Erin Black

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Classical Studies


G. Umboltz


The Geneleos Group from the Heraion at Samos is a monument unparalleled in the Archaic period. The unique composition of this monument, which includes one seated, four standing, and one reclining figure on a long base, has led to disagreement concerning who these figures represent and what activity is depicted. The most frequently cited interpretation is that the Geneleos Group represents a nuclear family group taking part in a banquet; other scholars have identified this group as a generational family group, or a group of priestesses. Issues which affect the interpretation of the monument include the gender of the figures, their attributes, and identifying inscriptions. The comparanda cited by many scholars who follow the nuclear family group interpretation are narrow and limited by their preconceptions about who and what this monument represents. When a wider range of monuments are considered as comparanda for the individual figures, the postures, clothing, attributes and inscriptional information which previously had been considered indicators of a nuclear family group, actually diminish the credibility of this model and increase the plausibility of other identifications. The location of the monument is another important consideration that is not adequately addressed in the nuclear family group theory; the Geneleos Group was positioned along the Sacred Way leading to the temple, it was proximate to the altar and was in clear view of the temple of Hera. The prominent position of this monument in the sanctuary may indicate that the figures rendered had important roles in the sanctuary as attendants to the goddess. Although little is known about the cult practices and festivals from the Samian Heraion, Pausanias discusses the Heraea at Elis, which was organized by the Sixteen Women and their assistants. Pausanias also mentions footraces and dances which were performed in honour of Hera; the activities described in his account correlate nicely with the figures in the Geneleos Group. From its pose, it is clear that the reclining figure was a highly respected individual and she may have been an administrator of the festival; the seated figure, a married woman, may have assisted the reclining figure; the figure beside the seated figure was possibly a participant in the footraces, and the three standing maidens are depicted taking part in a ritual dance. Although questions concerning this monument still remain, reexamination of the physical evidence, scholarly arguments, comparanda, context and literary evidence together suggest a new interpretation of the Geneleos Group.

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