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Case 7: Greeks beyond Greece

The Greeks and their gods

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What does a god look like?: Wine jar (neck-amphora)

Here, a warrior-woman fights a man. The Greeks imagined their gods in human form, and so specific accessories are needed to identify the woman as the goddess Athena. She is easily recognisable with her crested helmet, shild, and divine breastplate (aegis), which was often trimmed with snakes and carried the head of the monstrous gorgon, Medusa. Athena is fighting a giant in the battle between the gods and the giants for control of Mount Olympus. The goddess is obviously defeating the semi-kneeling giant. She is taller thant the humans who stand on either side, and has to stoop to fit into the picture.

Production place: Athens
Date: around  530–520 BC
Fired Clay, black-figure technique

Object Number: GR.19.1917

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How does a god behave?: Round box (pyxis)

Not only do Greek gods look like humans, they can also behave as badly as humans do. Here Zeus, king of the gods, chases the unwilling nymph Aigina. Her sisters flee in horror, and on the back of the vase her father, Asopus, holds out his hands in protest. The story ends with Zeus taking her to a deserted island (later called Aigina), where she gives birth to their son Aecus, the grandfather of Achilles. Greek mythology is full of similar stories and all the best Greek heroes, such as Herakles and Perseus, are sons of a god and a mortal.

Production place: Athens
Date: around  470–460 BC
Fired Clay, red-figure technique
Given by The Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Object Number: GR.10.1934

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