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Greek vases: names, shapes and functions

Greek vases: names, shapes and functions



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The system of names used today for Greek vases has quite rightly been described by one leading scholar as 'chaotic'. Many of the names were first applied in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by scholars who tried to fit the names of pots that they knew from Greek and Latin literature or inscriptions to the pieces then surfacing from excavations. More recent studies of inscriptions on the actual pots have brought some of the correct names to light, and it is becoming increasingly clear that very few of the names used today were used in antiquity. However, the present system is so widespread that it would be very difficult to sweep it away and replace it with something more logical.

Many pots fulfilled a range of functions, being used in both domestic and ceremonial or religious contexts. Clay, cheap and plentiful in many parts of ancient Greece, was the basic raw material for most containers. At most times the wealthy would have drunk from gold and silver cups, but practically all households would have been well supplied with a range of clay vessels, both coarse and fine. These would have been used for storage, cooking and for the table.

The basic shape of a vase can often provide clues to its function. The open form of broad, shallow cups or large wine bowls (kraters), suggests easy access for hands or implements, for drinking, dipping or mixing. Small closed shapes with narrow mouths, such as lekythoi, are more likely to have contained something that was sealed up with wax or a stopper, and they might have been used for storage. The two horizontal handles of the water-jar (hydria) must have been essential for lifting the vessel when it was full and needed to be transported on someone's head, while the single vertical handle would have been used for pouring or for carrying the pot when empty.

Scenes on pottery may also illustrate the way the vases were used. Cups, bowls, jugs and wine coolers are shown in use at drinking parties, hydriai in fountain house scenes; small aryballoi, holding the perfumed oil that athletes rubbed on themselves after exercise, appear in scenes of the gymnasium. Very often the same vases that were used in these domestic contexts could also be dedicated in sanctuaries or laid in the tomb; but there were also individual shapes, such as the lekythos, that were particularly favoured for special purposes, in this case as funeral offerings.


Ancient Greek Pottery Designs

Ancient Greek Pottery Designs: The history of ancient Greek pottery is divided stylistically into periods: The Protogeometric from about 1050 BC. The Geometric from about 900 BC. The Archaic from about 750 BC. The Black figure from the early 7th century BC. The Red figure from about 530 BC.


Pottery Types and Their Uses

The beautiful relics of ancient Greek pots, jars and vases were common in every household and were used for functions such as drinking, storing and pouring. There were six basic shapes and sizes:

  • Oinochoe - A wine pitcher with one handle.
  • Chytrai - These were designed for cooking. They were large and made out of rough clay because their function never went beyond cooking. Chytrai pots were not like many of the other pottery designs.
  • Hydria - This is a Greek water jar. It is formed with three handles and used for pouring out or carrying liquid.
  • Amphora - A large pottery vessel with two handles and a lid. The amphora was mainly was for the storage of grains.
  • Kylix - This piece is a flat-shaped drinking cup set on a slim centre pedestal. There was also the stemless Kylix that was moulded with a flat base.
  • Krater - Styled with spiral scroll-like forms, the type that is found in their Iconic capitals. This pottery was used for mixing.
  • Lekythos - Is a narrow-necked and long flask, It was used for pouring olive and other edible oils.
  • Aryballos - These are smaller vessels used to contain perfume oils and therapeutic oils.
  • Alabastron - Most of these were made without handles and have a narrow body with a rounded end, a narrow neck and a broad, splayed mouth. They were also used as perfume oil jars.

The potters’ wheel was used extensively, but while the forms were chosen by each individual potter, they still followed the lines of curved silhouettes which were always ovoid in shapes and followed the general changing degrees of curvature associated with mathematics.

Shapes formed were practical and very functional for their intended use, with their handles designed and sited for the convenience of use, and in perfect proportions with the vessel silhouette.

Greek pottery was technically perfect in their designs and modelling, and with archaeological finds and art history records, there is much evidence to show that their artworks must have required extraordinary concentration, good eyesight, with a deft and sensitive hand to produce the perfection of their delineation.


