Narrative Strategies in Ancient Greek Vase Painting

Alluding to Fate and Time in Narrative Depiction






Lucas Livingston

April 15, 2002

Beginning already as early as the 8th century BCE and continuing so long as Greek Civilization flourished, its artisans demonstrated a fondness for depicting scenes from popular epics, myth, and legends.  Among the most ideal media for the portrayal of popular narrative scenes was vase painting and, later, relief sculpture.  Some of the earliest examples can be seen in the almost stick-figure representations on the monumental Geometric Period funerary vessels, where we already see depictions of specific scenes from the Homeric epics.[1]  Greek vase painting quickly develops into a highly expressive art form, while modes and techniques for representing the narrative similarly adjust to appeal to the markets of different cultures.  Depictions of popular narratives in sculpture are not prevalent until the 6th century, when we encounter the pedimental sculpture of Archaic Period temples throughout Greece.[2]

A particularly pivotal period for the transformation of narrative strategies in Ancient Greek art encompasses the Late Archaic and Early Classical Periods.  The Archaic Period saw the birth of Greek philosophy, through the teachings of figures like Epimenides, Pythagoras, and Empedokles.  Here we see a newfound interest in the spirit or soul and the nature and role of humanity in the cosmos overshadowing traditional pursuits of merely honorable fame (kleos) and profitable gain.  The Early Classical Period saw the further investigation of the human condition with a concern for understanding and expressing ideas of human character (ethos) "formed by inheritance, habit, and self-discipline" and suffering (pathos) as the "spontaneous reaction to experiences in the external world."[3]  In an effort to incorporate the new intellectual inquiry of the day into the traditional subject matter of the epic or mythic narrative, Late Archaic and Early Classical artists introduce new techniques or strategies for narrative representation, which explore the subtlety of human consciousness, while seeking to appeal to changes in the Greek (notably Attic) artistic tastes.

One of the most striking innovations for narrative representation was the move from depicting the most striking, provocative, climactic moment of a narrative (hence, with representations of Greek epic, also often the most violent moment) to depicting the moment immediately prior to this.  This change in no way undermines the significance of the narrative, but employs greater subtlety and the knowledge of the viewer to allude to the impending momentous narrative event.  This provided the artist the opportunity for exploring concepts like pathos and the human consciousness and seemed also to appeal more to contemporary Attic tastes and values.

Early Greek artisans generally seemed to enjoy representing pivotal and climactic moments of popular myths and narratives, as we can see in the ca. 670 BCE Proto-attic amphora from Eleusis depicting the blinding of Polyphemos.  On the neck of this amphora, we see Odysseus[4] with two of his men thrusting a long sharpened pole into the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemos  (fig. 1).  The artist was in no way restrained from representing the most climactic and gory moment of the narrative.  There is little attempt at subtlety in the portrayal of the scene.

Over a century later, in a ca. 560, mid-Archaic, Attic black-figure amphora depicting the sacrifice of Polyxena, we still see a drastic depiction of the most climactic and brutal moment of the narrative.  Here we see Neoptolemos, son of Achilles, slicing the throat of Polyxena, daughter of King Priam of Troy, at the tomb of Achilles after the fall of Troy  (fig. 2).  This vase from the so-called “Tyrrhenian” group, with such a gory depiction, is not likely to have appealed to contemporary Attic tastes, but seems to have been fashioned specifically for the Etruscan market, where such a brutal scene would have been particularly well received.[5]  Therefore, despite the amphora’s Attic origin, the climactic gory scene is not indicative of or faithful to contemporary design trends and preferences in Attic narrative representation.  Another ca. 560 Attic black-figure amphora of the “Tyrrhenian” group depicts the death of Troilos, youngest son of Priam.  Before the events of the Iliad, a prophecy states that Troy would not fall, should Troilos reach the age of 20.  Shortly after the arrival of the Achaeans outside Troy, however, Achilles lay in wait beside a fountain to ambush Troilos.  When Troilos came to water his horse, Achilles attacked and killed eventually Troilos.[6]  In the depiction of the death of Troilos on the Tyrrhenian amphora, we see the decapitate body of Troilos crumpled beneath the feet of Achilles, who wields Troilos’ own head against the oncoming Trojan warriors  (fig. 3).  Again we encounter a representation of a popular myth in a style, which, although executed by an Attic painter, is not likely to have appealed to contemporary Attic tastes.

