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Homer (Ὅμηρος, Homeros) is the name given by the ancient Greeks to the author of two important early epic narrative poems in Greek, The Iliad
(Ιλιάς) and The Odyssey
Debate has continued since antiquity over the identity of Homer. Did he really exist as a historical individual and literary genius? If so did he compose both epic poems, and perhaps others as well? Was he a bard who composed, memorized and performed the poem or poems without the aid of writing (the alphabet was introduced to Greece in the early 8th century BC)? Or was he the first to write or dictate the poems that he had either composed himself or learned from other poets, a link in a long chain of oral tradition? Or were his name and character later inventions, to represent collectively several early Greek poets and the spirit of Archaic epic verse?
Whether Homer was a real person, a legendary or mythological character, other literary works were also attributed to him, including poems of the Epic Cycle
(the Little Iliad
, the Cypria
, the Nostoi
, the Epigoni
and the Theban Cycle
), the Homeric Hymns
, the Margites
, the Batrachomyomachia
(The frog-mouse war), the Capture of Oechalia
and the Phocais
. Several of these poems have also been attributed to other poets, and many modern scholars believe that these works are of a later date than The Iliad
and The Odyssey
tells of legendary and mythical heroic events around the time of Bronze Age conflicts between Greeks and Anatolians, distilled into the story of the Trojan War. The Odyssey
synthesizes seamen's yarns of pioneer Greek military, piratical and merchant sea voyages around the Mediterranean into the wanderings of Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς) during his ten year journey to his home in Ithaka (Ιθάκη) at the end of the war.
The stories take place around the end of the second millenium BC, for later Greeks an era of larger-than-life heroes, great warriors, founders of cities and dynasties, some of whom were descended from gods and other divine figures who interacted with the mortal characters and either actively supported or opposed them. Monsters, magic and the supernatural were part of the characters' lives and adventures.
Many of the stories of this era, true and fictional, were transmitted orally from generation to generation, often in the form of songs and poetry which in themselves contributed to the creation and preservation of the great heroic ethos. Each generation of bards no doubt altered and added details to show off their skills and to appeal to local contemporary tastes of audiences.
In the case of The Iliad
and The Odyssey
, the questions of how much of the original Bronze Age traditions survived this process, how much was based on historical fact and/or age-old story-telling, and how much was newly created by the writer (or writers) will keep scholars busy for many years to come.
The two epics became enormously influential works throughout the Greek and Roman world for a millenium; considered exemplary in poetic and literary terms, essential reading and central to the cultural values of the time.
It should not come as a surprise for us to learn that the Greeks built shrines to their author and eventually deified him (see The Apotheosis of Homer
Alexander the Great
was said to have a particular love of Homer's poetry, especially The Iliad
with its typically Homeric ideals of honour and glory. On his campaigns through Asia he carried a copy of the work which Aristotle
had annotated and given to him as a gift.
There is no doubt that the works are literary masterpieces, and the language, technique and style of the poetry in which they are written, as well as the structural and narrative qualities, are still influential and universally admired. They are also like gazeteers and a veritable who's who (or all too often who killed whom) of the ancient world. The Greek geographer Strabo
(64/63 BC – circa 24 AD) called Homer the founder of geography:
"And first, [we maintain,] that both we and our predecessors, amongst whom is Hipparchus, do justly regard Homer as the founder of geographical science, for he not only excelled all, ancient as well as modern, in the sublimity of his poetry, but also in his experience of social life. Thus it was that he not only exerted himself to become familiar with as many historic facts as possible, and transmit them to posterity, but also with the various regions of the inhabited land and sea, some intimately, others in a more general manner. For otherwise he would not have reached the utmost limits of the earth, traversing it in his imagination."
Strabo, Geography, Book 1
, chapter 2, section 2.
Many of the geographical, topographical and historical details in Homer's works have in fact been confirmed by archaeologists, historians and scientists over the last two centuries, proving at least that the author based his often incredible tales on a solid ground of facts.
The style, language and several other details have led many scholars to believe that the versions of The Iliad
and The Odyssey
known from antiquity were probably written by an author from East Greece (western Anatolia and the eastern Aegean islands) about 750-700 BC. This is around the same time as the poet Hesiod is also thought to have lived.
The earliest known mention of Homer was by the philosopher and poet Xenophanes of Colophon (Ξενοφάνης ὁ Κολοφώνιος, circa 570-475 BC), who criticized the way in which he and Hesiod represented the gods. 
An oft-quoted passage of Pausanias
stating that a certain Kelainos (or Kallinos) attributed the epic poem Thebais
to Homer is questionable. 
and The Odyssey
were first mentioned by Herodotus
(circa 484 - circa 425 BC), who considered that Homer and Hesiod virtually invented the names, genealogies, forms and functions of the gods:
"But whence each of the gods came to be, or whether all had always been, and how they appeared in form, they did not know until yesterday or the day before, so to speak. For I suppose Hesiod and Homer flourished not more than four hundred years earlier than I; and these are the ones who taught the Greeks the descent of the gods, and gave the gods their names, and determined their spheres and functions, and described their outward forms.
But the poets who are said to have been earlier than these men were, in my opinion, later. The earlier part of all this is what the priestesses of Dodona tell; the later, that which concerns Hesiod and Homer, is what I myself say." 
At some point Homer acquired a biography and became known as the blind bard from Ionia, and at least four East Greek cities, Smyrna, Chios, Kolophon and Kyme, claimed the bard as a native son (see the inscription from Pergamon below
The Roman author Aulus Gellius (circa 125 - after 180 AD) mentioned even more places making this claim to fame, and repeated the legend that his tomb was on Ios:
"Also as to Homer's native city there is the very greatest divergence of opinion. Some say that he was from Colophon, some from Smyrna; others assert that he was an Athenian, still others, an Egyptian; and Aristotle declares that he was from the island of Ios. Marcus Varro, in the first book of his Portraits
, placed this couplet under the portrait of Homer:
'This snow-white kid the tomb of Homer marks;
For such the Ietae offer to the dead.'" 
(The Ietae were the inhabitants of Ios.)
The author and date of a famous epigram on the subject of Homer's birthplace are unknown:
"Seven cities contend for the birth of Homer: Smyrna, Rhodes, Kolophon, Salamis [Cyprus], Ios, Argos and Athens." 
(2nd century AD) discussed the birthplace of Homer when remarking on a statue and accompanying inscription at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi:
"... and you can see a bronze statue of Homer on a slab, and read the oracle that they say Homer received:
'Blessed and unhappy, for to be both wast thou born.
Thou seekest thy fatherland; but no fatherland hast thou, only a motherland.
The island of Ios is the fatherland of thy mother, which will receive thee
When thou hast died; but be on thy guard against the riddle of the young children.'
The inhabitants of Ios point to Homer's tomb in the island, and in another part to that of Clymene, who was, they say, the mother of Homer.
But the Cyprians, who also claim Homer as their own, say that Themisto, one of their native women, was the mother of Homer, and that Euclus foretold the birth of Homer in the following verses:
'And then in sea-girt Cyprus there will be a mighty singer,
Whom Themisto, lady fair, shall bear in the fields, A man of renown, far from rich Salamis.
Leaving Cyprus, tossed and wetted by the waves,
The first and only poet to sing of the woes of spacious Greece,
For ever shall he be deathless and ageless.'
Sections on this page
These things I have heard, and I have read the oracles, but express no private opinion about either the age or date of Homer." 
Homer in Greek and Roman art
Homeric scenes in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art:
1. The Iliad
2. The Odyssey
Marble bust of Homer of the "Hellenistic
blind type" or "Pergamon type". Found in
Baiae, Bay of Naples, Campania, Italy. 
British Museum, London.
Inv. No, GR 1805.7-3.85 (Sculpture 1825).
Bust height: 57.5 cm.
Head of Homer of the "Epimenides type" 
with a long, straight beard and closed eyes.
Roman period copy of a Greek original of
the mid 5th century BC. Parian marble.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 123.
Purchased in Rome.
A marble head of Homer. 1-100 AD.
Similar to the "Epimenides type" head
above but, unusually, with open eyes.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. LI1022.1. On loan from
the Franziska Winters Collection.
Detail of a papyrus roll with part of Book 13
of the Iliad. The roll is one of the longest
surviving Homer papyri, containing most
of the Iliad books 13 and 14. From Egypt,
early 1st or 2nd century AD.
British Museum. Papyrus DCCXXXII.
Source: Frederic B. Kenyon,
The palaeography of Greek papyri,
Plate XIX, page 97.
Oxford University Press, 1899.
A papyrus fragment of the Odyssey,
the end of Book 3. The earliest surviving
copy of the work. Early 1st century AD.
British Museum. Papyrus CCLXXI.
Source: Frederic B. Kenyon,
The palaeography of Greek papyri,
Plate XV, page 84.
Oxford University Press, 1899.
||Homer in Greek and Roman art
If Homer lived in the 8th century BC, some time earlier, or even a century later, this was long before realistic portraiture was practised by the Greeks. It is therefore considered that all the portraits of him were works of pure imagination, like those of many other famous people, created throughout antiquity to supply a popular need to have a face to go with a name.
Sculptures representing the legendary poet were made as early as the Classical period (5th - 4th century BC). Pausanias
mentioned statues of Homer and Hesiod, among a number of statues dedicated by Mikythos, the former tyrant of Rhegium in the mid 5th century BC, next to the Great Temple of Zeus in the Sanctuary of Olympia. 
Statues and busts of Homer, showing him as a scholarly, elderly, blind man, were placed in libraries and sanctuaries, a tradition which continued into Roman times. There were sculptures of this type in the Library of Pergamon
and the Homereion of Alexandria, a centre for Homeric studies during the Hellenistic period. 
"There is a new invention too, which we must not omit to notice. Not only do we consecrate in our libraries, in gold or silver, or at all events, in bronze, those whose immortal spirits hold converse with us in those places, but we even go so far as to reproduce the ideal of features, all remembrance of which has ceased to exist; and our regrets give existence to likenesses that have not been transmitted to us, as in the case of Homer, for example.
And indeed, it is my opinion, that nothing can be a greater proof of having achieved success in life, than a lasting desire on the part of one's fellow-men, to know what one's features were.
This practice of grouping portraits was first introduced at Rome by Asinius Pollio, who was also the first to establish a public library, and so make the works of genius the property of the public. Whether the kings of Alexandria and of Pergamus, who had so energetically rivalled each other in forming libraries, had previously introduced this practice, I cannot so easily say."
Pliny the Elder
, Natural History, Book 35
, chapter 2: "The honour attached to portraits". At Perseus Digital Library. 
Around the end of the 5th century AD, the Egyptian poet Christodorus described a bronze statue of Homer in the Baths of Zeuxippus in Constantinople:
"... the features of an old man, but of a gentle old age, so much so that it gives him an even richer aura of grace: a mix of venerability and admiration, but from which prestige shines through... With his two hands supported by his staff, one on top of the other, like a real man. The right ear bent, as if always listening to Apollo, almost as if he could hear a Muse nearby..."
, II, 311-349 
Many (if not all) of the cities claiming to be Homer's birthplace, as well as other cities around the Greek world as far as the Black Sea (see photo, above right) issued coins depicting the poet. According to Strabo
, the inhabitants of Smyrna (today Izmir, Turkey) had a shrine dedicated to Homer known as the Homereion, and issued bronze coins of the same name:
"There is also a library; and the Homereion, a quadrangular portico containing a shrine and wooden statue [xoanon] of Homer; for the Smyrnaeans also lay especial claim to the poet; and indeed a bronze coin of theirs is called Homereion."
Strabo, Geography, Book 14
, chapter 1, section 37. At Perseus Digital Library.
The enormous popularity and cultural influence of Homer's epic poems, as well as Homeric stories about the Trojan War and Oysseus by other authors (and perhaps also surviving oral tradions), are evident in the large number of surviving artworks illustrating scenes from the works (see below
) made and traded around the Graeco-Roman world.
Roman provincial bronze coin showing the
head of Homer in profile. From Amastris,
Paphlagonia, Black Sea, 100-260 AD.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Inv. No. HCR7895.
A head of Homer similar to the one in the British Museum
(top of page) on a modern bust.
Antonine copy (138-192 AD) of a 2nd century BC Greek
original, thought to have been made by the Rhodian School.
Height without bust 33 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6023.
From the Farnese Collection.
Replica of the Naples bust of Homer,
made by Gaetano Rossi in 1875.
Neues Museum, Berlin.
A plaster cast of a plaster cast of a bust of
Homer. This modern copy, in the Pergamon
Museum, Berlin, was taken from the cast
in the Goethe Nationalmuseum, Weimar,
which is thought to have belonged to
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Berlin, Abguss-Sammlung Antiker
Plastik der Freien Universität, VII 3470.
Marble head of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type" on a modern bust.
Roman copy after a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original. Perhaps the head found
in 1704 in the garden of the Canons of San Antonio Abate, Rome . The nose
and bust are modern additions. Luna marble. Height 54 cm, with foot 71 cm.
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 557. From the Albani Collection.
Marble herm of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type".
Roman copy after a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original. Like the
head of the bust above, it was also reported to have been found
in 1704 in the garden of the Canonici Regolari di San Antonio
Abbate, on the Esquiline Hill, Rome [see note 13]. Height 53 cm.
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 559. From the Giustiniani Collection.
Marble herm of Homer of the "Hellenistic blind type".
Roman copy after a 2nd century BC Hellenistic original.
Unusually, the poet is shown with part of his himation (cloak)
drawn over the back of his head. The end of the nose and the
back of the head as well as most of the neck and the herm have
been restored. Luna marble. Height 56.5 cm (head 29 cm). 
Hall of the Philosophers, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Inv. No. MC 558. From the Albani Collection.
Marble bust of Homer of the "Apollonius of Tyana" type.
Hadrianic copy (117-138 AD) of a late 4th century BC Greek original.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6140.
From the Farnese Collection.
|Marble statue thought to represent either Homer or a philosopher.
Found in the rectangular peristyle of the Villa of the Papyri,
Herculaneum. Height circa 200 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6126.
|The figure's hairstyle, beard, clothing and pose identify it as a depiction of a writer or philosopher. A bundle of papyrus rolls on the base reinforce the identification, as well as providing part of the support for the figure, which also includes part of his himation (cloak) and a long staff. The pose is reminiscent of the bronze statue of Homer in Constantinople described by Christodorus (see above), which depicted the bard "with his two hands supported by his staff, one on top of the other, like a real man."
The person represented is in middle age, younger than the other sculptures showing Homer as a blind, old man. The face, beard, hairstyle, and hairband have been treated in a similar way to some depictions of the mature Sophocles.
As with many ancient sculptures in Italian museums, this statue has been extensively restored. It is not always easy to spot which parts are modern additions.
An inscribed limestone base of a statue of Homer from Pergamon.
Late Hellenistic period, 2nd - 1st century BC.
Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. IvP 203.
|The blue-grey limestone block was found in May 1881 in the eastern part of the north stoa of the Sanctuary of Athena Polias Nikephoros, the area in which the Library of Pergamon is thought to have stood. Two foot-shaped indentations in the top of the block indicate that it was the base for a standing bronze statue. See below for details of the inscription.
Height 41.5 cm, width 70 cm, depth 75.5 cm. Height of letters 1.2 - 1.4 cm.
Bases for statues of other Greek poets and historians have also been found at the sanctuary: Alkaios of Mytiline, Apollonios, Balakros, Herodotus and Timotheos. The statues were probably part of a collection of monuments dedicated to famous writers exhibited in the library.
See also the base of a statue of Herodotus from the Sanctuary of Athena.
Drawing of the inscription on the Homer statue base from Pergamon by Max Fränkel. 
The badly weathered inscription on the front of the block consists of three epigrams
concerning the contending claims of four East Greek cities to be Homer's birthplace:
the Ionian cities of Smyrna, Chios and Kolophon, and Aeolian Kyme.
Inscription IvP I 203.
αὐ[τὸς δῆ]τα φράζ[ε τ]εῆς κλυτὸν [οὔνομα πάτ]ρης,
μο[ῦνο]ς ὅτ’ ἀρρήτ[ου]ς θήκαο γειναμ[ένους].
α[ἵ]δε τοι ἀμφίλογον μύθων περὶ δῆ̣[ριν ἔ]θεντ̣ο̣·
Σμ̣ύρνα τε καὶ γαίης Οἰνοπ̣ίωνος ἕ̣[δ]ος
καὶ Κολοφῶν Κύμ̣η τε. μέτα πτολέ[ε]σσι δὲ πάσαις
ἀμφὶ σέθεν γενεῆς ἵμερος ἱεμέναις·
τοῖόν τοι κλέος αἰπὺ μετὰ ζώιοισιν ἀοιδῆς,
ἔστε περ̣ιστείχη̣ι νύξ τε καὶ ἠέλιος.
τὸν περιδήριτον κοσμήτορα θεῖον Ὅ̣μηρον
λεύσσετ’, ἐν ὧι πᾶσαι νεῖκος ἔθεντο πόλεις·
Σμύρνα, Χίος, Κολοφῶ̣ν, Κύμη κα̣ὶ πᾶσα πελασγὶς
Ἑλλὰς καὶ νήσων ἄστεα καὶ Τροΐης.
οὐ νέμεσις· τόσσογ γὰρ ἐπὶ χθονὶ φ̣έγγος ἔλαμψε
Μουσάων ὁπ̣όσον τείρεσιν ἠέλιος.
μυρίος αἰολίδαισιν ὑπέρ σεο μόχθος, Ὅμηρε,
Κυμαίοις ἱερᾶς̣ τ’ ἐνναέταισι̣ Χίου,
μυρία δὲ Σμύρναι Κολοφῶνί τε νείκεα λείπεις·
μούνωι δέ γνωστὰ Ζηνὶ τεὰ γένεσις,
αἵδε μάταν ὑλάουσι γὰρ ὄστεον οἷάτε λ̣ίχνοι
[ἅ]ρπυιαι θοινᾶ̣ς μειρόμεναι σκύλακες.
"These [cities] have completed, with arguments for and against, about your myths: Smyrna and the place in the land of the Oinopion [Chios], and Kolophon and Kyme: among all cities there is a desire to contend for the fame of your birth. So great is the fame of your singing among the living, as long as night and Helios continue to circle above.
The disputed, divine Homer, the celebrator [of heroes], whom all cities have competed for: Smyrna, Chios, Kolophon, Kyme, and the entire Pelasgian Hellas and the cities of islands and the landscape of Troy. There is no need to be offended: for just as Helios shines among the stars, so does he shine as the light of the Muses on Earth.
Endless effort do we have on account of you, Homer, the Kymeans descended from Aiolos and the people of Chios, endless conflict did you leave behind for Smyrna and Kolophon. But only to Zeus is the place of your birth known; but they [the cities] bark senselessly, just as eager, predatory dogs do for the bones, lusting for a feast."
|The so-called "Homer" marble statue of a seated man.
Classical period, 4th century BC. From Klaros (Ahmetbeyli, Turkey).
Department of Sculpture, Izmir Museum of History and Art.
"The Apotheosis of Homer" Hellenistic relief.
Parian marble. Said to have been found on the Via Appia at Bovillae, Lazio,
central Italy, in the mid 17th century. Until 1819 in Palazzo Colonna, Rome.
Height 117 cm, width 80 cm.
British Museum. GR 1819.8-12.1 (Sculpture 2191, Inscription 1098).
Purchased from Messrs May in 1819.
|Also known as "the Relief of Archelaos", signed by the sculptor Archelaos, son of Apollonios of Priene, it is thought to have to have been made in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd or 2nd century BC, perhaps during the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopater (222-205 BC) and his queen Arsinoe III who built a temple of Homer there. It is thought that Ptolemy and Arsinoe may be portrayed on the relief, as Chronos (Time) and Oikoumene (Inhabited World), standing behind Homer (see drawing below).
