CHAPTER IV - GREECE AND THE GREEKS (PART II)
THE PICTURE GALLERY OF THE VASES
"I am one of the prizes from the games at Athens." So runs the
inscription on one of the oldest Pan-Atlantic vases that the Museum
possesses--the Burgon Vase--in the Second
Vase Room upstairs.
It was found in Athens itself, and was won there a hundred or more
years before the glorious temples and statues of the time of Pericles
crowned the hill of the city.
For the procession, pictured on the frieze of the Parthenon, with the
games that went before it, was no new event in the fifth century B.C.;
for long years, strong, young men had trained and practised and striven
to be best in certain feats of bodily skill, and the winner, besides
much honour and many privileges, obtained one of these red-and-black
figured amphorae, full of precious olive oil.
This may remind you of the far-away story of how Athene won her Athens
by the gift of the olive tree.
Let us look well at these vases: some sixteen of the [pg 58] older ones
in the Second Vase Room, and
eleven in the Fourth Vase Room
of later date.
Athene, with shield and spear, appears on them all, painted in a stiff,
ancient style; sometimes her robe is so rich it recalls the peplos
worked by the Athenian maidens. Sometimes the inside of her shield is
seen, though generally the outside, and many and varied are the
adornments upon it. In the Burgon Vase it is a fish; on others close by
are patterns of stars, Pegasus, snakes, an ox.
One of the most interesting is the group (in the Fourth Vase Room) of two
friends--Harmodius and Aristogiton--who died in the attempt to set
Athens free from tyrants. One of these tyrants--Hipparchus--was killed
by Harmodius, as he was in the act of marshalling the Pan-Atlantic
procession. You will remember the marshals beckoning, and holding back,
on the frieze. You might date the two figures from Athene's shield
towards the end of the sixth century B.C.; they are from a well-known
marble group in Athens, carried off by the Persians, and either
restored or copied in later times.
So much for the obverse side of the vases; on the reverse, in nearly
every case, you will find pictured on it the game or race for which the
prize was won. The Burgon Vase, for instance, shows the race of the
two-horse chariot--the Biga; another close by shows the four-horse
chariot , the Quadriga, at full gallop. Musical contests on the lyre,
and the double-pipes are on two others; there are also scenes showing
the honour done to the one who "receiveth the crown." The [pg 59]
herald announced the victory in his clear flowing Greek, and wreaths of
wild olive, bay, and parsley were won in other great games of Greece.
The tripods we shall see amongst the bronzes later on.
See these athletes of twenty-five centuries ago hurling the disk or
spear, boxing, wrestling, foot-racing, jumping with weights in the
hands--we shall find a pair of these "halteres" among the
bronzes--generally with an instructor or umpire beside them. It was not
easy to be first where all were so good; the possession of one of these
vases meant years of unwearied training in the gymnasium.
Perhaps when you were looking at the relics from the Gaulish chariot
burial in the Iron Age Gallery
a bronze jug and cup-shaped vase in red-and-black ware caught your eye
as being different from any of the other vessels from Gaulish and
British graves. Its shape reminds one of the cup of a flower, and it
bears the same name--a kylix. Now think of it: that vase was made in
Greece in the fifth century B.C. (we shall find many more of the same
style in the Vase Room of that
period); it was brought by the fortune of trade or war to the cold
north, to lie for centuries there in the chariot grave of the great
warrior who had owned it.
Passing slowly through the four Vase
Rooms we soon realize that we are truly in a picture gallery
that will illustrate for us not only the daily life of the old Greeks,
but will show us what ideas were passing in their minds, what their
religion was, what fancies were [pg 60] inspired by their beautiful
land and climate, and what poems and plays they knew. Some of the
pictures are signed; signed by artists who laid down their brushes a
thousand years before the Angles and Saxons came over the North Sea, to
settle along the shores of Britain.
Note the shapes of the vases. The amphora is already familiar from our
study of those used for prize; the kylix or drinking-cup we know, too,
from the Gaulish burial; the wide-mouthed crater (compare the crater or
cup of a volcano) was used for mixing wine and water after the feast;
the kyathos ladled the mixture into the jug (oinochoë).
Then there is the water-jug (the hydria), with three handles which we
shall often see on the vases, as well as the saucer-like phiale for
pouring out offerings to the gods. Besides these are more drinking-cups
and jugs that were used for pouring out il, a drop at a time. As you
notice the beautiful forms of these vessels, you will not wonder that
the artist-potter often signed his name as well as the artist-painter.
