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‘What leaf-fringed legend …?’ A cup by the Sotades painter in London1

  • Alan Griffiths (a1)

The British Museum possesses, and displays as a group, three elegant white-ground kylikes potted around the middle of the fifth century by Sotades, and painted by that skilled, inventive and intelligent miniaturist dubbed by Beazley ‘The Sotades Painter’. First impressions suggest, and further investigation confirms, that the three make up a coherent set, designed and executed according to a pre-conceived plan. This paper will have something to say about the nature of that plan, but most of it will necessarily be occupied with a prior, and fundamental, problem: for the dramatic and very individual scene illustrated on one of the cups has so far resisted all attempts at interpretation, and I have a new proposal to make. The acid test of that identification will be whether it turns out to form an appropriately complementary element to the other two scenes, and whether all three taken together make sense as a mid-fifth century cultural ensemble.

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2 London D5, D6 and D7; ARV 2 763, 1–3; Wehgartner, Irma, Attisch Weissgrundige Keramik (Mainz 1983), 68 f., nos. 69–71. Here, PLATE Ia-b, IIa.

3 The find-spot was sometimes described as Eretria.

4 Philippart, H., ‘Deux coupes attiques à fond blanc’, Mon. Piot xxix (1927/1928) 99136. Wehgartner catalogues one but not the other (p. 66 no. 62).

5 Another pair of similar cups apparently surfaced at much the same time and place, and might perhaps come from the same source: two more stemless cups ‘of delicate make’, Louvre CA 482 and 483 (ARV 2 774, 2–3; Wehgartner 72, nos. 84, 85, with Taf. 27, 1–2). First published by Pottier, in Mon. Piot ii (1895) 3956, with Pll. v and VI; each has a Muse. Another apparent pair is ARV 2 771,3–4; one of these arrived in Boston in 1903.

6 On bespoke white-ground, see Wehgartner 82, who emphasises ‘dass weissgrundige Schalen, und das ergibt die Betrachtung der einzelnen Stücke immer wieder, kaum auf Vorrat gefertigte Ladenhüter waren, sondern Auftragswerke.’ (my italics).

7 Much of what follows is summarised from pp. 349, 359 of Arias, P. C. and Hirmer, M.History of Greek vase painting (Trans, and rev. by Shefton, B., London 1962); see also Mertens, J. R., Attic white-ground (New York and London 1977) 222 f. on the question of fragility; Philippart, H., ‘Les coupes attiques à fond blanc’, Ant. Class. v (1936) 186; and, most recently, Wehgartner's useful summing-up on pp. 168–70.

8 See Wehgartner 168, on wg. cups in general: ‘Bei Schalen wiederum schloss die weisse Grundierung der Innenseite ihre Benutzbarkeit als Trinkgefässe von vorneherein aus’.

9 So already Philippart (n. 4) 123 f; Neutsch noted the presence of death themes, implicit or explicit, on all three cups (Röm. Mitt. lx/lxi [1953/1954] 73 f.).

10 The best parallel for such a set of grave pottery is perhaps the almost contemporary ‘Brygos Tomb’, whose contents were once more brought together for the photograph in Williams', DyfriGreek vases (British Museum Publications, 1985); see pl. 50 and the discussion on p. 45 ff. There too we find pairs of vases (two stamnoi by the Deepdene Painter, and two sphinx rhyta); and the potter Sotades provides two pieces, one of which (ARV 2 764, 8) is decorated by the Sotades painter himself. The grave was at Capua, not in Attica, but Williams' suggestion (p. 48) that the occupant was an expatriate Athenian is very attractive.

11 See now Burn (n. 1) 101 for apparent documentary confirmation of this.

12 I hope to write elsewhere about the cluster of ancient and modern variants of the story; some obvious relatives are the Greek stories about the ‘other Glaukoses’ of Anthedon and Aitolia, and the survivals recorded by the Grimms (no. 16, Die drei Schlangenblätter) and in Italo Calvino's collection (Italian Folktales, Penguin ed., nos. 81, 143, 179 and 194).

13 I would have said all, except that some writers (e.g. Robertson, Martin, Greek painting [Geneva 1959] 133) remain cautiously agnostic. There are no rival proposals that I am aware of. On a Naples vase by Asteas one of the Hesperides is named ΝΗΛΙСΑ, perhaps a mistake for an intended ‘Melissa’ like the one on our cup.

