Scene References

Sharing Golden Gems of Homeric Insight

Attempting to understand the environments that Homer is describing on the glorious shield which Hephaistos makes for Achilles requires an Olympic-size appetite for ancient Greek history. Fortunately, there is an endless line of voracious scholars stretching from ancient times till now with fascinating perspectives on the life and times of Homer.

We can feel sure, based on this well-paved path into the ancient past, that we are only the latest travelers on this shining, scenic route. Others to come will surely see new sights and find new insights at the hands of our beloved guides, both ancient and modern but true lovers of the Classics, all.

Homer’s life and times are a gold mine, as open as our books, computers, desires, and minds. What we find on our journey depends on our search, so thrilling in the process and so satisfying in the acquisition. Sharing these discoveries, our golden gems of Homeric insight, only adds to the appetite of future lovers of the Classics, delightfully enriching future imaginations and broadening our future perspectives.

Cross-Referencing Historic Similarities With Scenes on the Shield of Achilles

Hoping to illustrate the divine shield of Achilles as historically accurately as possible, as well as composing the scenes as literally as possible, required a logical reduction of content into the simplest of terms. In this way, the historical research was more easily accomplished, once the scenes were reduced to artistic ‘motifs’–for example, ancient Greek motifs of horses, warriors, women, etc, as found on early Black-figure pottery and other historical artifacts.

Compiled below are the ancient Greek sources of similar artistic motifs that influenced my composition. Several important notes are also offered, golden gems of Homeric insight, relevant to individual scenes on Achilles’ shield, as described by Homer in Book 18 of the Iliad.

[Top Image Caption]

 
 
 

Epicenter: CREATION  From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Epicenter: CREATION. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Star Map Showing the Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Cassiopeia, Auriga, Taurus and Orion.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


An encyclopedia or a star map will give the full grouping of the constellations identified by Homer on the center boss of Achilles’ divine shield. Shown here are simplified renderings of the Hyades and Pleiades, both members of the Taurus constellation. Positioned in its actual location relative to Taurus is Orion, the Hunter, with his belt and club (some say sword) depicted. Ursa Major, or the Great Bear, is shown simplified to its well-known grouping, the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is also known as the Wain, or chariot, and is identified by its cart and stem, with which it is hooked to a team of horses.

Hogan notes in A Guide to the Iliad, regarding Homer’s usage of the constellations Pleiades, Hyades, Orion, and the Great Bear, “The constellations mentioned here are perhaps chosen for their usefulness to the farmer and sailor.”1

Hesiod bears witness to this seasonal usefulness in the following verses:
 

But when the Pleiades and the Hyades and strong Orion begin to set,
then it is that you should be mindful to plow in season.

[–Hesiod, Works and Days line 614-17, Translated by Gregory Nagy]
 

For a deeper examination, the agricultural significance of Homer’s choice of these constellations is comprehensively analyzed by Robert Hannah in his excellent article entitled, The Constellations on Achilles Shield.

The legendary female lyric poet, Sappho of Lesbos, Greece (ca. 630-570 BCE), was likewise familiar with the constellations in her night sky, as she wistfully records in the following fragment:

The moon is set.
And the Pleiades.
It’s the middle of the night.
Time passes.
But I sleep alone.

[–Sappho, Fragment 8]

 

Inner Ring: Wedding Procession. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail (copyright-All Rights Reserved)

Inner Ring: WEDDING PROCESSION. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:
Corinthian Column-Krater, ca. 600 BCE depicting men preparing the hind legs of a sheep in preparation of a feast. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Corinthian Column-Krater, known as the “Eurytios Krater” ca. 600 BCE depicting men preparing a feast. Source: Wikimedia Commons



Feasts:
 
– Celebe, ca. 6th Century BCE, “Eurytios Krater” now at the Louvre, Paris, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 367.

Men in everyday garb:
 
– Celebe, ca. 6th Century BCE, “Eurytios Krater” now at the Louvre, Paris, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 367

– The Francois Vase, ca. 570 BCE illustrated in color in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 7.

Detail from the "Chigi Vase," a ProtoCorinthian Olpe ca. 650-640 BC by the Chigi Painter depicting a youth playing an aulos. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Piper from the Chigi Vase. Source:


– Attic Amphora, “Heracles Killing Nessos,” ca. 610-600 BCE at the National Museum of Athens, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 407.

Pipes and lyres:
 

– Pipes: Protocorinthian Olpe, “The Chigi Vase,” by the MacMillan Painter, ca. 650-640 BCE, in the Villa Giulia, illustrated in Beazley’s, Greek Sculpture and Painting, fig. 19. Also (in color) in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 6.

– Lyres: Corinthian Miniature Painting of a lamb being taken for sacrifice on an altar, ca. 540 BCE, now in the National Museum of Athens, illustrated in Karouzou’s, National Museum – Illustrated Guide to the Museum, item no. 16464.


 
Trees:

– Cup by the Corinthianizing Painter, ca. 660 BCE, in the Berkeley Museum, and illustrated in Beazley’s, The Development of Attic Black-Figure, plate 83, no. 2.