Reading Greek Vases

Questions like these will help you learn how to interpret Greek vases.

In order to take your interpretation and analysis to the next level, the following considerations will help.

There are two main ways of thinking about the vase: (1) in terms of its composition (formal analysis) and (2) in terms of the meaning of its images (iconography/iconology).

(1) In the formalist (i.e. relating to ‘form’) approach a vase is studied in terms of its design elements, which include composition (arrangement of parts of or in the work), color, line, texture, scale, proportion, balance, contrast, and rhythm. A typical approach might run like this:

What is the overall design of the vase? [Answer]

A standard two-handled amphora with a narrow base set on a supporting foot, which swells to the handles, running from the upper belly to the neck, and ends with a slightly flared lip.

How does the painting conform to the shape of the vase? [Answer]

How are the central characters positioned a) individually b) with regard to one another c) with regard to the vase? [Answer]

How does the painter render the human body? [Answer]

How does the painter render the clothing? [Answer]

Based on an analysis of the formal elements, how effective is the painting? [Answer]

Similar questions can be asked of every part of a painting from facial expressions to the clothing of characters to the way in which objects are depicted. Responses may include adjectives that are as emotive as they are descriptive.

(2) In the iconographical/iconological approach the scholar tries to interpret the meaning of the image in its historical context.

The following questions might be asked:

What does the picture depict? How do various elements of the design aid our analysis? [Answer]

A group of three adult males in a dancing pose, as indicated by their raised feet. The kantharos in the left figure’s hand indicates this is a scene of drinking and frivolity. The arm of the right figure reaches toward the groin of the central figure and may indicate a homoerotic undertone.

What does this painting tell us about everyday life in ancient Athens? [Answer]

For whom is the vase intended? [Answer]

Are there other examples of vases of this type? [Answer]

How is this vase similar/different from other vases of this type? [Answer]

Who is the artist? [Answer]

How does knowing the painter and his dates help to understand the historical context of the vase? [Answer]


Greek vases depicting homosexuality….and Disclosure

Jews have been present in Greece since at least the fourth century BC. The oldest and the most characteristic Jewish group that has inhabited Greece are the Romaniotes, also known as “Greek Jews”. However, the term “Greek Jew” is predominantly used for any person of Jewish descent or faith that lives in or originates from the modern region of Greece.

Aside from the Romaniotes, a distinct Jewish population that historically lived in communities throughout Greece and neighboring areas with large Greek populations, Greece had a large population ofSephardi Jews, and is a historical center of Sephardic life the city of Salonica or Thessaloniki, in Greek Macedonia, was called the “Mother of Israel”.[

All societies have adult material and I guess some of this stuff is found in archeological digs out of context. There is this circulating rumor that has congealed into a historical mess that has translated itself into television programs and movies of the worst kind. Somehow people are led to believe that ancient Greeks and Romans had so much time on their hands that they were all fornication all day long and that all the men were sucking dick…not true.

Life in ancient Greece or Rome was not much different than it is today give or take a few peices of unwanted technology. People still had to perform the basic tasks from dawn to dusk that get humans through the day and keep commerce alive.

When you add reincarnation to the recipe then you realize that we are those people…nothing new is happening here other than a failure to understand that we simply don’t understand enough about our neighbors and other races on this planet and we keep on filling blanks with bullshit.

Human sexuality is an expression not a plastic dildo. Sex toys existed then and they do now and will as long as humans exist. Even as grown adults we seem to have difficulty getting through a sentence if it involves sexual function.

As a student of art history I have seen examples like the vases and plates above….Noone seems to want to linger long enough to really understand what they mean. Even in an educational facility they are shown and then wisked away with titters.

Homosexuality has been a difficult topic for a long time. It was no more acceptable in ancient Greece or Rome than it is today. Homosexuality is part of the great mystery of life , death and heaven. Everything on this planet has a timeline and reason for existence. If something exists then it can be described, located, directed and understood.

There are vases and plates, frescos and art from ancient Rome and Greece that show heterosexual intimacy and love also…but what you see above has an explanation. ….an explanation that the originators want and desire but fear equally.

