Two-handled jar (amphora) depicting the birth of Athena
about 540 B.C.
Height: 39.4 cm (15 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Ceramic, Black Figure
Greek Archaic Gallery (Gallery 113)
Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, was said to have been born fully grown from the head of Zeus. Here Zeus sits on his throne holding his thunderbolt, as the goddess springs from his head in full armor. Hephaistos, who is usually present with the axe he used to split his father's skull, is absent, but Hermes and Apollo look on at left, and at right Ares and a goddess, possibly Aphrodite, observe the miraculous birth. (Front)
When this vase was made, the four-horse chariot (quadriga) was no longer employed in warfare or for transportation, but was still used in races held at the great games at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea and Isthmia. This frontal rendering of a quadriga, with the pole horses facing each other and the trace horses looking away, is also known in sculpture. the charioteer, in his long white gown, stares at the flying bird as though wondering whether it is an omen of victory or defeat. (Back)