We find a starkly different representation of the death of Troilos on a contemporary Attic black-figure amphora.  We see Achilles in full armor crouching down behind a fountain at which Polyxena fills a hydria with water  (fig. 4).  Behind Polyxena, her brother Troilos approaches on horseback to water his horse.  In contrast with the Attic renditions executed for Etruscan tastes, this depiction of the narrative shows does not show the intense climactic moment of action or the brutal slaughter of characters.  Instead, the moment immediately before the sudden chase between Troilos and Achilles is being depicted.  The artist is relying on the viewer’s knowledge of the myth to recognize the scene and continue the sequence of events in the mind.  As a slight aid to the viewer, the artist has depicted a large bird of ill omen atop the fountain.  The uncharacteristically monstrous size and widespread wings as if startled or about to take off in flight provide the bird with a monumental character perhaps alluding to and suggestive of the impending fate of Troilos.  Thus, without actually depicting the gory details or the anxious rush of characters, the artist has managed to instill in the learned viewer a sense of foreboding and dread at what is to come.

We see another popular narrative, the blinding of Polyphemos, similarly receiving a very different treatment in the ca. 410 BCE Lucanian red-figure krater (fig. 5) as compared to the above-mentioned Eleusinian Proto-attic amphora (fig. 6).  In contrast with the Proto-attic rendition of the narrative, where we see Odysseus and his men at the height of action as they plunge a sharpened pole into the eye of the Cyclops, this Late Classical example depicts a moment of preparation immediately before the climax of the tale.  Here we see a the drunken, unconscious Polyphemos draped lazily across the floor in a marvelously frontal pose while Odysseus calmly directs his men as they attempt to wield what appears to be a large sharpened tree trunk.  They have not yet gored out the eye of the sleeping Cyclops with their makeshift weapon, but the depiction provides enough detail for the viewer familiar with the narrative to complete the events in his or her mind.  The viewer is fully aware of the impending agony of Polyphemos and the graceful, subtle, clever suggestion of this fate seems to have appealed to the eyes of late Archaic and Classical Greeks more so than a graphic, gory, explicit depiction of violence.

Similarly, we see a strong contrast between the ca. 560 BCE Attic “Tyrrhenian” representation of the sacrifice of Polyxena (fig. 7) and that of a ca. 500 Attic black-figure hydria  (fig. 8).  This latter treatment of the narrative does not depict the most gory, desperate, climactic moment of the slicing of Polyxena's throat, but alludes to her impending tragic fate as she is led by Neoptolemos to the tomb of Achilles.  Similar to the representation of the ambush of Troilos above, this depiction was perhaps more appealing to Attic tastes and relies on the viewer's knowledge of the myth and what is about to follow, thereby further inviting him or her to continue the narrative in mind.[7]  The solemn expression and downcast head of Polyxena expresses a deeply somber sensation of the pathos, or suffering, she feels as she tries to deal with the realization of her fast approaching fate, whereas the Tyrrhenian amphora conveys a sense of suffering only though the brutal, painful, impassionate slaughter akin to sacrificial animals.  The viewer of this late Archaic hydria is perhaps assisted in engaging with the narrative plot and realizing the impending fate of Polyxena through the depiction of a winged eidolon of Achilles flying above his own tomb.[8]  Yet another allusion to the fate of Polyxena is the large, rearing, black serpent, a symbol commonly associated with the underworld, upon the tomb of Achilles.[9]  Without needing to depict the actual pivotal moment of violence, the Attic painters managed to express an equally stirring, tragic, and grievous sensation of pathos while actually depicting a somewhat calm moment just prior to the climax.  Only though the knowledge of the viewer and minor allegoric symbolism is the truly foreboding expression revealed.

A very common narrative depiction on Attic vases during the second half of the 6th century, but for which there is no surviving literary evidence, is that of Achilles and Ajax sitting in armor with helms, shields, and weapons at their sides while playing a board game.  In some later examples of the over 150 renditions of this scene, Athena is also depicted standing among them often gesturing as if to rouse them for battle  (fig. 9).[10]  The scene seems to suggest an imminent major battle some time before the events of the Iliad begin and about which the two warriors seem wholly unaware or unconcerned.  They are fully engaged in their leisurely past time as the foreboding figure of Athena looms before them warning them and the viewer of the impending conflagration.  The depiction of this scene and our lack of surviving literary evidence affords us the opportunity of realizing that the narrative strategy of the Attic black-figure vase painter does not in fact demand that the viewer actually be aware of the specifics of the story being depicted.  A close look at the scene can provide a viewer, who is reasonably familiar with the epic, with enough information to understand not only what is being represented, but also with a foreboding sense of what is to come.  This subtle effect is completely lost in depictions of the more brutal climactic moments of the narrative.