As you read in the first paragraph in this posting , jews were present in ancient Greece and Rome as they are around the world today. Their politics and issues seem to reflect a repetitive pattern through history where accusations are constantly made of intolerance and antisemitic behavior towards jews from other races and creeds.

As I wrote this humans have existed on this planet for 500,000 years. You may be a star trek fan than believes deep down that living next door to a family with cobalt blue skin and fish scales might be an interesting diversion. But in reality Noone seems to be nearly as accepting of differences beyond minor ones.

Tonight I had a massage client who was a cardiologists. …the topic of my books arose and I offered to show him a link that contains statues of members of the Kennedy family from ancient Rome. The final result is that his response was so shocking that I felt totally stunned. It became apparent that not all humans want to know and see the truth even if it’s free and given with kindness. So in reality how accepting are we of others and their differences.

I have sat here for six years and tried to survive an ordeal while documenting an unfolding situation that might and could result in my death. When the books are written and finished and handed to the public they are receiving in minutes what took me years to accomplish and 500,000 years on this planet of wars and aggression over material documented inside neatly on a page. When I tell people the truth and they look at me like a lunatic I finally realized those fine points in life that you cannot put in words or wrap in Christmas paper. That there is a cruelty inherent in life that is hard to escape, when a victim is shunned because the public has not been in their shoes long enough or at all in order to appreciate the reality of the situation.

Just remember as we proceed that those Greek vases above are related to a planet called jupiter and something called disclosure that everyone has been waiting for and has been primed for accepting. You all think you know what disclosure is and what it’s supposed to include. Everyone is waiting for those small green aliens to pull into a parking space and wave and smile. There is a disclosure that will occur in the paragraphs below……it has cost billions of lives, including some of yours. The aliens are not friendly but they are here and have been here for thousands of years living amongst us. They have coaxed us and conditioned us out if fear of rejection. They frankly don’t want to disclose a damn thing. They never wanted to share this planet with us……and they have killed billions of us to get rid of us. Their disclosure is a cruel act of preserving their lives. Disclosure means that we have fled and hidden many times but there is no place left to hide. Our country is in shambles, we are hated and despised. We have lied, cheated and hidden our agenda for as long as we could. We are aware that people are catching on and we would rather be the ones to place this out in public before we are outed and killed.

The Greek and Roman vases above are not just a sample of erotica art depicting homosexual sex. If you look closely at similar art of the period you will see that many racial types are shown on Greek vases but these vases always show a specific type and that is a dark haired male with curly or fuzzy hair. So why were all the other racial types ignored. These are not cheap mugs for coffee these are expensive works of art with emcee detail. These were not roadside gifts from a Greek food mart. You don’t buy one of these randomly take it home and say…hi honey look what I found for your reading desk. Think clearly with your eyes and your brains……Noone wants a vase with strange men having sex on it. If uts not you or your loved one it becomes a little weird.

If you can grasp and understand the above paragraph then we can proceed. Human sexuality is a private matter…it is the most personal thing that two people of any race will share. Matters of sexuality have been and always will be a riveting matter that shapes politics and society and can and will divide people and we have all seen aspects of that during our lifetime.

Disclosure is the story of a Hebrew sect on earth. …and a machine. This machine has been so entwined in their history and it’s ramifications that literally you cannot discuss being jewish without explaining how the two interact. Although the jews are a species of their own distinctly different from the caucasion and Asian and African races they are not alone. There are Africans and indians of similar values who have also hidden these traits for thousands of years.

Somewhere in my blog I had written long ago that it is possible to live amongst people of another nation for years and still not see the truth. I lived in Egypt for almost five years in a neighborhood mostly occupied by American and Europeans. Where I lived there were beautiful homes, manicured yards and servants for hire snd a school within reach. It was not a modern world but it was a comfortable, secluded haven with its own charm and history. But an hour away lay the city if Cairo filled with things dirty, smelly and beyond toleration. As my father drove I would stare out of the window as if it were another world and in reality it was and probably still is. My eyes saw things that lay beyond my understanding but it was obvious that these people were humans living under conditions that I could not explain, but it was their way of life and not necessarily something imposed on them.