Detail from the Amphiaraos Krater ca. 570 BCE depicting women beside a columned porch waving goodbye to Amphiaraos. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail from the Amphiaraos Krater ca. 570 BCE depicting women beside a columned porch. Source: Wikimedia Commons


– Lekythos by the Cactus Painter, “Herakles at the Tree of the Hesperides,” illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 233.

– Corinthian Bottle by Timonidas, ca. 580 BCE, illustrated in Cook’s, Greek Art – Its Development, Character and Influence, plate D, page 277.

Women under columned porch:
 
 
– Corinthian Krater, “The Departure of Amphiaraos,” ca. 575 BCE, in the Berlin St. Museum, and illustrated in Pfuhl’s, Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting, fig. 14.

Women with wreaths in hair, and/or covered shoulders:

– Corinthian Celebe, ca. 550 BCE, in the Vatican, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 366.

Corinthian Miniature Painting, ca. 540-530 BCE depicting  a procession to an altar to sacrifice a lamb, accompanied by flute and lyre. The names of the Three Graces are inscribed on the placque. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Corinthian Miniature Painting, ca. 540-530 BCE depicting a procession to an altar to sacrifice a lamb, accompanied by flute and lyre. Source: Wikimedia Commons


– Corinthian Miniature Painting of a lamb being taken for sacrifice on an altar, ca. 540 BCE, now in the National Museum of Athens, illustrated in Karouzou’s, National Museum – Illustrated Guide to the Museum, item no. 16464.

– The Francois Vase, ca. 570 BCE illustrated in color in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 7.

– Eretrian Amphora, ca. 675 BCE, in the National Museum of Athens, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 413.

 

 
 

Inner Ring: CONFLICT IN THE MARKET. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Inner Ring: CONFLICT IN THE MARKET. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
There is no way that I can do justice to Professor Nagy’s excellent essay entitled, The Shield of Achilles: Ends of the Iliad and Beginnings of the Polis. With eloquently comprehensive analysis, Nagy profoundly broadens our appreciation of this scene and the following scene of the Judgement of the Elders.

To whet your appetite, the following passages from his essay summarize Nagy’s point that the litigation scenes on Achilles’ shield reflect a seminal moment in the evolutionary development of the self-governing polis:

“The idea of a relativized Iliad, the limits of which are delimited, paradoxically, by the expanding outermost circle of an ever-evolving polis outside the narrative, is compatible with a historical view of Homeric poetry as an open-ended and ever-evolving process. Earlier, I described this view of Homer in terms of an evolutionary model. Such an evolutionary model cannot be pinned down, I argued, to any single “Age of Homer.” I suggested that we need not think of any single age of Homer, but rather, several ages of Homer.

“This evolutionary model is the lens through which I see the picture on the Shield of Achilles, with its concentric circles of limits expanding further and further outward. [48] I repeat what I said earlier, this time going one step further. The logic of the litigation scene spills over into the logic of a surrounding circle of supposedly impartial elder adjudicators who are supposed to define the rights and wrongs of the case.

Detail from the Amphiaraos Krater ca. 570 BCE depicting horses and a woman beside a columned portico. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail from the Amphiaraos Krater ca. 570 BCE depicting horses and a woman beside a columned portico.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Next, the logic of this inner circle {86|87} of elders spills over into the logic of an outer circle of people who surround the elders, the people who will define who defines most justly. Next, it spills over into the logic of the outermost circle, people who are about to hear the Iliad. These people who hear Homeric poetry, as I said, are to become the people of the polis. Going one step further, these people are even ourselves.”

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Columns:
 
Carpenter’s, Dionysian Imagery in Archaic Greek Art, plate 2.

– The Francois Vase, ca. 570 BCE illustrated in color in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 7.

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Trees (click to see above)

 

 
 

Inner Ring: JUDGEMENT OF THE ELDERS. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Inner Ring: JUDGEMENT OF THE ELDERS. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Gernet refers to this scene, pointing out, “If we accept that the poet knew what he was talking about, then we can agree that our task is not to settle the question of the fact, but to propose criteria for decisive proof. …The judgement itself – or at least that which takes its place – is not to be discussed. An arrangement was agreed whereby the exercise of vengeance was unconditionally suspended: if the ransom were not paid, the avenger would again be free to act and would kill his adversary. …From this comes the kind of pressure that finally calls for the appeal to justice. Theoretically, however, the initiative comes not from the one we might call the ‘plaintiff,’ from the one who has the ‘right to vengeance’: the initiative comes from the one who has submitted to vengeance and who ‘tells the people his case.’ …We have here the image, at once schematic and poetic, of a primitive procedure whose mark is preserved in later law.”2

This judgement by the elders is a “typical feature of the early ‘Polis’,” say Crawford and Whitehead. It is “the orderly resolution of disputes by pronouncement of the aristocratic elders of the community.”3 They also give us a comparison between Homer and Hesiod: “The Boiotion poet and pessimist Hesiod will have been familiar with the Homeric description of the Shield of Achilles; his own view of the dispensation of justice, however, is a strikingly different one. In the scene on the Shield the implication is clear that the ordinary man can hope to get a fair deal from his aristocratic judges, even if one party will necessarily be the loser.”4

If this scene of judgement shows us the origin of legal procedure, the two bars of gold show us just as clearly the origin of high legal fees!

