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According to Hurwit, diversity is certainly the emblem of individuality, and the seventh century Archaic Greek society was not deprived of it. This was indeed a period of fundamental social change, a spiritual revolution reflected in a multitude of fields of life such as literature, pottery, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, politics and socio-economic life. It was a heterogeneous culture, manifested through a lack of cultural uniformity, which could be the consequence of a certain ethnic division (Ionians and Dorians) and of the continual rise of the polis, seen nevertheless as a fragmenting force.

Diversity of styles, techniques, spirit and preferences dethroned the schemata and archetypes of the Late Geometric period, and thus vase painting had become the “most convenient barometer of stylistic diversity of the period” (Hurwit, pp. 151). As opposed to the Geometric style’s brevity, homogeneity and formula, Orientalizing pottery portrayed a free, “uncoordinated display of innovation, experiment” (Hurwit, pp. 151), a projection of individuality and diversity.

The Eleusis amphora, the most representative Protoattic vase, is thus the exponent of the “birth of the ‘individual'” through its monumentality, eccentricity and unpredictability, through its dynamis, energy and power. Moreover, through its mythological narratives and simultaneous narration technique, it offers an exuberant and rather indelicate view, but however a vivid image and not a boring one – a mirror to the spiritual changes that took place within people, an individualistic perception of reality.

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We can better understand the Greek perception of life through its perception and attitude towards death, which was displayed in burial rites and ceremonies. While the Dipylon Master’s amphora only stood over the grave as a grave sign with commemorative function (sema and mnema), the Eleusis amphora was the actual grave: it was found with the skeleton of an approximately 10 year-old boy inside it. Both of them were huge (5 and 4. 5 feet respectively), but they served different purposes. This transition from a strictly memorial to a practical purpose of the amphora suggests a change in the status of the individual.

Indeed, during the eighth century, these vases were manufactured according to the preferences of the customer, who used to be part of the aristocracy and thus, their number was relatively small. Later, during the seventh century, the demand for Protoattic amphorae dropped. Thus, the painter could exercise his talent freely, without restrictions, he could find fountains of inspiration anywhere, he could experiment, play, but nevertheless, he could still imprint an individualistic, personal touch on his vase.

Consequently, we can infer that the Eleusis amphora is the exponent of individuality, whereas the Dipylon amphora is the exponent of a whole community. Although there is only a 75-year difference between the two amphorae, throughout this short period the Greek society evolved a lot – from a community-based to an individual-based society. The two amphorae reflect this transition through their purposes and through their attempt to offer an explanation of the effect of death upon people in each period of time.

Hence, the Dipylon amphora celebrated the death of a noble woman, emphasizing thus her status in society, whereas the Eleusis amphora was the grave of a 10 year-old boy. The latter had thus a more intrinsic value, paying more attention to the individual, even though the subject of death was a 10 year-old boy of a more modest social status than the noble woman. The Dipylon amphora emphasized the effect of death upon the community, a community in which it was honorable to be mourned by as many people as possible at one’s death. By contrast, the Eleusis amphora presented an issue of death seen in its privacy, belonging to the individual.

Therefore, not only did its effect overcome the superficial limits of “behavior within the community”, but it also reached the depths of the human soul. In creating the amphora, the Polyphemos Painter asserted the highest level of individuality and independence encountered in Ancient Greece until then. His work is the exact opposite of the formulaic, schematic, generic and superficial work of the Dipylon master. If we look at the amphora our vision is basically pierced by “the largest vase painting we have” (Hurwit, pp. 165), which is located on its belly.

In fact the amphora presents three images: Odysseus’ blinding of Polyphemos, (on the neck), a lion’s pawning of a boar (on the shoulder) and, the largest one, the Perseus myth – more precisely, the beheading of the Medousa (on the belly). The first one, the blinding of Polyphemos, depicts the Homeric myth in “all its violence and dynamis” (Hurwit, pp. 169): Odysseus blinds the Kyklops with the help of his men. The men and the Kyklops are combinations of black silhouette and outline, while Odysseus is the only one who is filled in with white paint, his forms being contoured in black and shading.

Categories: Pottery


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