The Weapons of Dionysus: Drinking Vessels in 6th Century Ancient Greece

The Theatre of Dionysus (shown in the background) exhibited performances for hundreds of years. To the Ancient Greeks, Dionysus was the Greek God of the vine, wine and its harvest, merry-making, religious ecstasy, and theatre. Many of the images depict Dionysus as a young man in a carefree pose and will include a drinking vessel, grapes, or a pinecone staff. He influenced Ancient Greeks through the transformative power of alcohol and its ability to bring ecstasy to the social activity of its consumption at the symposium. ‘The Weapons of Dionysus’ explores different vessels used to store and consume water and alcohol. Furthermore, the vessels used, specifically in the symposium, depicted many different aspects of Greek social life and mythology, including the apotropaic eyes, Homeric myths, Herculean tasks, and daily Greek life. ‘The Weapons of Dionysus’ describes the different uses and myths that appear on the vessels and allude to the greater idea of divine influence over daily social life.

This type of Ancient Greek drinking vessel is referred to as a 'kylix' and commonly called an “eye-cup” and was specifically designed and created for use at the symposium. It was named this because of the large eyes on either side of the vessel. They were used to ward off evil, because as one drank they changed and became more susceptible to inappropriate actions. As one would be drinking the eyes would cover their own appearing to be still watching the rest of the people at the symposium.
This type of Ancient Greek drinking vessel is referred to as a 'kylix' and commonly called an “eye-cup” and was specifically designed and created for use at the symposium. It was named this because of the large eyes on either side of the vessel. This "eye-cup" shows the transformative power of alcohol employed in the use of the Gorgon in the middle of the tondo. The choice of theme for the tondo (inner curvature) often reflected the theme for the symposium at which it would be used.
This Ancient Greek drinking vessel is referred to as an 'oinochoe' for the Greek 'oinos' - wine and 'cheo' - I pour, which was used to pour wine into a krater or a 'kylix' for guests at the symposium. They were commonly taller than they were wide with a leaf, round, or beak shaped spout. This 'oinochoe' depicts two deities: Herakles, who can be identified with his club and Nemean lion skin hood, and Athena, who can be identified with her distaff (since she was the goddess of weaving) and the helmet. The 'oinochoe' has the inscription HE ΠΑΙΣ ΚΑΔΗ (“he pais kale,” the girl is beautiful).
The ‘skyphos’ is a deep-bowled drinking vessel with a small handle on either side. ‘Skyphoi’ (pl.) are often seen in symposium scenes and this ‘skyphos’ depicts a scene from Homer’s ‘Iliad’. Achilles is reclining above Hektor’s lifeless body following the epic single combat scene between the two. Unnoticed by Achilles, King Priam enters the scene from the left heading a procession of servants carrying a ransom for Hektor’s body.
This ‘column-krater’ is a mixing vessel (from the term ‘kerannumi’ – to mix) named for the column-like handles. ‘Krater’s’ were used at the symposium to mix their wine with water. They commonly depicted scenes from their mythology and this ‘krater’ depicts Dionysus, wearing a wreath of ivy leaves and holding his drinking horn, dancing with a group of maenads and satyrs. On the reverse, two lions ravage a bull.
This Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora is termed as a ‘neck amphora’, since it appears to have a narrower section between the body and the mouth. ‘Amphorae’ (pl.) were used to store liquids or solids such as grain, water, or wine. The image depicts the Greek hero and the moment he plunges his spear into the Amazon queen Penthesilea. Exekias chose to recreate the moment that Achilles fell in love with her, stated in the ‘Iliad’. This is a genuine work of Exekias and we know this since he signed it, stating ΕΧΣΕΚΙΑΣΕΠΟΙΕΣΕ (Exsekias epoiese, ‘Exekias made [me]’).
This Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora is termed as a ‘neck amphora’, since it appears to have a narrower section between the body and the mouth. ‘Amphorae’ (pl.) were used to store liquids or solids such as grain, water, or wine. ‘Group E’, who was contemporary potters of Exekias, created the ‘amphora’. Side A depicts Herakles wrestling the Nemean Lion between Iolaus and Athena. Side B depicts Theseus battling the Minotaur between two maidens.
This Attic Black-Figure Neck Amphora is termed as a ‘neck amphora’, since it appears to have a narrower section between the body and the mouth. ‘Amphorae’ (pl.) were used to store liquids or solids such as grain, water, or wine. The scene depicted the culmination of that war, the sack of Troy, focusing on the Trojan hero Aeneas lifting his father and son and leading them out of the city. Following behind, the goddess Aphrodite gesturing in grief and sympathy. The Leagros Group created this ‘amphora’ and the painter named each of the figures, which adds familiarity. On the reserve of the ‘amphora’ Dionysus dances to the music played by the satyrs with the instruments, the aulos (double pipes).
This Attic Black-Figure Dinos (usually termed as lebes from the Greek word ‘lebes’ – bowl) painted by Antimenes. The ‘dinos’ is a mixture of a ‘krater’ and a rounded bottom mounted on a pedestal. The narrative shows a naval battle with ships on the inside of the rim. Exekias pioneered the visual effect of the ships floating on the ‘wine dark sea’, which Antimenes uses to relate this narrative to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. The very top of the rim shows a battle raging between a group of hoplites and a single cavalryman against a chariot team. See a view of the rim here: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/13068/circle-of-the-antimenes-painter-attic-black-figure-dinos-greek-attic-about-520-510-bc/
The Hydria (from the Greek word ‘hudor’ – water) has three handles, two for carrying and the third for pouring. The ‘hydria’ was commonly used for storing and pouring water. The main scene depicted is from Book XXIV of the ‘Iliad’ showing Achilles dragging the body of Hektor around the tomb of the Patroklos. On the left, Hecuba and Priam watch from the gates of Troy.
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