Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Death and the Vase: A Panoply Interview with Dr Bridget Martin.

As Sawhain-Halloween sets in, we turn our thoughts to other-worldly matters and talk to Dr Bridget Martin, an expert in death, funerary rites, and the afterlife in ancient Greece. Dr Martin teaches Ancient Greek and Classical Civilisation at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the dead in Greek tragedy and is the author of 'Blood, Honour, and Status in Odyssey 11', Classical Quarterly, 64.1, (2014). In the interest of transparency and recalling good times I should tell you that Dr Martin and I studied for our doctorates together, at one point even sharing a cheerful office. As such, I had the pleasure some eight or nine years ago of hearing Bridget present a research paper on the topic of winged psychai on funerary vases. That work has since been developed further and published as: 'Cold comfort: Winged psychai on fifth-century BC Greek funerary lekythoi', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 59.1 (2016), a study that analyses psychai as indicators regarding death, bereavement, and ideas about the Afterlife. Dr Martin is here to tell us about this fascinating topic; read on... if you dare.

1) Your research includes focus on rites around death in ancient Greece; what were some of the more important ones?
Some of the most important rites were performed during and after funerals. The body of the deceased was laid on a couch (kline) for the prosthesis (the equivalent of a modern wake), where mourners sang laments, and the body was then transported by ekphora (procession) to the burial site. Women could be very expressive in their mourning, especially during the prothesis: they could sing laments, lacerate their flesh, pull out or shear off their hair or cover themselves in dust. Such was their enthusiasm that legislation was put in place to limit excessive female mourning practices! Male mourners were usually more sedate, typically stretching out a hand over the body (as often depicted on vases) or offering a lock of hair. The dead were also offered gifts, such as vases, libations and food (sometimes including blood and animal sacrifices), either during the funeral itself or afterwards. Vase paintings show us that the living visited the tombs of their loved ones, sometimes with gifts, in order to mourn, and this also occurred during annual communal festivals, most notably the Genesia. These rites offered honour and remembrance to the dead and also allowed for the ritual separation of the living and the dead.

Above, male and female mourners at a prothesis, funerary plaque, Athens 525-475BCE. New York, Metropolitan Museum (54.11.5).

2) Was this an important part of the culture?
Yes, definitely! For us today it’s very difficult to determine what exactly the Greeks believed about the dead and the Afterlife – there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Greeks believed there was some manner of ‘life’ after death, but also that there was nothing after death. Regardless of individual beliefs, however, it was clearly essential to honour the dead through the rites outlined above. Such was their importance that the denial of burial rites was considered a fitting punishment for terrible crimes, such as temple robbers and killers of their own kin (the denial of burial is an important theme in Homer’s Iliad and in fifth-century tragedies, most notably Sophocles’ Antigone). The rites were preferably overseen by close kin, specifically sons, and, as such, if a man approached the end of his life without a son, he could adopt someone to ensure that he received the customary rites following his death.

3) Your publication focuses on winged psychai; could you tell us what they are?
The dead were depicted as winged psychai on funeral vases, especially lekythoi, from the middle to the end of the fifth century BC, primarily in Athens. They are small, generic, stick-insect-like figures that flit about in the background of images connected with death, most commonly images of the prothesis, images of the god Hermes or the boatman Charon accompanying the dead on their journey to the Underworld, or images of mourning at tombs. The dead are also portrayed as full-sized and very life-like figures on these vases, but the winged psychai are far more fascinating, in my opinion, as they suggest an attempt to capture the dead as they really are in the Underworld – shadowy, flighty and ethereal. The winged figures are often denoted by the word ‘eidolon’ (‘eidola’ in the plural), which means an exact copy or replica, but the word ‘psyche’ (‘psychai’ in the plural) is more fitting as the psyche is what leaves the body at the time of death and travels to the Underworld (our nearest equivalent is the soul, but a direct analogy between the two is problematic), and this is what the vase painters were attempting to depict with the winged figures.