Time-play in Greek Vase painting

In addition to the narrative strategy of subtly alluding to an impending tragic fate without actually depicting the heightened, climactic moment of violent, gory detail, Greek vase painters throughout the Archaic Period also seemed to enjoy taking advantage of the conventional perception of a narrative as a sequence of events along a constant linear path.  A certain time-play is achieved by blending multiple distinct and separate moments of a narrative into a single depiction.  Sometimes the effect is subtle enough so as to be easily overlooked by the inattentive viewer.  Other examples produce a jarring compression of time and space and a gouge at logic so as to become confusingly playful for the viewer.

If we return to the ca. 670 BCE Proto-attic amphora depicting the blinding of Polyphemos, we see a slight allusion to a previous event in the narrative through the depiction of the wine cup in the hand of Polyphemos (fig. 1).  In the Homeric narrative account of the blinding of Polyphemos, Odysseus first encourages Polyphemos to get drunk on wine, and only after he had fallen asleep and slumped over on his back did they skewer his eye[11]:

…again he snatched up two men and prepared them for dinner.
Then at last I, holding in my hands an ivy bowl
full of black wine, stood close up to the Cyclops and spoke out:
“Here, Cyclops, have a drink of wine, now you have fed on
human flesh, and see what kind of  drink our ship carried
inside her. I brought it for you, and it would have been your libation
had you taken pity and sent me home…[12]

So he spoke, and I gave him the gleaming wine again. Three times
I brought it to him and game it to him, three times he recklessly
drained it, but when the wine had got into the brains of the Cyclops,
then I spoke to him, and my words were full of beguilement.[13]

He spoke and slumped away and fell on his back, and lay there
with his thick neck crooked over on one side, and sleep who subdues all
came on and captured him, and the wine gurgled up from his gullet
with gobs of human meat.[14]

With the representation of Odysseus and his men driving the shaft into the Cyclops’ eye while he is still sitting upright and grasping the wine cup, we encounter a depiction of two separate yet sequential events from the narrative.  The blinding of Polyphemos is clearly the primary, climactic, and pivotal moment of the representation, while the cup and posture of the Cyclops may act as allusions to the previous moment, wherein Polyphemos gets drunk.  Despite depicting the characters only once (as opposed to multiple representations of the narrative on different sides or registers of the amphora) a sequence of multiple episodes from the narrative that would realistically occur at different times come together through the careful selection of signifying elements from these sequential moments.[15]  The inclusion of elements from two separate moments of the narrative may help the viewer connect the points and understand better exactly which narrative is being depicted.  The particularly learned viewer may also realize that the depiction does not exactly match up with the Odyssey's narrative account, thereby causing him or her to further engage with and question the representation on the amphora.  In effect, two sequential moments in the story have been captured and represented by the artist in one single illustration.

            Another good example of time-play and also spatial compression is seen in the ca. 550 BCE Attic black-figure cup depicting Circe changing the band of Odysseus’ men into animals  (fig. 10).  Three distinct moments of the narrative are represented all at once time and in a single field of view on the cup.  In the center we see Circe handing a cup (similar to the vessel on which this image is painted) containing her magical brew to one of Odysseus’ men.  Already within this small section of the painting we see that the artist is playing with the sequence of events of the narrative, for the man to whom Circe hands her potion is already half transformed into a boar.  How could this figure be mutating into an animal if Circe only now hands him the draught?  Flanking them are additional men at various stages of transformation and to the far right an elderly man rushes off the scene.  This may be Eurylochos fleeing to warn Odysseus of what is happening.[16]  At the far left, however, we see Odysseus already arriving on the scene, sword in hand, ready to right the wrong.  Again, we cannot help but wonder how Odysseus could be rushing onto the scene when Eurylochos has not yet gone and told him.  This is a prime example of the Archaic Attic vase painter’s attempt at playing with the sequence of events in the narrative by compressing various separate yet contiguous moments into a single depiction and onto the confined space offered by the vessel.  Unlike a modern comic strip, however, where the events are laid out sequentially in their little boxes, here the separate moments are right on top of each other, producing a somewhat playful yet baffling representation, which must have appealed to Attic tastes.

