A popular subject among vase-painters from Archaic times was the fight between Odysseus and Ajax for the divine armour of the Greek hero Achilles, who was killed in the siege of Troy. The painter Douris’s artwork on this magnificent cup, which was created by the potter Python, ranks among the most important depictions. The pictures on the outside and inside form a unity, presenting various moments in the dispute. On the outside of the cup is the imminent clash: Agamemnon stands in the centre, wielding his sceptre over the object at issue, the armour of Achilles, and preventing the coming fight. On the left is Ajax with his sword drawn; on the right is Odysseus in a defensive posture, followed by two warriors, respectively, who try to hold them back. The other side of the cup illustrates the outcome of the dispute. After both Ajax and Odysseus laid claim to the weapons, a vote on the legitimate owner took place. Four men with voting-pebbles approach the podium, behind which the goddess Athena appears as judge, to cast their votes. Ajax, wrapped in his mantle, stands on the far right, averting his gaze from the scene in disappointment at the expected decision. On the left Odysseus cheerfully raises his hands at the sight of the large number of pebbles on his side. The inner picture shows the outcome of the dispute: Odysseus hands the Greek hero’s arms (helmet, shield, breastplate,greaves, spear), forged by Hephaestus, the god of fire and metal-working, to Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles. The painter of this magnificent vessel was Douris, one of the most important cup-painters of the early 5th century BC; he signed his work on the left edge of the inner picture. Around 490 BC he formed a workshop cooperative with the potter Python (signature on the edge of the ring stand).
© Kurt Gschwantler, Alfred Bernhard-Walcher, Manuela Laubenberger, Georg Plattner, Karoline Zhuber-Okrog, Masterpieces in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2011