The Auldjo Jug

Made in Rome (probably) ca. 25-50 AD

Found in Pompeii in the 1830s

Jug in translucent dark blue and opaque white cameo glass, with trefoil mouth and high handle from rim to shoulder. The back of the neck is flattened and the shoulder slopes outwards to a carination marked by a white ground-line; ovoid body with rounded bottom. Ring-foot with moulded rim. The handle is decorated on the outside with two wide vertical grooves and a ridge at its base. A narrow white horizontal rib divides the shoulder from the body and also acts as a ground line for the shoulder decoration.  Carved in white on the shoulder are acanthus leaves with tendrils enclosing rosettes.  Birds peck at the tendrils. Two birds are perched either side of the handle pecking at leaves now mostly missing. On the body is a finely executed vine laden with bunches of grapes, intertwined with laurel and ivy with umbrels.  In the centre a bird, with wings raised, perches to peck at an ivy leaf.  Broken and mended. Made up of several fragments with the body now considerably restored. Mouth partly broken. Neck handle and base complete except that the latter is chipped. Milky-white film becoming brown in patches covers the exterior of the vase and the interior of the mouth and neck. The white glass is worn away in places. Small bubbles in the blue glass and black flakes and bubbles in the white.

From the British Museum (image five)

Classical Black-figure Octopus Jug, Greek or Sicilian, c. Late 5th Century BC

Both the shape and decoration of this charming little vase are unusual and exact parallels are wanting. The octopus became a favorite subject of ancient Greek artists, who utilized its unusual biological form and symmetrical anatomy as a decorative device, perfectly adaptable to the curving surfaces of jugs such as this. They were popular motifs in the decorative repertory of Minoan and Mycenaean vase-painters, who developed what is known as the Marine Style. In addition, the creature is represented on gold foil relief ornaments from Grave Circle A at Mycenae.

In ancient Greek literature, the octopus makes its first appearance in The Odyssey when Odysseus, shipwrecked and clinging to a rock, is compared to one: “Just as when an octopus is pulled from its lair, closely packed pebbles are held against its suckers, so pieces of skin from his strong hands were scraped off against the rocks; and the great wave covered him.”

Descriptive references and accurate depictions of the octopus in literature and art, such as that painted on this vase, suggest that poets and artists must have had a first-hand knowledge about the appearance and behavior of this marine invertebrate. In antiquity, as today, the Mediterranean was a nearly tideless sea, and its gently sloping, rocky and pebbly beaches would have made it possible to observe the animal in shallow water. The octopus was a favorite food of the ancients, the best fishing grounds for it being located off the coasts of Thasos and Caria. It was admired for its sweet taste and was additionally thought to be an aphrodisiac.