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Columns (click to see above)

Nikosthenic Black-Figure Amphora, ca. 530 BCE depicting a king and elder statesmen. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nikosthenic Black-Figure Amphora, ca. 530 BCE depicting a king and elder statesmen. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Men in long garb:

– Oinochoe, by the Amasis Painter, ca. 560 BCE, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and illustrated in VonBothmer’s, The Amasis Painter and His World, fig. 33.

– Corinthian Celebe, ca. 550 BCE, in the Vatican, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 366.

Old Men:

– Corinthian Bottle by Timonidas, ca. 580 BCE, illustrated in Cook’s, Greek Art – Its Development, Character and Influence, plate D, page 277.

– Attic Black-figure Amphora, “Warriors and Old Men,” ca. 520-500 BCE, at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and illustrated in New Orleans Museum of Art’s, Greek Vases from Southern Collections, pg. 63, side B.

Chalkidian Black-Figure Neck Amphora ca. 540 BCE depicting Odysseus slaying Diomedes by the Inscription Painter (Chalcidian). Please note the tree in the background. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Chalkidian Black-Figure Neck Amphora ca. 540 BCE depicting Odysseus slaying Diomedes. Please note the tree in the background. Source: Wikimedia Commons



Stone Seats:

– Skyphos by the Theseus Painter, ca. 550 BCE, at the British Museum, and illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 246.

– Attic Black-figure Amphora, “Warriors and Old Men,” ca. 520-500 BCE, at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and illustrated in New Orleans Museum of Art’s, Greek Vases from Southern Collections, pg. 63, side B.

– Panathenaic Amphora, “Flute Player between two Judges,” ca. 540 BCE, at the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, and illustrated in New Orleans Museum of Art’s, Greek Vases from Southern Collections, pg. 105.

Trees (click to see above)
 


Middle Ring: CITY UNDER SIEGE. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: CITY UNDER SIEGE. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Armor:

the epic death of achilles

Vail’s colorized rendition of a B&W drawing of a lost Chalcidian Black-Figure Amphora ca. 540-530 BCE by the Inscriptions Painter depicting the epic death of Achilles.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

– Shields, Helmets and Breastplates: Chalcidian Pyskter-Amphora, with battle of Greeks and Trojans, ca. 540 BCE, in Melbourne, at the National Gallery of Victoria, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 414, a and b.

– Oinochoe, by the Amasis Painter, ca. 560 BCE, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and illustrated in VonBothmer’s, The Amasis Painter and His World, fig. 33.

– Deianira Lekythos in the manner of the Gorgon Painter, illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 16.1.

– Armour and Helmet from a Geometric period grave, ca. 8th century BCE, at Argos Archaeological Museum, and illustrated in Homan-Wedeking’s, The Art of Archaic Greece, fig. 8.

– Bronze Helmet, ca. 560-550 BCE, and bronze breastplate, ca. 540 BCE, from the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, illustrated in Homan-Wedeking’s, The Art of Archaic Greece, figs. 6, 7, 9. Also see Michael Lahanas’ Ancient Greek Armour, Shields and Helmets.

– Bronze Breastplate and Helmet, ca. 7th century BCE, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhibition 1979-1980, illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, Greek Art of the Aegean Islands, pp. 140, 141, 144 and 145.

Warriors:

Attic Black-figure amphora ca. 570 BCE Depicting enemy warriors engaging in battle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-figure amphora ca. 570 BCE Depicting enemy warriors engaging in battle.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


– Celebe, ca. 6th Century BCE, now at the Louvre, Paris, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 367.

– Protocorinthian Olpe, “The Chigi Vase,” by the MacMillan Painter, ca. 650-640 BCE, in the Villa Giulia, illustrated in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 6, pg. 21.

– Chalcidian Pyskter-Amphora, with battle of Greeks and Trojans, ca. 540 BCA, in Melbourne, at the National Gallery of Victoria, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 414, a and b.

– Oinochoe, by the Amasis Painter, ca. 560 BCE, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and illustrated in VonBothmer’s, The Amasis Painter and His World, fig. 33.

– Cycladic Polychrome Terracotta Krater, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, Greek Art of the Aegean Islands, pp. 122-123.


 
 

Middle Ring: ARMING FOR A RAID. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail  © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: ARMING FOR A RAID. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Detail of Side B from an Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BCE painted in the manner of the Lysippides Painter depicting a young warrior arming with the assistance of a woman. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail view, Attic black-figure amphora, ca. 530 BCE depicting a young warrior arming.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:
 
 
Armor (click to see above)

Old Men (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)


 
 
 

Middle Ring: ARES AND ATHENA LEAD THE RAID. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: ARES AND ATHENA LEAD THE RAID. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Attic black-figured volute-krater, ca. 540–510 BCE, signed by the Nikosthenes Potter, depicting Zeus separating Athena and Ares. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:
 
Armor (click to see above)

Athena:

– Panathenaic Amphora, “The Burgon Vase,” ca. 570-560 BCE, illustrated in Folsom’s, Attic Black-Figured Pottery, plate 14d.

