Kalos inscriptions

From around the mid-sixth to the mid-fifth centuries, kalos inscriptions appear on Athenian vases, and are particularly prevalent on red-figure cups of the late sixth and early fifth. Occuring across a range of scenes, they rarely refer to the figure decoration.

Sometimes the word itself suffices, and may be repeated elsewhere on the vase.

Red-figure cup

In other instances, we find 'ho pais kalos' – 'the boy is beautiful',

Red-figure cup

or kalos accompanied by a name (mostly male; there are some instances of a female being praised in similar terms (kale)).

Leagros kalos - red figure calyx-krater
  • Leagros kalos - red-figure calyx-krater
Hippodamas kalos - red-figure lekythos
  • Hippodamas kalos - red-figure lekythos
Kalistanthe kale - black-figure cup
  • Kalistanthe kale - black-figure cup

More than two hundred such names are preserved, and the vase-painters seem to be praising a youth of Athenian society. In rare instances the name is known from other sources, and such inscriptions are helpful for dating. Even if the identity can not be fixed, their presence on vases attributed to different hands allows us to establish a relative chronology.