Above, a dead woman (right) is led to the Afterlife by Hermes and met by Charon the boatman and a crowd of winged psychai. Line drawing by Bridget Martin of red-figure white-ground lekythos, attributed to the Sabouroff Painter (475-425 BCE), Athens, National Museum (1926).

4) How do you interpret their appearance on vases? What does it all mean?
Well, there are many meanings, and all or none could be correct! The psychai might merely signal the presence of death, but this isn’t really necessary as they often appear alongside a dead body or a tomb. They might be the tail end of a tradition stretching back to the sixth century BC when winged figures representing recognisable epic figures, such as Patroclus or Sarpedon, were popular. Perhaps the most common interpretation of the winged psychai is that they present a frightening image of what happens after death: you become a flitting shade without individuality or awareness. What I believe, however, is that the winged psychai are comforting figures for both the living and the dead. Firstly, they oversee the performance of the prothesis and the mourners visiting tombs, thus assuring the living that their pious actions are recognised. Secondly, in images in which the newly dead are led to the Underworld or enter Charon’s boat, the presence of multiple psychai gives a comforting suggestion of a guiding hand or even family reunion. Furthermore, the presence of the psychai in images including living mourners maintains a connection between the living and the dead, thus delaying the absolute separation of the two.

Above, 2 women attend a tomb, with psychai flying overhead. Line drawing by Bridget Martin of a red-figure white-ground lekythos attributed to the Woman Painter (Athens, 450-400 BCE), Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum (144).

5) What else can we learn from vases about ideas about funerary rituals and ideas about death?
The ancient Greeks held extensive and often contradictory beliefs about death and the dead, which is not surprising for a complex and evolving society, but the vases tell us that honouring the dead was unfailingly important to the living. Images of the prothesis, for example, appear on vases as early as the eighth century BC and remain very common until the end of the fifth century BC, when funeral vases fell out of popularity. Perhaps one of the most important things we can learn from the vases, specifically those depicting winged psychai, is that the ancient Greeks desired to make the unfamiliar familiar. Death was an unknown and frightening process, but portraying scenes of the newly dead being cared for by mythological guides and the ‘established’ dead in the form of winged psychai could go some way to softening the fear of death.

Above, Two men overlooked by a psyche prepare a body for prosthesis, on an Athenian black-figure olpe (525-500 BC). Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney (NM98.150).

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
My favourite (mythical) ancient Greek is Clytemnestra, the wife and murderer of Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks at Troy. I am thinking particularly of Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ tragic trilogy the Oresteia, as her character reveals such fascinating insights into interactions and relationships between the living and the dead. In the trilogy, Clytemnestra is a champion of the dead (she seeks revenge for her murdered daughter), an abuser of the dead (she both denies and perverts Agamemnon’s burial rites) and, following her own death at the hands of her son, she is a revenge-driven ghost. As a ferocious figure of vengeance who connives from both sides of the grave, Clytemnestra is in a class of her own!

Thank-you very much for talking to us, Dr Martin!.

If you fancy finding out more about this topic, get yourself a copy of 'Cold comfort: Winged psychai on fifth-century BC Greek funerary lekythoi', Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 59.1 (2016), either by reading it online www.icls.sas.ac.uk/publications/our-journal-bics or by ordering it through your library. And keep your eyes open for signs of mourning rites and the Afterlife next time you're combing through a vase collection.

Regular readers may recall this Louvre vase tomb scene as featured in our interview with Anastasia Bakogianni about Electra mourning.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Summer to Autumn News

This summer we were busy with The Symposium. It was commissioned by the University of Oxford's Classics in Communities project to create a vase animation that teachers can use in the classroom and which Oxford staff and students can use within their outreach activities. We wish them many happy times ahead doing just that!

