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Red-figured wine bowl (calyx-krater), attributed to the Niobid Painter


Height: 49.500 cm

GR 1856.12-13.1 (Vase E 467)

Room 15: Athens and Lycia

    Red-figured wine bowl (calyx-krater), attributed to the Niobid Painter

    Greek, about 460-450 BC
    Made in Athens, Greece; found at Altamura, Puglia, Italy

    The creation of Pandora above a frieze of dancing and playing satyrs

    The Greek myth of Pandora, the first woman, expresses the ambiguity of the (male) Greek attitude to the female sex. Pandora was both a gift and a punishment for men. Zeus was angry because the Titan Prometheus had cheated the gods into choosing fat and bones, rather than the best part of the meat, as their share of the animal sacrifices that men made to them. In retaliation, Zeus deprived men of fire, but Prometheus stole it back (in a hollow fennel stalk). So Zeus commanded the god Hephaistos to make a woman out of clay, and she was named Pandora, meaning 'all gifts', because all the gods gave her gifts; the goddess Athena dressed her in fine clothes and garlands and taught her the art of weaving; Hermes endowed her with lies, a deceitful nature and the gift of speech. Then she was sent into the world, a 'beautiful evil' as the poet Hesiod (lived around 700 BC) described her, 'a plague to men who eat bread'.

    The upper scene of this vase shows the gods preparing Pandora. She stands stiffly, like a wooden statue, while Athena prepares to put a wreath on her head. Other gods sit, stand, or move around her. The lower frieze shows a group of satyrs dancing to the music of a pipes player, satyrs riding on each other's backs, a maenad, and a satyr father and child. Sophokles (about 496-406 BC) is known to have written a satyr play called Pandora, which may well have been the inspiration for this vase.

    R. Woff, Bright-eyed Athena (London, 1999)

    J. Boardman, Athenian red figure vases: t-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)

    M. Robertson, The art of vase-painting in Cl (Cambridge, 1992)


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    On display: Room 15: Athens and Lycia

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