Narrative Strategies in Classical Pedimental Sculpture

            Up to this point, narrative strategies in Greek vase painting alone have been addressed, although narrative depictions were certainly not restricted to vase painting.  Unfortunately, an examination of the vast corpus of Ancient Greek narrative depictions would prove too extensive to treat herein sufficiently.  A quick look, however, at a good example of the allusion to fate and time in sculpture will demonstrate that narrative techniques commonly employed in Greek vase painting were concurrently incorporated into other artistic media.

            The east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (ca. 470-57 BCE) is generally thought to represent the legend of the chariot race between the hero Pelops and King Oinomaos of Elis.  The legend tells of the proposition of Oinomaos to give away the hand of his daughter, Hippodameia, to any man who could best him in a chariot race.  Unfortunately for the challengers, the god Aries had given magical, invincible horses to Oinomaos.  Oinomaos was a cruel, arrogant, and violent despot; the penalty he demanded of the suitors for failure in the race was death and the heads of his rivals decorated the palace.  Nevertheless, the hero Pelops sought the hand of Hippodameia and challenged the king to a race.  To level the playing field between Pelops and Oinomaos, Pelops beseeches Poseidon for aid in the contest and receives a golden chariot with magical, tireless, winged horses.  To further ensure his victory, Pelops, or perhaps even Hippodameia, bribes the king’s charioteer, Myrtilos, who replaces the metal lynchpins of the chariot’s wheels with wax.  During the race, the wheels of Oinomaos’ chariot fly off and the cruel, malicious, hated monarch is thrown from the chariot and dies.[17]

            At first glance, the pedimental group appears merely to be rather static, posed, casual, and unexpressive  (fig. 11).  Pelops and Oinomaos are not depicted on their chariots, their horses in full stride; Oinomaos is not shown flying from his chariot or as a crumpled mass beneath a victorious Pelops.  As with contemporary narrative scenes on Attic vases, the artist chose not to depict the heightened, most violent, climactic moment, but rather a calm, casual, nonaggressive representation of the narrative.  The representation could be read as depicting a specific moment from the narrative, perhaps preparations being made before the start of the chariot race.[18]  This reading would be akin to narrative depictions found on vase paintings throughout Greek Civilization, where an effort is made to portray a very specific narrative scene or moment.  Alternatively, this representation of the chariot race could be read as depicting no specific moment from the narrative, but rather as a monumental, dramatic emblem of the narrative, a sort of book cover or group photo of the prominent figures from the legend.  With the static, posed, artificial symmetry and frontality of the figures, it becomes difficult to support the notion of the depiction of a specific narrative moment.  A timeless, emblematic, and somewhat nonnarrative representation is exemplary of the late Archaic and early Classical rendition of eastern pedimental sculpture.  The sculptural group of the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, along with its roughly Classical contemporaries, such as the late 6th century Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is “intentionally static, its figures rigidly frontal, because its purpose is confrontational, emblematic, nonnarrative and, therefore, abstract.”[19]  Depicting the characters of the chariot race story in an artificially posed stance corresponding to no specific moment, scene, or event from the narrative actually seems to strip them out of the narrative and place them in a sort of abstract artificial time and space reminiscent of the time-play seen in earlier and contemporary Greek vase painting.

One significant difference between the sculpture of late Archaic to early Classical east pediments and their predecessors is that now “the emblem of divinity has taken human form.”[20]  Nonetheless, while the mode of representation has changed, the message remains the same.  The east pediment at the front of the temple was intended to convey a sense of the majesty of the divine in the beholder, be it through early representations of monsters and beasts, such as the static, confrontational, boldly frontal serpents and lions in the east pediment of the Athenian Hekatompedon, or through the later anthropomorphic representations of Zeus and Apollo.[21]