Trees (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)


 
 

Middle Ring: WARRIORS HIDING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: WARRIORS HIDING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Attic black-figure white-ground lekythos, ca. 480 BCE by the Athena Painter depicting Achilles hiding in order to ambush Polyxena as she comes to the public water fountain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic black-figure lekythos, depicting a tree and Achilles hiding. Source:

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:
 
 
Armor (click to see above)

Trees (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)
 


 
 
 
 

Middle Ring: PEACEFUL HERDSMEN. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: PEACEFUL HERDSMEN. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
The references to oxen depicted in many scenes on the shield are significant, for as Robinson tells us, “Far more than on agriculture, however, the Achaeans depended for their livelihood on the pasturage of flocks and herds. They kept goats, sheep and swine; but their most prized possession was the ox, an animal doubly useful for ploughing as well as for food.”5
Attic red-figure pelike, ca. 470 BCE depicting a shepherd riding on the back of a ram while playing the aulos, or double flute. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic red-figure pelike, ca. 470 BCE depicting a shepherd riding a ram while playing an aulos or double pipe.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Bulls:

– Italo-Ionian Amphora, “The Judgement of Paris,” in Munich’s Antiker Kleinkunst, and illustrated in Pfuhl’s,Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting, fig. 14.

– Ionic Amphora, “Hermes Steals the Cow Io From the Giant Argos,” ca. 6th century BCE, illustrated in Buschor’s,Greek Vase Painting, plate XL, fig. 77.

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Pipes (click to see above)

Sheep:

– Corinthian Miniature Painting of a lamb being taken for sacrifice on an altar, ca. 540 BCE, now in the National Museum of Athens, illustrated in Karouzou’s, National Museum – Illustrated Guide to the Museum, item no. 16464. (click to see image, above)


 
 

Middle Ring: THE RAIDING PARTY ATTACKS. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: THE RAIDING PARTY ATTACKS. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Mycenaean Rhyton in the shape of a bull's head, ca. 16th century BCE crafted of bronze, inlaid with semi-precious stones, and gilded. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mycenaean Rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head. Source:


Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Bulls (click to see above)

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Sheep (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)


 
 
 
 

Middle Ring: THE TROOPS ARE ALERTED. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: THE TROOPS ARE ALERTED. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Armor (click to see above)

Chariots and Horses:

Detail of Attic Black-Figure Amphora ca. 530 BCE depicting a warrior mounting his chariot to depart for war. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail of Attic Black-Figure Amphora ca. 530 BCE depicting a warrior mounting his chariot.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

– Corinthian Celebe, ca. 550 BCE, in the Vatican, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 366.

– Cycladic Polychrome Terracotta Krater, at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s, Greek Art of the Aegean Islands, pp. 122-123.

– Attic Amphora, ca. 620 BCE, in the National Museum of Athens, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 406.

– Chalcidian Pyskter-Amphora, with battle of Greeks and Trojans, ca. 540 BCE, in Melbourne, at the National Gallery of Victoria, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 414, a and b.

– Protocorinthian Olpe, “The Chigi Vase,” by the MacMillan Painter, ca. 650-640 BCE, in the Villa Giulia, illustrated in Brilliant’s, Art of the Ancient Greeks, figs. 2-19.

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)


 
 

Middle Ring: BATTLE! From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Middle Ring: BATTLE! From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Closeup of Athenian Black Figure calyx krater depicting a battle over a corpse Probably that of Patroklos. In the manner of Exekias, ca. 530 BCE. Found at Pharsalus, Phthia, Thessaly. National Archaeological Museum, Inv. 26746 Athens, Greece. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black Figure Calyx Krater depicting battle.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Armor (click to see above)

Trees (click to see above)

Warriors (click to see above)



 
 

Outer Ring: PLOWING THE FIELD. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: PLOWING THE FIELD. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Agricultural activities described on the glorious shield’s outer ring of peacetime scenes may seem at first quite common or even generic. However, Homer offers some poignant cross references in Book 18 of the Odyssey, clearly resonating with the descriptions of the field being plowed in this scene and the grain being harvested in the next.

Dressed in the guise of a poor beggar, Odysseus must suffer the taunts of Eurymakhos, the leader of Penelope’s audacious suitors before Odysseus can execute his plan for revenge. Turning to Odysseus, Eurymakhos snidely demands,

“Stranger, will you work as a servant, if I send you to the outer limits of the field and see that you are well paid? Can you build a stone fence, or plant trees? I will have you fed all the year round, and will find you in shoes and clothing. Will you go, then? Not you; for you have got into bad ways, and do not want to work; you had rather fill your belly by going round the dêmos begging.”

“Eurymakhos,” answered Odysseus, “if you and I were to work one against the other in early summer [hôra] when the days are at their longest – give me a good scythe, and take another yourself, and let us see which will fast the longer or mow the stronger, from dawn till dark when the mowing grass is about. Or if you will plough against me, let us each take a yoke of tawny oxen, well-mated and of great strength and endurance: turn me into a four acre field, and see whether you or I can drive the straighter furrow.”

