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Hope by any other name...

Public Domain: Painting by John William Waterhouse (1847-1917)

Elpis (ἐλπίς) with a flower in hand is depicted on this Alexandrian tetradrachm of Salonina the wife of Gallienus. Elpis is the Greek equivalent of Roman Spes or Hope. Perhaps because these tetradrachms are so different than the Roman republican denarii, what started as a small distraction has become a small collection of Alexandrian coins from the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus. Here's the latest addition from regnal year (RY) 15 of Gallienus.

Egypt, Alexandria, Salonina, Augusta & wife of Gallienus, AD 254-268, Tetradrachm, dated RY 15 (AD 267/8)

Obv: KORNHLIA CALWNEINA CEB, draped bust right, wearing stephane

Rev: Elpis advancing left, holding flower and hem of skirt; palm frond before, IЄ/L (date) to right.

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 5334

This reverse type was introduced by Domitian and continued to be used to the time of Diocletian.[*] The regnal year ended on Aug 28 and the new year started Aug 29th, this coin was issued in the 15th and last year of Gallienus' reign.

The palm branch, a symbol of victory, does not appear on all tetradrachms with Elpis, but seems to always appear on all Elpis reverses for Gallienus and Salonina. Hope for victory?

In 268, Gallienus defeated invaders in Moesia, and put down a revolt in Milan by Aureolus only to be assassinated in a plot by the head of the praetorian guard together with Claudius II and Aurelian. Here's an unusual Gallienus from AD 259/260 - like the one above from Salonina - the portrait was the initial draw on this coin:

Egypt, Alexandria, Gallienus (AD 253-268), Tetradrachm, dated RY 7 of Valerian I & Gallienus (AD 259/260)

Obv: A K Π ΛI OV ΓAΛΛIANOC EV EV C, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: Alexandria standing left, wearing turreted crown, holding bust of Sarapis and scepter, L-Z (date)

Prometheus gave mankind fire, and in return, Zeus gave Pandora, the first woman, to the brother of Prometheus, Epimetheus. Elpis, hope, is the one "misery" that fails to escape from Pandora's box in the telling by Hesiod.

For when the woman the unwieldy lid Had once discover’d, all the miseries hid In that curs’d cabinet dispers’d and flew About the world; joys pined, and sorrows grew, Hope only rested in the boxe’s brim, And took not wing from thence… - Hesiod, Work & Days 160

The "box" was a πίθος (pithos) - which is really a large terracotta storage jar something like this one:

Public Domain image

There is scholarly debate about what it means that Hope (also translated as Expectation) stayed in the pithos. Is "hope" an evil (false expectation) or a good (motivating optimism)? Does it remain in the box for mankind or hidden from mankind?[1][2][3] The painting at the start of this post is of Pandora opening the box, from 1896, oil on canvas. Erasmus of Rotterdam (AD 1456-1536) is most often cited as the source of the mistranslated Greek πίθος to Latin pyxis (“small box”).[4]


  1. Fraser, L. (2011). A Woman of Consequence: Pandora in Hesiod's "Work and Days". The Cambridge Classical Journal,57, 9-28.

  2. Verdenius, W. (1971). A 'Hopeless' Line in Hesiod: "Works and Days" 96. Mnemosyne,24(3), fourth series, 225-231.

  3. Religion Wiki, online, Pandora

  4. Wikipedia, Erasmus

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