World Ceramic: What does it look like?

This hydria exemplifies the qualities of harmony and SYMMETRY highly prized by the Greeks. The orderly designs conform to the different parts of the vessel and accentuate its well-balanced, harmonious proportions. The largest figures are on the main body of the pot, while smaller figures decorate the shoulder. The figures make up scenes that illustrate episodes in Greek mythology. Because the Greeks thought of their gods and goddesses as having human characteristics and emotions, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the gods and humans in this scene. However, certain ATTRIBUTES identified the most popular figures to Greeks who knew their stories.


ATHENA (a-THEE-na) appears at the far left in her role as the goddess of war, wearing full armor: plumed helmet, spear, and the protective furry goatskin given to her by her father Zeus. As attendants harness her horses she prepares to set off in her chariot. Standing in the center of the scene, facing Athena, is HERAKLES (HAIR-a-kleez), with a red beard and the short curly hair of an athlete. The figure on his right is HERMES (HER-meez), who is identified by his pointed traveling hat, long red beard, and a traveling staff which he carries in his left hand. Painters in the late sixth century B.C. typically colored all women's skin white and painted the men in black. The human body is shown in profile or in combinations of frontal and profile views. For example, we see Athena and the horses strictly from the side, but Herakles' torso is shown from the front and his head is shown in profile. A sense of depth is achieved by the overlapping of figures. Notice how the horses overlap each other and in turn overlap some of the male figures, including Herakles and Hermes. The clothing is indicated by stylized patterns.

In the lower band of decoration, wild boars and snarling lions, associated with two of the twelve labors of Herakles, fight one another.

In the band above, Athena and Herakles are engaged in an equally aggressive battle with KYKNOS (KEEK-nos). ZEUS (zoose) stands between them with his arms outstretched.

All of the designs complement the parts of the hydria. For example, a circle of ray MOTIF (moe-TEEF) decorates the foot and emphasizes its function as the support of the whole vessel. A circle of tongues rises out of the base and draws attention to the paintings on the main body.

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