The religious ceremony in which Homer is elevated to divine status by deities, muses and mythical characters was a popular subject in the art of antiquity. The bard, enthroned before an altar, holds a sceptre and a scroll. The scene is observed from above by Zeus.
|Key to the Apotheosis of Homer
1 Zeus with his eagle
2 Mnesmosyne ?
3 Muse (Klio ?)
5 Muse (Erato ?)
6 Muse (Euterpe ?)
8 Muse (Terpsichore ?)
9 Muse (Ourania ?)
10 Muse (Polyhymnia ?)
11 Apollo Kitharodos
13 statue of a poet ? *
14 Oikoumene (Arsinoe III) ?
15 Chronos (Ptolemy IV) ?
16 The Iliad
18 The Odyssey
19 Mythos (Myth)
20 Istoria (History)
21 Poiesis (Poetry)
22 Tragodia (Tragedy)
23 Komodia (Comedy)
24 Physis (Nature)
25 Arete (Virtue)
26 Mnem(e) (Memory)
27 Pisti (Good Faith)
28 Sophia (Wisdom)
* Possibly Apollonius, 2nd century BC, author of the Argonautica
Detail of the Apotheosis of Homer, British Museum.
A fragment of a clay tablet inscribed in Linear B script,
mentioning "the man from Troy" (to-ro-wo; Greek, Τρωας).
13th century BC. From the archives of the Mycenaean
palace of Thebes, Boeotia, central, Greece.
Thebes Archaeological Museum.
to-ro-wo = the man from Troy
|In The Iliad Homer referred to the besieged fortified city of Priam as Ilion (Ἴλιον, Ilion, or Ἴλιος, Ilios; Latin, Ilium), hence the title of his poem (ἡ ποίησις Ἰλιάς, the poem of Ilion). He also wrote of Troy (Τροία, Troia, or Τροίας, Troias; Latin, Troia), sometimes referred to as the Troad (Τρωάδα, Troada), the area around the city, the homeland of the Trojans. The names were later confounded and both used to refer to the city and the surrounding country.
The names are thought to be derived from the Hittite Wilusa and Truwisa. However, Homer provided a typically Greek geneaology of a local royal dynasty to explain the names, starting with Dardanos (Δάρδανος), a son of Zeus and founder of Dardania (Δαρδανία), the city and area at the northwestern edge of Anatolia, south of the western entrance to the Dardanelles (Δαρδανέλλια, later known as the Hellespont, Ἑλλήσποντος), the straits between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. His son King Erichthonius (Ἐριχθόνιος), was the father of of Tros (Τρώς or Τρωός), after whom Troy and the Trojans were named. In turn, Ilos (Ἶλος), a son of Tros and grandfather of Priam, founded Ilion, the city of Ilos.
Just before he is about to fight Achilles, the Trojan prince Aeneas boasts to the Greek hero of his illustrious lineage.
"Howbeit, if thou wilt, hear this also, that thou mayest know well my lineage, and many there be that know it:
At the first Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, begat Dardanus, and he founded Dardania, for not yet was sacred Ilios builded in the plain to be a city of mortal men, but they still dwelt upon the slopes of many-fountained Ida. And Dardanus in turn begat a son, king Erichthonius, who became richest of mortal men.
Three thousand steeds had he that pastured in the marsh-land; mares were they. rejoicing in their tender foals. Of these as they grazed the North Wind [Boreas] became enamoured, and he likened himself to a dark-maned stallion and covered them; and they conceived, and bare twelve fillies These, when they bounded over the earth, the giver of grain, would course over the topmost ears of ripened corn and break them not, and whenso they bounded over the broad back of the sea, would course over the topmost breakers of the hoary brine.
And Erichthonius begat Tros to be king among the Trojans, and from Tros again three peerless sons were born, Ilus, and Assaracus, and godlike Ganymedes that was born the fairest of mortal men; wherefore the gods caught him up on high to be cupbearer to Zeus by reason of his beauty, that he might dwell with the immortals.
And Ilus again begat a son, peerless Laomedon, and Laomedon begat Tithonus and Priam and Clytius, and Hicetaon, scion of Ares. And Assaracus begat Capys, and he Anchises; but Anchises begat me and Priam goodly Hector. This then is the lineage amid the blood wherefrom I avow me sprung."
Homer, The Iliad, Book 20, lines 213-240. At Perseus Digital Library.
The name Erichthonius is also known in connection with the ancient history of Athens (see Athens Acropolis gallery, page 18). In Greek myth Ganymede (Γανυμήδης) was abducted by Zeus, a popular subject in ancient Greek and Roman art. Zeus, sometimes depicted as an eagle, was said to have carried away the handsome youth from Mount Ida (Όρος Ίδη or Ἴδα; Turkish, Kazdağı, Goose Mountain) near Troy. Boreas (Βορέης or Βορίας), the North Wind, was also depicted in Greek art (see photo below).
The archaeological site today identified as Troy (Turkish, Truva or Troya), famously excavated by Heinrich Schliemann between 1871 and 1883, is at Hisarlik, Çanakkale province, in the Southern Marmara Region of Turkey. It is around 30 km southwest of the provincial capital Çanakkale. The Troad is believed to be area around what is now called the Biga Peninsula (Turkish, Biga Yarımadası).
A depiction of a ship on a Middle Bronze Age, Matt-painted ceramic pithos (large storage
vessel) from Aegina. Four manned, crescentic (crescent-shaped) ships with bifurcated
sterns (at the right end of the ship above) are shown around the body of the restored
vase, in the central zone. In the registers above and below are typical geometric motifs.
The ships are thought to be warships, perhaps used for pirate activities in the Aegean.
1800-1650 BC. Excavated at Aegina-Kolonna (Town IX), Greece.
Aegina Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2458.
||Homeric scenes in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art
1. The Iliad
|Note: Not all the images below show depictions of scenes taken directly|
from Homer's Iliad or Odyssey, but illustrate Homeric stories and themes.
For the Trojan Horse see below.
An Athenian spouted krater (large bowl for mixing wine and water) with a painting of a man
grasping a woman by the wrist (left, see photo below) as he steps towards a ship with rows of
oarsmen in two tiers. Thought to be an early representation of a myth, perhaps Paris abducting
Helen, the immediate cause of the Trojan war, or Theseus fleeing King Minos of Crete with Ariadne.
Geometric period, 735-720 BC (LGIIa). From Thebes.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1899.2-19.1.
|If the woman is Helen, then the two charioteers among horsemen on the other side of the krater may be her brothers Kastor and Polydeukes, the Dioskouroi. If she is Ariadne, the object she is holding may be the crown of light with which she illuminated the labyrinth in some versions of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The symbol at the stern of the ship (left) appears to be a double-headed axe (labrys) on a round shield, which may indicate that the scene is taking place in Crete.
See the other side of the krater on the Dioskouroi page.
A man apparently abducting a woman and taking her on
board a waiting ship, from the Geometric krater above.
A warrior killing an Amazon on a fragmentary terracotta votive shield from the "Bothros"
of the Upper Citadel of Tiryns, Argolid, Peloponnese. Early 7th century BC. Diameter 40 cm.
Nafplion Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 4509.
|This is one of the painted terracotta shields depicting mythological scenes discovered in a pit in the Upper Citadel of the ancient fortified city of Tiryns. The area of the citadel is thought to have been a sanctuary of Hera, and the pit perhaps a bothros, used in sacrificial rituals. The shields may have been hung in a sacred area, or have been used in the performance of rituals.
A tall, bearded warrior grasps the helmet crest of a skirted Amazon with a spear, who he is about to kill with a sword. To the left is another warrior, with another Amazon to the right. The paintings on the plates are amongst the earliest known depictions of narrative scenes with mythological content in Greek art. This may be an illustration of a scene from the the lost epic poem Aethiopis (Αἰθιοπίς, 7th century BC), in which the Greek hero Achilles (Ἀχιλλεύς) kills Penthesilea (Πενθεσίλεια), the queen of the Amazons. According to another view, it may be Herakles fighting the Amazons.
Terracotta ritual masks were also among the objects found in the pit (see Medusa).
Two heroes, probably Achilles and Memnon, engaged in
Homeric combat on the neck of a large Cycladic krater.
Made in a Parian workshop, around 640 BC. The body of the vase shows Apollo on a
chariot, returning to Delos from the land of the Hypoboreans (see Mistress of Animals).
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 911.
Detail of an Attic black-figure hydria (water jar) showing the chariot of the Trojan prince
Hektor. The charioteer Kebronius stands in the four-horse chariot, and Hektor stands
to the left. The names of both figures are inscribed to the right of their heads. A youth
with a spear stands right of the chariot. They are flanked by two warriors in armour.
Made in Athens around 580 BC. Attributed to the Painter of London B76,
who is named after this vase. From Kamiros, Rhodes.
British Museum. GR 1861.4-25.43 (Vase B 76).
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 300790
Detail of a black-figure column krater with a depiction a youth in a four-horse chariot.
On either side is a pair of armoured warriors with round shields.
One of two similar kraters displayed together unlabelled in the Kavala museum
(see the other below). So far I have found no further information about them.
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
Achilles fights the Ethiopian king Memnon, watched by their divine mothers Thetis and Eos.
Detail of an Athenian black-figure amphora, attributed to the Antimenes Painter, 550-501 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. 1965-116. Ex Spencer-Churchill Collection.
Ceramic plate showing Menelaos and Hektor fighting over the
body of the Trojan hero Euphorbos (Εὔφορβος), who Menelaos
has just killed (Homer, Iliad, Book 17, lines 60-80).
Made on Kos, Dodecanese, about 600 BC. From Kamiros, Rhodes. Diameter 39.37 cm.
The names of all three characters are inscribed in Argive lettering next to the figures.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1860.4-4.1. Purchased in 1860.
Detail of a black-figure column krater with a depiction a Homeric duel: two warriors
fighting over the body of a third. On either side is a pair of fighting warriors.
Such scenes depicted in Greek pottery painting include Menelaos and Hektor
fighting over Euphorbos (see above), and Ajax and Hektor fighting over Patrokles.
One of two similar kraters displayed together unlabelled in the Kavala museum
(see the other above). So far I have found no further information about them.
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia, Greece.
The front of a Roman marble sarcophagus with reliefs
depicting Achilles with his tutor Cheiron at either end.
2nd half of the 3rd century AD. Found in 1946 on the Via Casilina,
in the area of Torraccia, Rimini province, northeast Italy.
Cloister, Baths of Diocletian,
National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 124735.
|In the centre is an imago clipeata (a portrait in a round frame) of the deceased youth, held by two winged erotes and supported by an eagle with outspread wings, which is flanked by the recumbent river and ocean god Oceanus (Ὠκεανός) and Tellus Mater (Mother Earth, the Roman equivalent of the Greek Gaia, Γαῖα). On either side of the sarcophagus is a relief of a seated griffin (γρύφων, gryphon) which fills the entire surface.
As a boy Achilles (Ἀχιλλεύς) was sent by his father Peleus (Πηλεύς) to be raised by the Centaur Cheiron (Χείρων), a kinsman who lived on Mount Pelion (Πήλιον) in Thessaly. Among the skills Achilles learned from Cheiron were music and medicine. As in other depictions of Achilles and Cheiron in Greek and Roman art, Achilles holds a lyre. Their relationship is mentioned in The Iliad (Book 11, line 830; Book 16, line 140; Book 19, line 387) and by several other ancient authors. Cheiron was said to have also been the tutor of other Greek heroes, including Herakles, Jason, Theseus and Asklepios.
It was near the Centaur's cave on Mount Pelion that the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (Θέτις, Achilles' mother) took place (see Hephaistos). Eris (Ἔρις), the goddess of Discord, was not invited to the wedding, but turned up anyway and caused a chain of events which led to the Trojan War (see Hermes).
|Achilles and Cheiron at the ends of the sarcophagus relief in the Baths of Diocletian.
Achilles among the daughters of Lykomedes on Skyros.
A modern copy of a Roman fresco from the House of the Dioscuri
(Casa dei Dioscuri, Regio VI, Insula 9, 6-7), Pompeii. Circa 62-79 AD.
Studiendepot, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden.
|The original fresco is in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 9110.
The story of Achilles (Ἀχιλλεύς) at the court of Lykomedes (Λυκομήδης), king of Skyros, does not appear in The Iliad, but was related in later versions of tales of the Trojan War, including The Achilleid, an epic poem written by the Roman poet Statius in the 1st century AD.
As a boy Achilles was sent by his mother Thetis (Θέτις) to the Sporadic island of Skyros (Σκύρος), because it had been prophesied that he would be killed in war. Lykomedes concealed Achilles by disguising him as a female and placing him among his daughters. Achilles had an affair with Deidamia (Δηιδάμεια), one of the daughters, and they had a son, Neoptolemos (Νεοπτόλεμος, New Warrior, also known as Pyrrhos, Πύρρος, Red, because of his red hair).
The painting, one of several depictions of this scene, shows the moment in which Diomedes (left) and Odysseus (right) discover Achilles in his disguise. Lykomedes, a guard and Deidamia can be seen in the backgound. Odysseus then persuaded Achilles to fight at Troy. Neoptolemos remained on Skyros, but later also fought in the war.
One of the most striking depictions of the scene is on a panel from a Roman marble sarcophagus, circa 240 AD, now in the Louvre. Inv. No. Ma 2120.
Pausanias mentioned that a painting of this episode by Polygnotus (Polygnotos of Thasos?) was displayed in the Pinakotheke of the Propylaia of the Athens Acropolis (Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 22, section 6).
On the round shield is a relief depicting the young Achilles and Cheiron, depicted in the same way as on the sarcophagus above.
Mosaic panel of Achilles affronting Agamemnon, illustrating a scene from
Homer's Iliad, Book I. The angry Achilles draws his sword to attack
Agamemnon, seated left. Athena restrains him by seizing him by the hair.
From the House of Apollo (Casa di Apollo, Regio VI, Insula 7, 23), Pompeii.
Height 92 cm, width 110 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 10006.
Achilles binds Patroklos.
Tondo on the inside of an Attic red-figure kylix (κύλιξ, stemmed drinking cup), which
is signed Σοσιας εποιεσεν (Sosias epoiesen, Sosias made [me]) on the rim of the foot.
Around 500 BC. The name vase of the Sosias Painter. Found by Fossati
in 1828 in the Necropolis Campo Scala, Vulci, Etruria (Lazio, Italy).
Height 10 cm, diameter (mouth) 32cm, diameter of tondo 17.5 cm.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 2278. Acquired in 1831.
Formerly in the Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin.
|A scene from the Trojan War. Achilles, who had learned the art of healing from the Centaur Cheiron (see above), binds the arrow wound of his friend Patroklos who is in great pain. The names Πατροκλος (Patroklos) and Αχ[ι]λλευς (Axilleus), inscribed above the figures, are now hardly visible. The painting on the outside of the cup depicts the Apotheosis of Herakles: Athena presenting her protegé Herakles to an assembly gods (named by inscriptions) on Mount Olympus.
The signature on the profile of the foot of the kylix is thought to be that of the potter Sosias, and the painter was named the Sosias Painter by the art historian John Beazley. Other scholars have attributed the painting to the Kleophrades Painter (Robertson) or Euthymides (Ohly-Dumm).
The god Hephaistos, the divine blacksmith, gives the Nereid Thetis the armour
he has made for her son Achilles during the Trojan War (Homer, Iliad, Book 18,
lines 614-615). Achilles used them to avenge the death of his friend Patroklos
by killing the Trojan prince Hektor before the gates of Troy.
The tondo on the inside of an Attic red-figure kylix (drinking cup),
made in Athens 490-480 BC. Diameter 30.5 cm.
Antikensammlung SMB, Berlin (Altes Museum). Inv. No. F 2294.
|Known as the "Berlin Foundry Cup" (German, Erzgießerei-Schale), it is the name vase of the Foundry Painter, who is named after the scenes on the outside of the cup (Sides A and B) showing men making sculptures at a bronze foundry.
It was discovered by Campanari in Vulci, an important Etruscan city (Lazio, north of Rome), and acquired in 1837 for the Prussian Royal Collection, Berlin by Karl Josias Freiherr von Bunsen. It was previously kept in the Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin.
Achilles' quarrel with Agamemnon led him to withdraw the Myrmidons from participation in the siege of Troy. However, his close companion Patrokles went into battle wearing Achilles's armour, and was killed by the Trojan prince Hektor, who took the armour as booty. Thetis (Θέτις) persuaded Hephaistos to make new armour for Achilles, and she brought the splendid arms to him at Troy, where he wore it in the duel with Hektor.
On the kylix the bearded Hephaistos, wearing a short tunic and sitting on a cushioned stool, holds up a helmet in his left hand, and has a hammer in his right. Thetis stands to his right, wearing a cloak over a long chiton (tunic) and a fillet in her hair, and holds a spear and shield. The device on the shield is a flying bird carrying a snake in its claws, surrounded by four stars, although Homer describes the decoration of the shield as being much more elaborate.
A pair of greaves (shin armour) hangs on the wall of the workshop, between the two figures. A hammer hangs on the right, and beneath it an anvil stands on a mound of earth. The inscription, running downwards (clockwise) to the right of Thetis, states: Ο ΠΑΙΣ ΚΑΛΟΣ (O PAIS KALOS, the boy is beautiful).
Thetis hands the armour made by Hephaistos to
her son Achilles during the siege of Troy. The shield
is decorated with a Gorgoneion and a lion's head.
The front panel of the Monteleone Chariot.
Around 575-550 BC. Bronze with ivory inlays.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Inv. No. 03.23.1.
|The Monteleone Chariot was discovered in 1902 in an underground Etruscan tomb by Isidoro Vannozzi, a landowner at Monteleone di Spoleto, in the province of Perugia, southeast Umbria, Italy. He also found bronze, iron and ceramic grave goods in the tomb, and the artefacts were sold on to various dealers and collectors. The chariot ended up on the art market in Paris, where it was purchased in 1903 from O. Vitalini by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the first director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Etruscan parade chariot has three panels made of bronze inlaid with ivory. The front panel is much larger than those on either side; all three are decorated with reliefs thought to depict episodes from the life of Achilles.
The front panel (photo above) shows the veiled Thetis, on the left, facing a bearded Achilles, with both figures in profile. They hold a Corinthian helmet with a crest supported by a ram's head, and a large shield decorated with a Gorgoneion (head of the Gorgon Medusa) above a lion's head. Below the shield is the body of a deer on its back, and above the head of each figure a flying bird of prey descends vertically, head down.
The panel on the left side of the chariot (see image below) depicts a duel between two warriors, perhaps Achilles and the Trojan Memnon, both standing in profile over the body of a fallen warrior. Both warriors wear crested Corinthian helmets and greaves, with a spear raised in one arm and holding a shield in the other. The figure on the left has a round shield, while the shield of the figure on the right is similar to that given to Achilles on the front panel, although here the lion's head is above that of the Gorgon.
The right-hand panel depicts the the apotheosis of Achilles, with the hero ascending in a chariot drawn by winged horses. Other reliefs, over the wheels, are thought to depict Achilles as a youth with his mentor, the centaur Cheiron, and Achilles as a lion killing his enemies depicted as a stag and a bull.
Source of images: Woldemar Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband, Archaische Plastik der Griechen, Band 3, Abbildungen 21 (above), 22 (below). Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, Berlin, 1920.
The bronze panel on the left side of Monteleone Chariot, depicting a duel between
two warriors, perhaps Achilles and the Trojan Memnon, both standing in profile over
the body of a fallen warrior. Both warriors wear crested Corinthian helmets and
greaves, with a spear raised in one arm and holding a shield in the other. The figure
on the left has a round shield, while the shield of the figure on the right is similar
to that given to Achilles on the front panel of the chariot (see above), although
here the lion's head is above that of the Gorgon.
Achilles and Ajax playing a board game.
Detail of an Attic black-figure olpe (jug), about 530 BC. The inscription,
incised on the side of the table: Νεοκλειδες καλος (Neokleides kalos,
Neokleides is beautiful), with the last four letter written backwards.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC6.
|The two figures sit facing each other on low, block-like seats, with a small table between them. Each has one leg drawn back, holds two spears and wears armour: a high-crested helmet, a corslet over a short tunic and greaves (shin plates). The figure on the left bends further forward with his hand touching the board, as if he is moving a game piece or waiting his turn. The other extends over-long fingers over the board, as though throwing dice or gesturing.
This is one of several surviving vases showing this scene, the best known and probably earliest being the highly detailed Attic black-figure amphora signed by Exekias, made in Athens around 530 BC, now in the Vatican Museums, Rome. . The inscriptions on the amphora name the players and even the score, with Achilles sitting on the left and winning the game 4 to 3.
