The rise of the Greek city state and political community; art histories of the evolution of archaic and classical Greek style: against a backdrop of such grand narratives is considered the design of a perfume jar belonging to the style known as proto-Korinthian. Lines of thought and connection are drawn which reach into pottery production and pictorial imagery (of a studied sample of some 1930 pots), pointing beyond through the whole economic life-cycle of the artefact, from production to exchange and consumption. In contrast to those processual social archaeologies that set artefacts in a narrow context of social rank, status, and community interaction, reducing style to an expression of ‘society', context is defined pragmatically according to what is suggested in an encounter or interpretation of this particular pot. The result is an attempt to work with the archetypical archaeological relation between the particular and the general in a theoretical framework arising from ‘ post-processual’ discussions of the style and meaning of material culture. Insights are pro-vided into the cultural and ideological milieu of an aristocratic state under pressure and change. It is argued that the changes in pot design known as proto-Korinthian began as creative experiment with the articulation of risk and identity, violence and transgression, through definitions of the body and alterity. The painted images later clarify in their visual ideology of a realm of aristocratic masculinity detached from the domestic. Challenges are set for conventional art histories and processual archaeology, while a wide range of issues is raised concerning the archaeological construction and understanding of culture.