The vases above show an aspect of jewish life that we as humans don’t know, don’t understand and might not understand. Currently on this planet one species known as jews has branched outwards from its main destination. A species that was once a male only with the ability to transform itself into a female for mating purposes and then back again into a male managed to breed with several other species and it created a hybrid race or the modern jews that may carry a, special bloodctype but marry and have wives just like us. Then there is a third catagory that we call homosexuals which prefer relationships with the same sex partner but do not shift from male to female for mating purposes and then we have transexuals who are born with the genitals of both sexes.

Homosexuals and transexuals are all related to mating with jews and these events took place so long ago that noone remembers or knows if those who interred knew or were advised of the risks they were taking. Noone knows at this point how the infusion of this blood type will effect life on this planet in the future. Will those who are gay show other signs with time and show other changes or remain as they are. Once this disclosure is made will being a jew be viewed as a disease or will people shrug and walk away.

Even during the aids scare there were segments of society that chose to have unprotected sex and not care. Will gay people react poorly and go after jews or will jews open their doors to the gay community and resurface israel. If they choose to be a gay country will the world turn it’s back and remove arms sales to israel turning it into a poor dirty gay country like india. Clearly there are no easy answers when you keep deadly secrets. But humans are adaptable as a species and you never know or can fully anticipate how things may turn out. Where there is a will there is a way. For a small minority knowing the truth can be a way of shaping their personal identity as a gay man or woman. For others it will be a permanent exclusion of jews from their lives.everything about being a jew is being a creature that creates divisions and disclosure will be no different.

The other equally important issue is the use of the machines that are just as much of an issue…machines that are killing every living creature on earth with the excuse that they help protect jews from their enemies. In the meantime the entire planet is ready for a major remodel from top to bottom, financially and structurally. The jews wanted to rule the world and be it’s puppet masters but they failed and the current economic crisis is a slow winding down of one controlling organism organization reverting back to its original owners.

There have been so ne interesting comments by the jews this evening…
…..who will we blame if this goes wrong.
…..how do you think the world will respond.
…..will everyone then go away after disclosure and let us live in peace.

I find these comments rather worrisome. There is no one to blame but themselves. The messenger has nothing to do with the reality of what a jew may or may not be. I am only responsible for my own reactions and not that of the world. As for living in peace the jews have never known such a reality on this planet and when they make agreements it’s only out of fear and life preservation and they turn on people yet again. So their track record is none existant.

The world has shown itself as being selectively dumb and stupid…meaning that we have managed to push aside and hide everything and anything that we did not want to see and hear for 500,000 years….that’s quite strange.

The truth is like toilet paper…some of you will use it. Some of you will prefer a cheaper version and yet others will totally ignore it and continue to use their hands and water. We all think the truth is a universal application and it is not. Some people still have not learned how to use a home computer and never will and they don’t feel as if they are missing anything.

Unfortunately when you are jewish using a knife and fork can be turned into a political skirmish.


Stories On Greek Vases

Fig 29. Attic Black figured Amphora Heracles Fighting Two Amazons.

Any handbook on Greek vases, every general discussion of them, posits the statement that the vases are of the highest importance for their illustration of the myths of Greece, not only in the literary version handed down by the epic and dramatic poets, but also in variant local forms, which are traditional and perhaps more popular. The use of the word illustration here is unfortunate for the word is a bit ambiguous. In fact so eminent a critic as Karl Robert writing Bild and Lied definitely denied that Greek vase painting can be called illustration. Robert would have illustration beginning in Alexandrian art and others would say that illustration is a relatively recent artistic development. Illustration in its broadest sense, however, is old as art itself. The painted reliefs in Egyptian tombs, the Madonnas of Christian iconography, the bulk of Indian painting and Chinese Buddhistic art, even the greater part of derived linear decorative patterns—all are basically illustration, even though we never think of them as such.