            If the east pediment traditionally portrayed a nonnarrative, emblematic, confrontational sense of the divine, why, then, introduce a narrative element into the western pedimental sculpture of the Temple of Zeus at all?  What is the purpose of representing the chariot race and how does this convey a sense of the majesty of the divine to the beholder?  Hurwit argues that the central unifying theme of the sculptural program at the Temple of Zeus at Olympia is the notion of dŘkh—“rightness”, “custom”, “justice.”[22]  The sense of dŘkh is conveyed in the legend through the restoration of custom and order in society after Pelops defeats the malicious Oinomaos.  The placement of Zeus as the central, largest figure reminds us that the god watches over all and is the ultimate arbiter of all matters of dŘkh.  One possible reconstruction of the figure of Zeus and the placement of Pelops and Oinomaos at his flanks has Zeus looking to his right down at Pelops.  With the right being a side of good omen, Hurwit argues that Pelops is serving as the agent of Zeus’ divine retribution, further reminding us that it is ultimately by the will of Zeus that Oinomaos, who so richly deserved death, was overthrown.[23]  Similar to the allusion to an impending tragic fate on vase paintings depicting narrative scenes shortly before the moment of climax, here we see an allusion to the ultimate demise of the wicked Oinomaos at the hands of Pelops and fate and by the will of the gods.  Also, as with narratives in vase paintings, the artist was depending on the viewer’s knowledge of the myth to fully understand the serious implications of the narrative and the majesty of the divine.

The particularly learned and clever viewer might even be able to read well beyond the events of the chariot race to create a much broader, deeper, more awe-inspiring interpretation of the representation.  At some point shortly after the demise of Oinomaos and the union of Pelops and Hippodameia, the charioteer Myrtilos attempts to rape Hippodameia.[24]  An enraged Pelops throws Myrtilos off a cliff to his death, but before Myrtilos hits the ground he manages to cast a curse upon the union of Pelops and Hippodameia, who, for their part, do not bear the brunt of the curse.  It mainly falls upon the children and descendants of Pelops and Hippodameia—the House of Atreus.

The tragic fate of the House of Atreus begins already with the sons of Pelops, Atreus and Thyestes, who loathed one another in part because Thyestes had seduced the wife of Atreus.  In return for this wretched treachery, Atreus made a false motion of reconciliation with his brother and invited him for a lavish feast, as Apollodorus describes in his Library and Epitome:

But afterwards being apprized of the adultery, he sent a herald to Thyestes with a proposal of accommodation; and when he had lured Thyestes by a pretence of friendship, he slaughtered the sons, Aglaus, Callileon, and Orchomenus, whom Thyestes had by a Naiad nymph, though they had sat down as suppliants on the altar of Zeus. And having cut them limb from limb and boiled them, he served them up to Thyestes without the extremities; and when Thyestes had eaten heartily of them, he showed him the extremities …[25]

whereupon it was revealed to Thyestes that he had just dined on his own children.  In turn, then, Thyestes sought retribution in response for this most heinous act of his brother even at the cost of Thyestes impregnating his own daughter:

But seeking by all means to pay Atreus out, Thyestes inquired of the oracle on the subject, and received an answer that it could be done if he were to beget a son by intercourse with his own daughter. He did so accordingly, and begot Aegisthus by his daughter. And Aegisthus, when he was grown to manhood and had learned that he was a son of Thyestes, killed Atreus, and restored the kingdom to Thyestes.[26]

Before Aegisthus murdered Atreus, however, the latter bore two sons of his own: the famed Agamemnon and Menelaos.  The plight suffered by these members of the House of Atreus is known all too well as they found themselves as central players in the Trojan War of the Iliad.  Menelaos for the most part merely suffered the misfortune of being victim to the abduction of his wife, Helen, at the hands of the Trojan Paris and even seems to lead a pleasant life after her return, as we see later in the Odyssey.  Agamemnon, however, bears the brunt of the curse for his generation after he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to please an upset Artemis for safe passage on the seas to Troy.[27]  Enraged, his wife, Clytemnestra, takes in their cousin, Aegisthus, son of Thyestes, while Agamemnon is off at Troy, and together they plot his death.  On the first day after his return from Troy, the heroic warrior Agamemnon is butchered in his bath.

Out of moral indignity and in an attempt at just retribution for the murder of his own father, Orestes kills Aegisthus and his mother, Clytemnestra.  He is beset upon by the Furies and tormented incessantly for his matricide, despite the fact that he was acting according to his own conscience and believed his actions to be in favor of justice.[28]  Against the divine penalty he now suffered, he sought acquittal from the highest mortal courts, but mere humans were unable to resolve his case alone.  “It was beyond human capacity to fathom such things, and it fell upon immortal Athena to cast the deciding vote in favor of Orestes,”[29] thereby removing the plague of the Furies and lifting the curse of the House of Atreus once and for all.

