Attic Black-Figure Neck-Amphora
Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine
Arts, Richmond, The Williams Fund (60-11)
Attributed to the Diosphos Painter
Ca. 500-490 B.C.
Height: 22.2 cm.
Diameter of base: 6.9 cm. Side A: Herakles'
combat with Kyknos. Side B: Athena and Ares.
Herakles' combat with the Thessalian brigand Kyknos, a son of Ares,
was one of his parerga,
episodes that took
place in the course of the hero's travels when he performed the twelve labors.
The story is not one of the more significant or colorful ones in
Herakles' long career, but it is one of the best known to us in its details,
thanks to a 480-line epic poem which survives, the Shield of Herakles Hes. Sh.
. Attributed in
antiquity to Hesiod, the poem is now thought to have been composed about a
century after Hesiod's time, in the early sixth century. At about the same time
the lyric poet Stesichoros wrote another version of the Kyknos story which is
now lost. Together these poems inspired a full series of Attic vase-paintings,
over one hundred of which are preserved, from the second quarter of the sixth
century to the first quarter of the fifth. The scene occurs occasionally in
sculpture as well, for example on one of the metopes of the Athenian Treasury at
Painted depictions of the Kyknos story are always of one of two
types: a single combat, in which only the two protagonists are shown; or a
fuller version, in which Herakles is seconded by his patroness, Athena, and
Kyknos by his father, Ares, with Zeus sometimes appearing in the middle, either
to break up the fight or to show support for Herakles. The Virginia amphora is
very unusual in showing the full version, but with the participants divided
between the two sides of the vase.
On side A
, Herakles leaps over the
falling Kyknos. He wears his lion skin over a short chiton,
his sword hanging from a baldric, and wields a spear. Kyknos'
weapon is also a spear, and he wears a corselet and high crested Corinthian
helmet. His shield device is two balls on a light ground. Several nonsense
inscriptions appear in the field.
On side B
, Ares and Athena stand
back to back, their rear legs overlapping. Clearly we are meant to think of them
as moving in the direction of their respective protégés on Side A.
Ares wears hoplite armor, like his son, his shield device a winding serpent with
gaping jaws. Athena wears her aegis over her extended left arm, like a shield,
and a snake-like bracelet on her right wrist.
This vase is attributed to the Diosphos Painter, one of the latest
black-figure artists, who began his career about 500 and may have continued well
into the Early Classical period. He was primarily a painter of lekythoi, but the
small neck-amphora with double-reeded handles and a special shape, sometimes
called a doubleen, is also characteristic of his work.
; Ancient Art in the
Virginia Museum (Richmond 1973) 86
. On Herakles and
Kyknos: Vian 1945