Illustration explains in terms of line and contour something which has been previously expressed in words. It therefore presupposes a text which offers to it an excuse for being it is dependent upon it, and consummates its highest purpose only in connection with that text. Of course, illustration may permissibly and justifiably give esthetic pleasure, but pleasure is not the sole reaction from any illustration pure and simple. Because of the overshadowing of the illustrative by the aesthetic and the decorative, illustration in its widest sense as exemplified above is not always recognized. In its narrow sense illustration is less interpretation than the crystallization of a moment of import or excitement. This is the sense of the word to many laymen who gain their impression from the average illustrated novel or magazine of fiction, and this is an entirely modern development of the meaning of the word. What I wish to make dear is that if the Greek vase painter is to be called an illustrator, it must be in the larger and original sense of the word. The solution of the difficulty would perhaps be to find some better term to apply to both the vase painter and his work.

This paper is an attempt more exactly to define the work of the Greek vase painter, so as to arrive at a more just estimate of the value of his work in the pictorial or graphic sense of it.

Fig 30. Attic Blackfigured Krater with Heracles and the Neman Lion.

Stress can not too often be laid on the fact that the Greek vase painters were never considered artists. Even their contemporaries ranked them as artisans. It is therefore in no sense fair to speak of the vase painters in any way that may lead to a confusion of their sphere with the major art. Dimly vase paintings may reflect the motives of the lost Greek frescoes, but the influence from mural painting upon pottery must necessarily be almost negligible. That is to say, a vase under socalled Polygnotan influence will prove the justness of the title by a certain tendency to elabora-tion, an indication of landscape, an attempt at perspective made by placing figures on different levels, and a certain subtlety in indicating characteristics not by attribute but by gesture and pose. Yet undeniably such treatment betrays both a lessening sense of the true function of vase painting and an overreaching ambition and it is a presage of decadence.

The vase painter was primarily a decorator and a designer, whose sole function was to accentuate the beauty of the potter’s creation. What he drew or painted on the vase must necessarily be of such nature as to enhance the beauty of the curves and proportions of the vase. He must so decorate the surface as to increase the appreciation of the beauty of its form. Like the good accompanist in music, the vase painter must show his skill only to round out the esthetic effect of two expressive mediums juxtaposed.

The designs of Greek vases are largely inspired by Greek mythology and legend. In the broadest sense of the word they are illustrations but since they present scenes without a precise moment, scenes generally of undetermined locality, they may be said less to illustrate a story than to embody a theme. The Greek vase painter is not so much interested in the question of why and where Heracles had to struggle with the Nemean Lion as he is concerned with showing man directed by the powers above conquering the beast. The vase painter translated into terms of line and contour the stories which permeated the atmosphere. Very justly has it been said that Greek art flourished under peculiarly auspicious conditions. Greek poetry and Greek art ran side by side. Probably at no other time in the history of the world except as Greek art developed was it possible for artists and artisans, poets and populace to enjoy a common inspiration which engendered products of universal appeal. Not even in the age that saw the blossoming of Gothic art was there so unified an interest. Nowadays diversified interests as well as a stupid distinction set up between art and trade by the superficial minded make universal appeal well nigh impossible and art a mockery. The Greek realized fully that vital art is more than beauty it is truth and utility and only therefore has it an excuse for being.

The golden age of Greek vase painting developed what one might almost term a pictographic system of decorating vases. A well known story was selected, perhaps one of the exploits of Heracles whose deeds, despite hackneyed treatment, never failed to win interest. Of this story the theme was taken and translated from words into lines. Just how this could be done can best be made clear by a study of some vases bearing mythological scenes.

The Greek vases in the University Museum with mythological scenes, though few in number, are fortunately varied in subject. Many of their themes are taken from the epic cycle, and include the wrestling of Peleus and Thetis, the Judgment of Paris, the ambush for Troilus at the fountain, the rescue of the corpse of Achilles, the fight over the body of Antilochus, as well as the peculiarly Attic themes of Theseus and the Minotaur, the exploits of Heracles, the Birth of Athena, and her Reception into Olympos. We should include also the symbolic theme of Greeks fighting Amazons, which is to be distinguished from the mythical combat of Heracles with Amazons, and seems to be in the fifth century at least an allegorical expression of joy and thanksgiving at the victory over the invading Persians in 480 B. C. Ultimately it may signify the downfall of matriarchy.

