formal adoption rite. Witnesses stand gravely by. An

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

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 happen on Apulian vases of the fourth
and third centuries B.C. Obviously this was a motif
that developed in Italy.141
Bodies of nursing moms or kourotrophoi either
holding kids or actually suckling them were popular all over Italy-they appear in Etruscan, South
Italian, and Sicilian art, in areas where the concept
of a mother goddess who rules over fertility and the
Arrival of kids had never ceased to be important.
Some of these images have survived, with their awesome presence: the so called Mater Matuta from
Chiusi, a large stone cinerary urn dating from the fifth
century B.C., depicting a girl holding a baby in
her lap; a mom nursing two infants from Megara
Hyblaea, near Syracuse, in Sicily, from the sixth century; and a whole series of some 200 “moms” or kourotrophoi from a safety near Capua, in South
Italy, holding as many as 14 children. (The latter are
only sometimes nursing.) All present the topic of
fertility on a monumental scale. Thousands of small,
Inexpensive terracotta votive figurines from sanctuaries
were also offered as gifts 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, by comparison, is the blatant lack
of the motif of the nursing mother from Ancient
Greek artwork. Here, also, a strong taboo is certainly involved. It’s otherwise hard to explain why such a
Worldwide gesture as that of a mother nursing her child
should be so studiously averted. Like female nudity,

this image enters the repertory of Greek art only in the
Hellenistic period together with numerous other
genre themes. Even in the fourth century B.C., as


[AJA 93

Brian Shefton has shown, it’s used almost exclusively
for figures of Aphrodite with her child, Eros, on
painted vases of South Italy or Sicily. There, the
Greek colonists had become accustomed to local customs and beliefs.’44
Could the absence of this picture from Classical
Greek art reflect life? Interesting studies have focused
on the problem of breast-feeding by the mother in various
cultures and civilizations.145 Definitely aristocraticor even “bourgeois”-Greek and Roman ladies seldom
nursed their infants-they’d wet nurses, often slaves
from their own household. The wet nurse is well
known from Greek art-for example on Greek funerary stelai, where she gives the baby to the seated
mother.146 It’s an indicator of civilization for a woman to be
freed of this embarrassingly physical essential, all too
reminiscent of our lowly animal nature. And really
Ancient Greek art traditionally represents barbarians, in addition to animals or wild creatures such as centaurs nursing their young.”47 The absence of such an
important image, however, is not so much due to the
fact that ladies didn’t nurse their own kids, or
that the picture of the wet nurse was too unimportant
to be signified, except in a secondary role, in relation to the mom-certainly not in the private action of
holding the infant at her breast. The reason is quite to
be sought in the approach to any type of female exposure or nudity, felt to be too private, particular, shameful
and dangerous, all at precisely .
The image of the female breast was too powerful to
be represented casually in artwork. Like the phallus, the eye,
and the frontal face, the sight of the naked breast has a
double role. It’s a sign of helplessness; at the same


time it’s a remarkablemagic force.148 The face of
the Gorgon can paralyze, and thereforeprotect. The
evil eye can destroy, or save. It’s no coincidencethat
the herm consists of a frontal face and an erect phallus: it was meant to function an apotropaicfunction,protecting the city and its citizens.149 A grotesque statuette of a nude 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 represented in art in both Greece and
Italy, but with different meanings. In Greece the early pre-Homeric sense of man nudity was overturned, while for girls, 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 religion and traditionsof