The scene on the olpe is bold and clear, but painted in a much simpler manner. Although the general composition is the same as that of the Exekias amphora (and other vases of the type), it differs in several ways and lacks the fine drawing, dramatic tension and exquisite detailing.
There have been a number of suggestions about exactly which game they are playing, including an early form of backgammon, dice or knucklebones. Homer makes no mention of the heroes playing a game during the Trojan War, and there are no known references to such a scene in literature from this period.
On a game-board (Εis τάβλαν)
"Seated by this table made of pretty stones, you will start the pleasant game of dice-rattling. Neither be elated when you win, nor put out when you are beaten, blaming the little die. For even in small things the character of a man is revealed, and the dice proclaim the depth of his good sense."
Epigram by Agathias Scholasticus (circa 530-582/594 AD) 
Achilles and Ajax playing a board game.
Detail of an Attic black-figure amphora, made in Athens
around 520 BC. Attributed to the Lysippedes Painter.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1851.8-6.15 (Vase B 211).
Another vase with Achilles and Ajax playing a board game, here with Athena as spectator.
Detail of an Attic black-figure oinichoe (jug), 550-501 BC.
Attributed to the Painter of Oxford 224.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1885.653. Ex-Castellani Collection.
Fragment of a relief skyphos with a depiction of a scene from
The Iliad featuring Ajax and Achilles whose names are inscribed.
2nd century BC. Found at 4 Karbola Street, Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 9972.
See also a fragment of a relief skyphos with a scene from The Odyssey below.
Odysseus (left) and Diomedes (right) ambush the Trojan spy Dolon (Δόλων),
who wears a wolf skin and a ferret skin cap and carries a bow and spear.
A scene taken from Homer's Iliad, Book X.
Detail of a red-figure calyx krater (bowl for mixing wine and water) made in Lucania,
southeast Italy around 390-380 BC. The name vase of the Dolon Painter.
From Pisticci, Matera, Basilicata, southeast Italy. Height 50.8 cm, diameter 48.26 cm.
British Museum. GR 1846.9-25.3 (Vase F157). Steuart Collection.
|The figures, cleverly framed by the trunks of four trees, are shown in exaggerated, theatrical poses: Odysseus and Diomedes and creep on tiptoe to surprise Dolon (centre). The representation of the scene may have been inspired by a comedy play.
The Trojan Dolon, son of the wealthy herald Eumedes, is described by Homer as being ugly but a fast runner. He offered his services as a spy to Hektor in return for the horses and chariot of Peleus (Πηλεύς, father of Achilles). Having struck the bargain, he set off at night on his mission:
"Forthwith then he cast about his shoulders his curved bow, and thereover clad him in the skin of a grey wolf, and on his head he set a cap of ferret skin, and grasped a sharp javelin, and went his way toward the ships from the host; howbeit he was not to return again from the ships, and bear tidings to Hector."
Homer, Iliad, Book 10. At Perseus Digital Library.
The bow, wolfskin cloak, ferretskin cap and spear are matched in the vase painting.
Odysseus saw Dolon approaching, and with Diomedes lay among the corpses of battle to ambush him. After they captured him, he blurted valuable information about the Trojans and their allies to save his own skin, including the location of the camp of the Thracian king Rhesus (Ῥῆσος, Rhesos, see note on the Dioskouroi page), his strong white horses, chariot of silver and gold and golden armour. Diomedes killed Dolon by cutting off his head with a single strike of his sword (although he is carrying two spears in this vase painting), and Odysseus hung Dolon's ferretskin cap, wolfskin cloak, bow and spear on a tamarisk tree as an offering to Athena, "the goddess of plunder". They then raided the camp of Rhesus, killed him and other Thracians and stole their horses.
The Greek hero Diomedes steals the Palladion (Παλλάδιον; Latin, Palladium), an ancient
statue of Pallas Athena which protected Troy. He runs from the temple of the goddess,
passing a flaming altar, holding the Palladion in his left hand and a sword in the right hand.
The tondo of an Attic red-figure stemless cup. Made in Athens around 380 BC. From Apulia.
Attributed by Sir John Beazley to either the Diomed Painter or the Jena Painter, who may
have been the same person. He/they may have shared a workshop with the Q Painter.
Debate continues about the identity of the protector goddess of Troy and the surrounding
area of northwestern Anatolia before the arrival of the Greeks. Pallas may have originally
been a local Anatolian deity, who the Greeks identified with Athena (as Pallas Athena,
Παλλὰς Ἀθηνᾶ), in the way that worship of the prehistoric mother goddess of Ephesus
(akin to Kybele) was assimilated by the Ionian Artemis cult.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1931.39.
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 231038.
Diomedes with the Palladion on a gilded bronze plaquette.
Diomedes, naked apart from a himation (cloak) over his left shoulder
and arm, kneels as he steps or leaps over a wreathed altar, holding
the Palladion in his left hand hand and a sword in the right hand.
15th - 16th century. Probably made by a Florentine artist, after a Roman
period gem now in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Bode Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 951. Acquired in 1887.
Another, almost identical but ungilded bronze medallion is also
displayed in the museum. Inv. No. 2626. Acquired in 1904.
|There are a number of ancient gems engraved with an almost identical scene, which are among several gems with a Greek signature of Dioskourides (Διοσκουρίδης). Pliny the Elder mentioned an artist named Dioscurides (in some editions Dioscorides) among the most famed gem engravers, and said that he "engraved a very excellent likeness of the late Emperor Augustus upon a signet, which, ever since, the Roman emperors have used." (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book 37, chapter 4) The ring seal of Augustus by Dioscurides was also mentioned by Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Caesars, Book II, The life of Augustus, chapter 50).
A handful of the extant gems in various collections and museums are believed to be the work of this artist, while the others may be replicas or forgeries. Copies of this Diomedes motif from ancient gems have been made in various media since the Renaissance.
The gem which served as a model for this plaquette is a small engraved carnelian now in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, believed to be the one recorded as having once belonged to the humanist Niccolò de' Niccoli. It was acquired by Pope Paul II and in 1471 by Lorenzo de Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent). The Diomedes motif is still to be seen on one of the marble medallions (clipei) with reliefs replicating gems, attributed to Bertoldo di Giovanni (circa 1420-1491), on the walls around the Cortile di Michelozzo (Courtyard of Michelozzo, also known as the Courtyard of the Columns) of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Via Larga, Florence.
Although the gem in Naples is often referred to, details are seldom provided. There may be more than one in the museum with this motif. The only reference I have found so far is in an old catalogue of the museum, which lists a carnelian among "Pompeian cameos":
"114564. Cornelian. Diomede seated on an altar."
Domeniconi Monaco, A complete handbook to the National Museum in Naples, page 108. English editor Eustace Neville Rolfe. 10th edition. Naples, 1905. At the internet Archive.
A cult image of Athena as Palladion,
with raised spear and shield, on the
reverse side of a gold stater.
Circa 336-320 BC. Thought to have been
minted in or near Pergamon, perhaps for
Alexander the Great. The obverse side
shows the head of Herakles wearing
the skin of a lion's head.
Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection),
State Museums Berlin (SMB).
Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
These staters are very rare, and while there
is no direct evidence of their origin, some
numismatologists believe they were minted
in or around Pergamon (Mysia), perhaps as
early as 334-332 BC, while Alexander the
Great was still campaigning against the
Persians in Anatolia (Asia Minor), before
his victories gave him control over the area
and allowed him to mint his own imperial
coinage there. This may explain the head of
Herakles on the obverse side, as on other
coins issued by Alexander. On later coins
of his successors, the Hellenistic rulers in
Greece and Asia, Alexander was depicted
as Herakles (see Alexander the Great).
An Etruscan cinerary urn with a high relief depicting the ambush
and murder of the Trojan prince Troilus (Τρωΐλος, Troilos) by Achilles
and Ajax. The female figure attacking with a sword from the left has
been identified as a Fury (but see discussion of similar figures on
other Etruscan funerary urns below). The death of Troilus had been
prophesied by an oracle, and symbolizes the inevitably of destiny.
On the lid is the sculpted figure of the deceased, reclining on a couch,
wearing a garland around his neck and holding a kantharos (cup).
His name is inscribed in Etruscan script along the base of the lid.
Travertine, around 150 BC. Found in 1822 in the necropolis of
Strozzacapponi, around 10 km southwest of Perugia, Italy.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. Nos. SK 1289 and Sk 1290.
|One of several ancient artworks acquired for the Berlin museum in Rome in 1826 from the collection of Jakob Salomon Bartholdy (1779-1825), the Prussian consul-general in Rome.
The story of the murder of Troilus is not related in The Iliad, although King Priam of Troy (Πρίαμος, Priamos) mentions him as one of the three of his sons killed in war when chastising the remaining nine:
"Then he [Priam] called to his sons, upbraiding Helenos, Paris, noble Agathon, Pammon, Antiphonos, Polites of the loud battle cry, Deiphobos, Hippothoos, and Dios. These nine did the old man call near him.
'Come to me at once,' he cried, 'worthless sons who do me shame. Would that you had all been killed at the ships rather than Hektor. Miserable man that I am, I have had the bravest sons in all Troy - noble Nestor, Troilus the dauntless charioteer, and Hektor who was a god among men, so that one would have thought he was son to an immortal - yet there is not one of them left. Ares has slain them and those of whom I am ashamed are alone left me.'"
Homer, The Iliad, Book 24, lines 249-260. At Perseus Digital Library.
Pseudo-Apollodorus wrote that Troilus was the son of Apollo by Priam's wife Queen Hecuba (The Library, Book 3, chapter 12, section 5). It is thought that the episode of his murder by Achilles was included in other works of the Epic Cycle, and it was also mentioned by later writers, including a lost play by Sophocles, and commentators. There are variations to the story, according to which Troilus was either ambushed while riding, or killed at the altar of the temple of Thymbraean Apollo. He is variously depicted as a boy or a young man.
The subject was depicted on number of Etruscan cinerary urns (see below) as well as Etruscan wall paintings. It also appears on Greek sculptures and vases, notably on the body of the "François Vase", the oldest black-figure Attic krater, circa 570-565 BC, signed by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias (National Archaeological Museum, Florence, Inv. No. 4209; Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 300000). An Attic black-figure neck amphora, painted around 580 BC by the Painter of London B 76 (see above), depicts Achilles, fully armed, waiting in ambush behind a gushing fountain, in front of which Polyxene (see below) stands with a pitcher, while Troilus sits on one of two horses (British Museum, Inv. No. 97.7-21.2).
See also other Etruscan cinerary urns with depictions of Homeric scenes below:
the Recognition of Paris
Odysseus and Polyphemos
Odysseus and Penelope's suitors
A high relief depicting the ambush of Troilus by Achilles and Ajax
on the front of an Etruscan alabaster cinerary urn.
2nd century BC. From the Etruscan city Volterra (Pisa), central Etruria, Italy.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, Netherlands. Inv. No. H III QQQ 3.
|Two warriors, wearing crested helmets and armed with swords and round shields, attack a naked young man on horseback. Another male figure lies beneath the horse. On the far right is part of an archway in a wall topped by two blocks, perhaps of a battlement, indicating that the action takes place outside the walls of Troy, or at a fountain house. The Dutch archaeologist L. J. F. Janssen (1806-1869; curator of the Leiden museum, 1835-1868) suggested that the scene may depict a heroic deed outside the gates of Thebes.
This is one of nine well-preserved Etruscan alabaster cinerary urns which provide the focal point for the Leiden museum's small Etruscan section. Several other urns in the collection are not usually on display because of lack of space. They were purchased in Italy between 1826 and 1850 by the Dutch archaeologist Colonel Jean Emile Humbert (1771-1839) on behalf of the museum.
The urns contained the ashes or bones of wealthy Etruscans, and are smaller equivalents of the monumental Greek and Roman sarcophagi. As is usual on this type, the lid is in the form of a statue of the diseased person, depicted as reclining on a couch, enjoying their eternal banquet. The faces and heads of the figures are sculpted in greater detail than the rest of the body and often disproportionately larger.
Many of the reliefs on the front of the urns in the Leiden collection depict scenes from Greek mythology, including several with Homeric themes (see Odysseus and Polyphemos and Odysseus and Penelope's suitors below). Those on display are well sculpted, although without the polished finesse of the best Greek and Roman reliefs, with the figures filling as much of the limited space as possible. The compact scenes present the essence of stories using an effective and accomplished form of visual shorthand. The reliefs are usually framed above and below by representations of architectural decorative elements, such as egg-and-dart motifs, dentils, beading, or triglyphs and metopes.
See: Leonhardt Johannes Friedrich Janssen, De etrurische grafreliëfs uit het Museum van Oudheden te Leyden, No. 24, pages 16-17 and plate XI, 24a and 24b. H. J. Brill, Leiden, 1854. At the Heidelberg University Digital Library.
The so-called "Olive Tree Pediment", "Troilus Pediment" or "Fountain House pediment",
a small sculpture group of painted poros limestone from the Athens Acropolis.
Around 575-500 BC. Found in 1888 to the east
of the Parthenon. Height 80 cm, width 148 cm.
Acropolis Museum, Athens. Inv. No. Acr. 52.
|The small sculpture group, rather like an ancient doll's house or a diorama, has been restored from several fragments. It is thought to be part of the pediment of an unknown Archaic building on the Athens Acropolis, perhaps the theoretical building known as "Temple A", which may have stood in the area now occupied by the Erechtheion. Another sculpture group of similar size and date, depicting the Apotheosis of Herkales (Acropolis Museum, Inv. No. Acr. 9), may have decorated the pediment at the other end of the same building.
The pediment sculptures consist of figures in front of a projecting building or porch covered by a tiled hip roof (i.e with a sloping side where a pediment would be), which is supported at the front by a long wall to the left of the doorway. Above part of a wall (described as a precinct wall) to the left of the porch are fragments of an incised olive tree (hence the name "Olive Tree Pediment").
Only one female figure and fragments of two other females and a male have survived, but the scene probably included a number of others. The torso of one female is affixed to the wall left of the doorway, and the legs of another, wearing an ankle-length gown with geometric decoration, stand to the right of the porch. Only the relief of part of the male's bare leg can be seen at the left of the fragment of wall left of the porch.
The most complete figure is the free-standing sculpture of a woman, who in the reconstruction stands in the doorway, facing outwards. On her head is a disc which has been interpreted as a cushion, and her left arm appears to be raised. This has led to theories that she was either a hydriaphoros (water jug carrier), with her left hand steadying a jug she carried on her cushioned head, or an early Caryatid supporting the roof.
The hydriaphoros theory led to the building being interpreted as a fountain house, which then led to the scene being seen as depicting Troilus being ambushed by Achilles as he watered his horses. The male figure was thus thought to be Troilus. It has been argued that this story has no apparent relevance to the Acropolis or the mythological history of Athens, which provided the subjects for much of the building decoration on the Acropolis in the Archaic and Classical periods. However, the story of Herakles being introduced to the Olympian gods (the Apotheosis of Herkales) and other subjects, such as the birth of Pandora on the base of Pheidias' statue of Athena Parthenos, were likewise not directly connected with the Acropolis.
A number of other interpretations have been suggested, including theories that the scene depicts mythological figures connected with the history of Athens, such as Pandrosos, one of the daughters of King Kekrops, or even Erechtheus. According to another theory, it may represent the Panathenaic procession approaching the sanctuary of Athena Polias. The olive tree may represent the olive planted by Athena during her contest with Poseidon for the patronage of Athens.
|A marble statue of a warrior carrying off an apparently dead boy,
believed to depict Achilles and Troilus or Neoptolemos and Astynax.
Roman creation, late 2nd - early 3rd century AD. From the
Baths of Caracalla, Rome, perhaps from the frigidarium.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 5999. Farnese Collection.
|On entering the enormous Naples museum, the visitor finds the rooms and corridors of the ground floor lined with statues and busts of gods, heroes, emperors and empresses - some depicted as deities - and defeated barbarians. Most of the figures are placid, their faces expressionless. Even on entering the room of the famous "Farnese Hercules", the colossal statue shows the mighty hero as passive, thoroughly worn out, his head lowered and his body visibly sagging beneath the weight of weariness at the end of his many adventures, wars and labours.
Then, at the other side of the same room, one is suddenly confronted with this dynamic composition, as majestic as it is brutal. After the rows of static figures it can come as a bit of a shock. The naked, muscular warrior, thought to represent Achilles or Neoptolemos, strides confidently towards us, holding his victim by the left ankle and slung carelessly, head down, over his left shoulder, as if he were merely an animal killed in the hunt. In his right hand he holds a sword. Homeric heroes are often portrayed as having little respect for the corpses of their opponents, as in the case of Achilles dragging Hektor's corpse behind his chariot (see below), and they were seen as trophies and symbols of both victory and the humiliation of the families and compatriots of the vanquished.
Following its discovery, the statue was extensively restored and modified in the 16th century. The warrior's head was given the face of Emperor Commodus (reigned 180-192 AD), infamous for his cruelty. Despite his allegedly brutal nature, his features are those of official imperial portraiture, showing him as a handsome young man, with a victory wreath, neat rows of curls and a trim beard. He appears benign and placid, which is more in keeping with the other imperial portraits in the museum than the ferocity or determination one might expect in a scene depicing such a merciless act of war (see photo, right).
First displayed in the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, the statue was taken to Naples in 1787 and placed in the new Villa Chiaia. It entered the museum collections in 1826.
This represention of atrocity is merely a prelude to the enormous "Farnese Bull" statue group in the adjacent room, which depicts Dirce about to be tied to a ferocious bull as punishment for her mistreatment of Antiope. The mythical tale of cruel and spiteful vengeance was retold by Euripides in his tragedy Antiope.
The warrior restored with the face of Emperor Commodus.
A fragment of an Attic marble sarcophagus with
part of a relief depicting "Hektor's ransom".
Second half the 3rd century AD. Provenance unknown.
Thebes Archaeological Museum.
|The duel between the Greek hero Achilles and the Trojan prince Hektor before the walls of Troy is one of the best known episodes from Homer's Iliad. The enraged Achilles won the duel, tied Hektor's corpse to the back of his chariot and dragged it back to his camp. Later, King Priam went in disguise to Achilles' tent to ranson his son's body.
Above the relief is a frieze in the form of triglyphs and metopes, in each of which is a Gorgon head relief (see Medusa).
Relief on the front panel of an Etruscan alabaster cinerary urn depicting the culminating scene
of the story of "the Recognition of Paris", in which the Trojan prince Paris (centre) takes refuge
from assailants at the altar of Zeus, and is saved from being killed when he is recognized.
Mid 2nd century BC. From the Etruscan city Volterra (Pisa), central Etruria.
Height 36 cm, length 56 cm.
Etruscan Section, Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.1067.
|The complex story of the Trojan royal family, including the episode of "the Recognition of Paris" was retold in various ways by several ancient authors, including now lost tragic plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Ennius. The recognition scene is depicted in Greek art works and on several surviving Etruscan mirrors and urns, with variations in the characters and actions depicted.
King Priam of Troy (Πρίαμος, Priamos) believed his son Alexander (Ἀλέξανδρος, Alexandros) had died when he was exposed as an infant on Mount Ida. However, the herdsman Agelaos (Ἀγέλαος), a slave of Priam, had saved him, raised him as his own son and named him Paris (Πάρις). Later Priam organized funeral games in honour of his supposedly dead son, and Paris, by now a young man, took part anonymously. When he won in all the events, members of the royal family, especially his brother Deiphobos (Δηίφοβος), were incensed that such a lowly slave should beat them, and set out to kill him. He took refuge at the altar of Zeus Herkeios (Ζεύς Ἑρκειος, Zeus of the Courtyard), and at the last minute was saved from being murdered when the prophetess Cassandra (Κασσάνδρα) recognized him as her brother. The Latin author Hyginus summarized the tale in his Fabulae, 91, Alexander Paris . At the end of the siege of Troy, Priam and Polites (Πολίτης), one of his sons, were killed by Neoptolemos on the altar of Zeus Herkeios (see below).
