Red-figured wine bowl (bell-krater), signed by the painter Python

Greek, about 350-340 BC
Made in Paestum, Campania, Italy; from Sant'Agata de' Goti, Campania, Italy

Alkmene on the pyre

To seduce the virtuous Alkmene, Zeus assumed the form of her husband Amphitryon, who was away from home. When he returned, Amphitryon was so angry that his wife had welcomed a lover in his absence, that he tried to burn her alive on the altar where she fled for refuge. But Zeus sent the Clouds to extinguish the flames, Amphitryon relented, and in due course Alkmene gave birth to twin boys: Herakles, who was the son of Zeus, and Iphikles, fathered by Amphitryon.

Alkmene's narrow escape from death is vividly depicted on this wine bowl. Torches are put to a neat pile of logs laid in front of the altar, where Alkmene waves frantically upwards towards Zeus. Fortunately the Clouds are on hand to drench the flames, and the rainbow over Alkmene signals that all will be well.

The details of the drapery have been beautifully executed in this highly decorative design. This and the meticulous care taken over each individual rain drop are typical of vases produced in the Paestan workshop of Python. The dramatic qualities of the scene suggest the influence of the theatre, perhaps a reproduction of Euripides' Alkmene.

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More information


L. Burn, Greek myths (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

A.D. Trendall, Red figure vases of South Ital (New York, Thames and Hudson, 1989)

D. Williams, Greek vases (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

L. Burn, The British Museum book of G-1, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Height: 56.000 cm
Diameter: 51.000 cm

Museum number

GR 1890.2-10.1 (Vases F 149)


Formerly in the collection of the 4th Earl of Carlisle


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