Attic Red-Figure Amphora of Panathenaic Shape
Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Herbert Rydings, Jr.
and Hirschl and Adler Gallery, New York (57.263)
Attributed to the Tyszkiewicz Painter [Bothmer]
Height: 39.3 cm.
Diameter: 26.3 cm. Side A: Zeus pursuing a
woman. Side B: Man and woman at an altar.
On side A
, Zeus strides forward,
bent over slightly as if swooping down on the woman, who raises her right hand
in a gesture of fear and aversion and runs off to the right. The god is
identified by the scepter, the symbol of kingly power, and by the wreath of what
seem stylized oak leaves on his head. He holds the scepter near its lower end,
as if to reach out and bar the woman's way. The identity of the woman is
uncertain without an inscription or any distinguishing attributes. Zeus' loves
were legendary, in every sense of the word; the younger Olympian gods were his
children by various goddesses and nymphs, and his human mistresses were
innumerable. Every noble family in the Greek world traced its ancestry back to a
hero born of a god and a mortal woman, and more of them claimed Zeus as ancestor
than any other god. In a comic interlude in the Iliad,
Zeus' wife Hera seduces him on a mountaintop in order to
distract his attention from the battlefield of Troy. He expresses his sudden
lust for her rather tactlessly, giving a list of goddesses and mortal woman he
has loved, ``But never with as great a passion as I now feel for you!"
The scene on the reverse is a complete contrast. A man and a woman
stand on either side of an altar on which a fire is burning. He leans on his
walking stick and holds out a phiale, a cup for pouring libations to the gods,
which she fills with wine from a jug. The figures are at ease, the atmosphere
calm; they may be man and wife sacrificing on some family occasion (birth of a
child?) or at a family celebration during one of the great Athenian festivals.
The contrast between the two scenes is surely intentional: on one side the two
mortals, harmoniously and soberly carrying out a traditional rite, an embodiment
of the normal pattern of human relationships with one another and with the gods;
on the other side, the violent expression of an unequal passion. Zeus' heavily
muscled legs, broad shoulders and thick neck embody the irresistible power of
the god, but also the equally irresistible power of love, violent in its
onslaught and its expression. Against this double force she is helpless; she
runs, but there is no escape. In other versions of this scene Zeus carries a
thunderbolt, the annihilating weapon of supreme power, a reminder that for
mortals (creatures of a day, ephemerai,
gods call them) even the love of gods is as dangerous as their anger. The
painter may have been influenced by early tragic drama, in which the difference
in power between gods and mortals is a mainspring of the action. In Prometheus Bound,
produced slightly later than
this vase, Aeschylus shows the sufferings of Io, a girl whom Zeus loved and Hera
transformed into a cow and drove wandering over the earth in perpetual torment.
The horrified chorus of sea nymphs prays, ``May I never share the bed of Zeus or
attract a god as lover. Only in an equal match is there no fear."
. For gods as
lovers of mortal women: Kaempf-Dimitriadou