A pair of large eyes frames busts of the hero Herakles and his patron goddess Athena on one side of this black-figure cup. In the 500s B.C., Greek vase-painters frequently placed eyes on cups, perhaps because they were believed to be apotropaic--that is, they had the power to ward off evil -- or so that the cup would be transformed into a mask when a drinker raised it to his lips . Above the left eyebrow runs the signature of the potter Nikosthenes.
The other side of the cup has a similar scene with three busts, two female and one male. The female figure in the middle was once painted white and wears a type of headdress called a polos, typical of Greek goddesses. These busts, however, are harder to identify than those on the front of the cup. Some scholars identify them as Zeus, Hebe, and Hera, suggesting that the subject of the cup as a whole would be the apotheosis of Herakles, his introduction on Mount Olympus as a god. Others, however, interpret the heads as Hades, Persephone, and Demeter and the cup's theme as Herakles' introduction into the Eleusinian Mysteries, a cult that promised a better afterlife to its followers.