Jar (pelike) with Odysseus and Elpenor in the Underworld
about 440 B.C.
the Lykaon Painter
Place of Manufacture: Greece, Attica, Athens
Caskey-Beazley, Attic Vase Paintings (MFA), no. 111; Highlights: Classical Art (MFA), p. 070-071.
Overall: 47.4cm (18 11/16in.) Other (Height x diameter): 34.3 cm (13 1/2 in.) Weight: 15 lb. (6.8 kg)
Medium or Technique
Ceramic, Red Figure
Krupp Gallery (Gallery 215A)
Odysseus, having slain two rams, seated on a rock conversing with the shade of Elpenor. Hermes stands at the right.
Reverse: Poseidon pursuing Amymone.
Homer tells us in the Odyssey about Odysseus’ journey to the underworld to learn how to return to his homeland of Ithaca. While in Hades, Odysseus meets Elpenor, the youngest member of his crew. Elpenor had died on the island of the witch Circe; half-drunk and half-asleep, he fell from the roof of Circe’s house. The scene of their reunion in the Underworld is pictured on this pelike. Having not received the proper funeral rites on Circe’s island, Elpenor persuades Odysseus to give him a proper burial. Odysseus has sacrificed the two rams that lie at his feet to honor Elpenor and to keep the other spirits in Hades from tormenting him. Hermes stands behind Odysseus in his typical winged helmet and boots and with his caduceus. Although the messenger god does not appear in Homer’s telling of the story, it is appropriate for him to be a part of this scene as he often acted as a guide to the souls in Hades. The painter shows Odysseus deeply concentrating on the words of the dead sailor while Elpenor speaks. The mysterious scene of Hades depicted here was once highlighted in white pigment to draw out the details of the rocky landscape of the underworld.
On the opposite side of the vase, Poseidon, the god of the seas and enemy of Odysseus, pursues Amymone, one of the fifty daughters of King Danaus and Europa. Poseidon carries the fisherman’s spear that often identifies him in art. Her kingdom having no water, Amymone went in search of it. In the scene represented here, she carries a water jug. Poseidon fell in love with Amymone and rewarded her for her affection by creating the spring of Lerna. The result of their affair was Nauplius, a great sailor. The woman behind Poseidon is perhaps one of the many sisters of Amymone.
By date unknown: with Dr. Jacob Hirsch, Suite 1209, 30 West 54th Street, New York, N.Y.; purchased by MFA from Dr. Hirsch, March 1, 1934, for $ 9,250.00
William Amory Gardner Fund