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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Homeric epic in artefacts

Comparison of Homeric narrations to their depiction on vases mainly continues on the lines that the various stages of the epic are directly reflected on the vase representations of the period. According to this reasoning, a scrutiny of the epic repertoire on pottery would bring to us the definitive version of the Homeric poems. However, the research carried on so far has denied this expectation and has, on the contrary, proved that: a. the vase paintings picturing Homeric episodes represent only a small percentage of the extant scenes decorating pottery, and b.that this percentage diminishes rather than increases, the closer we approach the era in which the epic text took its final shape. Therefore, we believe that the aforementioned comparison has been based on false asumptions, since the vase painter’s motive in representing Homeric scenes was not to commemorate the glorious deeds of the heroes of the past, but mainly to illustrate the accomplishments of those who performed them in the present and financed him. Namely the play writers, sponsors, actors and all those who had good reason to remember themselves and remind others of an excellent theatrical performance, quite different from the “stereotyped” texts of the past. Consequently, it is useless to try to find in these vase paintings truthful representations of the epos and quite erroneous to use them as a criterion when dating the Homeric poems, because the staged versions of the Trojan episodes were continuously changing and constantly departing from the text of the epic poetry.