In general one may say that there are four ways of depicting a story—the simple, the complex, the complicated and the simplified.

The simple treatment gives a scene whose meaning is obvious. The figures delineated are, even in the barest conception of the theme vitally concerned in the action, and none of the figures is superfluous. Examples of this simple treatment may be found on two amphorae in the University Museum (Mediterranean Section, Case VIII, No. 119 and No. 127). The obverse of each of these vases shows Heracles fighting Amazons (Fig. 29). In each picture Heracles has worsted one Amazon, and a second rushes to the rescue of the fallen. It would perhaps be stretching the imagination too much to find in the fallen Amazon the figure of the queen Hippolyta, whose girdle Heracles had to fetch for Eurystheus.

Figure 31. Attic Blackfigured Amphora &mdash Two Greeks and Amazon

The complex method is represented by a blackfigured cylix showing the rape of Thetis. On the outside of the cup in the centre of each field Peleus struggles with Thetis. On each side of the straining group stands a Nereid, sister to Thetis, an affrighted witness of the scene. Thus to the simple fact of the wrestling is added the note of general distress caused by the violence of the intruder. Another example of the complex method of treatment is seen on the vases representing Heracles’ conquest of the Nemean Lion. This takes place generally in the presence of Athena, the patron deity of the hero. Frequently his nephew and comrade Iolaos is a spectator. Almost always the hero’s arms—his bow, quiver and club—are held by these spectators, or are hung up in the background, by way of indicating that weapons are useless against the invulnerable beast.

The third method I call complicated because it introduces figures which are not really germane to the scene, although they do belong in the story. For an example of this method I have chosen a large blackfigured amphora from Orvieto, showing Theseus slaying the Minotaur. The story goes that Theseus, son of Aegeus, king of Athens, along with six youths and seven maidens, was sent to Crete as part of the tribute exacted by the Knossian sea king from the subject city of Athens. These young people were to be victims of the Minotaur, the bull of Minos, which in historical times was misunderstood as a half animal, half human monster, instead of the sacred bull baited by toreadors as he is still in Spain. Theseus resolved to slay the Minotaur so that never again such tribute need be paid. There was however a great difficulty about the accomplishment of this ambition, for the monster was kept in a labyrinth or maze from which egress was practically impossible. Theseus won the confidence of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, who gave him a key to the labyrinth, she supplied a great quantity of yarn or string, one end of which Theseus tied to his person. Then he went in stealthily by night to the monster’s lair while Ariadne stood outside the building paying out the string. When he had slain the Minotaur, Theseus simply followed back on the course of the string to the entrance where Ariadne awaited him.

Now mark how the vase painter tells the story. In the centre of the panel stands Theseus dispatching the bullheaded man. This deed should be done in a secret place unseen of men but at the left behind Theseus is Ariadne, and behind her stands a draped man who, if bearded, might on the analogy of other representations of the scene be her father Minos whom she is betraying. At the right of the central group are three figures which may be Athenian youths. In an illustration none of these five figures has any proper place, but in a story telling picture they serve to round out the theme of the narrative. The figure of Ariadne suggests the way by which Theseus attained his goal the figure which normally stands behind her, Minos, locates the action in Knossos, and suggests the complication of forces that caused Ariadne to aid the stranger despite her natural inclination to do her father’s will the three figures at the right suggests the mission on which Theseus was sent to Crete, and also the result of his daring—the freeing of the Athenians from the galling tribute.

