Achilles slays Penthesilea

Black-figured wine jar

Wine jar, made in Athens about 540-530 BC

Height: 41.600 cm

GR 1836.2-24.127 (Vase B 210)

The Iliad closes with the return of Hector's corpse to his father Priam, king of Troy, and the Trojans' lamentation over the body of their champion.

However, the Trojans were cheered soon afterwards when Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, brought her brave warrior women to fight on the side of the city. After wreaking much havoc among the Greeks, Penthesilea came face to face with Achilles. Here she met her match.

The vase shows Achilles thrusting his spear into the neck of the Amazon whose ambiguous pose - half fleeing, half falling - cleverly conveys the essence of her predicament. Penthesilea looks up at Achilles, brandishing her spear ineffectually. His eyes meet hers as he delivers the fatal blow.

There was a tradition that just at this critical moment Achilles fell in love with the courageous Amazon. Perhaps that is what the vase-painter is suggesting here.

On display: Room 13: Greece 1050-520 BC