14 See RE 8: 1, col. 1245 (Sittig). A good bibliography on the Hesperides can be found in Vermeule, E., Aspects of death in early Creek art and poetry (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1979) 241 f. (n. 35).

15 Like the British Museum astragal E804, ARV 2 765, 20, still not satisfactorily interpreted. Perhaps that too was made for the grave, as a plaything to pass the time in the underworld; see Vermeule (n. 14) 80–2.

16 The present-day sub-species found in Greece is v. amm. meridionalis; of the two other European horned snakes, the asp-viper, v. aspis, occurs in Macedonia, while the snub-nosed viper, v. latastei, is only found in Spain and North Africa. I have been greatly helped on these herpetological matters by Professor Angus Bellairs of St Mary's Hospital Medical School, for whose assistance and expertise I am glad to record here my warm thanks.

17 Which it anyway could not have been, for where are the fangs or the flickering tongue that would be de rigueur if its mouth had been open?

18 The motif seems to occur already in Egyptian literature: in his eponymous tale the Shipwrecked Sailor is terrified by a huge serpent whose ‘beard was more than two cubits’ (The literature of ancient Egypt, ed. Simpson, W. K. [New Haven and London 1972] 52). On the artistic connection with Egypt, see Boardman, J., The Greeks overseas 3 (London 1980) 151.

19 ARV 2 437, 116; ill. e.g. A.-H.-S. fig. 147 or Boardman, ARFV fig. 288. The Douris cup is perhaps a couple of decades earlier.

20 Crest-and-beard again on Python's kalyx-krater of Kadmos at the Theban spring, Louvre N 3157, a later relative of our scene as I hope to show below; illustrated in Pinsent, John, Greek mythology (London 1969) 57. I gave some literary references at CQ xx (1972) 108.

21 See Caskey and Beazley, Attic vase paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2.48 f., who give a good list which is further supplemented by Oakley, in AJA lxxxvi (1982) 114, with n. 16 and pl. 13, fig. 5; see also Brown, C., Phoenix xxxvii (1983) 13. Two of the better-known and more accessible examples are the goatherd on the Pan Painter's name-vase (ARV 2 550, 1) and the Argos on the Agrigento Painter's Boston hydria, ARV 2 579, 84; illustrated in Boardman ARFV figs. 335.1 and 327 respectively.

22 Another mark of the Lumpenproletariat; for while a Kadmos may be forced to seize a stone as an improvised weapon in an emergency (see below), the stone is in general the missile of the Homeric κακοί, the skirmishing rabble who have no proper weapons of their own; compare for example the stone-throwers who provide distracting support for Bellerophon on Apulian vases (e.g. volute-krater, Naples H 3253, ill. in Henle [n. 37] fig. 49, p. 102; situla, Cleveland 77.179, ill. Mayo Virginia Catalogue fig. 32, p. 106). Stones are also the typical weapons of centaurs, giants and the Minotaur; and compare the Pythia's contemptuous dismissal of Kleisthenes of Sikyon as a λευστήρ, Hdt. v 67.

23 Cup, Munich 2688; ARV 2 879, 1.

24 We should remember that the Glaukos and Polyidos cup compressed two critical moments together: the prophet's killing of the first snake, and the arrival of the second with the magic leaf.

25 Though now raised against the snake, it might perhaps have been previously employed against the woman, to add weight to a punch; compare the stone which the Minotaur holds (but never seems to throw) in the fight with Theseus.

26 Wehgartner's simple ‘Mann … flieht vor einer Schlange’ seems to me wrong; this is surely a fractional moment after he has first sensed the creature's presence. One might compare the early Attic bf. scene in which Herakles, his attention wholly engaged in a violent wrestling-match with Nereus, suddenly turns his head to spot a snake rearing up from his opponent's scaly back (ABV 14, 1 and 25, 18). The ‘reconstruction’ given in Burn's article (see n. 1) does not seem to me quite to capture the degree of twist in the man's body: on the cup, the left leg is turned to show the bulge of the calfmuscle. (Nor is it clear that the ground-line was as well-defined as her drawing indicates.)

27 See Brommer, F., Vasenlisten 3 (Marburg 1973) 478;Webster, T. B. L., The Tragedies of Euripides (London 1967) 306. It is true that the story is already known to Bacchylides (ix 12–14).

28 ABV 97, 22; Berlin (Ost) St. Museen V.I. 4841, published by Hauser, Fr. in JDAI viii (1893), with Taf. 1; see also LIMC 1:548 C3 (ill. in picture vol. p. 410).

29 Published in JDAI vi (1891) 189 f., with Taf. 4.

30 See Brommer, Vasenlisten 3 479 f., with Trendall, A. D., Paestan pottery, Papers of the British School at Rome XX (1952) 23 f.

31 Metr. Mus. 07.286.66, ARV 2 617, 2.

32 The stone will be thrown, and will kill the monster: Eur. Phoen. 663.

33 Similar, though not so close to our model, is a bell-krater by the Cassel Painter, also in New York (M. M. 22.139.11; ARV 2 1083, 5); and there is an interesting Kabeirion cup which relates to the series, showing a great snake darting out from its reeds at a padded and bephallused traveller, whose luggage goes flying in the kerfuffle. He too has his right arm raised, this time clearly in self-defence, but it is a whip, not a stone, that he brandishes. (Berlin inv. 3284; Wolters, P. and Bruns, G., Das Kabirenheiligtum bei Theben (Berlin 1974) 100, with Pl. 27.)

34 Münzen und Medaillen 21.9.82, no. 45 (‘c. 330’); see too LIMC vol. i 757 f., ‘Ananke’, with pl. 612.

35 I am carefully avoiding any speculations, let alone assumptions, about priority here; although the problem is perhaps more manageable in the artistic medium than the literary, the ‘stemmatics’ of transposition, conflation and recycling of motifs and structural elements remains very uncertain, given the low percentage of surviving evidence.

36 Apollodoros (iii 12.1) also regarded Iasion's affair with Demeter (Od. v 125–8) as rape, thus justifying Zeus' punitive lightning-bolt more simplistically.

37 There is one apparent ‘Apollo and Tityos’ which presents interesting similarities: the kalyx-krater by the Aigisthos Painter in the Louvre (G 164; ARV 2 504, 1). ‘Tityos’ is there naked but for a panther-skin, and has a curious and very unheroic unkempt beard and hairstyle. The subject however is problematic: see Greifenhagen, , Jb. Berl. Mus. i (1959) 23–8, and Henle, Jane, Greek myths: a vase-painter's notebook (Bloomington and London 1973) 36 f.

38 Kalyx-krater, E 466; Attic (so Vermeule [n. 39], but not in Beazley) or Apulian (so Fontenrose [n. 42], but not in Trendall)? A large-scale illustration in Furtwängler-Reichhold pl. 126.

39 So, surely correctly, Hinks, Roger P., Myth and allegory in ancient art (Studies of the Warburg Institute vi, [1939]), 29 f. Contra, Vermeule Aspects of death 134, for whom the mounted figure is ‘Night’ and Selene and Endymion are identified with the central pair. I do think, on the other hand, that the ‘Endymion’ figure must have been identified with a star, presumably Phosphoros the morning star; see below on the consideration that all the figures on the vase ought to represent astronomical entities.

40 See Vermeule's excellent Chapter V, ‘On the wings of the morning: the pornography of death.’

41 For the iconographic tradition of Eos' rape of Kephalos on vases—an extremely popular subject in the fifth century, in which Kephalos and Tithonos form a sometimes indistinguishable pair—see (apart from Vermeule [n. 40]) Caskey and Beazley [n. 21] 2.37 f. and 3.57.

42 See Fontenrose, J., Orion: The myth of the hunter and the huntress (U. Cal. Publ. in Class. Stud, xxiii [1981]) 101 f. and fig. 5.

43 Sirius is already ‘Orion's dog’ in Homer (Il. xxii 29).

44 In the Odyssey (v 121), Eos' love-victim is actually named as Orion rather than Kephalos; and in Euphorion (Jr. 106 van G) Orion is carried off by ‘Day’, Ἡμέρα.

45 Gaster, T. H., Thespis. Ritual, myth and drama in the ancient Near East (New York 1950) 260.

46 Fontenrose (n. 42) pp. 3 and 6.

47 In view of this dominant characteristic, I should like to speculate that the three stars which on traditional celestial maps are pictured as making up his sword (θ1, θ2 and 1 Orionis) may once have been thought of as his erect penis. This would then chime nicely with the image of the Cerne Abbas Giant (PLATE IIIc), about whose identity there has been much discussion. Piggott's identification of the giant with Hercules (Antiquity xii [1938] 323–31) seems to have formed a rather half-hearted modern consensus.

