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San Antonio 75.59.15P

Attic Black-Figure Amphora Collection of the San Antonio Museum Association (75.59.15P) Attributed to a painter of Group E [Bothmer] Ca. 540-530 B. C. Height: 40 cm. Side A: Herakles rescuing Deianeira from the Centaur Nessos. Side B: Wheeling chariot.

One day when Herakles was out with his wife Deianeira, they came to the River Evenos, in Aitolia, swollen with rain. The centaur Nessos offered to carry Deianeira across, but as Herakles watched from the bank, Nessos tried to take advantage of the woman in mid-stream. Herakles shot the centaur with an arrow made more lethal by having been dipped in the blood of the Hydra. But Nessos had his revenge, for with his dying words he persuaded Deianeira to save the blood from his wound and use it as a love potion, should Herakles ever wander in his affections. Years later, when Herakles brought home a concubine, the princess Iole, his distraught wife spread the potion on a shirt, a gift for Herakles, and thus unwittingly caused his agonizing death.

The death of Nessos was one of the earliest myth scenes to appear in Greek art, on a Proto-Attic amphora of the early seventh century, now in New York, and remained a popular subject in Attic black-figure. But the painted scenes seldom follow the canonical version of the story as recounted above, which is best known to us from Sophocles' Trachiniae (Soph. Trach.). Instead, as on side A of this vase, Herakles' weapon is usually a sword, instead of bow and arrow, and there is no indication that the encounter takes places in or near a river. Herakles wears only a short chiton with a patterned hem; his scabbard hangs from a baldric across his chest. He puts his arm around his wife's shoulder, a protective gesture, as he advances toward the centaur.

Deianeira wears a belted peplos and a short shawl-like mantle over it. Nessos looks back as he runs off to the right, holding a stone in each hand. The centaurs live in the wild and regularly fight with whatever weapons are ready to hand - tree branches and rocks.

On side B, a four-horse chariot wheels sharply around, the rear horses animatedly kicking their forelegs high in the air. The chariot is driven by a bearded man in a pointed cap. He wears a short-sleeved chiton and over it a spotted animal hide, a frequent attribute of charioteers in black-figure. Beside him in the car stands a warrior in high crested Corinthian helmet, carrying a spear. Such lively chariot scenes are an especially common motif in later black-figure (compare Sarasota 1600.G4).

The San Antonio amphora has been assigned by Dietrich von Bothmer to Group E, a large but closely related group of black-figure painters of the third quarter of the sixth century. The E refers to the great master Exekias, for, in Beazley's words, this group is "the soil from which the art of Exekias rose, the tradition which he absorbs and transcends" (Beazley 1951, 63). This vase exemplifies the one-piece or belly-amphora, with continuous curve from lip to foot. This type of amphora is generally earlier than that with offset neck, or neck-amphora, especially popular in later black figure (e.g. Sarasota 1600.G4, Richmond 60-11, Shapiro 1981a, no. 2).


Para., 56, 38 bis; Cat. Sotheby 1974, Lot 227, ill. On Herakles and Nessos: Fittschen 1970. On the New York Nessos amphora: Schefold 1964, 36 and pl. 23.

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