the Embiricos Collection, London, in the manner of the Meidias Painter, ca. 410-400, with a representation of Eukleia.

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