In this relief, Paris, wearing a Phrygian cap, stands at the altar holding a victory palm in his left hand and a sword in the right, prepared to defend himself from members of his family who have come to kill him. The bearded man on the far right may be Priam, the nude female to the left of Paris has been identified on other reliefs as Cassandra or Aphrodite, and one of the two other males may be Deiphobos.
It has been suggested that Paris' several escapes from death led to depictions of episodes from his life being added to the range of mythical motifs - many from Greek tragedies - which were popular choices for Etruscan funerary art.
See: Marjatta Nielsen, The three ages of man. Myth and symbol between Chiusi and Athens, in: Synnøve des Bouvrie (editor), Myth and Symbol II: Symbolic phenomena in ancient Greek culture 2004, pages 25-41. The Norwegian Institute at Athens, 2004. At the University of Bergen Library.
See also the Judgement of Paris in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art on the Hermes page.
Marble head, thought to depict the Trojan
prince Paris (Πάρις), also known as Alexander
(Ἀλέξανδρος, Alexandros), son of Priam and
Hecuba, wearing a Phrygian cap.
Around 100 AD. One of several Roman period
sculptures thought to be copies of a statue of
Paris, perhaps made by Euphranor of Corinth
around 380 BC.
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.
Inv. No. 1917.180.
See also depictions of the Judgement of Paris
in ancient art on the Hermes page.
Neoptolemos, son of Achilles, killing King Priam of Troy with a spear.
Detail of an Attic black-figure panel amphora.
Attributed to the Princeton Painter, 540-530 BC.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 98.
See: Beazley Archive Database, Vase No. 320429
|To the left stands, a man, and to the right Queen Hecuba (Ἑκάβη, Hekabe) and a warrior. The inscription written vertically behind Hecuba is thought to be nonsense. Side B shows two warriors duelling between a man and a youth; a bull's head and a shield device.
Priam's death at the hand of Neoptolemos (Νεοπτόλεμος, also known as Pyrrhos, Πύρρος) on the altar of Zeus Herkeios (Ζεύς Ἑρκειος, Zeus of the Courtyard) was related by Pausanias (Description of Greece, Book 4, chapter 17, section 4) and more graphically by Virgil (Aeneid, Book II, lines 506-558), but as this vase painting proves, the tale is much older.
The vases in the Palazzo dei Conservatori are displayed in dark wood and glass cabinets with small, stark spotlights, causing strong glaring and reflections. Anyway, that's my excuse for such a miserable photo.
Neoptolemos killing King Priam of Troy, who wears a long oriental robe.
On either side stands a female, perhaps Queen Hecuba and Cassandra.
Detail of an Attic black-figure neck amphora. 520-500 BC. Perhaps painted by
the Leagros Group. Said to be from Tarquinia, Etruria, Italy. Height 42 cm.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, Netherlands. Inv. No. I 1992/6.100.
Acquired in 1992 from the bequest of G. Schneider-Hermann.
A painted terracotta flask in the form of a comic actor
sitting on an altar, perhaps Priam at the sack of Troy.
Made in Campania, southwestern Italy, around 150 BC.
Assigned to the Magenta Group.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1873.10-20.2 (Terracotta D 322).
Attic black-figure amphora (wine jar) depicting the sacrifice
of Polyxene by Neoptolemos at the grave of Achilles.
See details below.
Made in Athens about 570-550 BC. Attributed to the Timiades Painter of the Tyrrhenian Group.
Said to be from Italy. On the reverse are four dancing men between two cocks, and two friezes
of animals. Height 38 cm, diameter 24 cm, weight 23 gm.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1897.0727.2. Acquired in 1897.
Detail of the amphora depicting the sacrifice of Polyxene in the British Museum.
|The sacrifice of the Trojan princess Polyxene (Πολυξένη; also referred to as Polyxena), youngest daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, is not mentioned by Homer, but the vase has been included here as an illustration of one of the myths surrounding the Trojan War. The story of Polyxene was recorded in later works, including The Trojan women and Hecuba by Euripides, and Metamorphoses by Ovid.
Pausanias wrote that a painting of "Polyxena about to be sacrificed near the grave of Achilles" was displayed in the Pinakotheke of the Propylaia of the Athens Acropolis, and commented, "Homer did well in passing by this barbarous act." (Description of Greece, Book 1, chapter 22, section 6)
There are several versions of the myth, and several reasons given for her murder by the Greeks following the death of Achilles and the capture of Troy. In this depiction three named Greek warriors hold her so that her head is over a flaming altar, while Neoptolemos (Νεοπτόλεμος, also known as Pyrrhos), the son of Achilles, cuts her throat with a sword. Diomedes stands behind him.
Read more about Neoptolemos in Homer on Pergamon gallery 2, page 1.
Polyxene about to be sacrificed at the grave of Achilles.
Detail of an Attic black-figure hydria. Around 510 BC. From Etruria.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. F 1902. Acquired in 1841.
Photo: © Konstanze Gundudis
Bronze figurine of Ajax committing suicide.
Greek, Geometric period, 720-700 BC. Height 6.7 cm,
width 2.5 cm, depth 3.0 cm, weight 38 grams.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1865.11-18-230.
Donated to the museum in 1865 by Dr George Witt
(1804-1869), along with much of his collection.
|After the death of Achilles, Ajax (Αἴας, Aias) and Odysseus competed for the arms and armour made for him by Hephaistos (see above). When Ajax lost the contest he went mad and killed himself. This is the earliest known representation of an incident often depicted in Greek and Etruscan art.
The suicide of Ajax is also depicted beneath a handle of the Eurytios Krater (the name vase of Eurytios Painter), a Corinthian black-figure column-krater, circa 600 BC, discovered at the Etruscan city Caere (today Cerveteri). It shows Ajax falling on his sword, watched by Diomedes and Odysseus. All three figures, whose names are inscribed, wear Corinthian helmets. Diomedes and Odysseus stand either side of Ajax, each with a corselet, greaves, a round shield and a spear. Before the discovery of the bronze figurine it was the oldest known depiction of this scene. Louvre. Inv. No. E 635. Purchased from the Campana Collection in 1861.
A relief depicting Ajax committing suicide by falling onto his sword,
which is held upright by the hilt being buried in a mound of earth.
A metope from the Sanctuary of Hera on the river Sele, Paestum (Παῖστον;
earlier Poseidonia, Ποσειδωνία), Campania, Italy. Late 6th century BC.
This and other surviving metope reliefs from the building are flat and
described as unfinished. It is possible that they were intentionally
made flat, with the details painted rather than sculpted.
Paestum Archaeological Museum.
A small fragment (around 5 cm wide) of a bronze sheet with a relief depicting Ajax
committing suicide. The profile of the head and arms of the figure can barely be seen.
He clutches a sword which is pointed downwards and towards him. It is not clear if
he is kneeling as in the relief from Paestum above, in which case the sheet (or the
photo) should be turned 90 degrees clockwise.
6th century BC. From a grave in Thebes, Boeotia, central Greece.
Thebes Archaeological Museum.
A bronze figure of Ajax committing suicide. Probably an
attachment from a vessel or other object. The nude warrior,
wearing only a crested helmet, leans over his sword, which
he holds with his left hand, its hilt resting on the ground.
500-480 BC. Found in a tomb at the Etruscan city Populonia,
(Etruscan, Pupluna, Pufluna or Fufluna), Tuscany,
central Italy. Height 10 cm, width 8 cm.
It has been suggested that the figure is a Greek work,
perhaps from Aegina, due to its resemblance to sculptures
(perhaps by Onatas) from the West Pediment of the Temple
of Aphaia on the island, built around 500 BC.
The figure is very detailed and in much better condition
than it appears in this early photograph, taken soon
after its discovery. It has presumably been restored.
National Archaeological Museum, Florence. Inv. No. 12193.
A relief of Ajax committing suicide on the side of an
Etruscan alabaster funerary urn. Ajax, in full armour
and carrying a round shield, kneels on his left knee,
and with his right hand stabs himself in the heart.
3rd century BC, perhaps after a Greek prototype
of the Hellenistic period. Found at Città della Pieve,
Perugia province, central Italy.
National Archaeological Museum, Florence.
|Ajax, son of King Telamon of Salamis, was known to the Etruscans as Aivas Tlamunus (Greater Ajax or Ajax the Great) to distinguish him from Ajax, son of Oileus (Ajax the Lesser, Aivas Vilates).
Source of images: Luigi Adriano Milani, L'Aiace suicida di Populonia, in Bollettino d'Arte del Ministero della pubblica Istruzione, Anno II (1908), Fasc. X, pages 361-368. E. Calzone, Rome. 1908.
Marble statue of Odysseus.
Parian marble. Late Hellenistic period, before the mid 1st century BC.
From the Antikythera shipwreck. Height 203 cm.
Odysseus strides to the left, but turns his head to the right. He wears a pilos
(πῖλος) conical cap (see Medusa), a short one-sleeved chiton fastened at the
shoulder, and a himation around his waist. The statue is possibly from a group
depicting the theft of the Palladion (see above) during the siege of Troy.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 5745.
Marble statue of a male, possibly Achilles.
Parian marble. Late Hellenistic period, before the middle of the
1st century BC. From the Antikythera shipwreck. Thought to belong
to the same sculpture group as the Odysseus statue above. Height 147 cm.
"The young beardless male is depicted moving forcefully to the right.
He is ready to draw the sword from its sheath with the right hand.
The strikingly youthful appearance of the heroic figure with his unruly,
bushy hair favors his identification as Achilles."
From the museum labelling of an exhibition about the Antikythera shipwreck, 2013.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 5746.
Part of a marble statue representing The Iliad.
2nd century AD. Probably from the Library of Pantainos (Βιβλιοθήκη Πανταίνου),
built around 100 AD, just west of the Gate of Athena, the Doric gateway of the
market of Caesar and Augustus (also known as the Roman Agora), Athens.
The identification of the statue is based on an inscribed base found with it.
Agora Museum, Athens. Inv. No. S 2038.
||Homeric scenes in Greek, Etruscan and Roman art
2. The Odyssey
Relief on the neck of the "Mykonos Vase", a large pithos (πίθος, storage jar; plural, pithoi, πίθοι)
depicting Greek warriors inside the Trojan Horse (the Wooden Horse of Troy), with other warriors
around it. One of the earliest dated objects with a depiction of this episode from the siege of Troy.
Made in a workshop on the Cycladic island Tenos (modern Tinos, Τήνος), around 675-650 BC.
Found by chance in summer 1961, during the digging of a well of a private house in the area
of Matogianni-Fournakia, Chora, Mykonos.
Mykonos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2240.
|Although the story of the Trojan Horse (δουράτεος ἵππος, dourateos hippos, wooden horse, in Homeric/Ionic Greek; δούρειος ἵππος, doureios hippos, in Attic Greek) has become the best known episode in the cycle of tales of the Trojan War, only around half a dozen ancient Greek depictions have so far been discovered, mostly on vases and pottery fragments .
The key episode does not appear in The Iliad, but was recounted in The Odyssey (Book 4 and Book 8), and was further embellished later by authors of the Roman period, particularly in Virgil's Aeneid (Book 2), perhaps using other now lost Archaic works of the Epic Cycle as sources.
The subterfuge of the Trojan Horse was said to have been the idea of the cunning Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς), inspired by Athena, and the colossal hollow beast was built by Epeios (Ἐπειός). After unsuccessfully besieging Troy for ten years, the Greeks pretended to have given up and sailed away, leaving the wooden horse, ostensibly as an offering to Athena, with warriors, including Odysseus, hidden within it. They then hid their fleet at the nearby island of Tenedos.
The Trojans took the horse into the city and celebrated the end of the war, despite the prophetic warnings of Priam's daughter Cassandra and the priest Laocoon, who, according to Virgil, cried: "Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" ("Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even bringing gifts"). At night the Greek warriors crept out of the horse, opened the gates to their army which had meanwhile sneaked back, and they sacked the city and massacred its inhabitants.
"Then Menelaos said, 'All that you have been saying, my dear wife, is true. I have travelled much, and have learned the plans and noos of many a hero, but I have never seen such another man as Odysseus. What endurance too, and what courage he displayed within the wooden horse, wherein all the bravest of the Argives were lying in wait to bring death and destruction upon the Trojans.'"
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 4. Translated by Samuel Butler. At Perseus Digital Library.
"'Now, however, change your song and tell us of the construction [kosmos] of the wooden horse which Epeios made with the assistance of Athena, and which Odysseus got by stratagem into the fort of Troy after freighting it with the men who afterwards sacked the city. If you will sing this tale aright I will tell all the world how magnificently heaven has endowed you.'
The bard, inspired by a god, lit up the picture of his story, starting at the point where some of the Argives set fire to their tents and sailed away while others, hidden within the horse, were waiting with Odysseus in the Trojan place of assembly. For the Trojans themselves had drawn the horse into their fortress, and it stood there while they sat in council round it, and were in three minds as to what they should do. Some were for breaking it up then and there; others would have it dragged to the top of the rock on which the fortress stood, and then thrown down the precipice; while yet others were for letting it remain as an offering and propitiation for the gods.
And this was how they settled it in the end, for the city was doomed when it took in that horse, within which were all the bravest of the Argives waiting to bring death and destruction on the Trojans. Anon he sang how the sons of the Achaeans issued from the horse, and sacked the town, breaking out from their ambuscade. He sang how they overran the city here and there and ravaged it, and how Odysseus went raging like Ares along with Menelaos to the house of Deiphobos. It was there that the fight raged most furiously, nevertheless by Athena's help he was victorious."
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 8. Translated by Samuel Butler. At Perseus Digital Library.
The Wooden Horse was also mentioned in a speech by Poseidon in the tragedy Trojan Women by Euripides (Εὐριπίδης, circa 480-406 BC), written in 415 BC.
"Lo! From the depths of salt Aegean floods I, Poseidon, come, where choirs of Nereids trip in the mazes of the graceful dance; for since the day that Phoebus and myself with measurement exact set towers of stone about this land of Troy and ringed it round, never from my heart hath passed away a kindly feeling for my Phrygian town, which now is smouldering and o'erthrown, a prey to Argive prowess.
For, from his home beneath Parnassus, Phocian Epeus, aided by the craft of Pallas, framed a horse to bear within its womb an armed host, and sent it within the battlements, fraught with death; whence in days to come men shall tell of 'the wooden horse', with its hidden load of warriors.
Groves forsaken stand and temples of the gods run down with blood, and at the altar's very base, before the god who watched his home, lies Priam dead. While to Achaean ships great store of gold and Phrygian spoils are being conveyed, and they who came against this town, those sons of Hellas, only wait a favouring breeze to follow in their wake, that after ten long years they may with joy behold their wives and children."
Euripides, The Trojan Women. At the Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. Stevenson.
The Sack of Troy, often referred to the Ilioupersis (Ἰλίου πέρσις, Iliou persis, Sack of Ilium), appears to have been a more popular theme amomg ancient artists than the horse. There are several surviving ancient artworks depicting scenes from the Ilioupersis, particularly on pottery (see, for example, the death of Priam above).
The "Mykonos Vase" had been used as a burial urn, and human bones were found inside it. Unfortunately, during or following the discovery the pithos was broken into several fragments before its age and significance were recognized. The surviving pieces have been carefully restored and pieced together.
On the neck, the length of which is around a third of the entire height of the vessel, the Trojan Horse is shown in profile, facing right, with a wheel attached to each hoof. There are two square windows down its neck and five along the body, in each of which is the head of a Greek warrior in profile, facing right. One of the Greeks holds out a helmet, while a warrior below him holds out a disproportionately large sword and scabbard in his elongated arm (see photo below). They are presumably handing the arms out to the seven armed warriors who have already climbed out of the horse, and are walking around it with crested helmets, round shields and spears.
The body has a number of separate relief panels depicting scenes from the "Ilioupersis" (Ἰλίου πέρσις, Sack of Ilium, usually referred to as the Sack of Troy), many with a Greek warrior brutally killing women and male children (see photo below). The back of the pithos is undecorated.
Attempts have been made to identify the scenes and individual figures on the pithos, and some have even been speculatively named, including Odysseus, Neoptolemos, Cassandra, Helena, Menelaos and Astyanax.
Height of pithos 133.9 cm, maximum diameter 73.3 cm.
Diameter of mouth: outside edge of rim 61.5 cm; inside of rim 41.8 cm.
Diameter of foot 14.3 cm.
Handles—width of side of handle 9.9 cm. Width of front of handle 11.8 cm.
Horse relief panel on the neck: Height (from top relief line to lowest relief line) 32.5 cm; width (including relief lines) 51 cm.
Heights of relief panels on the body (measured from the vertical panel dividers): top panel 8.1 cm; middle panel 15 cm; bottom panel 13.2 cm.
The pithos was first published in: Miriam Ervin, A relief pithos from Mykonos, in Archaiologikon deltion: Meletai. Meros A, Volume 18, pages 37-75. Athens, 1963.
PDF at University of Thessaly Library and Information Centre.
The front of the Tenian pithos in Mykonos
with scenes of the sack of Troy.
The front of the Trojan Horse on the right
side of the neck of the "Mykonos Vase".
The right side of the neck of the "Mykonos Vase".
One of the bottom panels on the body of the "Mykonos Vase", depicting a Greek
warrior killing a male child with his sword, with a woman, presumably the boy's
mother, trying to save him. Blood falls in incised wavy lines from the child's body.
The relief panels have been referred to as "metopes" because they are separated
by raised vertical bands in a way similar to architectural triglyphs.
The neck of a large Proto-Attic amphora, known as the "Eleusis Amphora", depicting
the blinding of Polyphemos, a scene from Homer's Odyssey (Book 9, lines 187-542).
Odysseus and two of his companions drive a sharpened, glowing olive stake into
the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemos, who holds a kantharos (wine cup).
Around 660 BC. Excavated in 1954 in the West Cemetery, Eleusis. Pot Burial Γ6.
It had been used as a funeral urn and contained the skeleton of a 12 year old boy.
It is the name vase of the Polyphemos Painter. Height 142 cm.
Eleusis Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 2630.
|The amphora was discovered at Eleusis in 1954, during excavations led by Greek archaeologist George E. Mylonas (see Demeter part 1, note 6), among prehistoric burials in soil only 25-30 cm below the modern level. It is thought that the amphora had been damaged and many parts dragged away by centuries of ploughing.
Both the neck and the body of the vase are painted with the black and white outline technique, and depict heroes fighting monsters. The body shows Perseus beheading the Gorgon Medusa.
In The Odyssey, Book 9, Odysseus and twelve of his men are trapped in the cave of Polyphemos (Πολυφημος, Many-Voiced, Many Words, or Abounding in Songs and Legends), a son of Poseidon and one of an ancient race of gigantic Cyclopes (Κύκλωπες, Kyklopes; singular, Κύκλωψ, Kyklops, round-eyed). The mouth of the cave, in which Polyphemos lives with his sheep and goats, is blocked by an emormous rock which only he can move. During the evening and following day, the Cyclops eats six of Odysseus' companions, two at a time.
On the second evening, after he has eaten two of the men, the cunning Odysseus offers him strong Maroneian wine (given to him by the Thracian Maron) to wash down his meal. He quickly becomes drunk and falls into a stupor: "and reeling fell upon his back, and lay there with his thick neck bent aslant, and sleep, that conquers all, laid hold on him. And from his gullet came forth wine and bits of human flesh, and he vomited in his drunken sleep." Then, "... when the wine had stolen about the wits of the Cyclops", the seafarers heat in the fire the sharpened end of an olive wood stake a "fathom's length", which they had earlier cut from his shepherd's staff, itself as massive as the mast of a large ship. The glowing end can be seen in the amphora painting, as the three men drive it into the Cyclops' eye. In Homer's account, four men, chosen by lot, carried the stake while Odysseus "leaned heavily over from above and twirled the stake round".
Homer gave a horrifically graphic description of the destruction of Polyphemos' eye, but did not write that he had only one, in fact spoke of his "eyelids" and "brows" in the plural. In ancient depictions of the scene the Cyclops is often shown in profile, so that only one eye can be seen, which may have given rise to the idea that he was one-eyed. However, in several representations (including some shown below) he has two.
"Then verily I thrust in the stake under the deep ashes until it should grow hot, and heartened all my comrades with cheering words, that I might see no man flinch through fear. But when presently that stake of olive-wood was about to catch fire, green though it was, and began to glow terribly, then verily I drew nigh, bringing the stake from the fire, and my comrades stood round me and a god breathed into us great courage.
