Mixing Bowl (Bell Krater) with Perseus, Athena, and Hermes

Sophia Palumbo

Like many people my age, when I was in middle school I was obsessed with Percy Jackson and the Olympians, a series of fantasy novels inspired by Greek mythology. Soon I was reading the stories that inspired the series—ancient Greek tales of heroes, creatures, and gods and goddesses. I checked every book I could find out of the library and flipped through an old guidebook about the Parthenon my parents had brought back from their honeymoon. Around this time my grandparents took my sister and me to the MFA. After getting lost for an hour, we finally found the galleries of ancient Greek art. As I ran through the galleries with my grandparents in tow, eager to see everything all at once, one object in particular made me stop and slow down: a mixing bowl by an artist known as the Tarporley painter. Standing before it today draws me in the same way it did all those years ago.

The vase retells part of the myth of the hero Perseus and the monstrous Gorgon Medusa. Athena, goddess of wisdom and strategy, stands in the middle of the scene, holding Medusa’s head. She, along with Perseus and Hermes, the messenger god, looks down to avoid Medusa’s eyes, which turned anyone who gazed at them into stone. The light brush strokes across the vase evoke a sense of movement: Athena’s chiton sways as she steps forward and Hermes’s mantle hangs loosely as he leans against a dead tree. This sense of movement is echoed in the figures’ body language: Perseus shifts his weight anxiously, his hand resting on the small of his back. He furrows his brow as he glances at Medusa’s reflection in the shield. Hermes remains relaxed; his arm rests on a stump and he crosses his feet. All this makes the composition feel alive. These are not static characters from antiquity. They breathe with life.

There’s something eternal about Greek art. This vase is more than 2,000 years old, but whenever I visit it at the Museum, it feels as though time has collapsed. I see Athena—her hair swept into a loose bun, exposing a necklace—and feel like I’m staring at a sketch of a woman made just yesterday. I take comfort in that enduring humanity. It will be here as long as people are around. That’s what I found so compelling about Greek art when I was a child. I discovered a way to time travel and connect myself to generations of people who lived thousands of years ago.

My love of ancient Greek art comes from people only a couple generations removed from me: my grandparents. They were the ones who took me to museums and bought me books of Greek mythology when I was engrossed with Percy Jackson and the Olympians. They told me to slow down when I ran through the MFA’s galleries and patiently taught me how to see art. More than anything, when I look at this Greek vase, I don’t feel alone. I’m connected to my grandparents as I study it, now slowly and carefully, and I see those many generations looking back at me.


Sophia Palumbo is a senior at Boston University, where she studies political science, art history, and urban studies. She was a 2023 MFA Pathways intern in Principal Gifts and Research.