It is difficult to imagine an Ancient Greek visitor at Olympia who would not be aware of the legendary series of treachery and calamity that befell the House of Atreus.  To connect the eastern pedimental group with the tragic events that befell the many generations after Pelops, the viewer needs only a subtle suggestion, if at all, to spur his or her thinking.  This “catalyst that sets off a series of associations in the mind of the viewer” is generally seen in the pedimental group in the third figure from the right, that of the reclining elderly man  (fig. 12).[30]  There is much debate surrounding exactly whom this figure represents, but he is generally known as the “old seer”.[31]  His pose is certainly one of reflection and perhaps even dread, shock, grief, or dismay at his foreboding premonition of the tragic events that are to follow for many generations while he gazes upon the scene before him.  His grievous nature is further heightened by the careful attention the artist has paid to gesture and physique:

With his potbelly, sagging flesh, balding head, puffy eyes, lined forehead, and dramatic gesture of bringing his clenched fist to his cheek, [the old seer] has long been recognized as a masterpiece of Early Classical sculpture, the epitome of the period’s concern with pathos.[32]

The old seer alludes to the tragic fate of so many members of the House of Atreus by acting as a trigger in the mind of the viewer.  He is a visual aid for the viewer like the chthonic serpents curling around tombs or giant birds of ill omen seen in contemporary vase painting.[33]  He causes the viewer to engage with the representation and continue the events of the narrative without stopping until he or she has reached the pitiful Orestes pleading before the Athenian Areopagos.  The legend of the curse of the House of Atreus, then, ties in beautifully with the overarching theme of dŘkh in the sculptural program of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.[34]  The central placement of Zeus within the eastern pedimental group reminds the viewer of his being the ultimate arbiter of all mortal matters of dŘkh.  Similarly, through the allusion to the plight of the House of Atreus, the viewer is reminded of the majesty of the divine in that the mortal members of the Areopagos cannot resolve the case of Orestes and pass judgement on so heinous a legacy of tragic events.  Rather, the decision falls upon the goddess Athena; it is the duty of the divine to resolve this case and reestablish dŘkh—law and order—in the world.[35]  Finally, in recalling the traditional function of the eastern faćade of the Greek temple (to impose a proper sensation of the divine upon the approaching viewer through a confrontational emblem of divinity) we are now able to see just how superb an example the Temple of Zeus at Olympia is.  The allusion to tragic fate and majesty of the divine expressed through the pedimental sculpture produces a confrontation effect greater than any snarling lion or staring serpent of earlier Archaic pediments.

The Greek Archaic and Early Classical Periods witnessed profound changes in intellectual thought with the investigation of the human spirit and consciousness.  Contemporary artisans sought to express these notions in their representations of narrative through the innovative technique of alluding to a narrative's climactic occasion by depicting the immediately preceding moment.  This in turn elicits an investigative, intellectual, and emotional response in the viewer by causing one to complete the scene in one's mind and further causes the viewer to engage with the thoughts, motives, and emotions of the characters involved.  The quality of the human consciousness was further explored through subtle expressions of grief and suffering, or pathos—the emotional reaction to external forces and events—which, itself, sometimes acts as the subtle visual key for the allusion to an impending tragic fate.[36]  Employment of the "time play" strategy in narrative representation—the expression of distinctly separate sequential moments in a single depiction—can be seen as a further attempt to elicit the engagement of the viewer, causing him or her to question the representation in abstract ways, which a more literal representation would not elicit.  Archaic and Classical art clearly demonstrates its value as a medium not only for the expression of cultural aesthetics, but also as a platform for philosophical inquiry.

[1] Biers, William R. The Archaeology of Greece. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996, 123.

[2] Prior to this period, sculpture was almost exclusively confined to kouroi and korai anthropomorphic funerary markers. It is not until the advent of monumental temple architecture in the Archaic Period that we see a widespread practice of portraying figures other than the deceased in sculpture.

[3] Pollit, J. J. Art and Experience in Classical Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972, 43; Pollit (43-54) offers a detailed exploration of the concepts of ethos and pathos and their expression through Early Classical art; see also Hurwit, Jeffrey M. Narrative Resonance in the East Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Art Bulletin 69:1 (1987), 9.