We hope you've enjoyed some of the things that have accompanied the creation of The Symposium. As well as telling you a bit about symposium culture, The Symposium page has a set of follow-up reading suggestions for exploring the topic further, and you can also find out more through our recent blog interviews, Symposiums in Focus, with Dr Thomas Mannack and On Symposiums and Vases with Prof Sir John Boardman. You may also enjoy this new find, a short video that examines the cup from The Symposium in detail. It's a great way to see the cup's full shape and depth:


Above, as short video analysis of The Symposium cup by Alastair Sooke of The Telegraph (cup comes in at 1.15mins)

We've been delighted to see some of the artwork done with The Symposium activity sheets. A big thank-you to Fairstead House School in Newmarket who have kindly allowed us to use their work as examples on The Symposium page. Here's a detail from one of them:
Above: Detail from a re-working of The Symposium vase on the theme of 'outdoor parties', by Izzy from Fairstead House School, Newmarket.

Feel free to send us examples from your own class' work (or your own!). We always love to see what you've been making. Likewise, let us know what activity sheets you've found most useful and what ones you'd like to see in future. Through helpful feedback from one teacher, we've added a Beginner's Greek activity sheet for The Symposium. It comes with symposium-themed vocab that's set-up for labelling exercises or practice sentences.

Above, The new Symposium Greek sheet (get the download version from www.panoply.org.uk/the-symposium.html#followupactivities).

With the start of a new season, we're beginning an exciting new project. Over the next five years we'll be making a series of animations and a documentary about vases as part of a fantastic international project, Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. As the name suggests, this project will be examining the roles of Greco-Roman myth in children's literature and animations all over the world. It will produce a series of publications and reference works on this topic as well as the animations. Contributors from Poland, the UK, Australia, Israel, and Cameroon, will each explore fascinating aspects of this phenomenon under the guidance of the project organiser, Prof Katarzyna Marciniak from the University of Warsaw. This project has been generously funded by the European Research Council to whom we are very grateful. Our first animation will be an adventure with Heracles. Storyboarding has already begun! More on this as the project unfolds.

October means Halloween, so call back at the end of the month for an exclusive interview on a deathly topic. Dr Bridget Martin will be talking about ancient Greek ideas about death and the afterlife and how she has used vases to gain new insights into this important aspect of Greek culture.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Symposiums in Focus: A Panoply Interview with Dr Thomas Mannack

In celebration of the release of The Symposium animation, made for Oxford University's Classics in Communities project, we're talking symposiums and symposium scenes with leading art historian Dr Thomas Mannack, Reader in Classical Iconography at Oxford University. Dr Mannack is the director of the Beazley Archive’s magnificent database of Greek pottery. He is the author of numerous books on Greek vases, including The Late Mannerists in Attic Vase-Painting (Oxford University Press, 2001), volumes of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, and most recently (with Diana Rodríguez-Pérez and Cristina Neagu) Beazley and Christ Church. 250 Years of Scholarship on Greek Vases (2016). Thomas advised us on the creation of The Symposium animation. He’s here today to talk symposium scenes and the joy of ancient Greek art...

1) You have devoted your professional life to the study of Greek pottery – what is it about this art form that appeals to you so much?
Greek vases are fantastically interesting: the painted scenes on Greek pots contain a wealth of information and are second only to the literary sources (and sometimes even better). The shapes suggest a certain use inviting thought about the connections between shapes and pictures. Athenian vases in particular were traded around the whole Mediterranean world and have been found as far north as the Thames near Reading, as far west as Portugal, in Africa in the South, and Iraq in the East; the Etruscans in northern and central Italy were particularly fond of the things. This tells us something about Greeks abroad, the tastes of the indigenous populations, trade routes, and contacts between cultures. The pictures shed light on daily life and show the theatre, workshops, women at home, Greek myths and lost versions thereof, aspects of the funeral and many more. And Greek pots are beautiful.

2) When do the first symposium scenes begin to appear on Greek vases?
The earliest symposium scene appears on an Early Corinthian column-krater, a vase for mixing wine and water for the symposium, painted around 600 BC. The painter has depicted a symposium and turned it into a mythological scene by the addition of inscriptions. 10 to 20 years later the symposium was painted on Athenian neck-amphorae and Siana cups, which were particularly popular with the aristocrats in the Greek colony of Taras, modern Taranto.

