As a reveller on a nightly drinking spree emptied his cup, a particularly skilful drawing emerged on the bottom of it. It depicts a scene from the Trojan War, which we know from the inscriptions that identify the two characters: Achilles is tending to his friend Patroclus, whose left arm has been injured by an arrow. He turns his head away with a grimace of pain while his more youthful friend bandages his wound. Achilles is equipped with helmet and armour, which underlines how defenceless Patroclus is. He is only wearing the cap that served as lining under a metal helmet. The shoulder plates of his armour are open and his seated position on his shield, his genitals in full view, epitomises his vulnerability by revealing his weakest point where he later receives the fatal blow from Hector. The scene of this apparently harmless injury actually predicts the death of Patroclus and points to the end of Achilles who, despite a warning prophecy, enters battle to avenge the death of his friend where he too meets his tragic fate, dying at a young age. A recent interpretation suggests that the scene also invokes the homoerotic relationship between the two heroes, a further aspect that the user of the cup could identify with: in the late Archaic period – that is in the era of the symposium – the relationship between an older lover (erastes) and a younger beloved (eromenos) was a widespread phenomenon in Athenian society. The world of the Olympian gods is depicted on the outside of the bowl. They are gathered around the ruling couple Zeus and Hera and are pouring wine on the ground from ornate offering bowls as a sign of their divinity. Within this closed circle – those sitting down take no notice of new arrivals – Herakles is being introduced by his half-brothers and sister Hermes, Apollo and Athena. In recognition of his difficult life and painful death, he is being admitted into the world of the gods as the son of Zeus. Both scenes would have been considered appropriate for grave goods so it is no surprise that the bowl was found in a tomb in Etruscan Vulci. However, it was made in Athens and signed with pride by the potter Sosias on the base. The original name of the talented painter who worked with the potter in Antiquity is unfortunately not known. Archaeologists have since named him the Sosias Painter after this piece in Berlin.


  • Title: Achilles bandaging Patroklos
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -500
  • Location: Vulci
  • Physical Dimensions: h10 cm
  • Type: Cup
  • Medium: Clay
  • Object acquired: Acquired in 1831
  • Inv.-No.: F 2278
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Martin Maischberger and Agnes Schwarzmaier || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps