The Iconography of the Athenian Hero in Late Archaic Vase-Painting

Bartlett, Elizabeth, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Smith, Tyler, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This study questions how Athenian vase-painters represented heroic figures during the late sixth and early fifth centuries B.C. – specifically from the death of Peisistratos in 528 B.C. to the return of Theseus' bones to Athens in 475/4 B.C. The study focuses on three specific Attic cult heroes with a strong presence both in the Greek world and on Athenian vases: Herakles, Theseus, and Ajax. Although individual studies have been published regarding various aspects of these three heroes, such as subject matter, cult worship, literary presence, and social history, the current one departs from them by categorizing, comparing, and contrasting the different portrayals of the three chosen heroes. Using Athenian vases as the primary form of evidence, the current study endeavors to uncover how individual iconography can – or cannot – identify the heroic figure. By using an iconographic approach of looking at attributes, dress, gestures, poses, and composition, a more complete picture of the image of the hero may be understood. Evidence of both the cult of, and importance of, the Athenian hero is stressed both in ancient texts and through archaeological evidence, thus supplemental material is taken into consideration.
Illustrations of Greek heroes can be found on a variety of vase shapes of various techniques, and the accompanying catalogue includes almost 300 examples. The first chapter introduces the concept of the hero in ancient Athens. The subsequent chapters are organized by the hero examined (e.g., Herakles, Theseus, Ajax) and the final chapter is devoted to combinations and juxtapositions of heroic subjects. Based upon the evidence, there appears to be no correlation between the general iconography of all heroic figures; yet the evidence does support the conclusion for certain similarities between the iconography among individual heroes, or natural pairings and groupings of heroes, whether by means of poses, attributes, or even composition. In addition, the evidence points to a similarity in representation between heroic figures and general depictions of athletes and warriors on vases. As a result of this iconographical conclusion, along with the combined and juxtaposed compositions of heroic subjects on a single vase, one can argue that these three heroes were presented in a manner that alluded to everyday life of the active citizen.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
art, archaeology, art history, heroes, iconography, Greek heroes, Herakles, Theseus, Ajax, Athenian
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