Some of the oldest pottery in the First
Room goes back to twenty centuries B.C.; some has been dug up
from the supposed site of Troy, at the north-east corner of Asia Minor,
just below the "Sea of Helle," where the tired little girl loosed her
hold of the golden-fleeced ram; possibly some of these light vases,
ornamented with lines and patterns and queer figures may belong to the
stirring times of the great siege and its heroes.
On coming into the Second Room
we see a great advance in the shape and style of the vases; black [pg
61] figures painted on a red ground, which is, in fact, the clay mixed
with red ochre, of which the vessel is made.
From the sixth century we note the potter on one of the kylixes at
work, his heavy wheel serving as a table while he fixes a handle on a
kylix, with finished vases on a shelf beside him. This is to be found
in the Room of Greek and Roman Life
in the case illustrating Industrial Arts.
Perhaps you have already noticed a great difference between the vases
of the Second Room and those
of the Third and Fourth? The potter, for instance, is
painted in black on the orange-red clay. Compare this with the figure
on the chariot burial kylix, which belongs to the fifth century, and,
as in most of the later ones, the figure is blocked out, and remains
red, while the ground is filled in with black, just the reverse of the
earlier ones. The stratum of ruin on the Acropolis, the work of the
Persians early in the fifth century, gives us fragments of pottery
signed by the great artists of this red-figure style.
The vases in the Fourth Room
cover the third and second centuries B.C.; many are large and showy,
but the drawing becomes less and less good, and the subjects less
noble; at last the art of vase-painting dies out.
Now what can we glean from the vases about the daily life of the people
we have seen thronging the temples on the Acropolis, or packed in the
great Theatre of Dionysus listening with rapt and critical attention to
plays, new then, but still read, acted, and appreciated twenty-five
centuries later? [pg 62]
We will begin with the babies. In the table-case illustrating Toys and
Games in the Room of Greek and Roman
Life are some very small vases, painted with their portraits.
Are they really more than two thousand years old? you may ask, as you
watch the fat baby, so like our own, creeping towards the apple or the
toy beyond its reach. There is a little toy meal being set out by two
very small hosts; there is a toy-cart being jerked over the floor. They
must have been fond of pets, those children; look at the models of
birds, dogs, and turtles, which with other toys lie round the tiny
A jingling rattle, a rag-doll from the Greek colony in the Delta,
looking so home-made and worn with use, and generations of terra-cotta
and ivory dolls, most of them with movable arms and legs, are all
there; also a wooden horse, and some whistles.
Some of these toys have been sadly collected by mother and nurse, and
put beside the little one in his grave, lest he should miss his
treasures, in the new unknown land to which he had gone. Others have
been found in or near temples where the owners had taken them to give
them up to the gods they worshipped--the boys when they grew up, the
girls when they married.
Here are the words that have come down to us, used by three young
people as they thus dedicated their childish playthings.
Philocles, the boy, says, "It is Philocles, O Hermes! who consecrates
to thee his bouncing ball, his musical boxwood rattle, his
knuckle-bones that he [pg 63] loved so much, his rapid top, playthings
of his youth."
Sappho says, "O Aphrodite! do not despise the purple veils of my dolls.
It is I, Sappho, who consecrate to you these precious offerings."
Timarete says, "O daughter of Latona! stretch out thy hand over the
young Timarete, and protect her. She dedicates to thee, Artemis, her
drum, her beloved ball, the band that bound her hair, her dolls, and
her dolls' clothes." How one can enter into their feelings, especially
at giving up the knuckle-bones and dolls' clothes!
Remember, too, that the stories told to those children in the land of
Greece were the same as those that we love now. The fables of
Æsop they learnt by heart as well as the tales of the gods and
heroes. They learnt stories of the great Zeus, king of the gods and
men, and his wife Hera, who dwelt in the high, calm, mountain heights
of Olympus, above all storm, rain, or snow; of the brothers of Zeus,
Poseidon, King of the Ocean (we call him Neptune), with his trident,
and the dark Hades, lord of the realms of the dead.