The fourth method consists in taking a well known story telling motive or type and using it less with the idea of telling a story than of decorating a space. A blackfigured cylix shows on the exterior on one side between eyes a nude youth and a seated sphinx. The sphinx is a hybrid creature commonly associated with Egypt, but the winged variety is of Mesopotamian origin. The Asiatic form was adopted by the Greeks in the period of strong artistic influence from the East, and was used as decoration on the Orientalizing pottery of the seventh century B. C. In Greek literature and mythology the sphinx has only local connotation—Thebes, a city which has much of the non-Hellenic in its makeup and traditions. The sphinx is involved in the most famous legend of Thebes, the story of Oedipus, the most cursed of men, who unwittingly slew his father and married his own mother. The story goes that Laius, king of Thebes, being warned by an oracle that his son begotten against the will of the gods should slay him, had the baby exposed. But shepherds found the child and reared him, calling him Oedipus —swellfoot—from the fact that when he was found his feet were pierced and bound together. The lad one day in a traveller’s brawl on the highway slew his unknown father later he came upon the sphinx. The sphinx had been plaguing the country about Thebes by killing all she met, for none could save his life by guessing the answer to the riddle she asked. It ran to this effect—There is upon earth a two footed and four footed one voiced thing that is also three footed it alone of all creatures of earth and sky and sea changes its nature when it goes on most feet it is feeblest. Oedipus read this riddle by Man, who in babyhood creeps on all fours, in his prime walks upright and in old age leans on a staff. Having so answered the sphinx, he dispatched the monster, and the grateful Theban made him their king and gave him to wife their queen Jocasta, widow of Laius.

In Greek art a man and a sphinx in a group seem always to connote Oedipus, but there is little in this representation to clinch the allusion. The youth has none of the travellers’ accouterments which tradition gives to Oedipus in this motive. The motive is become mere decoration.

Since Greek decoration like all good decoration is derived, it is not fanciful to look for stories behind such scenes of blackfigured vases as the chariot scene, or the warriors playing dice, and other scenes of which we do not know the full significance. Some day we may discover the exact meaning of such scenes. It is not so long since the chance discovery of some verses of Bacchylides made clear the scene of Dionysos sailing on the famous cylix of Execias.

We must realize then that the story telling of the Greek vase painter is of a very special sort. Its essence is compactness. Details of his picture suggest details of the story behind it: a tree, for instance, will serve as short hand symbolism for a forest. This compactness must reveal how far the Greek artist is removed from the primitive. Primitive narration placed side by side successive scenes each with the hero therein. Such was the sculptor’s method when he carved on the metopes of a Doric temple the exploits of Heracles or Theseus. Except for the famous cup in the British Museum on which Duris painted exploits of Theseus, the vase painter did not employ continuous narrative. Very rarely do both obverse and reverse of a vase feature the same story. The rule is that the obverse is the more important, and that the reverse is a decorative foil to it. The reverse may be related to the obverse, or it may be quite distinct from it. For instance the two amphorae mentioned above as having on their obverse the scene of Heracles and the Amazons, are decorated on their reverse with kindred scenes—one with mounted Amazons, the other with Greeks fighting Amazons but the amphora showing Theseus and the Minotaur has on the reverse a simple scene of the departure of a warrior in his quadriga.

This brief sketch does not take into account scenes of every day life, which are very common on Greek vases, and which in their glimpses of palaestra, banquet hall and ceremonial, are more nearly illustrations than are the mythological scenes just discussed. The paper contributes little new to the appreciation of Greek vases, but it constitutes the beginning of a larger study of the narrative element in Greek art, and if it help at all to increase the layman’s interest in the Greek vases in the University Museum or in Greek vases in general, it will have served its purpose well.


Did you know?

Hidden clues…

When a décor was created for the Galerie Campana, the choice was made to keep the painted ceilings. Indeed, the scenes they feature fit well with the collection below. But if you look carefully, you will notice small clues as to what these rooms were formerly used for. It was here that a collection of decorative artworks from the Renaissance was housed, and some are peeping down on us from these ceilings&hellip

François Joseph Heim, Mort de Léonard de Vinci, décor "la Renaissance des Arts", plafond de la salle 655 de la Galerie Campana


Design Your Own Greek Vase

Learn more about Greek Pottery and use one of our templates to design your own inspired by sherds from our collection.

Information

Have you ever wanted to know more about Greek pottery? This is your chance!