Above, The vase featured in The Symposium animation: An Athenian black-figure footed cup (kylix) (AN1974.344), c.500BCE. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

3) Is there anything you consider distinctive about the symposium scene that the new animation has been made from?
The Oxford cup is highly distinctive. The symposium is not set in the andron, the special room for the symposium, but held in the open air since the symposiasts are surrounded by vines and are reclining on the ground, not on couches. All of them wear headdresses, another unusual feature normally connected with Persians or denoting eastern influence. The vase may represent a feast held in honour of a god or hark back to some imaginary idyllic past. The foot is unusual too, recorded coyly as “special foot” it the Beazley Archive Pottery database: it consists of a modelled penis with testicles invoking, perhaps, fertility, but being also quite funny. Other details are typical of the symposium: the participants are reclining and dressed in himatia, they play music and are being served by a young cup-bearer.
Above, the underside of the Oxford cup. Photo: Twitter, @DrMichaelScott

4) What are the pros and cons of using symposium scenes as evidence for real-life symposiums?
Greek vases cannot show the conversations held during the symposium, but they show everything else:
Participants: male citizens.
Furniture: reclining couches, tables, footstools, kottabos- and lamp stands.
Time: lit lamps, therefore after dark.
Equipment: a wealth of different shapes such as cups, skyphoi, and vases moulded in the shape of heads and shoes, mixing vases such as kraters and dinoi on stands, sieves, and ladles.
Food: a leg of meat depicted on a Corinthian krater, cakes or bread and strips of meat shown elsewhere.
Above, courtesans at a symposium, as depicted on a hydria. Munich 2421.

Entertainment: singing denoted by a standard pose and often letters in front of the open mouth of the singer, lyre players and female pipes players, high class prostitutes and the kottabos game and balancing contests.

Above, a symposiast sings, as indicated by the way he has thrown his head back. Musee du Louvre S1435.

...And the regrettable effect of too much drink: symposiasts throwing up.
Vases even show the arrangement of the couches around the special room because the painters occasionally depict the short end of one of the klinai (couches).

Above, A symposiast succumbs to too much to drink, as shown on the interior of a cup by the Brygos Painter, National Museum, Copenhagen.

5) Why do ancient Greek cups sometimes have Gorgon heads inside them?
There is a lot of deep stuff about the Gorgoneion which is apotropaic, that is it averted evil and bad luck, but it would also have appealed to the juvenile sense of humour of the Greeks, since drinking the wine revealed an ugly face. Moreover, the Gorgon head is round and therefore a simple and appealing way to fill the round interior of a cup.

6) What are you researching at the moment?
I am still writing a catalogue of the white ground lekythoi (oil flasks) of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and an article on inscriptions on vases naming Athenians as beautiful (kalos).

7) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
The general and statesman Alkibiades, the last member of note of the Athenian family of the Alkmaeonidae. He was a colourful and difficult character who was first an advocate of the aggressive expansion of the Athenian empire, made too many enemies and had to flee to Sparta, the enemy of Athens, and supported them in the war against his native city. Alkibiades managed to fall foul of the Spartans too and had to flee to Persia, where he acted as an advisor to Tissaphernes, satrap of Lydia and Caria (proving that Persia was not “the other” for aristocratic Greeks) until he was recalled to Athens. Moreover, he owned Greek pots.

Thank-you very much to Dr Mannack for these lively insights into symposium culture and The Symposium's vase. To go deeper into the world of the ancient vase-painters, have a read of some of Dr Mannack's many publications on this fascinating subject.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

On Symposiums and Vases - an Interview with Professor Sir John Boardman.


It's not long now until the release of a brand new vase animation. The animation is being made for Oxford University’s Classics Faculty and Ashmolean Museum, so, in anticipatory celebration, we're talking today to one of Oxford’s leading lights, Prof. Sir John Boardman, Senior Research Associate at the Classical Art Research Centre and Emeritus Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art. Sir John is the author of four indispensable handbooks on Greek vase painting, as well as numerous other works including The History of Greek Vases: Potters, Painters and Pictures (2008) and The World of Ancient Art (2006). He has served as the Assistant Director of the British School at Athens (a wonderful archaeological institute in Greece) and as Assistant Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean. Today he’s sharing thoughts on vases, symposiums, and gems...