All these, and many more, that come crowding to your memory--the
sorrowing mother seeking her lost daughter; the jovial laughter at the
wily babe of a day old, who made a lyre and stole cows; the terror of
the rash driver of the horses of the sun, "who, though he failed, lost
not his glory, for his heart was set on great things"; all these were
familiar and real to the little listeners, and probably started with
the time-honoured opening words, "Once upon a time." [pg 64]
But it was not all play and stories; close by the toys are the writing
tablets, like those we saw amongst the relics of the Romans in Britain,
with much the same "styli." A terra-cotta group shows how the boy's
hand was guided by the teacher; there is also a fragment of a reading
lesson, as old-fashioned as possible--ba, be, bi, bo, bu, etc.; and a
multiplication table up to three times ten.
Just beside the table-case that holds the small vases, toys, and
school-books, are the vases that show the boys of twelve to sixteen
The master is teaching the lyre to some very grave, attentive pupils
before him. Behind his chair, waiting their turn, the idle boys are
playing with a cat!
On another vase, there is a singing lesson going on, an exercise being
corrected, a master sitting in his chair listening to recitations;
chiefly from the very same poems of Homer that our boys learn now.
We have seen on the Pan-Athenaic vases how the Greek boys trained their
bodies in the gymnasium, and the results. Their great object in
attempting feat after feat was to be strong, and perfect in bodily size
and health, so, too, in the training of their minds with music and the
study of great poets; it was not for the sake of passing examinations
or to earn a good living, but to try to cultivate right feelings, and
so become citizens of noble character.
In the Third Vase Room
table-cases are many kylikes, signed by great masters--you can
distinguish their names in Greek letters, Duris and Hicron--showing [pg
65] young Athens at play: conversing, feasting, and in some cases
enjoying the game of "cottabos."
Say that word several times; it is supposed to give the sound made by a
There is a cottabos stand on a vase in the Fourth Vase Room like a standard for
a lamp, with a saucer sort of plate about half-way up the stem. A
little figure was fixed on the top, and poised on that was a smaller
saucer. The aim of the game, which seems to have needed much skill, was
to throw the dregs of wine from the kylix at the top saucer so that it
should fall with a jingle on the one below.
We can learn a great deal from these entertainment vases: how the
guests reclined on couches; how the wine and water was ladled out from
the crates; how the boots were hung up on the wall.
As for the girls--Sappho and Timarete--they were not troubled with many
lessons, and were kept much at home as they grew up.
On the beautiful knuckle-bone vase in the Third Vase Room there is a graceful
dance of young girls, and there is a charming picture on a vase close
by of a girl fastening her girdle, while she holds the top of her dress
with her teeth. It is easy to understand the shape of such a dress by
studying the small terra-cotta figures on the shelves of the Terra-cotta Room. There are hundreds
of girls' figures to be seen.
To make a "chiton," the undergarment, take some butter muslin, wet it,
and wring it into a tight twist to dry. Then measure from the top of
your head to the feet, and from tip to tip of your outstretched [pg 66]
hands. Cut out an oblong piece of the material: your height gives the
length, and the width is twice the stretch of your arms and hands; next
join it; turn over the top piece (the depth of head and neck), and
fasten on the shoulders with three or more buttons; put the arms
through the openings each side; tie your girdle like the girl on the
vase; and with a long woollen wrap over your head, or round your
shoulders or waist, according to taste or weather, you are quite
As you will see from the figures, men wore much the same as women,
though generally their chiton was short.
In the Second Vase Room there
is an interesting vase picture showing a woman preparing the wool for
spinning, another weaving on a handloom.
Another favourite subject is that of girls fetching water from the
Spring Callirrhoë to the south of the Acropolis. Notice the
water-jugs (hydriæ), with three handles, carried so easily on the
erect heads--the little pads like those that market porters use to-day
are interesting--also the stream of water from the lion's mouth, in the
well-house, at which the first girl is filling her hydria.
The next one is just going to raise her left hand to bring her hydria
down when the first is ready to move away. The four behind know there
is time for a chat. The potter, Charinos, had such a girl in mind when
he inscribed on his jug close by, "Xenodoke, methinks, is a fair
Another picture which gives a glimpse of life about [pg 67] Athens is
the olive-gathering scene: one man is up a tree, and seems to be
shaking it, which others are knocking the fruit down with sticks, and a
boy picks it up into a basket.