In this activity you will chose one of three pottery shapes to decorate inspired by Greek pottery styles. You can use pencil and paper to complete this, but you can also get creative with some coloured pencils or paints.

In Greek pottery shapes tell us about function. In this activity you can learn about three pottery shapes and what they were used for: Greek Pottery Templates. You can either print these off or use paper and pencil to copy them.

Ancient Greeks liked to decorate their pottery in rich complicated designs. The Museum of Classical Archaeology holds hundreds of pottery sherds (pieces). We hope that these sherds inspire you to create your own Greek Vase. You can draw fanciful patterns on your pot using these examples of pottery sherds from the museum: Guide to Decorating Greek Pottery.

We have picked a few examples of the geometric style, which focuses on shapes and lines. We also threw in a few more complicated styles for fun. You should know that the ideal in Greek pottery was to cover the entire surface of the vase with these decorations.

Want to be even more like an ancient Greek potter? Try writing your name on your vase in Greek letters using this guide to the Greek Alphabet.


Red figure pottery consists of red images against a black background, while black figure pottery consists of black pictures against the naturally red color of the vase. The two ancient Greek pottery techniques utilize a similar approach as far as creating the vase and bringing out the desired figures during firing.

The characteristics of the Hellenistic period include the division of Alexander’s empire, the spread of Greek culture and language, and the flourishing of the arts, science and philosophy.


The ancient Greek hydria

There were all sorts of different types of ancient Greek pottery. Let’s examine the hydria, a vessel used for transporting and pouring water.

Written by Josho Brouwers on 11 February 2019

The ancient Greeks used a variety of pottery in different shapes and sizes. Each type of vessel had a particular use. The original names for most of these types of pots are lost. Even in instances where a vessel is referred to in a text it’s not always clear which type of vessel known from the archaeological record it’s supposed to be, as ancient authors seldom if ever bothered to describe them.

The ancient Greeks were also notoriously – and frustratingly! – inconsistent when it came to terminology. Still, modern researchers need to be able to catalogue ancient objects and so archaeologists have given names to every type of vessel that has been unearthed in excavations and put on display in museums. Hence, a jug can be referred to as an olpe or an oinochoe.

My focus here is one type of pot in particular: the hydria (plural, hydriai). As the name suggests, the hydria was a vessel used for storing water. It had three handles: two oriented horizontally and opposite each other at the level of the pot’s shoulders. These horizontal handles allowed the pot to be lifted up and carried. But a hydria also had a third handle, a vertical one, spaced between the two horizontal handles. This third handle would have allowed someone to more conveniently pour the water from the vessel’s interior. A water jar without the third handle is known as a kalpis.

/>Side B of the “François Vase” (ca. 570 BC). On the second figurative frieze from the bottom, the fourth from the top, the scene depicts Achilles’ ambush of the Trojan prince Troilus. A hydria has been knocked over and labelled. At the far left of this same frieze we see a fountain house with other hydriai. National Archaeological Museum of Florence.

The name, hydria, is actually ancient: a vessel of this type is depicted and conveniently labelled on side B of the so-called “François Vase” (ca. 570 BC). This large pot is actually a krater, used for mixing water and wine, and depicts a number of scenes drawn from ancient Greek mythology. The hydria is shown fallen over on the second figurative frieze from the bottom, in a scene that features Achilles’ ambush of the Trojan prince Troilus. There is a fountain house at the extreme left, the place where Achilles had set up his ambush, and where other jars are shown being filled with water.

While hydriai could be lavishly decorated, using black- or red-figure styles, plain versions were probably much more commonly used. The decorated hydriai would have been brought out during special occasions. For example, during a symposium (i.e. a drinking party), a finely decorated hydria would have been used to pour water into a krater in order to dilute wine. Show Ancient wine was very high in alcohol content only barbarians were said to drink it pure!

/>This beautiful Attic black-figure hydria from ca. 520 BC depicts women filling their hydriai with water collected at a fountain house. Note how one of the women is balancing her water jar on the top of her head. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.