Hydriai are one of the most impressive types of ancient Greek bronze vessels, used primarily for carrying water, but also serving as athletic prizes, sanctuary dedications, and cinerary urns. Having two horizontal handles for carrying and a large vertical handle for pouring, they were produced in both ceramic and bronze versions, the latter probably reserved for special occasions.As was usual in the bronze hydriai the thin body of this vase was hammered from sheet-bronze, while the handles and base were cast and elaborately decorated with leaf pattern and scrollwork. At the base of the fluted vertical handle, and cast with it as a single piece, there is a siren, the mythological half-woman, half-bird. Here she is seen full face, with outspread wings, feet together and talons gripping the end of a palmette.The appearance of the siren is not merely a decorative motif. In antiquity, sirens were often placed on top of funerary stelae as the symbolic guardians of the tomb, and presumably also on hydriai intended for funerary use. The mourning sirens on grave reliefs are often depicted with arms for tearing their hair and beating their breasts, as is this unusual siren.The shape of this hydria, its subject and style, suggest that this example is rather late, probably dating to the late fourth century BCE.
Credit: Gift of Tillie Goldman, New York, to American Friends of the Israel Museum