- Pots and Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-painting of the Fourth Century B.C
In classical Greece, myth was understood first orally, then visually (“a picture is worth a thousand words” — Confucius), and only then through literature, usually a play — a play rarely repeated (and always accompanied by several others on the same day). In recent centuries, the literature has taken first place in scholarship, the visual a poor second; and as a result, the assumption by many hardened classicists is that the visual can only follow the written, a point of view that is challenged by the many cases where the visual tradition contradicts and often precedes the literary. The small literary coterie may have included some vase painters, but the only vase scenes depicting theatrical occasions — the comedies shown on Greek South Italian vases — make it quite explicit (in dress and setting) when they do so. Still, it has long been assumed that other South Italian vases decorated with scenes from tragic mythology also derive from the stage, although there are no clues whatever on the vases pointing to this conclusion. The mistake dies hard, and this book is its latest manifestation, born partly of the belief that “archaeologists” (who deal with pictures) cannot also be expert “classicists” who know texts. Yet classical archaeologists all started their training with the texts. The difference is that they have moved on.
Sir John Boardman, Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology Emeritus at Oxford University and a fellow of the British Academy, is editor of the Oxford History of Classical Art and the author of, most recently, The History of Greek Vases and The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity.