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On the outer shores of Oceanus, to the ends of the earth …


Attic black-figure lekythos

National Archaeological Museum

Vase and Minor Arts Collection, inv. no A513

Attributed to the Leagros Group


Provenance: Eretria

Dimensions: Height: 0.29 m

Date: 510-500 BC

Display location: Vase Collection, Room 53, Showcase 67 (temporarily displayed in the periodic anniversary exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum “Odysseys”).

The lekythos inv. no A513 illustrates the arrival of Heracles on the outer shores of Oceanus and his encounter with Helios (the Sun).

According to the myth that reflects the earliest trade contacts of the Greek seafarers with the Iberian Peninsula, prior to the great colonization, Heracles reached mythical Tartessos on the extreme shores of Oceanus, to the ends of the earth, in his effort to find the island Erytheia. The “red” island, named after the colour of copper, was supposedly situated even further westwards, amid the unexplored waters of Oceanus, possibly near the ancient Gadeira (present-day Cádiz in Spain), outside the Pillars of Heracles (present-day Gibraltar), a region that abounded with minerals. On Erytheia grazed the cattle of Geryon, a mythical three-headed monster, protected by the herdsman Eurytion and guarded by the ferocious dog Orthos. As he sought a passage to cross the unknown waters of Oceanus and find Erytheia in order to steal the herd, Heracles encountered in the land of the setting sun (Helios) in his magnificent chariot.

In order to accomplish his goal, the hero demanded from Helios to hand over his golden goblet (all-golden depas) that had been crafted by Hephaestus. He used this goblet during the night so as to sail across Oceanus that encircled the Earth towards the land of the Ethiopians in the East and start over his perennial journey across the skies. The lekythos depicts Heracles squatting on a rock on the shore of Oceanus, biding his time as he is about the threaten Helios, who is shown magnificent and tranquil mounted on his chariot drawn by two fire-breathing white horses, shortly before he submerges into Oceanus. Underneath the chariot, amid the dark waters of Oceanus, swim white fish.

The rendering of the aureole surrounding Helios’ head is noteworthy. In contrast to other similar representations dating to the same period (late 6th c. BC), here the aureole is indicated by added violet colour. In addition, short violet lines stem from the circumference of the aureole, like fringes, suggesting the rays of the sun’s halo.

This calls to mind the heretic in Athens of the 5th century BC theory propounded by the natural philosopher Anaxagoras, who maintained that the sun was a fiery mass, no larger than the Peloponnese. Anaxagoras from Clazomenae in Ionia is the first natural philosopher who conveyed in Athens the breakthrough assessments of the Ionian School of Philosophy. Elements of the Anaxagorian theories, which are clearly evident later in Euripides, such as the characterization of the sun as “golden lump” (χρυσέαν βῶλον) in a verse of his fragmentarily preserved work Phaethon, with which he describes the burning solar disc, are revealing of a possible contact between Anaxagoras and Euripides.

Dr Georgios Kavvadias



Beazley Archive Database Number 302371

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Kratzmuller, B., The Sky as hippodromes. Agonistic Motives within Astral Representations, in Oakley, J. H, Palagia O. (eds) Athenian Potters and Painters II, Oxford – Oakville 2009, 108-110.

Lane Fox, R., Travelling heroes. Greeks and their myths in the epic age of Homer, London 2008, 203-217.

Τιβέριος, Μ., Ο Φαέθων του Ζ. του Μειδία και ο Φαέθων του Ευριπίδη, Λογε?ον 1, 2011, 72-110, http://www.logeion.upatras.gr/index.php/component/content/article?id=79.

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