White-ground cup, attributed to the Sotades Painter

Greek, about 460-450 BC
Made in Athens, Greece

Glaukos and Polyeidos

The story of Glaukos and Polyeidos is an old Cretan myth. Glaukos was the son of Minos, king of Crete. One day he disappeared while playing ball or chasing a mouse, and a long search failed to find him. Eventually the seer Polyeidos found the boy, drowned in a vat of honey. Minos shut Polyeidos up in a tomb with Glaukos' body, and told him either to bring the child back to life or to die there with him. As he sat in the tomb, Polyeidos saw a snake approach, and he killed it in case it harmed the body. A second snake appeared, saw its dead mate, went away and returned with a leaf which it rubbed over the dead snake and so restored it to life. Polyeidos picked up the leaf and applied it to Glaukos, with similarly miraculous results.

The Sotades Painter has depicted the several stages of the events in the tomb in a single scene. The beehive tomb with its domed outline and pebbly floor, and its two occupants are clearly shown. Below the floor line, near the rim of the cup, are the two snakes. Though Polyeidos is poised to strike, both the dead snake and the firmly coiled live one are shown. Also, while the incident with the snakes should come before the resurrection of Glaukos, the little boy, crouched in his dark grave clothes, seems very much alive. This technique of compression is a characteristic story-telling technique of Greek vase painters.

This cup is one of a group of nine vases said to have been found together in a single Athenian tomb. Two other white-ground cups (displayed alongside this one) also bear scenes that relate to contemporary views of life after death.

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More information

Bibliography

H. Hoffmann, Sotades (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997)

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

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

Dimensions

Diameter: 13.300 cm

Museum number

GR 1892.7-18.2 (Vases D 5)

GAA6634

Location

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