The discussion began when I wrote to the museum about this item shown on its website:
|Roman. Rhyton or Drinking Horn of Molded Glass, 1st - 5th century A.D. Glass, 3 11/16 x 1 3/4 x 8 9/16 in. (9.3 x 4.4 x 21.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R. B. Woodward, 05.35. Creative Commons-BY-NC, Image:|
From: Einav Zamir, July 7, 2011
Your website identifies this as a rhyton. I suspect it is, instead, a trumpet or blast horn.
1. The flare at the narrow end would function nicely as a mouthpiece for blowing. As a rhyton, it would spread the flow of liquid and make imbibing messy.
2. The narrow shape of the horn limits the volume of liquid that could be contained. Most rhyton I have seen have a wider body. Trumpets, on the other hand, do fine with a narrow bore and modest bell.
3. Similar items from the same time period are identified as trumpets. See: www.archaeological-center.com/en/auctions/29-250/.
4. Also compare to www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/7759/Trumpet/set/38cc4552fedbb6cf999158b2d23da6c7?referring-q=trumpet in your own collection. While from a different era, the mouthpiece and bore are similar.
I have also written about it at hearingshofar.blogspot.com/2011/07/glass-shofarot.html and welcome your comments.
Thank you for contacting our department in regards to object 05.35 and its possible misattribution. The department has brought me in to work on their Roman Glass collection, which is one of my areas of specialization, so I was happy to look into this matter on their behalf. It is an interesting idea, and I think you make some valuable points about the shape and function of the object in question.From Michael Chusid, November 27, 2011
Some things that I noticed that argue against your attribution however, are the edge of the mouthpiece, which is thick and flat (this cannot be seen from the photo on our website), and the opening itself, which is a bit too wide (I believe) to function as an instrument. If it is a shofar, could it have been commemorative, rather than functional?
I would also have to disagree with your first point. The slant in the glass at the narrow end is not a flare (as it is unevenly formed), but more of a dip towards the lower portion of the mouth, which would in fact fit with a rhyton. The first image I have attached is a drawing from Isings' Roman Glass from Dated Finds which demonstrates very clearly this dip that I refer to (Isings identifies this 'pointed base' as a feature typical of type one and type three drinking horns - I believe our example falls into the first category).
Note "spout" at narrow end.
Moreover, this object is comparable to other glass horn-shaped vessels (John W. Hayes makes a comparison between our 05.35 and one of the objects at the Royal Ontario Museum on page 122 of Roman and Pre-Roman Glass - items 480-482). Unfortunately, these objects are either no longer part of their collection, or perhaps just not available online, so I was unable to find an image to send you. There are some black and white plates in the Hayes volume, if you are able to find a copy.
In any case, I have attached additional images of 05.35 - whether these help solidify your conclusions or argue against them, I thought they would be helpful for you to have for your research.
In response to your question, "If it is a shofar, could it have been commemorative, rather than functional?," I want to clarify that a shofar can only be made from a non-bovine animal horn under Jewish law dating back thousands of years in the written record. Thus my suggestion is that it was a "blast-horn" or "trumpet", but not a shofar. For the record, shofarot are intrinsically commemorative, as Torah describes the Jewish New Year as a day to "remember" or "commemorate" the sounds of shofar heard during the theophany at Sinai.She responded on 2012 April 9:
I can see how the spout on this artifact suggests its use as a rhyton. In my limited experience drinking from rytha, the fluid spurts out under hydraulic pressure, making a pointed base or pouring spout unnecessary. Have you poured liquid through it to confirm that the spout provides an effective flow?
I suggest blowing the artifact to hear its sound. I have copied Cantor [omitted] of New York City, an accomplished shofar blower, in case you are looking for an expert opinion on its timbre, pitch, and blowability.
All said, I now agree with your cataloging it as a rython. With glass so dear during the era, I doubt anyone was using it for experimental music. However, the distinction between whether something is a rython or a blast horn may be inconsequential. Ancient shepherds drank from and sounded blasts with the same horn. And I can imagine the owner of a glass rhyton quaffing an intoxicant, then trumpeting as part of the merry making or to summon the sommelier for a refill.
Unfortunately, tests to identify a specific function of the object in question would be difficult. Being very antique, we cannot risk using it (either by blowing into it or pouring liquid inside), though I agree such tests might answer a lot of questions.And I wrote:
In any case, I very much enjoyed our discussion - your suggestion that rhyta could have had multiple purposes is one that appeals to me, and I will certainly keep this in mind during future investigations. I wish you all the best in your research efforts, and I hope to speak with you again soon.
If the antique is judged to fragile to test, perhaps it can be scanned and then a reproduction "printed." Is it important enough to our understanding to invest time and resources in such an effort?I do not believe the research is of high priority.