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Richmond 60-11

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 Delphi.

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.


Para., 250; Ancient Art in the Virginia Museum (Richmond 1973) 86. On Herakles and Kyknos: Vian 1945.

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