Perfume Vessel in the shape of a Hippalektryon (horse-rooster)
Munzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, Switzerland, Sale 26, Lot 71, 1963.
Museum Purchase, Gift of the Elios Society Charitable Foundation through the Ancient Art Council
This small faience jar, once held scented oil or perfume, is molded in the style of the Greek aryballos, a small cosmetic jar. The animal's unusual body is placed on a rectangular base; the flat disk rim on its back forms the pouring spout. It is unique in that it was formed in the shape of the hippalektyron, a mixed being with the foreparts of a horse and the body, legs, tail, and wings of a rooster. Its body is covered with a scale-like feathered pattern and its tail fans out balancing its horse head, striated mane, and chest. The myth this mixed being derives from has not survived although it appears to be the inverse of the hippogriff, half horse and half eagle and is also related to the Chimaera, a mixture of lion, dragon, and goat said to have come from Lycia in Asia Minor. These hybrid creatures all appear to have their origin in the Near East. The hippalektryon is shown in early Athenian vase painting and in the Greek minor arts, often with a rider. This artistic rendering may be based on an early painting of the winged horse Pegasus, and the rider then would undoubtedly be the youthful hero Bellerophon, who defeated the Chimaera. Conversely, the hippalektryon might be the precursor of the winged horse. Whatever its origin, this unusual composite rooster-horse beast appears only on Greek 6th- and 5th-century monuments. It is also mentioned in the works of 5th-century playwrights Aeschylus and Aristophanes, who claims that the form was borrowed from Persia.