Observing Greek Pottery

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One of the first pieces we observed was the black figure, red storage jar dated 515-500 BC from Athens. The shape was an amphora with a lid, and the size was comparable to a large vase. The subject matter on the front side depicted a fight scene between Herakles and Kyknos, with Herakles bearing over Kyknos and Ares, the God of War, standing on the outside ready to defend his son. What appears to be a woman (Athena?), as she is the only white-skinned figure in the scene, stands on the other side of the battle, directly behind Herakles and looking as though she is either solemnly watching as he bears over Kyknos, or as though she could possibly be guiding him or holding him back, concerning her very close proximity to Herakles. The figures are very detailed—very defined lines for the muscular figures of Herakles, Kyknos, and Ares, and the armor (such as Herakle’s lion skin) and weaponry are precise in design. For instance, Ares is holding what looks like a hoplite shield, and it contains patterns of white perhaps made with an incision tool. The patterns surrounding the scene look almost oriental in style—flower like patterns align the neck of the amphora, and leaf-like designs wrap around the bottom. The feel of the scene is very complex and intense, an effect heightened by the proximity of the figures and the defined details of the figures—they all look like they are in action as opposed to simply standing there; the scene creates commotion.

On the backside of the amphora, there is a much less complex scene of Herakles playing a lyre. Herakles is standing on what looks like some type of pedestal, playing the lyre, while the male black figure of Hermes and the female white figure of Athena watch on. The feel is much calmer as opposed to the front side. It is interesting that the amphora would contain such opposing scenes, the front with such commotion showing Herakles in a violent fury, ready to stab the fiend Kyknos, while the back shows Herakles in such a...
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