[4] The representation of one man in white (generally assumed to be Odysseus) starkly contrasts with his black-clothed comrades.  This is exemplary of an experimental technique of Proto-attic vase painters, whereby the most significant figure of the narrative is boldly accentuated above all others  (Carpenter, T. H. Art and Myth in Ancient Greece. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991, 238).

[5] “Neck-amphorae (wine jars) of this ovoid shape have come to be known as ‘Tyrrhenian amphorae’ because they were found in large numbers on Etruscan sites in Italy, and not at all in Greece, so that they were originally thought to be Etruscan-made (‘Tyrrhenian’ was an old name for ‘Etruscan’). They are now known to have been made in Athens specifically for export to Italy.” (Museum of Classical Archaeology, University of Natal, Durban. Tyrrhenian amphora. 21 March, 2002.)

[6] Grimal 459

[7] It would be a mistake to believe that all epic narrative depictions for the Attic audience were devoid of dramatic battle scenes or direct representations of tragic fate. Such climactic narrative moments certainly find their place in Attic vase painting, but all the while remain more pristine, idealized, and heroic than, for example, the “Tyrrhenian” group contemporaries.  “One cannot help but be struck, in reading the descriptions of the battles in the Iliad, by the detail in which Homer describes ghastly wounds, while on glancing at depictions of those fights on Attic vases, one is equally struck by the lack of gore—only a drop of blood here and there on the always beautiful (and hairless) bodies of heroes”  (Carpenter 202).

[8] Euripides tells us in his Hecuba that the spirit of Achilles demanded the sacrifice of Polyxena (35-44), as did Sophocles in one of his lost works  (Carpenter 19).

[9] Carpenter 30

[10] Carpenter 200

[11] We must not assume that this depiction of the blinding of Polyphemos was directly inspired by the Homeric version of the myth that has come down to us. Anthony Snodgrass examines this and other roughly contemporary depictions of the Polyphemos myth in comparison with Homer’s, detailing a number of arguments both in favor of and against a direct Homeric influence on the representations (Homer and the Artists: Text and Picture in Early Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 89-100).

[12] The Odyssey of Homer. trans. Richmond Lattimore. IX.344-350.

[13] IX.360-363

[14] IX.371-374

[15] Snodgrass 57

[16] Carpenter 234

[17] Some ancient sources for the legend of the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos are Pindar’s first Olympian Ode, Euripides’ Orestes 984-1012, Argonautica I.752-58 by Apollonios of Rhodes, Diodorus Siculus (4.73.5-6), the Epitome II.3-9 of Apollodoros, Pausanias (8.14.10-11) and Imagines 9 of Philostratos the Younger.

[18] Hurwit maintains that the moment represented here is “when Oinomaos sets the ground rules for the competition (or else when the heroes swear their oath of fair play before the altar of Zeus)” (Hurwit 6, 8).

[19] Rhodes, Robin F. Architecture and Meaning on the Athenian Acropolis. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 97

[20] ibid. 97

[21] Rhodes 51-3

[22] Hurwit 6

[23] ibid. 6

[24] In some versions of the tale, it may have been the case that Pelops offered Hippodameia to Myrtilos as part of the deal for throwing the race (Rhodes 102).

[25] Apollodorus. Library and Epitome. E 2.13.

[26] Apollodorus E 2.14.

[27] In some versions of the myth, Artemis sweeps away Iphigenia at the last moment and replaces her with a deer  (Feder, Theodore H. and Herschel Shanks. “Iphigenia & Isaac: Saved at the Altar.” Archaeology Odyssey. (May/June 2002) 52; see, for example, Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis 1578-1612.

[28] Rhodes 102

[29] ibid.

[30] ibid.

[31] Among the varied identifications ascribed to this figure are Myrtilos, a local deity, Kronos, the paedagogus of Pelops, and many more. Primary evidence supporting the claim that this figure represents a seer is his iconographic parallel with similar seer figures on Archaic vase painting (Hurwit 12).

[32] Hurwit 9

[33] C.f. figs. 8 and 4.

[34] C.f. note 22 above.

[35] Perhaps it is a fitting parallel that the fate of Orestes, the descendant of Pelops, be decided by Athena, the descendant of Zeus.

[36] We have explored the exploitation of pathos as a mechanism for the allusion to tragic fate in the representation of Polyxena on the ca. 500 Attic black-figure hydria (fig. 8) and the "old seer" of the eastern pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (fig. 12).