 Attic Black-Figure Band Cup, ca. 560-550 BCE depicting a plowman behind a team of cattle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure Band Cup, ca. 560-550 BCE depicting a plowman behind a team of cattle. Source: Wikimedia Commons

[–From Homer’s Odyssey Book XVIII Lines 356-374]

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Bulls (click to see above)

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)


 
 
 

Outer Ring: HARVESTING THE GRAIN. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: HARVESTING THE GRAIN. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Clay tablet inscribed with Linear B script, from the Mycenaean palace of Nestor at Pylos, ca. 1450 BCE. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Clay tablet inscribed with Linear B script, from the Mycenaean palace of Nestor at Pylos, ca. 1450 BCE. Source: Wikimedia Commons


What is now known as the Archive Room of Pylos was unearthed with the first trench dug in 1939 by a joint American-Greek expedition under Carl W. Blegen of the University of Cincinnati. Hundreds of clay tablets were discovered there, and as they were lifted from the ground, they were identified as written in the script called Linear B, well known from the island of Crete, at Knossos.
Chadwick tells us that many of these tablets appear to record large quantities of wheat; however, he believes that most of these tablets are in fact lists of persons holding land, which is measured in grain. “At neither site,” says Chadwick of the Pylos and Knossos tablets, “is the king mentioned by name; we have only the title ‘the king’ (wa-na-ka). He had an important officer who may have been his second-in-command, perhaps the chief of the army. His court was composed of officers called “Followers’ (e-qe-ta), or as we might say, “Companions.'”6

Finley tells us more about these tablets, defining the word temenos as a “‘royal land’ or a privately owned estate, belonging to a king.” Citing the “only certain appearance on the tablets,” of the word temenos, Finley states, “One Pylos table has on its first line the words ‘wanakatero temeno tosoja pema,’ followed by the Grain ideogram and the numeral 30; and on its second line, ‘rawakesijo temeno, GRAIN, 10’. The remainder of the short text,” continues Finley, “though it continues the GRAIN-numeral ending for each entry, does not repeat the word ‘temenos.’ Temenos is therefore a land term, connected with the ‘wanax‘ (as at times in Homer) and the ‘lawagetas‘ (unknown in Homer).”7

Although Finley cites this scene on Achilles’ shield of harvesting the grain as one of the three passages in Homer which say something about the assignment of a temenos, and in particular one which was held by a king, yet Finley maintains, “Homer is not only not a reliable guide to the Mycenaean tablets; he is no guide at all.”8 Be that as it may, the resemblance between the words on the Mycenaean tablets and Homer’s description of a king supervising the harvesting of his grain is obviously remarkable.

Another remarkable glimpse into Mycenaean culture is evident in this scene, regarding the religious ritual of sacrifice. Homer tells us the women are winnowing barley to prepare the laborer’s supper, while the king’s men are butchering a great ox they have sacrificed.

In many instances in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, when an animal is sacrificed, barley grains are scattered as an integral part of the ritual. At Aulis, where the Greek warriors assemble prior to deploying to Troy, Agamemnon offers a sacrifice to Zeus, petitioning him for fair winds and victory:

“They stood in a circle about the ox and took up the scattering barley; and among them powerful Agamemnon spoke in prayer: …Now when all had made prayer and flung down the scattering barley, first they drew back the victim’s head, cut his throat and skinned him…”9

The ritual of scattering barley during a sacrifice is repeated when Agamemnon returns Chryseis to her father:

“So he delivered her, and the priest received her, the child so dear to him, in joy. Then hastening to give the god his hekatomb, they led bullocks to crowd around the compact altar, rinsed their hands and delved in barley baskets, as open-armed to heaven Khryses prayed… When prayers were said and grains of barley strewn, they held the bullocks for the knife and flayed them…”10

Barley is so integral to the ritual, it can not be neglected. Homer tells us in the Odyssey, when Odysseus has only one ship left, his crewmen make their final, fatal, mistake of slaughtering Helios’ cattle, disobeying the command of Odysseus. In Odysseus’ absence, Homer informs us:

“they plucked the leaves that shone on a tall oak – having no barley meal – to strew the victims, performed the prayers and ritual, knifed the kine and flayed each carcass…”11

However well-intentioned, this horribly ironic sacrifice can not expiate their guilt over slaughtering sacred animals, nor save Odysseus’ men from their final, fatal punishment.

Minoan-era Carved Stone Rhyton, ca. 1500-1450 BCE depicting a grain harvest festival. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Minoan-era Carved Stone Rhyton, ca. 1500-1450 BCE depicting a grain harvest festival. Source: Wikimedia Commons


It is clear, though, that the strewing, or scattering of barley is a necessary function of the ritual of sacrifice. Homer shows us, in this scene of harvesting the grain, what comes next. The men complete the butchering of the ox for the King’s feast, and the women complete the winnowing of the grain for a meal to feed the laborers.

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Bulls (click to see above)

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Trees (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)


 
 

Outer Ring: GATHERING THE GRAPES. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: GATHERING THE GRAPES. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora, ca. 510 BCE, depicting a man playing a lyre for women. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora, ca. 510 BCE, depicting a man playing a lyre for women. Source: Wikimedia Commons


According to diverse ancient Greek legends, the “delicate song of Linos” Homer refers to in this scene is a song sung at harvest time in memory of Linos, a very controversial character. Linos may refer to a son of Apollo and a Muse, or a son of Apollo and a mortal, or even a rival god of music with strong similarities to an early Egyptian myth.

