Greek black-figure amphora with Herakles and Geryon

From the Charles Ede Instagram Account
May 22, 2020


Long-term side effects of C-19 include continual fatigue and an inability to concentrate. Over the past 2 months I should have read a stack of books next to my bed, but when I pick one up my mind slips off the page and I stare at the ceiling.

So where is this taking us, you may wonder? Well, ‘stories’. Follow me…

Nowadays we find our stories in books or on film or TV. Narrative pottery is not something we likely encounter everyday. Our cups don’t tell us a tale, a barista might scrawl our name and a smiley face on a cardboard one, but frankly, that’s not the same thing at all. And we don’t look to storage jars or a water jug for a good yarn, but 2500 years ago they did. Literacy then wasn’t universal, and the two great chronicles, the joint cornerstone of European literature, given to the name of Homer, were passed down through an oral tradition. Later on, scenes from these epics and various other tales, were used to decorate household goods.

Here’s a terracotta amphora, a storage jar. Around it, unusually, runs a continuous scene depicting Herakles in the 10th of his 12 labours, each one a superhuman task. Seated on rocks, he carries a club and bow, wearing his Nemean lion-skin (you’ll have to look this up, no space, sorry!) Cattle flank him. Their owner, the triple-bodied Geryon, advances, his fatally wounded herdsman Eurytion and twin-headed dog Orthus (Cerberus’s brother) prostrate at his feet. A woman faces the monster, her arms upraised to halt his advance. This is definitely A STORY. One which would have been familiar to the owner or anyone else who would have seen it. Herakles’ deeds would have been amplified by this image, which also acted as a springboard for others. And there’s a whole sub-story about how Italy came into existence. Too much!

Maybe in my current decrepit state this is what I need rather than a book: visual stories I absorb with my eyes, either that or an aoidos or rhapsode can come visit. And yes, do look them up too

Greek black-figure amphora with Herakles and Geryon
Athens, c.500 BC, Leagros Group
Height 26.7cm

H Termer, Hamburg; 1978
Dr Conradty, Nuremberg

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