Exhibit of the month
The farewell …
Attic red-figure pelike with representation of Theseus’ departure
National Archaeological Museum
Vase and Minor Arts Collection, inv. no A1185
Provenance: Athens, Kerameikos
Dimensions: Height: 37.0 cm
Date: 420-410 BC
Display location: Vase Collection, Room 55, Showcase 119
The departure from the parental home of a young warrior for the journey of no return is the main iconographic theme of this vase, attributed to the vase painter Aison. The man is shown crowned, lightly armed, wearing only chlamys and petasos fallen back, the brimmed hat used for travelling, and also endromides (traveller’s boots).
The scene, which is imbued with a pervasive melancholy for the departure of the soldier, dates back to around 420-410 BC, a time at which the Peloponnesian War reached its peak and the Athenians departed incessantly in order to participate in the overseas military operations. The three figures of the scene encapsulate the ideology of the Athenian Democracy whose key element was the contribution of the citizen-soldier.
Three inscriptions, that have now been almost faded reveal the identity of the figures. The woman is Aethra, the mother of young Theseus, the national hero of the Athenian Democracy, who pours libations for her son. She is watched by his bearded father Aegeus who sees his son for the last time.
The farewell of the parents, the turn of Theseus’ head towards his mother, their sad gazes that do not meet each other, the pensive and despondent father permeate the scene with this restrained, yet deep sorrow which is encountered in later years, on the Attic funerary monuments of the 4th c. BC. The idealized illustration of the departure of an exemplary young man, such as Theseus, is the appropriate model for the decoration of a vase intended to receive the cremains of the youthful Athenian soldier. Aison adds the finishing touches to the composition with Theseus beholding his mother while his loose undulating hair falls, as though a light breeze of grief stirs it dominating the farewell scene.
Dr Georgios Kavvadias
Σ. Παπασπυρίδη-Καρούζου & Χρήστος Καρούζος, Ανθολόγημα θησαυρών του Εθνικού Μουσείου, Αθήνα 1981, pp. 75-76, pl. 87a-b.
Ο. Αλεξανδρή- Ελ.Σπαθάρη (eds) Ταξιδεύοντας με το πλοίο της Κερύνειας στο χρόνο και στο μύθο, Αθήνα 1987, p. 102, cat. no 117 [Προσκυνητοπούλου].