We see, too, many delightful pictures of ships: on one a lad is just
taking a dive into the water, reminding us that swimming was generally
taught. Some of the merchant ships are moved by sails alone, and the
war galleys have banks of rowers, as well as masts for sails. These
ships remind us of the colonies of Greece, all round the Mediterranean,
and the enterprising Pytheas; they make us think too of the building of
the fleet of Athens, and its prowess, and how it protected the people,
carrying them to safety, when fire and sword destroyed both the city
and the temples of the gods.
Some of the very best work in the Third
Vase Room is a group of delicately painted vases, with several
colours on a white ground.
Amongst them is the cover of a toilet-box, bearing a picture of a
wedding procession; a torch-bearer goes first, then a musician playing
on the double-pipes, followed by the bridegroom leading the bride.
Sometimes we see the bride being fetched home in a carriage to the
sound of festive marriage songs.
You almost need a magnifying glass to enjoy the beautiful faint
drawings in these cases. Notice amongst them the men training horses
and the girl plucking an apple.
The greater number of the white vases have subjects connected with
burial and the tombs, and very serious [pg 68] and beautiful are the
attitudes of the mourning figures. One shows the grief over the strong
youth cut off in his prime; on another a young warrior is being laid in
the tomb by Death and Sleep; Charon, the ferryman of souls over the
Styx, is on another; having pushed his boat into the reeds he is
talking to a girl. These vases were made on purpose for offering at
tombs the "lekythi for the dead."
The large paintings of ladies at their toilet, and also those showing
offerings at tombs must be well studied (in the Fourth Room); they throw so much
light on the dress and customs of the time. It is not difficult to make
out the baskets to hold work--the fans, the collars, wreaths, fillets,
mirrors, and other trifles of the lady of fashion.
So much for the Pan-Athenaic vases and the illustrations of the daily
life of the old Greeks.
The subjects of the rest of the pictures in this very old art gallery
are from their religious beliefs and from the literature of their
country, which they knew so well.
We have seen already that we share, in some small degree, the interest
and delight felt by the Greeks in the stories of their gods and heroes.
We now proceed to see the pictures of these stories. All your favorites
are here. It is hard to know where to begin, and harder still to know
where to finish, but as you go from case to case you will find some
illustrations for nearly all. Do not see too many at a time, for, like
all other picture galleries, it is tiring to the eyes, the head, and
Let us start with the Trojan War. The site of Troy [pg 69] or Ilion was
just south of the Hellespont in what is called Phrygia in Asia Minor,
and the Siege of Troy took place somewhere about the twelfth century
Long years afterwards a great poet named Homer wrote--perhaps in Chios,
one of the Grecian islands--the song of the Siege of Troy, of the
valour of Hector, and the wratch of Achilles. His song is called the
Iliad, because it tells of the war against Ilion (Troy). This was the
first of the great poems that the world has ever known, and no greater
song has ever been sung.
In the Gold Room there is
generally the famous Portland Vase with the beautiful illustrations of
the marriage of the silver-footed Thetis and Peleus, and this subject
is a favourite one in the vase rooms. Generally the transformations by
which Thetis tried to get away from Peleus are shown; and the result
looks like a group of struggling human beings and weird animals. It was
at this marriage that the uninvited wicked fairy threw the apple of
discord "to the fairest" among the guests.
Three goddesses claimed it, and Paris had to decide which had the best
right to it. Many vases show him as a handsome shepherd trying to make
up his mind. In one picture he is fleeing from the difficult task, but
in the end he gives it to Aphrodite.
In the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris there is a lovely vase
painting of the goddesses preparing for the trial. Hera, arranging her
veil at a mirror--there are many such amongst the bronzes--Athene,
catching in her hands the water flowing from a lion's head in a [pg 70]
little fountain house; Aphrodite arranging her veil too, while her son,
Eros, fastens her bracelet.
The winner, Aphrodite (or Venus), bestowed a fatal gift on Paris as a
He should have the most beautiful woman in the world for his wife. That
was Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta in Greece.
One of the terra-cotta plaques near the Gold Room shows Paris just stepping
into the chariot in which he has placed Helen. They fled to Troy, where
the father of Paris--old Priam--was king.
The Greeks were two years preparing for war to avenge their friend's
loss. You remember the great names on their side? Achilles, son of
Peleus and Thetis, and his friend Patroclus; Agamemnon, king of
Mycenæ, brother of Menelaus; the gigantic Ajax, Odysseus; and
Nestor, the wise old counsellor.
