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THE EXHIBIT

Cave of Eileithyia, Inatos. 850-750 BC

The Cave of Eileithyia, on the coast of ancient Inatos in south central Crete, was a cult place from the Protopalatial period to the Roman era. Its peak was from the late 11th to the early 6th century BC, when the cult was focussed on the goddess Eileithyia, protectress of childbirth. Worshippers invoked her blessing by offering numerous figurines of embracing couples, pregnant women, women with infants (known as kourotrophoi) and scenes of childbirth like that depicted inside this small clay vessel. It is a bowl with two horizontal handles, containing an attached group of two simply rendered, seated figurines. One figure probably represents the goddess Eileithyia, who is embracing and assisting a pregnant woman by placing her hands on the woman’s belly as she gives birth. The mortal figure extends one hand towards the head of the goddess in a plea for help, while her other hand is placed on the goddess’s hand on her swollen belly. Despite the simplistic anatomy, with no details on the faces and bodies apart from the most important features, such as the belly and vulva, the emotionally charged scene is eloquently depicted through the expressive movements of the figures.
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