They took the stake of olive-wood, sharp at the point, and thrust it into his eye, while I, throwing my weight upon it from above, whirled it round, as when a man bores a ship's timber with a drill, while those below keep it spinning with the thong, which they lay hold of by either end, and the drill runs around unceasingly. Even so we took the fiery-pointed stake and whirled it around in his eye, and the blood flowed around the heated thing. And his eyelids wholly and his brows round about did the flame singe as the eyeball burned, and its roots crackled in the fire. And as when a smith dips a great axe or an adze in cold water amid loud hissing to temper it - for therefrom comes the strength of iron - even so did his eye hiss round the stake of olive-wood.
Terribly then did he cry aloud, and the rock rang around; and we, seized with terror, shrank back, while he wrenched from his eye the stake, all befouled with blood, and flung it from him, wildly waving his arms."
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 9, lines 375-398. At Perseus Digital Library.
The blinded Cyclops removes the door-stone and, sittting at the cave's entrance, lets his sheep and goats out so that he can more easily find the men. But they escape by hiding beneath his huge rams, "well-fed and thick of fleece, fine beasts and large, with wool dark as the violet" (see below). They steal his flocks - adding insult to injury - and drive them to their ship, then sail away. Polyphemos chases after them. and from the shore throws huge rocks at them: "and he waxed the more wroth at heart, and broke off the peak of a high mountain and hurled it at us, and cast it in front of the dark-prowed ship. And the sea surged beneath the stone as it fell". (see below) His efforts prove futile and Odysseus gets away.
This is a key episode in The Odyssey, for as the men sail off Polyphemos calls upon his father Poseidon to avenge him by ensuring that Odysseus never reaches his home:
"... and he then prayed to the lord Poseidon, stretching out both his hands to the starry heaven: 'Hear me, Poseidon, earth-enfolder, thou dark-haired god, if indeed I am thy son and thou declarest thyself my father; grant that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, may never reach his home, even the son of Laertes, whose home is in Ithaca; but if it is his fate to see his friends and to reach his well-built house and his native land, late may he come and in evil case, after losing all his comrades, in a ship that is another's; and may he find woes in his house.' So he spoke in prayer, and the dark-haired god heard him."
The sea god thus prevents Odysseus from returning to Ithaka, and all his men are eventually killed. After ten years of wandering, the hero is only allowed to go home following the intervention of Athena, who pleads his case to her father Zeus. When he finally reaches Ithaka, on another's ship, provided by the Phaeacian king Alkinous (Ἀλκίνους), he finds his palace plagued by "Penelope's suitors", several parasitic nobles determined that one of them should marry his wife Penelope and take his place as king (see below).
On the amphora the arms, torsos and legs of Polyphemos and two of the men are filled in with black. The leading man, thought to be Odysseus, is the only figure whose body is painted in outline with a fill of white, clay-based paint, most of which is now worn away. The drawing of his outline appears overworked, perhaps meant to suggest his strength and the speed of the action. The archaeologist Alan Johnston commented on Odysseus' pose: "He kneels on his opponent like a pharaoh."  It is notable that here, and on other depictions of Odysseus of the 7th - early 5th century (see images below), he is not wearing a pilos, which was later to be his identifying headgear.
The amphora also features a lion confronting a boar on the shoulder, large intertwining "snakes" formalized as cable patterns, numerous space-filling, orientalizing abstract and floral motifs, and "fretwork" handles.
The blinding scene is shown on a number of other vases of the mid 7th century:
• The "Aristonothos Krater", found in a tomb at the Etruscan city Caere (today Cerveteri). Late Geometric, dated variously to around 680-630 BC. Inscribed with the earliest signature by a Greek painter/potter: Ἀριστόνοθος ἐποίσεν (Aristonothos epoiesen, Aristonothos made it), thought to be written in the Ionic script of Euboea, although readings of the inscription differ. The only vase attributed to Aristonothos. Four naked, bearded men with swords slung over their shoulders, shown in profile, advance to the right, holding the stake at waist level and pushing it into the eye of Polyphemos. The Cyclops is shown in profile at the same scale as the men, and sitting on the ground. The other side of the krater shows warriors on two ships in a sea battle. Height 36 cm, maximum diameter 40 cm. Palazzo dei Conservatori, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 172. From the Castellani Collection.
• A 24.5 cm high fragment of a Proto-Argive krater, circa 650 BC, now in the Argos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. C149. In a panel on the fragment are two naked, bearded men and part of the leg of a third, approaching from the right, and holding the stake above their heads. On the left, Polyephemos, also naked, is shown at around twice the size of the men, lying on a rock or pile of stones. All the figures are shown in profile, with clear, fine, black outlines and light pinkish flesh. Unfortunately, the Argos museum has been closed for some years.
• A "white-on-red", impasto-ware pithos from Etruria, perhaps Caere, attributed to the Workshop of the Calabresi Urn, around 650-625 BC. Height with lid 100.7 cm, diameter 56 cm. Three men blind Polyphemos, who is shown sitting on a stool and at the same scale as the men. All the figures wear short chitons (tunics) and, as in all the depictions mentioned here, headbands. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Villa, Malibu. Inv. No. 96.AE.135 (at getty.edu).
The scene was also depicted on a number of later vase paintings, oil lamps, statue groups, reliefs, mosaics and frecoes into the Roman Imperial period.
The 1.42 metre high "Eleusis Amphora".
The head of Odysseus on the "Aristonothos
Krater", around 680-630 BC.
Source: Wolfgang Helbig, Das homerische
Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert,
Fig. 89, page 252. B. G. Teubner, Leipzig,
1887. At the Internet Archive.
Two fragments of a bronze sheet with a repoussé (hammered) relief. The larger
fragment has a depiction of a man holding above his head an object, described
by the museum label as a sword, presumably because the scabbard hanging
from his shoulder appears to be empty. However, the object looks more like part
of a pole than a sword. The scene may represent Odysseus blinding Polyphemos.
Early 6th century BC. Excavated at the Sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia, Greece.
Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. Nos. M 108 and M 205.
Odysseus and his companions drive a stake into the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemos.
Black-figure neck amphora made in southern Italy around 520 BC.
A "Pseudo-Chalcidian" vase attributed to the Polyphemos Group.
The mariners hold the stake high above their heads as they advance to plunge
it into the eye of the naked Polyphemos. They wear short chitons that do not
cover their genitals. Odysseus presses his raised right foot against the chest
of the seated Cyclops, presumably to prevent him from rising, and perhaps
also as a gesture of triumph over his foe, as on the "Eleusis Amphora" above.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1866.8-5.3 (Vase B 154). Donated by T. S. Smith.
Odysseus and his companions blinding Cyclops Polyphemos.
Etruscan black-figure hydria made in the Etruscan city Caere (today
Cerveteri), around 530-520 BC. Attributed to the Aquila Painter.
The other side shows Herakles shooting the
Centaur Nessos who is abducting Deianeira.
National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome.
|Odysseus and his men are shown in profile as a row of four, advancing from the left with the staff, held at shoulder height, entering the eye of Polyphemos, who is also shown in profile, sitting on the ground and holding a large drinking cup. The men all wear short chitons (tunics), while the Cyclops is naked and has long, dishevelled hair and beard.
Odysseus (Ὀδυσσεύς) was known to the Etruscans as Uthuze, from which his Roman name Ulysses may have been derived. The local Greek and Italic variations of his name have given rise to much speculation about its ancient origins and etymology.
The scene is shown in a similar way on a Laconian black-figure cup, attributed to the Rider Painter, around 565-560 BC. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris, Inv. No. 190. The figures on the cup are more detailed than on the Etruscan hydria, with the contours of the hair, musculature and ribs of the naked figures scratched into the black colour. The leading figure of the four holds a cup to Polyphemos' lips. The Cyclops sits on a rock, holding in each hand a leg of one of the men he has just eaten.
Odysseus and two of his men drive a stake into the right eye of a two-eyed Polyphemos
as the giant Cyclops reclines on a rock, cradling an empty wine cup in his left arm.
Attic black-figure skyphos. Attributed to the Theseus Painter,
490-480 BC. From Boeotia, Greece.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. V.I. 3283.
Photo: © Konstanze Gundudis
Marble relief from a sarcophagus depicting the blinding of Polyphemos by Odysseus and his men.
End of the 2nd century AD. Discovered in 1733 near the Bastion of San Giovanni, Catania.
Formerly in the Benedictine monastery of San Nicolo . Height 73 cm, width 69.5 cm.
Museo Civico, Castello Ursino, Catania, Sicily. Inv. No. 53. From the Benedictines' Collection.
|The relief was restored between 1784 and 1801, and several missing or damaged parts were replaced by modern additions, including: the face of the figure on the far left; the right forearm of Odysseus (top, centre); the head and left forearm of the "youth" on the far right. The head of Polyphemos has been so heavily worked that the eye on his forehead is now hardly visible.
In the centre, Odysseus, wearing a pilos (conical hat), stands over Polyphemos, wearing an animal skin cloak, lying drunk on a rock. His kylix (wine cup) has fallen to the ground beneath his hanging left arm. Next to it sits a sheep. The animal seems rather small, especially considering that Odysseus and his crew later escape from Polyphemos' cave by hiding beneath his giant sheep (see below). On the left two of Odysseus' crewmen stand naked. One appears to be holding an object, perhaps a wineskin. On the right, stands a figure in a short tunic, facing frontally, who the restorers have given the head of a beardless youth.
According to local legends, the 70 metre high Isole dei Cyclopi (the Cyclops Islands) off the coast of Aci Trezza (now named the Riviera dei Cyclopi), north of Catania, are the huge rocks the enraged Cyclops threw at Odysseus and his men as they escaped on their ship (see below).
It is thought that this relief may be a simplified version of a fragmented statue group depicting the blinding of Polyphemos (around 50 BC), discovered in 1957 in a grotto at the Villa of Emperor Tiberius at Sperlonga, on the west coast of Italy (between Rome and Naples), and was used as a basis for the reconstruction. (See also Skylla below.)
Another similar sculpture group was discovered in Ephesus in 1959, in the ruins of the Domitian Fountain (built 92-93 AD), at west end of the Upper "State" Agora. It is thought to have originally formed a pedimental frieze, perhaps on a temple of Dionysus, and to have later been reused to decorate the fountain.  The surviving fragments are now displayed in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum, Selçuk. A modern reconstruction of the group has been set up in a pedimental setting outside the museum.
The reconstruction shows the large figure of Polyphemos sitting (rather than lying) in the centre (perhaps in a similar way to the Palazzo Nuovo Polyphemos below), his right arm extended, and thought originally to be taking a wine cup from Odysseus. To the left the smaller figure of Odysseus offering the wine cup (as in the marble statuette below). Behind him two of his companions, one holding a ram. To the right of Polyphemos, three other companions prepare the stake to blind him. The two figures of dead men are thought to have occupied the ends of the pediment.
A marble bearded head of a companion of Odysseus,
probably the "wineskin carrier" from a statue group
depicting the blinding of Polyphemos.
Circa 100-150 AD, Roman period copy of a lost Hellensitic original of around 200 BC.
Excavated 1769-1771 by the Scottish painter, antiquarian and antiquities dealer
Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798) in the Pantanello of Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, near Rome.
The nose, lips and bust are modern additions. Height 74 cm.
Another version of this head was found with the body as part of the blinding
of Polyphemos statue group in Sperlonga (circa 50 BC). Although thought to
be by different sculptors, the two heads are remarkably similar, even to the
number and arrangement of the hair curls. 
British Museum. Inv. No GR 1805.7-3.86 (Sculpture 1860).
Acquired in 1805 from the Townley Collection.
A marble torso, thought to be part of a colossal statue
of Polyphemos from a blinding of Polyphemos group.
Roman period. Previously believed to be from a statue of Hercules,
Polyphemos, or Atlas, it was recently identified as Polyphemos
after comparison with the Sperlonga group (see above).
Palazzo Altemps, National Museum of Rome. Inv. No. 396715.
From the Altemps Collection.
Marble statue group of Polyphemos sitting on a rock
and holding on to one of Odysseus' companions.
2nd - 3rd century AD. Height 157 cm.
The figure of Polyphemos was mistakenly restored
as Pan, with the addition of a syrinx (Pan pipes).
The Atrium, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Inv. No. MC 53.
|The statue was found in Rome, although the exact details appear to be unknown; it may have been discovered during building work either at the Basilica of San Stephano on the Celian Hill, or at the Palazzo Venezia, north of the Capitoline Hill. It was first kept in the Palazzo Venezia, and is known to have been in the Vatican after 1550. It was acquired by the Capitoline Museums in 1636, and was taken to the Palazzo Conservatori where it was restored, before being moved to its present location in the mid 18th century.
"Said to have been found near the church of San Stefano Rotondo. Has been restored as the god Pan, and was once the subject of much controversy as to whether the eye in the forehead, was an eye, or a mere flaw in the marble. The hand with the pipes is a restoration. It is work of no artistic merit and doubtful antiquity."
Shakspere Wood, The Capitoline Museum of Sculpture, a Catalogue, page 18, No. 25. Propaganda Fide, Rome, 1872. At the Internet Archive.
The group has been extensively restored:
"The statement that this group was found on the Caelius is insufficiently attested... The right forearm, with the syrinx, and the left hand of the chief figure are restored. The head, which had been broken off, is antique, though it has been retouched, particularly at the top, and belongs to the statue. The head placed by the restorer on the body of the companion of Odysseus is antique, but originally belonged to a vine-wreathed figure of the boy Dionysos.
... Traces of a dark-brown pigment linger on the beard of Polyphemos, of brownish-red on his nude parts, and of greyish-violet on the skins hanging over his knees."
Wolfgang Helbig (1839-1915), Guide to the public collections of classical antiquities in Rome, Volume 1, pages 296-297, The Capitoline Museum, Corridor, No. 409 (35), Group of Polyphemos with a Companion of Odysseus. English translation by James F. and Findlay Muirhead. Karl Baedeker, Lepzig, 1895. At the Internet Archive.
Helbig made the connection between the statue group and the 97 cm high statuette of Odysseus offering the Cyclops a wine cup, now in the Museo Chiaramonti of the Vatican Museums. Inv. No. 1901 (see below). He also drew attention to depictions of the scene in which Odysseus gets Polyphemos drunk before the blinding, on a cinerary urn from Volterra and several terracotta oil lamps (pages 70-72, Museo Chiaramonti, No. 124 (704), Statuette of Ulysses). His Fig. 8 (Fig. 5 in the German edition) is a drawing of a relief on one of the lamps (see image, right), but he gives no further details about it. It is similar to that on a Roman period lamp acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Inv. No. 83.AQ.377.5) in 1983 from a collection in Germany.
Relief on a terracotta oil lamp depicting
Odysseus offering wine to Polyphemos
who holds one of the hero's companions.
A cast relief of Odysseus escaping from the cave of the blinded
Polyphemos by tying himself beneath one of the Cyclops' huge
rams (Homer, Odyssey, Book IX, lines 425-435), on the leg of a
bronze tripod. Above the ram stands a bird. One of six reliefs
in panels arranged vertically on the tripod leg (see Medusa).
Made in a Corinthian workshop, around 600 BC.
Excavated at the Sanctuary of Olympia, Greece.
Olympia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. B 7000.
|The figure under the ram is often described as "Odysseus or one of his companions", although it seems most likely that he is the hero Odysseus himself, as the central character and sole survivor of the epic journey in The Odyssey, who would have been the main interest for the artists and their customers and public.
One of the earliest surviving depictions of this scene is on a Middle Proto-Attic, black-and-white-style oinochoe (wine jug), the name vase of the Ram Jug Painter, around 665-640 BC. Found on Aegina. Aegina Archaeological Musem. Inv. No. 566.
There is lively ceramic statuette of Odysseus under a ram in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Inv. No. 79.AD.37. Height 14.2 cm, width 16.7 cm. Reported to be from Sicily, and perhaps from Enna (northwest Sicily), it is dated to the end of the 6th century BC. Only the head of Odysseus is represented, potruding from between the ram's front legs. Its body was covered by a fleece built up of milk of lime paste applied over the pink clay, but most of it has been worn away.
Odysseus or one of his companions escaping from Polyphemos' cave tied beneath a large ram.
Cast bronze appliqué, which would have been riveted to a fixture or piece of furniture.
From Delphi. Made in a workshop in the northeast Pelponnese, late 6th century BC.
Delphi Archaeological Museum.
Odysseus or one of his companions escaping from Polyphemos's cave,
tied with three ropes to the underside of one of the Cyclops' rams.
Detail of an Attic black-figure lekythos, 550-501 BC.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1934.249.
Gift of John Davidson Beazley.
On the right Polyphemos sits on a rock, his head to turned to the right.
On the left Odysseus escapes from his cave, hidden beneath one of his rams.
An Attic black-figure hydria. Found in the "Purification Pit" on the
island of Rheneia (Ῥήνεια), west of Delos (see Mistress of Animals).
Mykonos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. K 31188.
Polyphemos sitting (right), while Odysseus hides beneath a large ram.
Fragments of an Attic black-figure vase.
Found in the "Purification Pit" on Rheneia.
Mykonos Archaeological Museum.
Odysseus, wearing a chiton, escapes from the cave of Polyphemos beneath a large,
docile-looking ram. He may also be wearing a conical pilos cap, although this not clear.
With his left hand the red-bearded hero holds on to the ram's shoulder, and in his
outstretched right hand is what appears to be a sword. Another ram grazes to the
right, and the tentacle-like branches of a vine spread and sway across the background.
Detail of an Attic black-figure pelike. Around 500 BC. From Kerameikos (T HW 195), Athens.
Kerameikos Archaeological Museum.
|Odysseus or one of his companions, strapped beneath a ram,
escapes from the cave of Polyphemos (seated, right).
Attic black-figure lekythos, 525-475 BC. Preserved height 11.8 cm,
diameter of base 3.6 cm, maximum diameter of body 4.6 cm.
3rd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Athens. Inv. No. A7747.
Exhibited during the exhibition The Europe of Greece: Colonies and Coins from the
Alpha Bank Collection (Η Ευρώπη της Ελλάδος Αποκίες και Νομίσματα από τη Συλλογή
της Alpha Bank), Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, 11 April 2014 - 19 April 2015.
|Polyphemos (right) sitting in his cave opposite a large ram, under which
is the small scratched figure of Odysseus or one of his companions.
Attic black-figure lekythos, 6th century BC. From Selinous (Selinunte), Sicily.
Museo Civico, Castelvetrano, Sicily.
|Odysseus or one of his companions, beneath a large ram, escapes from the cave of
Polyphemos, who is seated on the right, holding what may be a large wine cup.
Another member of Odysseus' crew stands behind the ram holding a spear or stake.
An Attic black-figure lekythos, around 500 BC, attributed to the Theseus Painter.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1934.372.
A Roman marble statuette of Odysseus hiding under a ram in Polyphemos' cave.
An engraving published by Johann Joachim Winckelmann in 1767.
Luna marble. Height 78 cm, width 73 cm, depth 35 cm.
From the Albani Collection. Inv. No. 438. Now in the Torlonia Collection, Rome.
|The statuettes of Odysseus hiding under a ram and Odysseus handing wine to Polyphemos, as well as other ancient artworks relating to Homeric tales, were first described and illustrated by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768).
Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Monumenti antichi inediti spiegati ed illustrati da Giovanni Winckelmann, Volume I (Unedited antique monuments, described and illustrated by Giovanni Winckelmann). Rome, 1767. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
Engravings: Odysseus handing wine to Polyphemos, plate 154; Odysseus hiding under a ram, plate 155.
Much of the Albani Collection was later sold off and the works are now dispersed among many collections and museums around the world (for example, the Capitoline Museums, Naples, Dresden and the Louvre). However, several works are still in the private collection of the Villa Albani which has belonged to the Torlonia family since 1866. Kept in storage for many years, plans were set in motion in 2016 to finally exhibit the works to the public.
A photograph and short description of Odysseus hiding under a ram also appeared in a catalogue of works in the Torlonia Museum by Carlo Lodovico Visconti (1818-1894).
