Proper adoption ritual. Witnesses stand gravely by. An

inscription above the head of the goddess, describing
the scene, reads like a legal document: “This graphic

Reveals how Hercules, son of Uni, drank milk.” Here a
private act becomes a public, ritual act. The mirror
dates from the fourth century B.C. Other representations of this myth occur on Apulian vases of the fourth
and third centuries B.C. Clearly this was a motif
that developed in Italy.141
Bodies of breastfeeding moms or kourotrophoi either
holding kids or really suckling them were popular all over Italy-they appear in Etruscan, South
Italian, and Sicilian artwork, in regions where the concept
of a mother goddess who rules over fertility and the
Arrival of children had never ceased to be significant.
Some of these pictures have lived, with their amazing existence: the so called Mater Matuta from
Chiusi, a large flagstone cinerary urn dating from the fifth
century B.C., depicting a girl holding a baby in
her lap; a mom breastfeeding two infants from Megara
Hyblaea, near Syracuse, in Sicily, from the sixth century; and a complete series of some 200 “mommies” or kourotrophoi from a safety near Capua, in South
Italy, holding as many as 14 children. (The latter are
Just occasionally nursing.) All present the theme of
fertility on a massive scale. Thousands of small,
Affordable terracotta votive figurines from sanctuaries
were also offered as presents to powerful mother goddesses.142 Written sources and inscriptions give us the
names of some of these Italic divinities, for example
Uni Astarte, on the gold tablets from Pyrgi. Minerva,
too, only incompletely identified with the Greek Athena, was a kourotrophos in Italy.143
Remarkable, in contrast, is the blatant lack
of the motif of the breastfeeding mother from Ancient
Greek art. Here, also, a strong taboo is clearly required. It is otherwise hard to describe why such a
Worldwide gesture as that of a mother nursing
should be so studiously averted. Like female nudity,
this image enters the repertory of Greek artwork exclusively in the
Hellenistic period together with numerous other
genre themes. Even in the fourth century B.C., as


[AJA 93

Brian Shefton has revealed, it’s used almost alone
for figures of Aphrodite with her kid, Eros, on
painted vases of South Italy or Sicily. There, the
Greek colonists had become accustomed to and beliefs.’44
Could the absence of this image from Classical
Greek art reflect life? Interesting studies have concentrated
on the issue of breast-feeding by the mother in various
cultures and civilizations.145 Definitely aristocraticor even “bourgeois”-Greek and Roman women seldom
nursed their infants-they had wet nurses, frequently slaves
from their own family. The wet nurse is well
known from Greek artwork-for example on Greek funerary stelai, where she hands the baby to the seated
Mum.146 It’s a sign of culture for a woman to be
freed of this embarrassingly physical essential, all too
reminiscent of our lowly animal nature. And indeed
Classical Greek artwork traditionally symbolizes barbarians, along with animals or wild creatures for example centaurs nursing their young.”47 The absence of such an

important picture, nevertheless, isn’t so much due to the
fact that women did not nurse their own kids, or
that the image of the wet nurse was too unimportant
to be signified, except in a secondary job, in relation to the mother-definitely not in the private action of
holding the baby at her breast. The reason is fairly to
be sought in the approach to any kind of female exposure or nudity, felt to be overly private, special, black
and dangerous, all at precisely the same time.
The image of the female breast was too strong to
be depicted casually in art. Like the phallus, the eye,
and the frontal face, the sight of the naked breast has a
double role. It truly is an indication of helplessness; at the same


time it has a remarkablemagic force.148 The face of
the Gorgon can paralyze, and thereforeprotect. The
evil eye can destroy, or save. It is no coincidencethat
the herm consists of a frontal face and an erect phallus: it was meant to function an apotropaicfunction,shielding the city and its citizens.149 A grotesque statuette of a naked woman nursing an infant makes use of
the potent picture of the naked female breast (fig. 9).s10

From the sevenththrough the fourth centuriesB.C.
nudity was depicted in art in both Greece and
Italy, but with distinct meanings. In Greece the early pre-Homeric sense of man nudity was overturned, while for women, especiallyin Athens, the old
significance of the disgrace, humiliation, and vulnerability of exposure and nudity stayed unchanged.
In Italy, Greek civilization brought with it its “modern” manners, without, however, changing customs and
attitudesdeeply rootedin the faith and traditionsof