In the Second Room you can see
the heroes playing at draughts while waiting for a fair wind, at Aulis,
and on another, in the Fourth,
the sacrifice of Iphigenia. The substitution of a hind at the last
moment is shown by the animal's head and forelegs appearing in a very
The voyage at last completed, we see many of the incidents of the long
siege; long, because the Trojans, Priam, Hector, Æneas, Sarpedon,
were all brave, and at critical moments, which might have been
decisive, the gods and goddesses interfered to help or hinder.
We must look at Achilles with the maiden Briseis, the cause of so much
strife; at Thetis, bringing fresh and glorious armour for her son
straight from the [pg 71] forge of Hephæstus; at the brave
Hector's body being dragged round the tomb of Patroclus; at Achilles,
in ambush while Polyxena is drawing water (Polyxena who was afterwards
sacrificed); at Achilles, slaying the beautiful Amazon queen.
We see, too, Ajax and Hector, Hector and Menelaus, the baby Astyanax in
his mother's arms, frightened at the glittering armour of his father,
There are also scenes of the ending of the war, of the death of the
aged Priam, and of his queen, Hecuba, and her daughter being led away
from the sanctuary. Other museums can show you Athene making the great
horse; Thetis sitting waiting for her son's armour, and many more most
We must pass on to the return of Odysseus, and that song is called the
We find Penelope mourning in his absence, on a plaque near that of
Helen and Paris, and a vivid illustration on the vases of the binding
of Polyphemus, and of Odysseus passing out of the cave, beneath the ram.
Delightful, too, is the picture of the ship passing the Sirens:
Odysseus bound to the mast, so that he cannot obey their call; the ears
of the sailors being stuffed with wax, so that they shall not hear it,
as they splash their oars through the dangerous passage.
You will find illustrations of the birth of Athene, a little doll-like
figure, springing from the head of Zeus, with Hephæstus and his
axe close by. One can hardly imagine that Pheidias would thus represent
[pg 72] the great goddess over the chief entrance to her temple. The
exploits of strong Heracles and Theseus are given over and over again.
In both cases these heroes had to give up their freedom for a time to
serve a task-master who set them works of unheard-of difficulty.
You remember the twelve labours of Heracles. You can find him here
struggling with the Nemean lion; with Geryon; holding in Cerberus. But
the one which will amuse you the most is the sight of the cowardly
Eurystheus sheltering in a large jar (there is such a jar in the First Room), which Heracles is just
going to throw the great boar upon him.
The name of Theseus takes us back to Athens; but to illustrate the time
before he came to his inheritance there, we see a beautiful picture of
him amongst the terra-cotta plaques lifting the stone to find his
father's armour, his mother standing by. Helped by this, we see him
fighting the Minotaur and performing successfully his other acts of
Perseus and the grim Medusa occur again and again; on one occasion the
hero is receiving the gifts of hat and sandals which were such a help
in his difficult tasks.
The sorrowing Demeter is shown on many vases, and you will remember her
beautiful statue from Chidos by the Ephesus
Room. Often she is sending forth Triptolemus in a winged chariot
to bear the knowledge of wheat growing over the world. Sometimes she is
with her loved daughter, and on one occasion is saying farewell as
Hades drives her away again in his chariot with fiery black horses.
Perhaps [pg 73] this was after one of Persephone's yearly visits home.
Here, too, we can try to listen to the sweet strains of Orpheus, as he
charms the rocks, the stones, the tress, and even the fierce Cerberus,
seeking his lost wife, Eurydice. But he turned back too soon.
The fickle Jason; the cruel Medea; the silly daughters of poor old
Pelias are all here, as well as Pandora, receiving a wreath from
Athene; fair Europea on the milk-white bull; the wily babe, Hermes,
grows up, with the infant Dionysus on his arm.
Just one more picture to finish. There is the moon setting behind a
hill; the stars are fading from the sky as the sun rises, pursued by
rosy Dawn. As the heat of his rays increases, the pure dew disappears
from the earth.
The story is shown on a vase in the glass case where Prokris represents
the dew. She was the daughter of Erechtheus, the king of Athens, whose
temple we know so well on the Acropolis. Kephalos, the Sun, slew her,
though he loved her, and when his day was done, he sank sadly into the
Western Sea. [pg 74]
(typed by Mary Harshbarger)