Carlo Lodovico Visconti, I monumenti del Museo Torlonia riprodotti con la fototipia, descritti da Carlo Lodovico Visconti, Volume II, Tavole, Tavolo CXII ("Ulisse soto il montone"). Tipografia Tiberina di F. Setth, Rome, 1885. At the Arachne website of the University of Cologne.
A similar sculpture of Odysseus under a ram, dated to the 2nd century AD, is exhibited in the Aldobrandini Room of the Doria Pamphili Gallery, Rome.
A Flavian era (69-96 AD) marble statuette of Odysseus offering a wine cup to Polyphemos, thought to be copy of a late Hellenistic original, is in the Museo Chiaramonti of the Vatican Museums. Inv. No. 1901.
Marble stattuette of Odysseus
handing wine to Polyphemos.
An Etruscan alabaster cinerary urn with a relief of Odysseus
and his companions escaping from Polyphemos in their ship.
On the lid a statue of a young man, the deceased, reclines on a
couch, resting on his left elbow, and holds a bowl in his right hand.
The high relief on the front of the casket itself is one of the few surviving ancient depictions
of the scene in which Odysseus (known to the Etruscans as Uthuze) and his companions
escape fom Polyphemos in their ship, pursued by the enraged Cyclops. See details below.
200-50 BC. From Volterra, Etruria, Italy. Height 92.5 cm, width 77 cm, depth 26 cm.
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, Netherlands. Inv. No. H III C.
For further information about the Etruscan cinerary urns in the Leiden museum, see above.
The relief on the front of the Etruscan cinerary urn in Leiden.
|On the far left, the bearded Polyphemos stands at the mouth of his cave about to throw a large rock to the right at Odysseus' departing ship with his raised right hand. With his lowered right hand he clutches the part of his cloak which covers his genitals, as if he has just thrown the garment on in his haste to catch up with Odysseus. He also wears stylish boots or high sandals. It is notable that he has two eyes, neither of which appears injured, his pose is quite heroic, and he appears almost godlike - similar to depictions of Zeus with his thunderbolt or Poseidon with his trident. He is hardly the savage monster described by Homer. Like the other figures in the relief, his face betrays little sign of emotion, although the expression of the goddess may be one of grim determination, and Odysseus and his men look deadly serious. Behind his legs stand two of his sheep, which appear quite small, even in comparison to Odysseus and his men, who are shown at a slightly smaller scale than Polypephemos and the winged female figure.
This winged figure is thought to be an Etruscan goddess, probably Menrva, the equivalent of the Greek Athena and Roman Minerva, although she is not usually depicted with wings in Etruscan art. In Homer's The Odyssey, Athena constantly helps and supports Odysseus. She also acts as his advocate among the gods, particularly pleading to Zeus the case for his safe return home and against the vengeance of Poseidon, and intercedes on the hero's behalf. However, Homer does not mention Athena helping him in his escape from Polyphemos. It may be that she played a role in another version of the tale, or her participation in the action is an artist's invention, perhaps representing her assistance in a spiritual sense. Odysseus later tells Athena how her support lends him the courage for his most daring undertakings:
"... and stand thyself by my side, and endue me with dauntless courage, even as when we loosed the bright diadem of Troy. Wouldest thou but stand by my side, thou flashing-eyed one, as eager as thou wast then, I would fight even against three hundred men, with thee, mighty goddess, if with a ready heart thou wouldest give me aid."
Homer, The Odyssey, Book 13. At Perseus Digital Library.
The Dutch archaeologist L. J. F. Janssen (1806-1869; curator of the Leiden museum, 1835-1868) referred to the figure as a "so-called Fury", indicating that he was not entirely convinced by current theories, while some scholars have suggested that she may be the Etruscan winged daemon Vanth, who was usually associated with death and the Underworld. Despite the notion of innumerable versions and variations of the tales associated with Odysseus which may predate the age of Homer or even that of the Trojan wars, it is difficult to imagine how the Etruscans introduced either a Fury or Vanth into this tale. Since there are few surviving written vestiges of Etruscan mythology or literature, it also seems impossible to prove one way or the other.
An almost identical figure appears on another Etruscan urn in Leiden, depicting Odysseus, Penelope and her suitors (see below), and in that context she seems most likely to be Menrva/Athena. Here she stands between Polyphemos and the ship, blocking the Cyclops' view and preventing his rock from hitting the vessel by stretching her cloak between her hands. In her raised right hand she also holds a sword. She wears a cap similar to Odysseus' conical pilos, a sleeved and girdled chiton (tunic) over a knee-length peplos (or whatever was its Etruscan equivalent), and diagonal bands, presumably to support her wings, crossed over her breast and fastened together by a rosette (see Athena with the cross-banded aegis).
To the right, the sturdy ship, which takes up around two thirds of the surface of the relief, sails to the right with a billowing sail over a very solid-looking row of waves. Aboard are six men, all dressed similarly and wearing pilos caps, but each with distinctly different facial features. Their poses are tense and they all look back towards Polyphemos. Three men sit at the oars, although five oars are shown, as well as five shields fixed to the ship's starboard side. Behind them stand another three men, shields raised and poised for action. The figure on the left, with the lower part of his face obscured by his shield, is probably Odysseus. He is the only bearded crewman, and the only figure in the relief with his back to the viewer. The middle figure holds his shield high as if anticipating an "incoming" rock from above.
See: Leonhardt Johannes Friedrich Janssen, De etrurische grafreliëfs uit het Museum van Oudheden te Leyden, No. 34, pages 24-25 and plate XIX. H. J. Brill, Leiden, 1854. At the Heidelberg University Digital Library.
A marble relief of Odysseus (known to the Romans as Ulysses) and the Sirens.
The left side of a panel from the sarcophagus of the Roman knight (eques Romanus)
M. Aurelius Romanus who, according to the inscription in the centre of the panel,
died at the age of seventeen. The relief on the right side shows a bust of the
young man flanked by two cupids and two seated philosophers.
Late Severan age (193-235 AD). Found on the Via Tiburtina, Rome.
Baths of Diocletian, National Museum of Rome.
|In Homer's Odyssey, Book 12, the divine sorceress Circe (Κίρκη) warned Odysseus of the perils awaiting him and his men on the next part of their sea voyage. These included the Sirens, the Clashing Rocks, and the monsters Skylla (see below) and Charybdis (a whirlpool).
The enchanting singing of the Sirens (singular, Σειρήν, Seiren; plural, Σειρῆνες, Seirenes) drew seafarers to shipwreck and death on the rocky shore of their island, and Circe knew that Odysseus would not be able to resist the temptation to hear their song for himself. He followed her advice to have his companions wear earplugs of beeswax while they rowed past the Sirens' island, having had himself tied to the ship's mast so that he would not attempt to follow the bewitching music.
Homer wrote that there were two Sirens, but does not describe or name them individually. The earliest known description of them as "winged maidens, virgin daughters of Gaia", appears in Euripides' play Helen (Ἑλένη, line 167), first performed at the Dionysia in Athens in 412 BC. The works of later writers differ in their accounts of their parentage, numbers (between two and four) and names. In Greek, Etruscan and Roman art they are depicted as part woman, part bird, with several variations of forms, though always with human heads.
The Roman mythographer Hyginus [see note 18] summarized some of the versions of the myths concerning the Sirens:
"The Sirens, daughter of the River Achelous and the Muse Melpomene, wandering away after the rape of Proserpina, came to the land of Apollo, and there were made flying creatures by the will of Ceres because they had not brought help to her daughter. It was predicted that they would live only until someone who heard their singing would pass by. Ulysses proved fatal to them, for when by his cleverness he passed by the rocks where they dwelt, they threw themselves into the sea. This place is called Sirenides from them, and is between Sicily and Italy."
Hyginus, Fabulae, sections 100-149, section 141, Sirens. At the Theoi Project.
In this relief three Sirens are shown with human heads, arms and bodies, and the tails, legs and feet of birds. Standing on rocks in the sea, they wear cloaks and hold musical instruments. Odysseus, wearing a pilos and chiton, stands at the mast of his ship while two of his companions row past the rocks.
The scene on the sarcophagus may have been from one of the deceased young man's favourite tales, or have had some special significance for the family. Such motifs may have been popular for funerary art as they not only reflected the literary and artistic tastes of the families, but also illustrated heroic victories over death (see also the "Recognition of Paris" relief above).
Detail of an Etruscan "white-on-red" impasto-ware amphora with a painting of a man sitting in a ship.
Around 630 BC. From Tomb B 17, Banditaccia necropolis, Cerveteri (ancient Caere, Etruria).
Attributed to the Painter of the Siren Attachment (Pittore della Sirena-Assurattasche).
Height 44.5 cm, maximum diameter 23.5 cm.
Civic Archaeological Museum, Milan. Inv. No. A 0.9.17786. From the Lerici Collection.
|On the body of the amphora are the faint remains of a man sitting in a sailing ship with oars, which is depicted at a smaller scale than the sailor. To the right of this scene is a Siren (see photo right), and further around the side of the vase is a large cat resembling a tiger (see photo below), a winged horse (not visible in the museum display case), presumably Pegasus, and an upright fish. Above and below this frieze, in the bands on the shoulder and lower body of the amphora, are fish and sea creatures. On each side of the neck, between the handles, is a sheep, above one of which (see photo below) is what appears to be the Etruscan letter khe (similar in form to the Greek Ψ, psi).
The fact that the Siren appears behind the ship may signify that the sailor has escaped the danger and is able to sail on, but there is no certainty that the relationship of the separate images were deliberately designed to be read in this way.
Described by the museum as a "marine adventure", the paintings of the ship and Siren may comprise the earliest known representation of the Homeric episode of Odysseus and the Sirens. The oldest representation of a Homeric theme so far discovered in an Etruscan context is "the Aristonothos Krater", also found in a tomb at Cerveteri and dated to around 680-630 BC. One side depicts the blinding of Polyphemos which is also shown on a "white-on-red" pithos, perhaps from Cerveteri, made around 650-625 BC (see above).
Some scholars have proposed that such artefacts indicate that Homeric tales may have been known to the Etruscans by the 7th century BC, although motifs copied from imported Greek works may have had a different significance for aristocratic customers in Etruria.
The fish and marine creatures in the upper and lower bands are appropriate to the two main images, however the feline, winged horse and fish in the central band may be merely decorative space-fillers, typical of Archaic ceramic painting of the Orientalizing period (8th - 6th centuries BC). Etruscans may have considered lions, leopards and other large cats to be as fabulous as winged horses, and the "stripes" may just indicate a shaggy fur. Europeans are thought to have first encountered tigers at the time of Alexander the Great's campaigns in Asia, and they began appearing in western art during the Roman Imperial period when they were among the exotic animals imported for games in arenas.
Little has been published concerning this amphora, and the few authors who briefly mention it refer to:
Marina Cristofani Martelli (editor), La ceramica degli Etruschi: La pittura vascolare, page 10, figs. 17-18. Istituto Geografico de Agostini, Novara, 1987.
Martelli appears to have been the first to attribute the vase painting to the Painter of the Siren Attachment (Pittore della Sirena-Assurattasche), about whom there is also very little literature. His name is derived from the German word Assurattaschen (Assur attachments), used by the archaeologist Adolf Furtwängler to describe the protomes (front parts) of sirens and other creatures designed as attachments for ancient bronze vessels, particularly cauldrons (see photo below), because of their similarity to depictions of the Assyrian god Assur.
Examination of details of the ship may reveal more about the imagery of the amphora, however I have yet to find more information on this specialist aspect. The ship is briefly described in a catalogue of representations of ships in Etruscan art in:
Olaf Höckmann, Etruskische Schiffahrt, catalogue No. CA 5, pages 278-279. In: Jahrbuch des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz, 48,1 (2001), pages 227-308. PDF at Heidelberg University Journals.
Höckmann's illustrated study is primarily concerned with military and commercial shipping and piracy in the Etruscan world. Although he refers to much later illustrations of Odysseus and the Sirens, he does not discuss the iconography of this amphora.
The Siren on the Etruscan amphora in Milan. It is
displayed next to a larger vase, so that the other
side with the flying horse can not be seen.
The tiger-like feline on the Etruscan amphora.
One of the sheep on the neck of the Etruscan amphora.
An Archaic bronze Siren protome as an attachment of a vessel.
Probably made in a Peloponnesian workshop around 725-700 BC. From Delphi.
Delphi Archaeological Museum.
Exhibited during the exhibition The Europe of Greece: Colonies and Coins from the
Alpha Bank Collection (Η Ευρώπη της Ελλάδος Αποκίες και Νομίσματα από τη Συλλογή
της Alpha Bank), Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, 11 April 2014 - 19 April 2015.
Odysseus and the Sirens on the body of an Attic black-figure oenochoe. 525-500 BC.
Odysseus stands tied to the mast of his ship as his companions row. Three Sirens, with
human heads and birds' bodies, stand close together on an overhanging rock above the ship.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. 1993.216. A gift from the bequest of Frank Brommer, 1993.
Photo: © Konstanze Gundudis
Odysseus and the Sirens on the body of a Late Corinthian black-figure
aryballos (ἀρύβαλλος, jar for perfume, ointment or oil). Around 575–550 BC.
Odysseus stands tied to the mast of his ship. The five helmeted heads of his companions rowing
the ship can be seen. Three Sirens stand on a rocky cliff. Two huge birds hover above the ship.
A large building (right) is either behind the ship or the Sirens. Height 10.2 cm. diameter 9.5 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. Inv. No. 01.8100. Purchased in Munich
by Edward Perry Warren. Purchased by the museum from Warren in 1901.
Drawing by Karl Reichhold (1856-1919), Munich.
Image source: Heinrich Bulle, Odysseus und die Sirene, in W. Amelung and others,
Strena Helbigiana, pages 31-37. B.G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1887. At the Internet Archive.
A Siren on a Corinthian black-figure spherical aryballos.
Around 600 BC.
Studiendepot Antike, Skulpturensammlung, Albertinum, Dresden.
The ceramics and other ancient objects displayed in the temporary
"Studiendepot" room (open Saturday and Sunday only) are not
labelled, and it is not possible to view the other sides of the vases.
The form and painting style are similar to that of an
aryballos with a depiction three Sirens in the Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston. Inv. No. 21.279. Height 14.1 cm.
Fragment of a statue of a Siren.
Parian work. 550-500 BC.
Delos Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. A 3995.
A bronze plaque in the form of the Homeric sea monster Skylla. She has an oar in her left
hand and probably held a stone in the right. An attachment from a vase or folding mirror.
Repoussé (hammered) bronze. Made in a workshop of Taras (Τάρᾱς, today Taranto, Apulia,
southern Italy), 350-300 BC. Found in 1875 during excavations by Konstantinos Karapanos
in the Sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona, near Ionnina, northwestern Greece. 
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. καρ. 82.
From the Konstantinos Karapanos Collection.
|Skylla (Σκύλλα), who attacked Odysseus' ship in the straits between Italy and Sicily (Homer, Odyssey, Book 12), is depicted as a giant naked female as far as the waist, below which sprout the heads and bodies of dog-like creatures. The remains of this figure and those below make her human-like part appear attractive, quite harmless, even benign.
The Skylla episode is represented on several types of ancient artefacts, including coins, fragments of a sculpture group found in Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli, and one of the Sperlonga statue groups known as the "Scylla Group", signed by three Greek artists (see Agesander of Rhodes).
A bronze figurine of Skylla.
Late 4th century BC. From Thessaly, northern Greece.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Inv. No. 21084.
Daunian painted ceramic luxury vessel decorated with several
sculpted figures and protomes (heads) of mythical creatures,
including Skylla (see detail below).
Made in Canosa, northern Apulia, Italy, around 300 BC.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. V.I. 3194. Acquired in 1891.
Skylla on the Daunian ceramic vessel above, with remnants of paint.
Terracotta figure of Skylla.
Made in southern Italy around 250-200 BC.
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1856.1226-223.
A large marble trapezophoron (table support) with a high relief of Skylla (left). One of Odysseus'
companions (centre) is caught in the coils of her fish-like tail, while three dogs' heads protruding
from below her torso devour other men struggling in the waves (see photos below).
To the right a centaur, holding a syrinx (pan pipes), with a small eros
(cupid) on his back. Above him an eagle holds a snake in its talons.
Mid 2nd century AD. From Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli, near Rome, where fragments of
a larger, more elaborate, free-standing statue group of the same scene were also
discovered. Heavily restored by the Italian sculptor Carlo Albacini (circa 1739-1807),
who restored several ancient sculptures. Greek marble. Height 108 cm, width 160 cm.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Inv. No. 6672.
The relief of Skylla on the trapezophoron in Naples.
Skylla's three dogs' heads tear Odysseus' companions
to pieces in the sea on the trapezophoron in Naples.
Fragment of a marble staue of Skylla
or a Nereid from Ostia, near Rome.
Circa 150 AD. Found near the Nymphaeum
(II,VII,6), at the west of the theatre, Ostia.
Ostia Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. 183.
A round ("discoid") terracotta loom weight with a depiction of Skylla.
With each of her outstretched hand she holds one of her fish tails.
Above her head is an unidentified object. Such weights for
weaving looms were often dedicated at sanctuaries.
Made on Sicily around 400-100 BC. From ancient
Akragas or Gela. Diameter 7.94 cm (3 1/8 inches).
British Museum. Inv. No. GR 1863,0728.207 (Terracotta E 166).
Donated by George Dennis in 1863. 
See also loom weights from Sicily decorated
with Gorgoneions on the Medusa page.
Detail of a Boeotian black-figure skyphos (deep drinking cup) with a depiction of
Odysseus (inscribed ΟΔΥΣΕΥΣ) holding a trident and, blown by Boreas, the North
Wind (inscribed ΒΟΡΙΑΣ), surfing across the sea on two overturned amphorae.
Attributed to the Cabirion Group, 425-375 BC. Found at Thebes, Greece.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Inv. No. AN1896-1908 G.249.
From the Van Brantghem Collection.
A painted ceramic relief depicting Penelope, the wife of
Odysseus, waiting for his return home to Ithaka (Ιθάκη),
an island in the Ionian Sea, northeast of Kefalonia.
Around 460 BC. From Piraeus, Greece.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. TC 8416. Acquired in 1894.
|One of around 110 similar painted plaques, dated around 500-416 BC, known as "Melian" reliefs, after the Cycladic island Melos (Μῆλος; modern Μήλος, Milos), allegedly the main findspot. Others have been found at locations around the Mediterranean, from Anatolia to Sicily. Such plaques may also have been made in Athens and elsewhere. Most depict mythological scenes, and a few deities. They were used to decorate private homes, as votive offerings and grave goods. A similar "Melian" relief fragment in the Louvre (Inv. No. CA 860) shows Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, standing next to seated Penelope.
See another "Melian"relief depicting Orestes and Elektra below.
Marble head of mourning Penelope.
Roman, after a model of the 5th century BC. Perhaps from a
funerary statue. Height 26.6 cm, width 22.7 cm, depth 22.2 cm.
The statue type is thought to have shown Penelope sitting
on a stool (diphros), under which stood a basket of wool.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Sk 603.
Acquired in 1879 from the Dressel Collection, Rome.
An Etruscan alabaster cinerary urn with a relief depicting Odysseus (far left)
in his palace in Ithaka, with Penelope (second from right) and her suitors.
200-50 BC. From Volterra, Etruria, Italy. Height 43 cm, width 76 cm, depth 19 cm. *
Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, Netherlands. Inv. No. H III A.
|On his return home to the island of Ithaka, Odysseus learns that during his twenty-year absence many have considered him dead. A group of arrogant and parasitic male nobles have gathered at his palace, each vying to be chosen as Penelope's new husband and the next king of Ithaka. Athena informs him of "the shameless wooers, who now for three years have been lording it in thy halls, wooing thy godlike wife, and offering wooers' gifts. And she, as she mournfully looks for thy coming, offers hopes to all, and has promises for each man, sending them messages, but her mind is set on other things." (The Odyssey, Book 13)
Aware of the fate of Agamemnon, who was murdered on his return from Troy by Aigisthos, the lover of his wife Clytaemnestra (see below), the wily Odysseus keeps his return a secret. Athena, promising to stand by him, magically transforms his appearance to that of an aged beggar, so that he can enter his palace incognito, observe the goings-on, and wait for an opportunity to destroy the suitors. Unaware of all this, the beleaguered Penelope finally announces that she will marry the man who wins an archery contest, using an old bow of Odysseus which only he could string. The hero, of course, wins the competition, reveals his identity and massacres the suitors.
