- Museum number
Pottery: red-figured hydria.
Depicted on this hydria is the rape of Kassandra by the lesser Ajax, son of Oileus, in Athena's temple at Troy. In the centre, the Trojan princess Kassandra kneels on the base of the statue of Athena, the Palladion. Her hair is loose and her drapery hangs from her left shoulder, leaving her upper body bare. She embraces the statue with both arms. An oinochoe lies below her on the base. Pallas Athena is portrayed wearing a peplos and carrying a shield on her left arm and a spear in her raised right hand. She wears an elaborate helmet to which feathers are attached. At the left, the Greek warrior Ajax seizes Kassandra by her hair. Ajax is nude except for a chlamys tied in front with a bulky, round brooch. On his head is a crested Corinthian helmet with added large feathers. His left foot is on the base of Athena's statue, and he raises a sword in his right hand. A phiale hangs above his head, part of the temple's ritual equipment. Two other phialai appear in the field to the right and left above the subordinate figures.
To the right of the central group, the old priestess of Athena, Theano, with short white hair, runs away but looks back at the sacrilege about to occur. She still clutches the temple key in her left hand. Above her head, an owl, the sacred bird of Athena, flies carrying a wreath. At the far right a young girl in a peplos looks back as she turns to flee. At the left, above Ajax, a goddess is seated with a scepter in her left hand and a small round object in her extended right hand. It has been suggested that this is Aphrodite with the Apple of Discord, a reference to the origins of the Trojan War. Behind Ajax and much smaller in scale is another Greek warrior. He too wears a chlamys tied in front and an elaborate helmet, and he carries a shield and spear.
This scene occupies the front of the hydria. Other parts are decorated with palmettes, volutes and stylized floral ornaments. An olive wreath with central rosette decorates the neck. The rim is decorated with a band of ovolo pattern, the shoulder with tongues. A band of wave-pattern runs under the central scene around the entire vase.
- Production date
Height: 33.50 centimetres
Width: 24.50 centimetres
Depth: 20.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- BM Cat. Vases:
D'Hancarville, iii. pl. 57; Passeri, Pict. Etr. iii. pls. 294-5; Inghirami, Vasi Fitt. iv. 350; Arch. Zeit. 1848, pl. 14, 1, p. 214; Overbeck, Her. Bildw. pl. 27, 3, p. 642; Heydemann, Iliupersis, p. 29, note 4; Christie, Disquisitions, p. 94; Arch. Intell.-Blatt, 1837, p. 75; Ann. dell' Inst, 1877, p. 252, and 1880, p. 31 note 11.
For the key, cf. BM Vase F127.
For the vases on the steps, cf. BM Vase F160.
Worshiping Women catalogue:
Through the centuries, the myth of the rape of princess and prophetess Kassandra, like many other Greek myths, served to point out the dangers of human hubris and sacrilege. It also alludes to some of the stereotypes associated with the female gender in the ancient Greek world, notably female irrationality and attractiveness as the cause of male trouble—the Trojan War itself having been caused by the quarrel of three goddesses and the disappearance of a wife. In later representations such as this one, an important role is accorded to Theano, the aging priestess of Athena (see also cat. no. 79). It may have been influenced in part by fifth-century B.C. theatrical renderings of the myth. She is shown carrying the insignia of her role, the large temple key, a metal bar bent at right angles (see cat. no. 91). Priestesses were among the few female figures who stood in the public limelight in Classical Greece and who played important roles in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of their whole community (see Connelly). As kleidouchos (key-bearer), the priestess was responsible for safeguarding both the inviolability of the sanctuary (about to be violated here by Ajax) and the integrity of the material valuables kept in the temple. Many of the major cults of ancient Greek cities were in the hands of priestesses, and citizen women participated in the majority of public festivals and also had some of their own women-only festivals. Political life was largely in the hands of men, but religion was an area in which women gained a higher profile.
CVA British Museum London 2, pis. 8(GB 88).13, 9 (GB 89)7, Moret 1975, 11, no. 12, pis. 12.2, 13; LIMC I, 343 Aias II 58 (O. Touchefeu); Trendall 1967, 433, no. 538; LIMC II, 142 Aphrodite 1487 (A. Delivorrias); LIMC II, 967 Athena 95 (P. Demargne); Connelly 2007, 98-100, fig. 4.11.
- On display (G69/dc41)
- Exhibition history
2008-2009, Dec-May, New York, Onassis Cultural Center, Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens (Cat. no. 78)
2009, 20 Jul-30 Nov, Athens, National Archaeological Museum, Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens
2017-2018, 2 Nov-15 Apr, Athens, Museum of Cycladic Art, Money: Tangible symbols in ancient Greece
2019-2020 21 Nov-8 Mar, London, BM, SEG, Troy
- Minor mends and repairs. Painted with dull black glaze, added yellow, white, and purple.
- Acquisition date
- Greek and Roman
- Registration number