48 Although in the Odyssey (Od. xi 572–5) he appears next to the rapist Tityos, who is followed by the other criminals Tantalos and Sisyphos, this is probably coincidence; the author seems here to be using Orion as a framing device, exactly like the other hunter Herakles who follows the villains.

49 vv. 619–21: σθένος ὄβριμον Ὠρίωνος/ φεύγουσαι. West ad. loc. is right to point out that the verb may originally have been intended simply to describe the astronomical fact of the Pleiades' earlier setting; but this use of language suggesting human action and motivation then allows a more elaborated story to develop. CF. Pindar Nem. ii 10–12 (Pleiades) and fr. 74 Sn.—M. (Pleione). In both the early epic writers Orion is thought of primarily as a constellation, and this aspect continues to dominate the details of his myth, e.g. his relationship to Canis Major, Scorpio and other stargroups. If he is chasing the Pleiades, and if the Dog is ‘at his heels’ (Manilius i 387–93), then clearly he is usually thought of as moving across the sky to the right; rather different from the delicate equipoise designed by the Sotades Painter.

50 Parthenios, Erot. Path. 20; the girl's name is uncertain. Compare Apollod. i 4.3, where she is called Merope. Cf. Pindar fr. 72 Sn.—M.

51 Apollod. loc. cit.; Euphorion fr. 106 van G.; Call. fr. 186, 26 ff.? (see Pfeiffer).

52 570 and h. iii 265; Euphorion fr. 105 van G.; Nic. Ther. 13–20; Hyg. astr. ii 34, fab. 195; Cic. Aratea 420 ff.; Hor. c. iii 4. 71–3.

53 Another Ophioussa at Diod. v 58.4 f.; this time the snake-infested island is Rhodes, and the part of St Patrick is played by Phorbas.

54 I know of no other example of a mortal challenging a divinity of the opposite sex to a competition so obviously inappropriate to their own speciality; it is hard to imagine that this version was ever seriously offered or accepted.

55 Compare Herakles' lionskin, and the bearskin which allusively identified Kallisto in Polygnotos' underworld picture (Pausanias x 31.10).

56 In Nikander, the scorpion is insignificant enough to lurk ‘under a stone’. Another artist was faced with a similar problem a couple of millenia later: needing to portray an allegorical Industria in the Doge's Palace, Veronese made a brisk alteration to the fauna prescribed in his allegorical scheme: ‘because ants would not have been visible in a ceiling painting he replaced them with a spider making a web.’ (The genius of Venice 1500–1600, Exhibition Catalogue [London 1983] 37.)

57 Was Sirius, usually ‘the dog at his heels’, ever identified rather with the scorpion which stung him on the heel? The flashing, brilliant star would fit the idea of the deadly sting very well.

58 The Syriskos Painter is described by Beazley as a ‘brother’ of the Copenhagen Painter, and decorated two skyphoi potted by Pistoxenos (ARV 2 259).

59 Kalyx-krater, Boston 10.185, ARV 2 550, 1; Exactly what Aktaion's offence was conceived to have been in the early fifth century is, incidentally, a problematic question: see Dodds on Bacchae 337–40. At some point in the tradition he was another hunter who assaulted Artemis (Diod. iv 81.4); as indeed was Otos, yet another of the giants who hunted with Artemis and got carried away. See Fontenrose (n. 42) on the links between both of these characters and Orion.

60 E.g. on two vases in the BM: the hydria by the Meidias Painter (E 224; ARV 2 1313, 5), and the oinochoe with a satyric parody of the motif (E 539; ARV2 776, 2).

1 A first version of this paper was given as a lecture at the British Museum on 3rd September 1982, by kind invitation of Mr Geoffrey House of the Education Service. In the interval between that lecture and the completion of this article, L. Burn of the British Museum has published a discussion of the same material (AK xxviii [1985] 93–105); I have been able to incorporate a couple of last-minute references to this piece in my footnotes, but otherwise refrain from comment.

I am very grateful to John Boardman, Donna Kurtz and Herbert Hoffmann for comments on an earlier draft; they are responsible for many improvements, though not at all for imperfections or improbabilities that remain. I should also like to thank Simon James for preparing Pi. III b, and Professor Margot Schmidt for her generous assistance.

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