On the relief, Odysseus, disguised as an old beggar on the far left, is naked apart from a cloak over his shoulders, and holds a gnarled walking stick with both hands. He sits humbly on a log or rock, far below the level of the other figures in their luxury. A winged female figure stands close to his left side with her right arm around him, her hand resting supportively on his right shoulder. She is dressed in the same way as the goddess in the relief of the Polyphemos scene (see above), and this is most probably Menrva (Athena). Her left hand is raised to the top of her head, perhaps a gesture expressing her reaction to the insufferable scene she is witnessing.
In the centre, four men, representing the suitors, recline on a long couch in the traditional poses of banqueters (symposiasts). The figures on the left and right hold deep wine bowls, and the second from right holds high a rhyton (drinking horn). The man second from left also raises his right arm, but it is unclear what he is holding; he may be pulling at the edge of his mantle. In his left hand he holds a round object (a bowl, cake or loaf?). In front of the couch is a round table with three legs in the form of animal legs with cloven hooves, on which stand a wine bowl and two kantharoi (wine cups). To the left of the table stands a diminuitive wine-pourer.
All the figures in the relief look towards Penelope, who sits to the right on a wide throne or couch, her feet resting on an footstool. She is flanked by two women, companions, maidservants or slaves. The woman to the left of Penelope holds a box with an open lid, into which the queeen dips her right hand. Whatever she is about to take out, a sweetmeat or other delicacy, it may represent a lot: her choice has been made. The three women are subtly separated in space from the suitors.
In comparison to many other Etruscan cinerary urn reliefs, the scene is relatively restrained. It is not the usual action scene, and apparently depicts a conventional banquet observed by an old man and a supernatural being. However, the Etruscan viewer knew that this was just the deceptively tranquil prelude to a terrible retributive bloodbath, a typically Homeric act of vengeance, representing a form of justice and restoration of proper order, not only sanctioned but often demanded by their gods. The sculptors who carved these reliefs were very skilful at employing a type of visual shorthand, reducing complex scenes to the minimum in terms of figures and details in order to fit the rectricted dimensions of the urns.
For the rich and powerful families who were commissioners or purchasers of such works, these reliefs are thought to have been an affirmation of their belief in such a system of eternal justice and the triumph of the will over insuperable odds, and perhaps over death itself: immortality in alabaster. As with tomb monuments of many other cultures, ancient and modern, they present statements of faith and proclaim the cultural, intellectual, spiritual and moral values and aspirations of the deceased and the society to which they belonged.
See: Leonhardt Johannes Friedrich Janssen, De etrurische grafreliëfs uit het Museum van Oudheden te Leyden, No. 35, pages 25-26 and plate XX. H. J. Brill, Leiden, 1854. At the Heidelberg University Digital Library.
The drawing of the relief (plate XX, 35a) shows the third suitor from the left and Penelope's two maid servants with their heads missing. It is unclear whether the heads now on the relief are modern additions.
* The dimensions are those given in the searchable Collections database of the Leiden museum:
https://www.rmo.nl/collectie/ (in Dutch and English)
A fragment of a relief skyphos with a depiction of a scene from The Odyssey
in which Odysseus (right) and his son Telemachos (Τηλέμαχος) kill Penelope's
suitors. The name of Telemachos is inscribed above his head. Above the scene
is a continuous band decorated with boukrania (ox skulls) and garlands.
2nd century BC. From Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum. Inv. No. MΘ 5442.
Home at last.
Fragment of a marble sarcophagus with a high relief illustrating a
scene from Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus (left) embraces his father
Laertes on his return home to Ithaka from the ten-year Trojan War
and ten years of wandering around the Mediterranean.
Mid 2nd century AD. Luna Marble. From Rome.
Height 33 cm, width 21 cm.
Barracco Museum, Rome. Inv. No. MB 144.
A repoussé (hammered) relief depicting Orestes killing his mother Clytaemnestra to avenge his father
Agamemnon, while her lover Aigisthos (right) tries to escape. A female figure stands behind Orestes.
Detail of a fragment of an Archaic bronze sheet, probably used to clad some object. This is the
centre panel of three on the surviving part of the sheet. The relief above it has part of a scene with
two heroes and a female figure; the relief below depicts the abduction of Antiope by Theseus.
Made in a Cycladic workshop, around 580 BC.
From the sanctuary of Zeus, Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece.
Olympia Archaeological Museum.
|In The Odyssey, when King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War, returned home, he was murdered by Aigisthos, the lover of his wife Clytaemnestra. Orestes was not present at the murder, but on his return from Athens seven years later he avenged his father by killing Clytaemnestra and Aigisthos. The cycle of revenge and murder was later elaborated, with several variations, in the poetry of Pindar and plays by the Athenian tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles.
The back of a bronze Etruscan mirror engraved with a depiction of Orestes
killing his mother Clytaemnestra. A male figure stands behind Orestes. The
names of the figures are inscribed in Etruscan script: CLUTHUMUSTHA
(CLVΘVMVSΘA), Clytemnestra; OROSTHE (VRVSΘE), Orestes; ATHOM (NAΘVM),
sailor? (Latin, nauticus-a-um). In the lower register, below the main scene,
a male figure stabs a two-headed serpent in one of its mouths with a sword.
Probably from Veii, Etruria. Around 440 BC.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. Fr 148. Acquired in 1843.
Fragment of a terracotta "Melian" relief depicting Orestes
and Elektra at the tomb of their father Agamemnon, with
a male figure wearing a pilos (πῖλος) conical cap, probably
Orestes' friend Pylades, seated at the bottom left.
From Melos, Greece. Around 440 BC.
Altes Museum, Berlin. Inv. No. TC 6803. Acquired in 1875.
See also a Paestan lekanis showing
the Dioskouroi at the tomb of Agamemnon
with Orestes and Elektra, on the Dioskouroi page.
||Notes, references and links
1. Head of Homer found at Baiae, Italy
Marble terminal portrait bust of the blind poet Homer, with Greek letters carved on each side.
White marble. Height: 57.15 cm (22.5 inches).
British Museum, London.
Main floor, Room 22, Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic world.
Invoice Number GR 1805.7-3.85 (Sculpture 1825).
Found in 1780 among the ruins of the ancient city of Baiae, on the Bay of Naples, Italy.
Thought to be a Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic original of the 2nd century BC. It belongs to the so-called "Hellenistic blind type" or "Pergamon type" of depictions of Homer, which has been compared with figures of the friezes on the Great Altar of Zeus in Pergamon; the original of the type may have been created for the Pergamon Library. See also the base of a statue of Homer from Pergamon above.
The bust is in the form of a "terminus", i.e. the top part of a herm. Terminus was the Roman god who protected boundaries, and stone pillars known in Latin as terminii were set up as boundary markers in a similar way to which herms were used by the Greeks. Such busts of gods and famous humans were made for the private collections of wealthy people.
This bust was purchased in late 1780 for £80 by the wealthy English collector Charles Townley (1737-1805) from the Scottish painter, antiquarian and antiquities dealer Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798). It was acquired, along with around 300 ancient artefacts of the Townley Collection, by the British Museum after Townley's death.
Taylor Combe, William Alexander, George Cooke, A description of the collection of ancient marbles in the British Museum: with engravings. [Marbles in the third room of the Gallery of Antiquities] Part II. W. Bulmer and Co., London, 1815.
G. M. A. Richter, The portraits of the Greeks. Phaidon, London, 1965.
2. The "Epimenides type" Homer
The prototype of the "Epimenides type" heads of Homer has been speculatively dated around 460 BC, due to the style of the carving and the features. This period would coincide with the earliest known statue of Homer which, according to Pausanias, was dedicated by Mikythos at Olympia [see above and note below].
Other examples of heads of Homer of the Epimenides type:
Museo Pio-Clementino, Vatican Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 315. Roman period.
Glyptothek, Munich. Inv. No. 273. Roman period, 1st century AD. Height 39.7 cm, width 23.6 cm, depth 25.7 - 30.7 cm. Purchased for the museum in Rome in 1892 by P. Arndt.
3. Xenophanes on Homer
The works of Xenophanes of Colophon are known only from fragments quoted by later writers and commentators, including the biographer Diogenes Laertius (Διογένης Λαέρτιος, Diogenes Laertios; circa 3rd century AD).
"Xenophanes, a native of Colophon, the son of Dexius, or, according to Apollodorus, of Orthomenes, is praised by Timon, whose words at all events are:
'Xenophanes, not over-proud, perverter of Homer, castigator.'
His writings are in epic metre, as well as elegiacs and iambics attacking Hesiod and Homer and denouncing what they said about the gods."
R.D. Hicks, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 9, chapter 2, section 18. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1972 (First published 1925). At Perseus Digital Library.
Fragments criticizing the portrayal of the gods by Homer and Hesiod:
"Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all sorts of things that are matters of reproach and censure among men: theft, adultery, and mutual deception."
"...as they sang of numerous illicit divine deeds: "theft, adultery, and mutual deceit."
Xenophanes. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002.
4. Pausanias on the Thebais, Calaenus and Homer
When discussing the earliest mention of Homer in ancient literature, many modern authors cite a single mention in Pausanias in which an epic poem titled Thebais (Θηβαΐς) was attributed to Homer by Calaenus (Κελαινός, Kelainos). Pausanias gives us no further information about this person, who appears to be otherwise unknown.
"And this is the war which is celebrated in verse. Calaenus, making mention of these verses, says that they were composed by Homer; and many celebrated persons are of the same opinion. Indeed, I consider these verses as next in excellence to the Iliad and Odyssey. And thus much concerning the war, which the Argives and Thebans waged for the sake of the sons of Oedipus."
Pausanias, The description of Greece, Volume III (of 3), translated by T. Taylor, Book 9, chapter 9, page 19. Richard Priestley, London, 1824. At googlebooks.
However, the translations most referred to by scholars render the name as Callinus (Καλλῖνος, Kallinos), the name of a Greek elegiac poet who lived in Ephesus in the mid 7th century BC. Presumably, when the translators came across the unknown name Calaenus, they considered it an error or corruption and conjecturally substituted it with that of Callinus, who is known to have written poems about war; he may have seemed more fitting and had the added advantage of living at a time closer to Homer, which would give his opinion on the authorship of the Thebais more credibility.
No mention of the Thebais has been found among the surviving fragments of Callinus' works. Although Peter Levi also translated the name as Kallinos, he pointed out in his notes, that "this casual reference is not among his surviving work" (Pausanias, Guide to Greece 1: Central Greece, page 327, note 49. Penguin Classics, 1979).
This error was pointed out by the classics professor John Adams Scott as early as 1921, but few seem to have noticed.
"Not a single manuscript has the word Callinus in this place, but all have Calaenus, so that Callinus is simply an emendation. The word Callinus is a pure conjecture."
John Adams Scott, The Unity of Homer, pages 15-16. Sather Classical Lectures Volume I. University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1921. At the Internet Archive.
Scott made the same argument in: John A. Scott, Homer as the Poet of the Thebais, Classical Philology, Vol. 16, No. 1 (January 1921), pages 20-26. University of Chicago Press. At Jstor.
The subject of the Thebais was the war for the kingship of Thebes between the brothers Eteocles and Polyneikes (Polynices), sons of Oedipus, in which Polyneikes was supported by King Adrastos of Argos. The content of the poem is known only from a handful of fragments, short quotes and mentions in the works of later writers, none of which are very enlightening. One fragment mentions Homer as the author:
"Homer travelled about reciting his epics, first the Thebaid, in seven thousand verses, which begins: 'Sing, goddess, of parched Argos, whence lords...'"
Hugh Gerard Evelyn-White (translator), Hesiod, the Homeric hymns and Homerica, Thebais, pages 484-487 (seven fragments in Greek and English). William Heinemann, London; Macmillan Co., New York. 1912. At the Internet Archive.
See also: Gottfried Kinkel, Epicorum graecorum fragmenta Volume I, pages 9-13. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1877. At the Internet Archive.
The story of the Theban War became more widely known from Aischylos' play Seven against Thebes, produced in 467 BC. The Thebais is also known from later versions by other poets, including Antimachus (Ἀντίμαχος, Antimachos of Colophon or Claros, flourished about 400 BC, a pupil of Panyassis), and the Latin Thebaid of Publius Papinius Statius (circa 45-96 AD).
The elegiac poet Sextus Propertius (circa 50-15 BC) appears to be referring to a poem on the Theban War by Homer in a Latin elegy addressed to Ponticus (a contemporary of Ovid), who wrote on the same subject:
"While you tell of Thebes and Cadmus, Ponticus,
and the tragedy of fraternal warfare,
and, if I may say, you contend with Homer himself
(may the fates just go easy on your songs),
I pursue my loves, as is my wont,
and look for something against my hard mistress."
Vincent Katz (translator), Sextus Propertius, Elegies, Book I, Elegy VII. Sun and Moon Press, Los Angeles, 1995. At Perseus Digital Library.
5. Herodotus on Hesiod and Homer
Herodotus, The Histories, Book 2, chapter 53, translated by A. D. Godley. Harvard University Press, 1920. At Perseus Digital Library.
The Iliad and The Odyssey are mentioned in Book 2, chapters 116-117, and Book 4, chapter 29. At Perseus Digital Library.
6. Aulus Gellius on Homer's native city
Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights (Noctes Atticae), Book III, Chapter 11. English translation at Bill Thayer's LacusCurtius website, University of Chicago.
7. Seven cities contend for the birth of Homer ...
Ἑπτὰ πόλεις διερίζουσιν περὶ ῥίζαν Ὁμήρου,
Σμύρνα, Ῥόδος, Κολοφών, Σαλαμίς, Ἴος, Ἄργος, Ἀθῆναι.
These two lines have been quoted innumerable times without citations or references. One source attributes the epigram to Antipater of Sidon.
It has also been paraphrased by several authors, including Vasari and the English playwright and poet Thomas Heywood.
"... even as seven cities contended for Homer, each claiming that he was her citizen..."
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), Lives of the artists (first published in 1550), Part III, "Life of Baldassare Peruzzi painter and architect of Siena".
"Seven cities warr'd for Homer, being dead;
Who, living, had no roofe to shrowd his head."
Thomas Heywood (early 1570s - 1641), The hierarchy of the blessed angels, The Dominations, Lib. 4, page 207. London, 1635. At the Internet Archive.
8. Pausanias on the statue of Homer in Delphi
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 10, chapter 24, sections 2-3. At Perseus Digital Library.
Mikythos (Μίκυθος: Latin, Micythus), Son of Choiros (Latin, Choerus), was the tyrant and regent of Rhegion (Ῥήγιον; Latin, Rhegium), Magna Graecia (today Reggio di Calabria), on the southwestern tip of Italy, and Messine (Μεσσήνη, or Messana; formerly Zankle, Ζάγκλη), on the opposite shore on the northeastern tip of Sicily, 476-467 BC.
Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus wrote that he was originally a slave of Anaxilas (Ἀναξίλας or Ἀναξίλαος), the tyrant of Rhegium, but became a trusted servant. Before his death in 476 BC, Anaxilas named Mikythos as guardian of his two sons, and regent until they reached adulthood. Nine years later, when the sons had grown up and demanded their inheritance (encouraged by Hieron, the tyrant of Syracuse), Mikythos took his accumulated wealth and sailed to retirement in Tegea in Arcadia.
Pausanias lists several inscribed statues and statue groups at Olympia, including works by Dionysios and Glaukos (Glaucus) of Argos, dedicated ex-voto by Mikythos, in fulfilment of a vow made for the recovery of a son from an illness. He also mentions that there had previously been even more offerings by Mikythos, but the others had been looted by Nero (reigned 54-68 AD, he participated in the Olympic Games in 67 AD).
Herodotus, The Histories, Book 7, chapter 170. At Perseus Digital Library.
Diodorus Siculus, Library, Book 11, chapter 48, section 2; chapter 59, section 4; chapter 66, sections 1-3. At Perseus Digital Library.
Pausanias, Description of Greece, Book 5, chapter 24, section 6; chapter 26, sections 2-7. At Perseus Digital Library.
Fragments of an inscribed marble statue base with a metrical dedication by Mikythos to all gods and goddesses have been discovered at Olympia (Olympia Archaeological Museum, Inv. No. 660, inscription IvO 268), as well as a 12 metre long, rectangular poros stone foundation of a base for statues, at the northeast corner of the Temple of Zeus (lying parallel to the north side).
See, for example:
Wilhelm Dittenberger, Karl Purgold, Ernst Curtius, Friedrich Adler, Olympia: die Ergebnisse der von dem Deutschen Reich veranstalteten Ausgrabung, Textband 5: Die Inschriften von Olympia, pages 394-397, numbers 267-269. Berlin, 1896. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
600384: Inschrift der Statuenbasis des Mikythos. At arachne.uni-koeln.de.
epigraphy.packhum.org/text/214073. Regions Peloponnesos (IG IV-[VI]) Elis, IvO 268. Elis - Olympia - circa 460 BC. At the Packard Humanities Institute, epigraphy.packhum.org.
It has been suggested that Mikythos dedicated the statues while still tyrant, rather than during his retirement in Tegea, as the extant inscription fragments mention only Rhegion and not Tegea. This would make the date of the statues earlier than the conjectural 460 BC.
The reference by Pausanias to the statues next to the temple, including those of Homer and Hesiod, has been translated as:
"The offerings of Mikythos I found were numerous and not together ... Along the left side of the great temple Mikythos dedicated other offerings: the Maid [Persephone], daughter of Demeter, Aphrodite, Ganymede and Artemis, the poets Homer and Hesiod; then again deities, Asklepios and Health [Hygieia]." (Book 5, chapter 26, section 2)
However, the foundation was discovered on the right side of temple, when viewing it from the front (east). Tonio Hölscher has pointed out that the passage from Pausanias should be read: "on the side of the temple to the left hand side", i.e. to the left of Pausanias' route through the sanctuary.
Tonio Hölscher, Noch einmal rechts und links am Zeus-Tempel von Olympia, in: András Patay-Horváth (editor), New Approaches to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Proceedings of the First Olympia-Seminar, 8th-10th May, 2014, chapter 5, page 92. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015. Preview at googlebooks.
10. The Homereion of Alexandria
See: Rosanna Cappelli and Annalisa Lo Monaco, The National Archaeological Museum of Naples (guide book), page 24. Mondadori Electa S.p.A., Verona, 2014.
11. Pliny on statues of Homer in libraries
Pliny does not actually write that there was a statue of Homer in the Library of Pergamon, as a number of modern authors have asserted, although the discovery of the statue base near the site of the library (see above) may be confirmation that this is what may be inferred.
12. Christodorus on the statues in the Baths of Zeuxippus in Constantinople
Christodorus (Χριστόδωρος) was a Greek epic poet from Coptos in Egypt who flourished during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (491-518 AD). He wrote an ekphrasis (from Ancient Greek ἔκφρασις, description), a poem in 416 hexameters describing 80 statues of deities and famous mortals in the Baths and Gymnasium of Zeuxippus in Constantinople.
The public baths-gymnasium was originally built by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211 AD), in the centre of the city near the Hippodrome, and decorated over time with artworks shipped from various parts of the Roman Empire. These works were probably destroyed when the building was burnt down during the Nika Riots in 532 AD. Archaeologists discovered inscribed statue bases at the site which relate to works described in the poem. In 1556 the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan built the Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamamı (Turkish baths) on the site.
Christodorus' Ekphrasis, Ἔκφρασις τῶν ἀγαλμάτων τῶν εἰς τὸ δημόσιον γυμνάσιον τα ἐπικαλουμένον τοῦ Ζευξίππου, forms the second book of the Anthologia Palatina (Palatine Anthology), II, 311-349. The manuscripts of this collection of Greek poems and epigrams, compiled around 980 AD by four scribes, were discovered in 1606 by Claudius Salmasius (Claude de Saumaise, 1588-1653) in the Palatine Library in Heidelberg, Germany.