1) You have worked with so many vases throughout your career; is there one in the Ashmolean collection that you find particularly interesting?
Yes. In my first days in the Ashmolean I came across fragments of an East Greek black figure vase which I could restore as showing the carriage of the boat of Dionysos. The vase was from Karnak in Egypt where there were similar processions, inspiration for the Dionysiac. I retained an interest and it formed a key element in my short book on The Triumph of Dionysos in 2014.

2) The vase in the new animation depicts a symposium scene of men drinking and playing music together. What values were being expressed through scenes of this sort?
The symposion was an important social event in Greek life – the wine was well watered! Many houses had rooms especially furnished for a symposion although I suspect that most Greek homes were not so well furnished.

Above, the vase that will feature in Panopy’s next animation, out soon. An Athenian black-figure footed cup (kylix) (AN1974.344), c.500 BCE. Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

3) Would a vase of this sort have been a high status item?
This example was almost certainly an export model, sent to Italy, possibly for the Greek market but just as probably for the Etruscan where its message might not have been so clear.

4) The people in the symposium scene are depicted drinking from all sorts of shapes of cups. Did symposium culture encourage innovation in vase-making?
Drinking watered wine was an important event for Greeks and the potters were especially ingenious in creating new shapes for the drinking cup, whether practical or not, and often after foreign models.

5) Much of your recent work has looked at carved gem stones. Is there any overlap between the art we see on vases and that on carved gems?
The gem stones were a more personal matter and their subjects could be inspired by various different factors – religion, the name of the owner, or simply display. The idiom and overall style was uniform in the arts of classical Greece so it's a matter of parallels rather than any more positive links, I think.

Above, a carnelian gem, showing a young Heracles, 4th century BCE, Private collection (photo: Beazley Archive).

6) Who’s your favourite ancient Greek?
It has to be Heracles, for the variety of his adventures and his role in both mythology and the everyday religion of the Greeks.

Above, the hero himself - Heracles wrestles a water god in Panoply's animation of a tiny amphora from the Ure Museum.

Many thanks to Professor Sir John Boardman for talking to us today. If you’d like to hear more, you’ll enjoy the short video below exploring what can be deduced from an ancient Athenian symposium cup, and the podcast below that, which discusses the discipline of Art History.

Above, Treasures of Oxford - Athenian Wine Drinking Cup. Sir John Boardman talks about a wine drinking cup made in Ancient Athens - what we can learn from it about Ancient Greek culture and the kind of lifestyle the Greeks had.



Above, Introduction to Art of the Ancient World. Prof Donna Kurtz and Prof Sir John Boardman talk about Sir John's life, career, and experiences as a classical scholar, and the relationships between the artworks of different ancient cultures.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Conference Season

Late Spring - Early Summer is traditionally conference season. Panoply have been out and about accordingly, so here’s a quick run through some of what we’ve been up to.


May saw us making a trip to the beautiful University of Warsaw in Poland. We were there for a conference called Chasing Mythical Beasts...The Reception of Creatures from Greco-Roman Mythology in Children and Young Adults’ Culture as a Transformational Marker. This conference brought together a range of scholars working on an impressive array of children’s culture, including Elizabeth Hale on Medusas and Minotaurs in Australian literature, Roehampton’s Susan Deacy on Bright-Eyed Athena and her Fiery-Eyed Monster, Helen Lovatt considering how Greek Harry Potter’s mythical animals are, and Hanna Poulouskaya discussing Mythical Beasts in Soviet Animation. Vase fans would particularly have enjoyed Deborah Roberts’ presentation, Picturing Duality: The Minotaur as Beast and Human in Illustrated Myth Collections for Children. It explored the way that the Minotaur’s half-bull-half-human duality is depicted in varying ways depending on how sympathetic or frightening it’s intended to be, with vases serving as the starting place for picturing this strange hybrid.

