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fine silver | 20 mm | 8.6 g
OBV: Bearded head of Dionysus right, crowned with ivy, hair tied in krobylos at back of neck.
R: NAXION Nude ithyphallic Silenos seated facing with head turned to left, raising cantharus to his lips.
Note: Naxos, on the foot of Mt. Aetna, struck one of the earliest coinage of Sicily and the only one to employ fully developed types on both sides from the very outset. The Naxian types reflect the central role of viticulture and winemaking in the city´s life.
The Syracusan tyrants of the earlier fifth century B.C. indulged in grandiose schemes of colonization involving the forcible resettlement of whole populations. The citizens of Naxos were deported in 476, but the fall of the tyrants permitted them to recover their homes in 461. As at Catana (see lot 2 above), the homecoming was celebrated by an upgrade to a more ambitious coinage. In contrast to Catana, which inaugurated a series of tetradrachms, Naxos commissioned a single tetradrachm issue, which stands among the most brilliant masterpieces of Greek coinage. The supremely gifted engraver did not sign his dies, but his hand has been recognized in a unique tetradrachm of Aetna at Brussels, whence the epithet The Aetna Master.
The god Dionysos, the traditional obverse type at Naxos, is now reinterpreted in the severe style. Many of his features have parallels on famous sculptural masterpieces of the period, which sought to restore grandeur and moral significance to the depiction of the gods. Here he displays a numinous intensity befitting his character as a god of the life force and of religious possession, mystic, amoral, and sometimes violent.
The Silenos on the reverse, a wild woodland companion of Dionysos, embodied the animal aspect of human nature. His awkward posture is typical of the challenging poses explored in transitional style art. The hard modeling is expressive of the creature's toughness, but at the same time the dreamy expression on his grotesque face is a reminder that in some versions of his legend Silenus was a master of music and the possessor of arcane knowledge. Here he represents the worshipper in communion with his god through holy drunkenness.