You can read the description of the statue of Homer in Greek, with a translation in English at:
By the time of Christodorus ekphrases had become a literary genre, and many such poems described works of art, monuments and cities. One of the oldest examples of ekphrasis is Homer's description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad (Book 18, lines 478-608, at the Internet Classics Archive).
Christodorus also wrote Πάτρια (Patria), poems about the early histories of the cities Thessaloniki, Nakle, Miletus, Tralles, Aphrodisias and Constantinople, and Λυδιακά (Lydiaka), a history of Lydia.
13. Capitoline Museums, head of Homer, MC 557 and herm of Homer, MC 559
Some confusion appears to have arisen over the history of the several portraits of Homer from Rome, particularly the head and the herm in the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museums, and the herm now in the Louvre, Paris, Inv. No. MR 530 (Ma 440). The confusion was compounded by varying accounts in reports and catalogues, and differing reference numbers given to the sculptures by each publication.
According to Wolfgang Helbig (1839-1915), the head (Inv. No. MC 557) was found built into a wall in the garden of the Palazzo Caetani, near the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggioro, Rome, and purchased by the antiquarian Francesco de' Ficoroni (1664-1747), who sold it to Cardinal Alessandro Albani, who gave it to Pope Clement Xll:
"Found among the stones of a wall in the garden of the Palazzo Caetani, not far from S. Maria Maggiore. It came first into the possession of Ficoroni and then into that of Cardinal Albani, the latter ceding it to Pope Clement XII (Ficoroni, in Fea, Miscellanea, I, p. CXXI, No. 9; Röm. Mitth., VI, 1891, p. 59, note 205)."
Wolfgang Helbig and Emil Reisch, Guide to the public collections of classical antiquities in Rome, Volume I, page 354, No. 480 (44). Head of Homer. English translation by James Fullarton Muirhead and Findlay Muirhead. Karl Baedeker, Leipzig, 1895. At the Internet Archive.
Helbig also stated that the herm of Homer now in the Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums, Inv. No. MC 559 (see above) was found in the garden of the Canonici Regolari di San Antonio Abate, on the Esquiline Hill:
"482 (46). Herma of Homer.
Found on the Esquiline, in the garden of the Canonici Regolari di S. Antonio Abhate (Ficoroni, in Fea, Miscellanea, I, p. CXXI, No. 9). The nose is modern.
Bottari, Mus. Cap., I, 55. Montagnani. III, 2, T. 55. Visconti, Iconogr. gr., I, T. I, 1, 2, p. 60 (comp. Opere varie, IV, p. 406. No. 242). Baumeister, Denkm. d. kl. Alterthums, I, p. 698, Fig. 755."
Helbig, Guide to the public collections of classical antiquities in Rome, Volume I, page 35, No. 482 (46).
However, Henry Stuart Jones (1867-1939) believed the head may be the one found in 1704 in the garden of the Canons of San Antonio Abate. In a note, he also stated that the portrait of Homer found in the wall of the Palazzo Caetani is the herm now in the Louvre.
"The coarse workmanship, and especially the free use of the drill, points to a fairly advanced date in the second century A.D. The original was one of those in which the pathetic features of the ideal type of Homer were strongly accentuated and was therefore of fairly advanced Hellenistic date. The marked upward gaze of the head (noted by Visconti) is at least partly due to the modern restorer. This is probably the head found (according to Ficoroni, Mem. 9, ap. Fea, Miscellanea, I, p. CXXI) in 1704 in the garden of the Canons of S. Antonio Abate."
Henry Stuart Jones (editor), A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: The Sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, page 235, Cat. No. 44. Bust of Homer. Oxford University Press, 1912. At the Internet Archive.
"Another herm of Homer (Inv. Albani, B 59 ; Bottari, I. 55 ; Bernoulli, Gr. Ikon., I, p. 10, No. 10) was removed to Paris in 1797, and is still in the Louvre (Cat. Somm. 440); cf. p. 7, n. 5. This was the herm stated by Ficoroni, Vestigia, 1744, p. 56, to have been found broken in two pieces in a wall of the Villa Caetani near S. Maria Maggiore. It was sold to Ficoroni, and by him to the dealer Borioni (Venuti, Collectanea Antiqu. Rom., pl. 10), from whom it passed to Card. Albani."
Henry Stuart Jones, page 236, Cat. No. 45. Herm of Homer, note 1.
According to the database of the University of Köln Archaeological Institute, the inventory number of the head when in the Albani Collection (not mentioned by Helbig or Jones) was B 10.
The herm of Homer in the Louvre, known as "Homer Caetani", is described as being from the Palazzo Caetani, Rome.
2nd century AD. Pentelic marble. Height 53 cm. Inv. No. MR 530 (Ma 440).
From the Albani Collection. Purchased by Pope Clement XII for the Capitoline Museums in 1733. Confiscated by France, according to the Treaty of Tolentino, 1797, and taken to Paris. Although one of several confiscated artworks scheduled to be returned to Rome following Napoleon's defeat, in 1815 it was given to Louis XVIII by Pope Pius VII in exchange for portrait of Napoleon by Canova.
14. Capitoline Museums, herm of Homer, MC 558
"45. Herm of Homer (pl. 54).
Height 56.5 cm. Luna marble.
The mask and upper part of the head are antique, but have been much worked over, especially the hair and forehead. The greater part of the nose, the projecting locks of hair on both sides of the face, and a patch (in plaster) over the r. brow are modern. The line of breakage passes behind the r. ear, across the back of the crown, and through the middle of the l. ear. At the back a veil has been attached by the restorer, and the hair worked away at the point of juncture. The upper portion of the veil is of Parian marble, and is probably a fragment of antique origin. The lower portion, together with the locks of hair behind the ears, is of Luna marble of a different quality from that of the mask.
By reason of the restorations this head possesses little iconographic value. The copy is of somewhat earlier date than No. 44 [Inv. No. MC 557, see above]. Visconti regards the veil as a symbol of apotheosis.
Inv. Albani, B 65."
Henry Stuart Jones (editor), A catalogue of the ancient sculptures preserved in the municipal collections of Rome: The Sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, page 236, Cat. No. 45. Herm of Homer. Oxford University Press, 1912. At the Internet Archive.
15. Inscription on the Homer statue base from Pergamon by Max Fränkel
Image source: Max Fränkel (1846-1903), Altertümer von Pergamon, Band VIII, Band 1: Die Inschriften von Pergamon, pages 119-121, No. 203. Königliche Museen zu Berlin. W. Spemann, Berlin, 1890. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
16. Achilles and Ajax by Exekias in Rome
Attic black-figure amphora signed by Exekias. Made in Athens around 540-530 BC. Found in Vulci, Erturia (Lazio, Italy). On Side A Achilles and Ajax (names inscribed) playing a board game. On Side B Kastor and Polydeukes (the Dioskouroi) with Tyndareos and Leda (names inscribed).
Gregorian Museum of Etruscan Art, Vatican Museums, Rome. Inv. No. 16757 (344).
See an Attic black-figure calyx-krater by Exekias, showing Hermes, dated to 530 BC, in the Agora Museum, Athens.
17. "On a gameboard" by Agathias Scholasticus
Agathias (Ἀγαθίας σχολαστικός, Agathias Scholastikos; circa 530 – 582/594 AD) was a Greek poet and historian from Myrina, Mysia, in northwestern Anatolia (Asia Minor, now in the Aegean region of Turkey), during of the reign of Roman emperor Justinian I. He wrote the earliest known description of the rules of tavli (Greek, τάβλη; Latin, tabula), an early form of backgammon (still known in modern Greek as tavli), in a story of a game lost by Emperor Zeno in 480 AD.
William Roger Paton (1857-1921), translator, The Greek anthology Volume III (of five), Book IX, The Declamatory Epigrams, pages 412-413, "Epigram 767 - Agathias Scholasticus". William Heinemann, London; G. P. Putnam's sons, New York, 1916. Parallel texts in Greek and English. At the Internet Archive.
18. Hyginus on Paris
Two surviving Roman books, Fabulae (Fables or Stories) and Poeticon astronomicon (Poetical Astronomy, also known as De Astronomia, On astronomy), are attributed to Gaius Julius Hyginus (circa 64 BC - 17 AD), but may be later abridgements or summaries of one or more other works, or else were written by a later author who may also have been named Hyginus, sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Hyginus or Hyginus Mythographus.
Poeticon astronomicon relates the mythological origins of the constellations, based mainly on the versions of the myths in the Katasterismoi (Καταστερισμοί, placings among the stars), traditionally attributed to the Greek geographer Eratosthenes of Cyrene (Ἐρατοσθένης ὁ Κυρηναῖος, circa 276-194 BC), though perhaps by a later author referred to as Pseudo-Eratosthenes. This latter work was itself based on earlier Greek works, most now lost. The order in which most of the constellations are listed in Poeticon astronomicon is the same as in the Almagest of Claudius Ptolemy (Κλαύδιος Πτολεμαῖος, circa 100-170 AD), suggesting that it was written later than the lifetime of Gaius Julius Hyginus.
Fabulae is thought by some scholars to be an abridged version of a work by Gaius Julius Hyginus, originally entitled Genealogiae. It consists of brief summaries of Greek and Roman myths and mythological genealogies, including some alternative versions of the tales. They are written in a simple, sometimes even crude style.
Both works are online at the Theoi Project.
Astronomica, Book 2: page 1, Nos. 1-17,
page 2, Nos. 18-43
Fabulae: page 1, Nos. 1-49,
page 2, Nos. 50-99, page 3, Nos. 100-149,
page 4, Nos. 150-199, page 5, Nos. 200-277.
No. 91 Alexander Paris and No. 92 Judgement of Paris are on page 2.
The Myths of Hyginus, translated and edited by Mary Amelia Grant. University of Kansas Publications in Humanistic Studies, No. 34. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, 1960.
Mary Grant's translation is now considered inaccurate and outdated, but is good enough to provide a starting point for studying the works.
19. Depictions of the Trojan Horse in ancient Greek art
Other ancient Greek objects with depictions of the Trojan horse:
1. Fragments of a large bronze fibula (fastening pin) made in Boeotia, central Greece, around 680 BC. Said to be from Thebes. The lunette shaped fibula has hammered and incised designs on both sides, including what are thought to be mythological scenes, and what may be the earliest surviving depiction of the Trojan Horse.
Side A: In the centre is an elaborate rosette with twenty-four points. Left of the rosette, a small male figure fighting a six headed snake-like creature, probably Herakles and the Lernaean Hydra; large fish and birds in the field. To the right of the rosette are the hind legs of a horse on wheels, presumably the Wooden Horse of Troy, with a rectangular body; a foreleg is visible on a non-joining fragment of the plate attached to the arm; large birds in the field to the left of the horse, with a smaller one underneath.
Side B: Left of the rosettes are male warriors with round shields, spears, greaves (?), and crested helmets facing right; small to medium-sized birds in the field; right of the central motif is a mix of animals and people: a lion facing a human; a standing woman holding a cup (?) facing a large horse; a man in a boat (?).
Length 20.32 cm.
British Museum. Inv. No. 1898,1118.1 (Bronze 3205).
Purchased in 1898 from the Greek antiquities dealer Jean P. Lambros in Athens.
2. A now lost Corinthian aryballos (ἀρύβαλλος; plural aryballoi, ἀρύβαλλοι; small globular flask for perfume or ointment), around 600 BC, with a continuous frieze of the Ilioupersis.
Formerly in the Breslau Archaeological Museum (today Wroclaw, western Poland).
3. A Corinthian style aryballos, around 560 BC. Found in 1869 at Cerveteri, Italy (ancient Caere, Etruria). Height 13 cm.
Cabinet des Medailles, Paris. Inv. No. 186.
4. A fragment of an Attic black-figure krater, around 560-540 BC, showing two warriors leaving the Trojan Horse. Found at Orbetello, Tuscany, location of an ancient Etruscan settlement.
State Museums Berlin (SMB). Inv. No. F 1723.
5. A Corinthian black-ﬁgured pyxis (πυξίς; plural, Πυξίδες, pyxides; box; from πῠ́ξος, pyxos, boxwood), around 550 BC, in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, with a continuous frieze of the "Ilioupersis", including the Trojan Horse.
State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Inv. No. B.2397.
See: Anastasia G. Bukina, "Ilioupersis" on a Corinthian black-figured pyxis in the State Hermitage Museum, in Antike Kunst, Volume 53, 2010, pages 3-11. The Association of Friends of Classical Art, Basel, Switzerland, 2010. At Academia.edu.
Also an Indo-Greek relief on a grey schist panel made in Gandhara (modern northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan), 2nd - 3rd century AD, depicts men pushing a horse on wheels to the right. In front of the horse a man with a spear blocks the way to the frame of a gateway, probably representing the gates of Troy, in which a woman (perhaps Cassandra) stands with raised arms. Height 16.2 cm, width 32.3 cm.
British Museum. Inv. No. 1990,1013.1 (not on display). Purchased in 1990 from Verner Wylie.
20. Alan Johnston on Odysseus blinding Polyphemos
Alan Johnston, Pre-Classical Greece, in John Boardman (editor), The Oxford history of classical art, page 32. Oxford University Press, 1993.
See also the pose of Perseus beheading Medusa on an Archaic Laconian ivory plaque.
21. The blinding of Polyphemos in Catania
Francesco Inghirami, Galleria Omerica, o raccolta di monumenti antichi, esibita al cav. Francesco Inghirami, per servire allo studio dell'Iliade e dell'Odissea, Vol. Terzo, pages 144-145 and Tavolo XXXVII. Poligrafia Fiesolana, 1836.
Franceso Di Paola Bertucci, Illustrazione di un basso-rilievo conservato nel museo dei Benedettini di Catania (Estratta dal Giornale del Gabinetto Letterario dell'Accademia Gioenia T. X, Bim. v.). dai torchi dell'Accademia Gioenia presso i Fratelli Sciuto, Catania, 1845.
Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, Band 2: Mythologische Cyklen, pp. 158-159, Kat. Nr. 147, Tafel 53. G. Grote'esche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin, 1890. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
22. The Polyphemos statue group in Ephesus
At the time of the statue group's discovery the fountain was thought to be part of the Pollio Monument (the so-called Pollio Nympheaum), the tomb of Gaius Sextilius Pollio, built in the first half of the 1st century AD. Archaeologists subsequently established that the Pollio Monument and the later Domitian Fountain were two separate monuments standing next to each other.
Bernard Andreae, Odysseus: Archäologie des europäischen Menschenbildes, Chapter VI, Odysseus und Dionysos: Der Polyphem-Giebel von Ephesos. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1982. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
The notes to the chapter include references to the relevant archaeological reports and further literature on the subject.
23. The "wineskin carrier" heads from Tivoli and Sperlonga
See: Bernard Andreae, Odysseus: Archäologie des europäischen Menschenbildes, page 135. Societäts-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1982. At Heidelberg University Digital Library.
The photograph on page 135 shows casts of the two heads in profile, side by side, with superimposed numbering of the curls.
24. Konstantinos Karapanos and Dodona
A number of scholars and early visitors to Greece had attempted to find the location of ancient Dodona before it was discovered in 1832 by Christopher Wordsworth (see Athens Acropolis page 4).
Konstantinos Karapanos (Κωνσταντίνος Καραπάνος, 1840-1914) was a Greek businessman and banker, born in Artos, northwestern Greece, and educated in Athens and Paris. He earned a fortune with his enterprises in Ottoman Turkey, including his concession for the first horse-drawn tramway line in Constantinople (Istanbul). The Société des Tramvays de Constantinople was awarded the concession to build and operate the tramway in 1869, and it began operating in 1871.
Like Heinrich Schliemann, he used part of his wealth to indulge in amateur archaeology, and excavated at Dodona 1875-1877, when northern Greece was still part of Turkey. He kept most of the finds himself, adding them to the collection of objects he had acquired elsewhere. He took them to Paris, where they were exhibited in 1878, and in the same year his report of the excavations was published there.
Constantin Carapanos, Dodone et ses ruines. Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1878. At Heidelberg University Digital Library. In two volumes: Volume I, text; Volume II, plates, with maps of the area of Dodona and the site, and drawings of the finds. A fine drawing of the Skylla plaque on plate XVIII, 1.
Soon after he moved to Athens, the new capital of independent Greece, where he became a member of parliament 1881-1910 and held a number of ministerial posts. In 1912 he donated his finds from Dodona to the National Archaeological Museum, and his collection of gems and 112 coins to the Numismatic Museum. Room 36 of the National Archaeological Museum, in which some of the Dodona finds are exhibited (mostly bronzes), has been named the Konstantinos Karapanos Hall.
25. Skylla loom weight from Sicily in the British Museum
This is one of several loom weights among the large number of ancient artefacts from Sicily donated to the British Museum by the explorer, excavator, collector and diplomat George Dennis (1814-1898). He excavated in Sicily but also purchased several objects from locals, so that in many cases the provenance and archaeological contexts remain unclear.
Four of the loom weights are currently on display in the museum. As well as the Skylla weight, two are decorated with Gorgoneions (see the Medusa page), and the fourth has the head of a bearded male, presumably a god.
See also a terracotta figure of Hermes Kriophoros from Gela, donated to the museum by Dennis, on the Hermes page.
Although the museum's labelling dates the loom weights to around 400-100 BC, and states that they are either from ancient Akragas (then known as Grigenti; today Agrigento) or Gela (then known as Terranuova; the modern town was founded as Terranova di Sicilia by Emperor Frederick II in 1233 AD, and renamed Gela in 1928), according to the British Museum's online Collections database, they are from Agrigento and were probably made during the Roman period, 2nd century BC - 2nd century AD. The database also gives a diameter of 7.62 centimetres for all the weights on display. However, they are clearly of different sizes. I have taken the diameters from:
Henry Beauchamp Walters, Catalogue of the Terracottas in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, Nos. E 162 - E 167, page 449. British Museum, London, 1903. At the Internet Archive.
For further information about ancient loom weights, see for example:
Alexandra Sofroniew, Women’s work: The dedication of loom weights in the sanctuaries of southern Italy, in Amy C. Smith and Marianne E. Bergeron (editors), The Gods of small things, Part 3. Small by nature, pages 191-209. Pallas, Revue d'études antiques, No. 86. Presses Universitaires du Midi, 2011. At OpenEdition (website in French and English).
In a recent article, Francesco Meo of the University of Salento discussed the use of the Latin term oscillum, particularly by Italian archaeologists, to describe circular and semicircular loom weights, as opposed to "peso da telaio" (loom weight) used for the traditional truncated pyramid and cone shapes.
"The Roman oscilla most probably derives from the Aἰῶραι, small images related to Dionysus hung on trees during the Aἰῶρα, an Athenian public feast. They were believed to purify the air as they swung in the wind. Both the Greek and the Latin words refer to objects used during particular sacred feasts, in the first case public and in the second case private, inside villae."
Francesco Meo, The oscillum misunderstanding, in Salvatore Gaspa, Cécile Michel and Marie-Louise Nosch (editors), Textile terminologies from the Orient to the Mediterranean and Europe, 1000 BC to 1000 AD, pages 492-499. Zea Books, Lincoln, NE, 2017.
|Photos on this page were taken during
visits to the following museums:
Berlin, Altes Museum
Berlin, Bode Museum
Berlin, Neues Museum
Berlin, Pergamon Museum
Dresden, Albertinum, Skulpturensammlung
Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Athens, Agora Museum
Athens, Kerameikos Archaeological Museum
Athens, National Archaeological Museum
Delos Archaeological Museum
Delphi Archaeological Museum
Eleusis Archaeological Museum, Attica
Kavala Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Mykonos Archaeological Museum
Nafplion Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese
Thebes Archaeological Museum, Boeotia
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, Macedonia
Milan, Civic Archaeological Museum
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
Ostia Archaeological Museum
Paestum Archaeological Museum
Rome, Barracco Museum
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo
Rome, National Etruscan Museum, Villa Giulia
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian
Rome, National Museum of Rome, Palazzo Altemps
Italy - Sicily
Castelvetrano, Museo Civico
Catania, Museo Civico, Castello Ursino
Leiden, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden
Izmir Museum of History and Art
London, British Museum
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum
Many thanks to the staff of these museums.
Via Omero, Villa Borghese, Rome, named in honour
of the "grande poeta Greco" (the great Greek poet).
|Photos and articles © David John, except where otherwise specified.|
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