Deborah H. Roberts of Haverford College

Steve and I were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the National Museum in Warsaw. Not only is it a very fine museum, this was also a chance to see Panoply’s Hoplites! Greeks at War on display in the exhibition Hoplites. On the Art of War in Classical Greece. The vase animation complements the exhibition’s selection of hoplite equipment by helping to illustrate how those items would be used and what their wearers would go through. We also gave a presentation in the museum’s media room, outlining the work that we hope to do with the museum in the future. Many thanks to Prof Katarzyna Marciniak for organising an excellent conference. We’re looking forward to being back in Warsaw.
Panoply's Sonya and Steve with Hoplites! Greeks at War on location in Warsaw

Sonya gives a vase animation demonstration at the National Museum in Warsaw

Above, a short video of Chasing Mythical Beasts.

Come June I was visiting London for A Celebration of Greek Language and Culture Education in the UK. This event was organised by Oxford University’s Classics in Communities project and hosted by the Hellenic Centre. Attendees got together to hear what good things are going on in the teaching of ancient and modern Greek and classical civilisation. If you have ideas for a project, get in touch with Classics for All – they want to help! Also expect good things from the new classical civilisation textbook created by OCR and published by Bloomsbury.

Ambassador Bikas, Greek ambassador to the UK, opens the event

Sonya outlines the work of the Panoply Vase Animation Project

Teachers discuss what’s hot in Greek teaching

Most recently, I’ve been in Dublin for the 9th Celtic Classics Conference, hosted by University College Dublin. This 4-day classics extravaganza saw 350 delegates gather from all over the world to talk classics, ancient history, and classical reception. Highlights included Bridget Martin’s presentation Comfort in the Unfamiliar: The Depiction of the Winged Dead on Greek Funerary Vases (which we’ll hear more about in due course), Hans van Wees on Greek warfare’s relationship with Near Eastern warfare, and Philip de Souza on Greek fleets at war. My presentation was Icon Appropriation in Ancient Warfare, discussing the do’s and don’ts of taking other communities' religious statues. It featured some of the ideas I’ve been exploring for my forthcoming book, Military Leaders in Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare: Temples, Sanctuaries, and Conflict in Antiquity. There’ll be more on that here closer to the publication date in October, but till then, here’s one of the vases that made an appearance – a belly amphora featuring Athena accompanying Diomedes and Odysseus with the Palladion. Thanks to everyone at UCD for all the hard work they put in to making the conference a great success.

Athena accompanying Diomedes and Odysseus with the Palladion, Stockholm Medelhaus Museet, 1963.001

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

New-look Website

The new-look Panoply website is up! We hope you like the new lay-out.
Overall we’ve made it:

• Easier to read - with bite-size text boxes.
• Easier to navigate - with more cross-page connections.
• Easier to find the animations you want – now arranged by project, by theme, and A-Z by title.

You may also have spotted the new shop. The designs are all based on vase animations. We hope you enjoy taking your favourite scenes off-screen and into real life.

I must say I’m particularly keen on the Field of Spears mug:


and the Nike and Bull t-shirts.


The products are made by Zazzle, which means that you can choose them in a wide range of colours and styles. We’ll be adding more designs over time; keep an eye on the website or our Facebook page for updates.

One further change has been the adoption of a new logo:


We’ve moved to using the full name – Panoply Vase Animation Project (instead of just Panoply). The logo image combines an amphora vase and the figure of a soldier taken from the vase used in Hoplites! Greeks at War and Combat. He’s leaping off the vase to express the way that our animations bring vase scenes to life.

If you have any links to the website saved in presentations and so on, you’ll find that they’re still the same. The only ones that have been removed are the umbrella project pages, Ure View, Ure Discovery, and Ancient Olympics. Their content is now on the individual animation pages from those projects.

We’d love to know how you get on with the new site, so feel free to drop us a line if you have any comments. Have fun exploring the new site.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Recreating the Ancient Past

We're looking forward to talking vases and animation at Recreating the Ancient Past, a day school organised by the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens. It will be held at Trinity College Dublin this Saturday. Fantastic line-up. If you're in the Dublin area, sign-up!