As the son of Apollo and a Muse in one popular legend, Linos is the inventor of rhythm and melody, teaching the skill of music to his brother Orpheus. Unfortunately, Linos also teaches music to Herakles, who kills Linos with his own lyre after being reprimanded for making mistakes. In another legend, Linos is a highly-skilled musical rival who is ultimately killed by Apollo.

According to yet another legend documented by Pausanias, Apollo curses the people of Argos with a plague of infant deaths because of his anger over two murders. One is the death of Psamathi, a mortal consort of Apollo, and the other is the death of Linos, Psamathi’s baby. Psamathi’s father, the king of Argos, kills his daughter after learning of her immodesty. It was in fear of her father’s wrath that she leaves her newborn son, fathered by Apollo, abandoned on a hillside to die.

Conon, in his Narrations, continues this same legend of Psamathi and Linos, explaining that Apollo’s plague leaves the people of Argos only after the Delphic Oracle prescribes banishment for the king and prayers and songs to be composed and performed by the people.

Thus the “delicate song of Linos” arose as a traditional ritual lament performed annually at harvest time as a penitence to Apollo for the death of his son.

Ferruci reminds us as well, regarding this scene of lament on Achilles’ shield, “We are not far from a time foreseen by Helen in her encounter with Hektor: ‘us two, on whom Zeus set a vile destiny, so that hereafter we shall be made into things of song for the men of the future.'”12

Detail view of a Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 510 BCE, depicting satyrs and maenads gathering grapes into baskets. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail of an Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 510 BCE, depicting satyrs and maenads gathering grapes into baskets. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Baskets:

Carpenter’s, Dionysian Imagery in Archaic Greek Art, plate 21.

Grapevines:

– Amphora, by the Lysippides Painter, ca. 6th century BCE, now at Munich, and illustrated in Beazley’s, The Development of Attic Black-Figure, plate 79, no. 2.

Carpenter’s, Dionysian Imagery in Archaic Greek Art, plate 21.

Detail from an Attic Black-Figure Stamnos ca. 500 BCE, depicting revelers dancing behind a man playing a lyre. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure Stamnos ca. 500 BCE, depicting a lyre-player with revelers dancing behind. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Lyres (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)


 
 
 
 

Outer Ring: HERDING THE CATTLE TO PASTURE. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: HERDING THE CATTLE TO PASTURE. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Mycenaean rhyton in the shape of a bull's head, ca. 1300–1200 BCE. Note the very straight horns, as described by Homer in Book 18, lines 573-588. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mycenaean-era rhyton in the shape of a bull’s head with straight horns.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


This scene is a wonderful illustration of the land and herd owners in ancient Greece. The theme is familiar throughout the Iliad, but perhaps most clearly recalled by Homer among his description of the gifts offered by Agamemnon to Achilles, hoping to solicit Achilles’ return to battle:

“He will grant you seven citadels, strongly settled…near the sea, at the bottom of sandy Pylos, and men live among them rich in cattle and rich in sheepflocks, who will honour you as if you were a god with gifts given and fulfil your prospering decrees underneath your sceptre.”13

Chadwick tells us about inscriptions written on the clay tablets found at Pylos. “The holders of land clearly had obligations to fulfill in return for their holding, for we have notes than some of them had not met their obligations; these probably included military service in time of war.”14 This is a very clear example of Homer’s knowledge proven by the findings of recent archaeologists.

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Bulls (click to see above)

Dogs:

– Protocorinthian Olpe, “The Chigi Vase,” by the MacMillan Painter, ca. 650-640 BCE, in the Villa Giulia, illustrated in Brilliant’s, Art of the Ancient Greeks, figs. 2-19.

Greek Black-Figure amphora, ca. 540–530 BCE depicting Hermes and Io (in the form of a cow). Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure amphora, ca. 540–530 BCE depicting Hermes and Io (in the form of a cow).
Source: Wikimedia Commons


– Celebe, ca. 6th Century BCE, now at the Louvre, Paris, and illustrated in Fowler’s, A Handbook of Greek Archaeology, fig. 367.

– Italo-Ionian Amphora, “The Judgement of Paris,” in Munich’s Antiker Kleinkunst, and illustrated in Pfuhl’s,Masterpieces of Greek Drawing and Painting, fig. 12.

Carpenter’s, Dionysian Imagery in Archaic Greek Art, plate 21.

– Lip Cup, signed by Tleson, illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 110.

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

 
 
 

Outer Ring: LION ATTACK. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: LION ATTACK. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:
Detail of Attic Black-Figure Column Krater, ca. 525 BCE depicting a lion attacking a bull. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail of Attic Black-Figure Column Krater, ca. 525 BCE depicting a lion attacking a bull. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Bulls (click to see above)

Dogs (click to see above)

Lions:

– Protocorinthian Olpe, “The Chigi Vase,” by the MacMillan Painter, ca. 650-640 BCE, in the Villa Giulia, illustrated in Mingazzini’s, Greek Pottery Painting, plate 6, pg. 21.

– Corinthian Jug, ca. 625 BCE, from Rhodes, at Oxford, illustrated in Beazley’s, Greek Sculpture and Painting, fig. 17.

