Wine Cup with the Suicide of Ajax

about 490 B.C.

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

He must not be seen! I will cover his body, I will wrap him completely in my mantle. No one who loved him could bear to see the dark blood pouring from his nostrils and the raw wound in his breast. So declared Tekmessa when she discovered the body of her dead lover Ajax in an Athenian tragedy by the playwright Sophokles. Ajax was one of the greatest of the Greek heroes in the Trojan War. The matter of his suicide was recounted in epic poetry now lost to us, but Athenian vase-painters in the early 400s B.C. frequently drew on this tradition in showing his death. The interior of this red-figure cup attributed to the Brygos Painter shows Ajax impaled on his sword and Tekmessa running to cover the body. In a unique representation of the suicide, the sword enters through his back rather than the more natural position through the stomach. Beneath Ajax, the Brygos Painter attempted to convey the texture of the pebble beach where Ajax went to die. The exterior of the cup presents the events leading to Ajax's suicide. When Achilles was killed, Ajax saved his body from the Trojans, expecting to be rewarded with Achilles' armor. However, Odysseus also claimed the armor. One side of this cup shows the two heroes quarreling; on the other side , the Greek leaders cast votes in the form of stones piled in front of the opponents. The despondent Ajax clutches his bowed head, having lost by one vote.


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