– Neck Amphora, “Heracles Fights the Lion,” by the Antimenes Painter, illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 189.

– Corinthian Bottle by Timonidas, ca. 580 BCE, illustrated in Cook’s, Greek Art – Its Development, Character and Influence, plate D, page 277.

– Neck Hydria, “Harnessing of Athena’s Chariot,” by the Antimenes Painter, ca. 520-500 BCE, illustrated in Folsom’s, Attic Black-Figured Pottery, plate 10d.


 
 

Outer Ring: VALLEY OF SHEEP. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: VALLEY OF SHEEP. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Attic Black-Figure Column Krater depicting Odysseus escaping underneath a ram. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure Column Krater, ca. 525 BCE. Tree and Odysseus under a ram. Source:

 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Sheep (click to see above)

Trees (click to see above)

 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

Outer Ring: CIRCLE-DANCING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: CIRCLE-DANCING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

A  watercolor rendering of  drawing of the "Queen's Megaron" by Emile Gilliéron the younger, ca. 1922-1926, based on Sir Arthur Evans papers relating to his excavations at Knossos in Crete. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A watercolor rendering of drawing of the “Queen’s Megaron” by Emile Gilliéron the younger, ca. 1922-1926, based on Sir Arthur Evans papers relating to his excavations at Knossos in Crete. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The palace of Royal Knossos is an archaeological wonder, another witness to the authenticity of Homer’s descriptions, and the power of the wealthy Minoan civilization. King Minos is the king who commissions Daidalos to build the Labyrinth, a maze-filled structure housing the terrible Minotaur. It is this same Ariadne who gives Theseus the ball of string he uses to find his way back out of the Labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur. It is Minos’ granddaughter Aerope who marries the son of Atreus, and gives birth to the High King of Mycenae, Agamemnon. Aerope carries the glories of the Cretan civilization with her to Greece; it is no wonder to find dance floors in Greece “like the one in Knossos’ palace that Daidalos made for King Minos’ daughter, the beautiful Ariadne.”

Regarding the tunics of the young men we see dancing in this scene, the clay tablets discovered at Pylos provide another proof of Homer’s knowledge. In an AIA lecture given by Professor Cynthia Shelmerdine of the University of Texas at Austin, entitled, “Life in a Mycenaean Kingdom,” Professor Shelmerdine explained this interesting, shining effect of oil-infused fabric. She noted that among the inscriptions deciphered from the tablets found at Pylos, a quantity of oil for this purpose is designated. And experimentation has yielded a successful technique. A method by which oil is infused into fabric has since been rediscovered, and the result is a beautiful, luminous material from which the men’s tunics may have been made.15

Illustration of Attic Black-Figure Kylix ca. 550 BCE depicting maidens holding hands and dancing in a circle. In the center is Herakles wrestling with Nereus. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Regarding the upper class maidens dancing in this scene, Homer’s word for them is ‘alphesiboiai,’ meaning literally, “oxen-dowry”16. Robinson feels this name reveals the father’s high regard for his daughter’s dowry, denoting that he is looking “forward to his daughter’s marriage-day when she would bring him some return for the cost of her upbringing.”17
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Daggers:

– Neck Amphora, “Herakles Fights the Lion,” by the Antimenes Painter, illustrated in Boardman’s, Athenian Black Figure Vases, fig. 189.

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)

Women Dancing:

– Lekythos, with wedding procession, by the Amasis Painter, ca. 540 BCE, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and illustrated in Richter’s, A Handbook of Greek Art, fig. 437.


 
 

Outer Ring: LINE-DANCING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: LINE-DANCING. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Attic Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 560 BCE by the C Painter depicting nereids dancing in a line. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 560 BCE by the C Painter depicting nereids dancing in a line. Source: Wikimedia Commons


In a recent post at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies (CHS) Classical Inquiries, a fascinating link between textile weaving and song and dance is explored by Ellen Harlizius-Klück and Giovanni Fanfani. Harlizius-Klück and Fanfani, of the Research Institute for the History of Technology and Science at the Deutsches Museum, Munich, note:

“The derivation of heirmós (εἱρμός) from the verb eirein (εἴρειν, often found in the compound form συνείρειν) ‘to string together, connect in rows’ grounds the semantics of the term in textile technology:[4] the plaiting of crowns in Pindar Nemean 7.77 (εἴρειν στεφάνους ἐλαφρόν) may be evoking the pragmatics of the epinician performance, whilst an explicit link with choral dancing is established by Plato in Laws 654a, where the gods are said to lead men in choruses, stringing them together with one another by means of songs and dances (ᾠδαῖς τε καὶ ὀρχήσεσιν ἀλλήλοις συνείροντας).”

Detail from Attic Black-Figure Volute-Krater, known as the François vase, ca. 570-565 BCE signed by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias depicting young men and women holding hands and dancing in a line. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Detail from Attic Black-Figure Volute-Krater, known as the François vase, ca. 570-565 BCE depicting young men and women holding hands and dancing in a line.
Source: Wikimedia Commons


Here in this scene on the divine shield of Achilles, we see a profound realization of both Pindar’s and Plato’s concepts. The combination comes together beautifully, weaving Pindar’s plaited crowns, worn by the lovely maidens, with a creative expression of Plato’s Laws. It is, afterall, none other than the artisan god Hephaistos who designs the festive scenes of young men and women holding hands and forming lines, as Plato says, “stringing them together with one another by means of songs and dances.”

Please also see the notes for IV.7: CIRCLE-DANCING, above.
 
Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Daggers (click to see above)

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)

Women Dancing (click to see above)


 
 

Outer Ring: ACROBATS JOIN THE ACTION. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Ring: ACROBATS JOIN THE ACTION. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Attic Red-Figure Skyphos, ca. 470 - 460 BCE depicting two young men performing acrobatic stunts at a symposium. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Attic Red-Figure Skyphos, ca. 470 – 460 BCE depicting two young men performing acrobatic stunts. Source: Wikimedia Commons


This scene of acrobats, or tumblers, entertaining the guests at a festive celebration on the divine shield of Achilles has a remarkable parallel in Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey.

Telemakos, arriving with Nestor’s son by chariot to the palace of Helen and Menelaus, hopes to hear news of his father, Odysseus. It is evening and the palace is brightly lit and buzzing with guests, festivities, and excitement. Hermione, the only daughter of Helen and Menelaos, is enjoying a marriage feast in her honor before being sent off to marry Neoptolemos, the heroic son of Achilles.

“So they were feasting in the great high-roofed hall, the neighbors and kinsfolk of glorious Menelaus, and making merry; and among them a divine minstrel was singing to the lyre, and two tumblers whirled up and down through the midst of them, as he began his song.”18

This is a fascinating bridge that Homer has built here by way of Achilles’ divine shield, not only between the Iliad and the Odyssey, but also between Achilles and his son.

Documented sources for the motifs in this image:

Men in everyday garb (click to see above)

Women (click to see above)


 
 

Outer Rim: MIGHTY OCEAN CURRENT. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail © All Rights Reserved

Outer Rim: MIGHTY OCEAN CURRENT. From the Shield of Achilles by Kathleen Vail
© All Rights Reserved

Early Cycladic II clay “frying-pan” ca. 2700-2500 BCE depicting the sun, waves and fish. Source:


While searching for ocean wave motifs in ancient Greek pottery, it becomes undeniable that the powerful symbol of the spiral has clear associations with the sea stretching deeply into human history. One such undeniable example was found on the Greek Island of Naxos, identified as a clay “frying pan” from the Early Cycladic II period, 2700-2500 BCE.

This flat, round-shaped object is etched with a symbol of the sun in the center, encircled by a connected series of four equally spaced spirals representing the ocean. This ocean motif is easily interpreted by the presence of four “alpha”-shaped symbols representing fish spaced uniformly between the four connected wave spirals.

Connected wave spirals are colorfully featured in the frescoes adorning palaces of both Minoan and Mycenaean periods, as well.

Note the image above, in IV.7: Circle-Dancing where this connected wave spiral motif enjoys liberal use throughout, and beautifully underscores a monumental wall fresco of dolphins and fish in the “Queen’s Megaron” at Knossos.

Minoan-era Terracotta Pithos, ca. 1800-1700 BCE depicting ocean wave patterns and fish caught in a net. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Minoan-era Terracotta Pithos, ca. 1800-1700 BCE depicting ocean wave patterns and fish. Source: Wikimedia Commons


In the image to the right, notice the beautiful wave pattern encircling the rim of the Minoan-era pithos. Together with the clear use of spiral wave patterns, wavy lines, and well-defined fish, this lovely terracotta vessel communicates an eloquent appreciation for the sea, strongly reminiscent of Homer’s “mighty ocean current” encircling the shining rim of the divine Shield of Achilles.

Additional documented sources for the motif in this image include:

Ocean Waves:
 
– Hadra Vase, illustrated in Cook’s, Metropolitan Museum of Art Papers – Inscribed Hadra Vases, plates 5 and 8.

 
 
 

FOOTNOTES:


 
 
1. Hogan, J. C., pg. 240.

 
 
2. Gernet, L., pp. 174-175.

 
 
3. Crawford, M. and Whitehead, D., pg. 43.

 
 
4. Crawford, M. and Whitehead, D., pg. 44.

 
 
5. Robinson, C. E., pg. 18.

 
 
6. Chadwick, J., pg. 37.

 
 
7. Finley, M. I., pp. 225, 230-231.

 
 
8. Finley, M. I., pg. 232.

 
 
9. Lattimore, R., Book 2:410-411, and 421-422, pg. 87.

 
 
10. Fitzgerald, R., (Iliad) Book 1:446-450, and 458-460, pg. 26.

 
 
11. Fitzgerald, R., (Odyssey) Book 12:355-360, pg. 221.

 
 
12. Ferruci, F., pg. 29.

 
 
13. Lattimore, R., Book 9:291-298, pg. 206.

 
 
14. Chadwick, J., pg. 37.

 
 
15. Shelmerdine, Cynthia, PhD. AIA Lecture, Life in a Mycenaean Kingdom, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 2/28/91.

 
 
16. Butler’s translation of Homer’s Iliad Book 18, line 593.

 
 
17. Robinson, C. E., pg. 18.
 
 

 
 
18. Butler’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, Book 4, Lines 15-19.
 
 

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